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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
09 July 2019
Volume 663

House of Commons

Tuesday 9 July 2019

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Justice

The Secretary of State was asked—

Courts Digitisation Programme

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1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on access to justice of the courts digitisation programme. [911797]

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Enhancing access to justice is at the heart of our £1 billion court reform programme. Our new online district services provide an easily accessible, intuitive route for people to bring cases to court. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is testing, learning and inducting online services, based on feedback from the people who use them. More than 150,000 people used our services in 2018 and public feedback has been extremely positive.

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Unfortunately, this Government are developing a track record of using digital technology not to improve services and empower people, but to cut costs and exclude people, so will the Minister commit to me now that he will ensure that the digitally excluded, especially the homeless, detainees and prisoners, have special access to support services; that access to legal aid will be clearly signposted online for the digital courts; and that the feedback and performance data—showing who is using these services, where and when—is publicly shared, so that we can measure whether the programme really is a success?

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I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. I am intuitively sympathetic to all the points that she makes. I am very clear that there should always remain a telephone service, a paper-based service for those who need it, and the appropriate signposting. Inclusive justice is very important and we should never innovate merely because we can. We do not use new technologies merely because we can, but because they give a better outcome for the people who use our justice system.

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When it comes to the digitisation of the probate service, the Minister should be aware that constituents are still coming to me, reporting delays of up to 10 or 12 weeks before they receive probate. They are having to negotiate automated email replies and phone lines that are too busy to handle calls. What can he say today to give relief to my constituents and others who are affected, following the death of a loved one?

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My right hon. Friend has cleverly anticipated question 15. I have heard from Members across the House the deep frustration they feel regarding the current issues in the probate system. Delays had reached as long as eight weeks last month. We have put in place a number of measures to try to reduce the overall waiting time. It is now back down to roughly six to seven weeks, but that is still not good enough. We are now clearing the number of outstanding cases by about 1,000 a day, and I hope that the backlog can be cleared in around two to three months.

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Is not the truth that what is happening at the moment is a restriction on access to justice, because almost half the courts in the country have been closed? Will the Minister follow what the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges has said, and put a moratorium on court closures until the digitisation programme—£200 million over budget, spending £70 million on consultants—is seen to work?

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I very much hear what the hon. Gentleman is telling me. He will recall a debate that we had in this Chamber a couple of weeks ago on that point. We have no plans to close any further courts at the moment, but he will recognise that there is a need to make sure that our court estate is used appropriately, and he will recognise that where court buildings are not used, or indeed are used for less than half the time for which they could be available, we have to look at making sure that what we do in our courts best meets the needs of our estate and of the people using our courts system.

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Last year, the Government made a huge fanfare about their female offenders strategy but announced only £5 million for it. Recently, legal aid was increased by £8 million, but that pales into insignificance compared with £67 million spent on consultants to provide cuts to our courts. Instead of throwing money at the consultants, surely there should be a proper debate in this House on the Government’s disastrous court closure programme.

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When I speak to most sensible people across the entire justice system, there is a recognition that our justice system has to modernise. If we do not transform or modernise the system, the service will become increasingly unsustainable and will deliver a progressively worse service for the people for whom I know the hon. Lady wants to get the best outcomes possible—I do too. If we do not modernise, our district system will not be able to maintain that level of service.

Benefit Application Appeal Tribunal Hearings

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2. What recent estimate he has made of the average waiting time for benefit application appeal tribunal hearings in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England. [911798]

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Between January and March 2019, the average waiting time for benefit appeals in Northamptonshire was 21 weeks. In England, it was 33 weeks.

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Too many of my Kettering constituents are having to wait far too long for their appeals to be heard when their benefit applications are turned down. The Minister has read out average figures, but some of the waits are over 30 weeks. What can he do to speed up the appeals process in Kettering?

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I was almost disappointed that my hon. Friend did not phrase his first question better, because I was going to go on to tell him that in Kettering, the waiting time was actually 33 weeks, which is comparable to the England average—12 weeks longer than that in Northamptonshire. If I may anticipate the further follow-up question that he might have liked to ask, in Kettering we are making new venues available, particularly in Wellingborough and Northamptonshire, and we have added three judges, eight disability qualified tribunal panel members and two medically qualified tribunal panel members to try to reduce waiting times in his constituency.

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rose—

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No, no, no, no, no, no. Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is not only not in Northamptonshire; it is not in England! It really is stretching the point. Oh, very well. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make a pertinent inquiry appertaining to Northamptonshire, in which no doubt he has the deepest interest, or relating to England, I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

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You are very gracious, Mr Speaker. Benefits actually cover the whole UK and I represent the furthest-away constituency in the UK mainland. Delays in decision making are troublesome to say the very least. The problem as I see it is that the key decision makers are not actually based in Wick, where there are excellent staff, but much further south. Would it not be a good idea if we moved key decision makers closer to people in need?

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That is a very cheeky piece of shoehorning.

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I am presuming that the hon. Gentleman is encouraging me to have more tribunals in Wick, as opposed to decision makers. Since I have 3,000 employed in my own constituency making key decisions on personal independence payments, I do not think we should move to Wick. None the less, there is a lack of tribunals in his constituency. We will have to hear further information from him as to how we can improve accessibility there.

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In relation to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone), the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) just chuntered from a sedentary position, “Yes, but he’s a nice guy.” Well, I think we can all agree about that.

Prison Staff: Health and Safety

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3. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of health and safety for prison staff. [911799]

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10. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of health and safety for prison staff. [911806]

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Keeping our prisons safe, both for the dedicated staff working in them and for the men and women in our custody, is our top priority. Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service continually assesses the risks to staff in our prisons, putting in suitable measures and controls. The effectiveness of those controls is monitored locally and nationally, and through joint audit work with prison unions.

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I thank the Minister for that reply, but it must be of concern to the whole House when the Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that violence against prison staff is at a record high. There were almost twice as many assaults in 2018 as there were in 2010. Does the Minister agree that everyone working in our prison system, whether as a prison officer, an educator, a nurse or anything else, should have an absolute right to a safe workplace, safe from violent assaults? Will he support the joint trade union “Safer Inside” campaign to secure that objective?

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The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and he is right to alert us to the day-to-day bravery of prison staff in whatever part of the prison estate they work. A lot of work is going on to improve how prison staff interact with prisoners, and the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 allows the courts to impose greater sentences to deal with assault. I will look very carefully at the proposals that are being set out tomorrow and work with Members across the House to ensure that we rise to the challenge of prison violence.

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Sexual assaults against prison staff have soared by 360% since 2010—a shocking statistic that the Government should be ashamed of. Does the Minister agree that the recent attack that saw a prisoner ejaculate over a female officer should be treated as a sexual assault —and a serious sexual assault at that—and be prosecuted as such?

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The hon. Lady raises a very interesting point. While I think it would be invidious of me to comment on a particular case, I can see the force of her point. That is quite clearly a very serious assault and there are aggravating features in there, which make it particularly distressing for the worker involved. As I said, a lot of important work is going on with regard to body-worn cameras and we need the roll-out of PAVA spray to help protect prison officers who, let us face it, are doing such an important job that is all too often unheralded.

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The use of psychoactive substances is regrettably on the rise in prisons and has an effect on behaviour. What are the Government doing to tackle that?

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My hon. Friend raises an important point. Indeed, the service has started research on the effects on prison staff of second-hand exposure to psychoactive substances, in particular across 10 prisons. That testing programme will be extended. We have also established a drugs taskforce, because the best way to deal with the risk is to minimise the use of drugs in prisons. That is a tough challenge, but one that the whole service is working towards.

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Teachers, nurses, cleaners and many others are a vital part of our prison workforce. However, alongside prison officers, they are exposed to the dangers of the prison estate, which the prisons inspector just today has stated contains too much violence, drug use and inactivity, and frankly remains in a state of emergency. Staff have the right to work in a safe environment that is free from violence, abuse and danger, but violence against staff is reaching record highs. Will the Justice Secretary commit today to meeting the teachers I met earlier, and who are in the Gallery to hear his answers, to ensure the safety of all our staff in our prisons?

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I am always interested in meeting staff from across the prison estate, and that includes the teachers who are here today. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight Peter Clarke’s important report. That report contains significant findings relating to the ongoing challenges, but it also celebrates the professionalism, the caring and the well-run safe, calm parts of our prison estate that exemplify a successful history and pattern of working. I was delighted to be able to attend the prison officer of the year awards last week to acknowledge some of the outstanding service given by prison officers and other employees in HMPPS.

Divorce

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4. What steps the Government are taking to encourage divorcing couples to reconcile. [911800]

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20. What steps his Department is taking to provide counselling to couples seeking a divorce. [911817]

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When people make the difficult decision to divorce, the evidence suggests that counselling will often be too late at that stage. Seeking counselling would be a personal choice for those involved. For counselling to bring a change of direction, it would require the willing co-operation of both people in the marriage. We will look at the information available to people who are contemplating divorce to see whether we can strengthen signposting to marriage counselling, and our Bill will provide the opportunity for parties to reflect on the decision to divorce by introducing a minimum timeframe within the legal process. Couples who can reconcile will be able to do so.

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Now that divorce is being made easier, with no-fault divorce going on the statute book, should we have parallel provision to help couples to save their marriages? I think the best way to do that would be further investment in services under section 22 of the Family Law Act 1996.

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I think there is a wider debate to be had about how Government as a whole can address issues that lead to relationship breakdown. Simply funding marriage support services may not address the heart of the issue or reach the people who need help most at the right time, but I agree that there is a need to test what works to help couples to stay together, and I am happy to listen to the arguments about that.

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What mediation services and contact centres are available, and what is their role?

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Family mediation offers a way to resolve child or financial arrangements without litigation, and child contact centres provide safe, neutral venues where separated couples can build sustainable long-term child arrangements. In reforming the legal process for divorce, we will look to strengthen how couples are signposted to such services. My right hon. Friend refers to counselling, a service for people whose relationships are in trouble. As well as using services such as Relate, many people draw on family, friends and others they can trust. A marriage is more likely to be saveable before the legal process of divorce has begun.

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Can the Minister outline what discussions have been held about offering support for counselling through charitable initiatives such as Relate to cut down waiting times from eight weeks? During that time many couples decide that their issues are irrevocable when in fact they might have been salvageable with help and support.

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As I said earlier, there is a wider debate on this matter. I believe that the earlier such support can be provided, the better. When it comes to reform of divorce law, my argument is that by that stage it is often too late. In any event, the current requirement in our divorce law to attribute blame and fault makes it all the harder for marriages to be reconciled.

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I think my right hon. Friend and the Government have got the approach right. Divorce is not the time to start putting difficulties in people’s way. When people get married, they know it is going to end in desertion, divorce or death; on the whole, death is the one we would choose, but preferably not as a result of too active participation by the other half.

May I reinforce what my right hon. Friend said, and ask him whether he will try to make it better known, not just in his Department but in others, that if people can get into stable households, all sorts of things go better? Poverty is reduced, anguish is reduced, life is extended and people have better lives, so times of family formation, reformation and even de-formation can lead to a better life for most people.

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I do agree with my hon. Friend, and I am interested by the insights into the Bottomley household. The fact that our current divorce laws introduce conflict at the point of divorce can make the break-up of relationships more confrontational than it needs to be in what are already difficult circumstances.

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I believe that the hon. Gentleman has been married for 52 years.

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In sickness and in health.

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I believe that to be so. [Interruption.]

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And Lady Bottomley says so as well, as the hon. Gentleman pertinently observes from a sedentary position.

Short Sentences

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5. What assessment his Department has made of the effectiveness of sentences of less than three months in reducing reoffending. [911801]

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There is persuasive evidence that short custodial sentences do not work for the purposes of rehabilitation and helping some offenders to turn their backs on crime. They are highly disruptive to people’s lives, and provide little time for the Prison Service to do any meaningful rehabilitative work. In certain circumstances, community sentences are more effective in reducing reoffending and addressing offenders’ needs. Unless we tackle the underlying causes of reoffending, we cannot protect the public from being victims of crime. There is a strong case for abolishing short custodial sentences, with some exceptions, and I shall set out proposals shortly.

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The Secretary of State will be pleased to know that 85% of those who responded to the Scottish Government’s consultation supported the existing presumption against short sentences, and were in favour of extending that beyond the current three-month presumption. Given that that presumption has helped to achieve a 19-year low in reconviction rates, I hope he agrees with the outcome of the consultation. Perhaps he will also tell us exactly what “shortly” means, and exactly when the UK Government intend to follow the Scottish Government’s lead on these matters, as they should on so many others.

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“Shortly” means “shortly”. [Laughter.] I am not going to elaborate on that, but I will say that in considering sentencing reform it is necessary also to look more broadly at the probation system. That is why I recently announced proposals to reform probation that will inform offender management and strengthen confidence in probation. However, I advise the hon. Gentleman to watch this space.

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I welcome the link that my right hon. Friend has made between sentencing and probation. Does he agree that one of the compelling arguments in favour of reform is that the vast majority of people who are given short sentences tend to be repeat petty offenders whose behaviour is often driven by a number of factors such as drug addiction, debt, alcoholism and mental health issues—which are not and cannot best be treated in a custodial setting—and that we ought to invest far more in treating those people effectively outside, in the interests of public protection as much as anything else?

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I entirely agree with the Chairman of the Justice Committee. If we put people inside for a short time—for instance, prolific shoplifters—we want to address that criminality, but all that we actually do is make them more likely to reoffend and continue to be prolific criminals. Evidence shows that when it comes to reoffending rates, community sentences work better, but we need to do everything we can to ensure that they can be improved.

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In the past five years, more than 300,000 prison sentences of less than a year have been handed out, but the reoffending rate among that cohort is a staggering 64.4%. The Justice Committee has repeatedly called for the abolition of short custodial sentences. I appreciate that the Secretary of State is sympathetic to that call—I note his answer to an earlier question— but may we please have swift and urgent action?

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I agree with the hon. Lady’s point about the statistics—we should be led by the evidence—and I hope to make further progress on this matter in the time that is left ahead.

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I very much hope that a large amount of time is left to my right hon. Friend, who has been a truly reforming Secretary of State in this area, and I endorse everything said on this question by my fellow members of the Select Committee on Justice. However, does the Secretary of State agree that it is very important that if we do have community sentences they are robust and well enforced? Given that the original question was asked by a Scottish MP, I am conscious of the fact that one in three community payback orders in Scotland are ignored by criminals.

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My hon. Friend is right to highlight that point, and much though I believe that we should make rapid progress in this area, I think that we should do so in a way that ensures the system works properly, and I do think that the link with, for example, strengthening community sentences and the way the probation system works is very important. I hope that we are moving in a direction whereby we can make progress and we focus on ensuring that these prolific petty offenders do not reoffend and we are led by the evidence on what is the most effective way to achieve that, and my sense is that there is a large cross-party consensus on this point.

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When the Secretary of State decided to bring back 80% of community rehabilitation company activity into the National Probation Service that was welcome news, and I thank him for that, but he has left the community payback and accredited programmes in a different place. If he does not intend to bring that back into the core service, too, will he at least commit to having it commissioned as locally as possible?

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Again, we have been led by the evidence. Offender management is not working as we need it to work with regard to the CRCs, but some of the other activity CRCs do is done very well: there is good innovation and good measures are taken, and we should recognise that. So I believe the private and voluntary sectors have a significant role to play, but it is different from the role played until now. In terms of commissioning and so on, I believe we need to ensure that reflects local circumstances and that is part of our plans.

Prisoners: Access to Work

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6. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. [911802]

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21. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. [911818]

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23. What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for prisoners to access work before they are released. [911820]

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A year ago, our education and employment strategy set out plans to transform the way prisoners develop the skills they need to secure employment on release, and in addition our new release on temporary licence framework aims to increase the number of people these opportunities are available to by allowing more prisoners to access it sooner and for longer.

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I pay tribute to companies such as Timpson that are leading the way in employing ex-offenders. Which other companies is my hon. and learned Friend working with on this issue?

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I am delighted to say that large companies such as Greene King from the catering and hospitality sector and Wates from the construction sector are now working with the new futures network that was set up last year to bring more employers, large and small, into partnerships with prisons.

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Futures Unlocked is a charity in my constituency with a community café supported by Warwickshire police and crime commissioner Philip Seccombe. It gives work experience to people who have just completed a prison term and has just been awarded the Queen’s award for voluntary service. That is a great example of opportunities that can be offered after release, but what can be done beforehand?

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I join my hon. Friend in supporting Futures Unlocked and extend my congratulations to it on receiving the Queen’s award, and my hon. Friend is right to talk about what can be done beforehand. It is about building confidence, and that is why the new futures network that I mentioned, which brokers partnerships with employers to provide opportunities before release, will be crucial if we are to extend the benefit of this scheme and reduce reoffending.

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There is still some reticence among certain companies to employ ex-offenders. The Minister has highlighted some of the real success stories in the private sector where companies have specifically hired ex-offenders in a very effective way. What is his Department doing to showcase those success stories, to ensure that more companies follow this important goal?

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My hon. Friend is right to talk about changing the culture. A number of companies are quite openly employing ex-offenders. Also, the Ban the Box initiative, which is all about encouraging companies to employ people with previous offences and removing the tick-box exercise, is supported within the Government and increasingly in the wider business community. I attended an event with the creative industries only three weeks ago to highlight that important initiative.

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But the Minister will know that what prisoners need is not only to have been prepared and had training while they are in prison but to have the full monty when they leave. They need housing, an opportunity to work and the full support of a good probation service, as was said by the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), the Chairman of the Select Committee. Does the Minister realise, however, that when people who are found not guilty following a miscarriage of justice come out of prison, they get nothing?

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The hon. Gentleman refers to miscarriages of justice. The prison system is there to deal with the prisoners in front of it, whatever might have happened with the case or proceedings they were involved with. However, he is absolutely right to talk about the need for housing. I am particularly interested in the £6.4 million initiative from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which is working with Bristol, Leeds and Pentonville prisons to support released prisoners into accommodation. I am sad to say that there is a correlation between the lack of secure accommodation and the return to offending.

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Does the Minister acknowledge that this sort of practice has been going on for some years in prisons such as Magilligan Prison in my constituency and that it is replicated in other prisons? Does he agree that the practice should be shared right across the United Kingdom and that it will, we hope, lead to a reduction in reoffending rates?

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I am interested to hear the example that the right hon. Gentleman gives in the Northern Irish prison that he represents. The Through the Gates service, which deals with employment, housing and benefit support, is crucial if we are to reduce reoffending, and the Government are investing an extra £22 million a year in prisons in England and Wales. I am working actively with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions to improve early access to universal credit.

Legal Advice Deserts

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7. What steps his Department has taken to tackle legal advice deserts. [911803]

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After the latest Legal Aid Agency civil tender, the number of offices providing legal aid services has increased by 7% in the areas of housing and debt. The Legal Aid Agency reviews the access to services on a regular basis and takes any necessary action to maintain access to those services.

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As the east of England is the region with the highest percentage of population with no providers of housing legal aid, and as Ipswich is in the centre of the housing legal aid desert that covers the whole of Suffolk and most of north Essex, will the Minister agree to meet me and the director of the Suffolk Law Centre to discuss what can be done to address this housing legal aid desert?

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I anticipated that the hon. Gentleman might ask about his local situation. Although a contract was awarded in Ipswich in the last tender, we are waiting for the provider to advise us that it has managed to recruit staff to provide advice. We are aware that this will be restricting access, and we will shortly consider re-tendering the service. I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss this further.

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Public confidence in the legal aid system is often determined by high-profile cases such as the inquests into the Manchester bombing and the London Bridge attacks, in which the taxpayer funded the legal fees of the public authorities and, in the case of London Bridge, the widow of one of the terrorists, but not the victims of the attack. Many people feel instinctively that this is not right, so what work is the Minister doing to build confidence in the justice of the current system so that the victims of terror do not face their own legal advice desert?

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I certainly hear what my hon. Friend says. Our thoughts will always be with those who have lost loved ones in any terror attack. Our review of legal aid shows that bereaved families do not need specific legal representation at the vast majority of inquests. It is important to ensure that these inquests remain inquisitorial, but what is known as equality of arms has to be a key consideration, as we know from Dame Elish Angiolini’s report. I am therefore working closely with my officials to look at what more can be done to help those families who are in an inquest situation.

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This month marks 70 years since the post-war Labour Government introduced the Legal Aid and Advice Act 1949. Tory cuts have decimated access in recent years, and those cuts alone mean 90,000 families denied legal aid for benefits challenges—a move that the United Nations criticised—and 50,000 families denied housing legal aid, letting rogue landlords off the hook, as well as tens of thousands left facing the “hostile environment” without legal support. Labour has committed to restoring legal aid for all family law, for housing, for benefits appeals, for judicial review preparation, for inquests and for real action on immigration cases. Will the Minister mark the 70th anniversary of legal aid by committing to return any of those?

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As we survey the decaying embers of a dying regime reaching its inevitable conclusion, it is good to see the shadow Secretary of State showing that he is waving and not drowning, as he desperately tries to draw attention to the fact he is full of vim and vigour. As he will know, we are currently reviewing legal aid thresholds and exceptional case funding. We are bringing special guardianship orders back within the scope of legal aid, and we are looking at legal support action plans.

I am unclear, the more I listen to Labour Front Benchers, about why they assume that the only way to provide legal support is to fund it through legal aid. We will shortly have a question on law centres and, for me, there have to be a number of ways to provide legal support. [Interruption.] “And for us,” I hear the hon. Gentleman say from a sedentary position, and I am pleased to hear that.

Probation Reform

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8. What recent progress he has made on probation reform. [911804]

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I am pleased to have announced plans to streamline probation delivery, through the National Probation Service, to build on the role of the private and voluntary sectors in driving innovation and to better support skilled probation officers. These changes will allow the public, private and voluntary sectors to play to their strengths and ensure stronger supervision and support for offenders. We are now developing the commercial and operational frameworks that will underlie the future system, and we are planning for the transition. We are undertaking a full programme of market engagement to inform our plans, in addition to engagement with probation staff and trade unions.

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By any stretch of the imagination, the changes to the probation service have been a shambles, fragmenting the system and increasing risk to the community at large. A simple “sorry” may also help the Minister’s answer, but will he give an indication of the cost of cancelling the current contracts next year? What will be the replacement costs for the state or other providers in taking over those services?

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First, “Transforming Rehabilitation” introduced bold reforms, and steps have been taken to ensure there is more innovation within our system, but I recognise that significant elements of it are not working as needed, which is why we have made the changes.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about costs, it is worth bearing in mind that we originally expected to spend £3.1 billion on community rehabilitation companies over a seven-year period, and we now expect to spend £2.7 billion over the same period. In other words, over the lifetime of the contracts, we now expect to spend £405 million less on CRCs than originally forecast.

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Probation works best when working with local partners. A brilliant charity in my constituency is owed £1,800 as a result of Working Links going into administration. This is a significant sum for the Dracaena Centre in Falmouth. Will the Secretary of State intervene to ensure it is paid for its excellent work?

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We will look at the specific case my hon. Friend raises, but we have already intervened to ensure those charities that have lost out as a consequence of what happened with Working Links receive support. I will make sure I look at her individual case.

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Considering that many community rehabilitation companies are now discredited for prioritising profit over public safety, how will the Government hold them to account when mismanagement of their contractual responsibility for probation comes to light?

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To be fair to the CRCs, I am not sure that any of them is taking steps to get profits—but perhaps to reduce their losses. In truth, the shareholders of CRCs have somewhat subsidised probation services in recent years. We will hold the CRCs to their contractual obligations and ensure they deliver what they are contractually obliged to deliver.

Leaving the EU: No Deal

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9. What steps his Department has taken to prepare for the UK leaving the EU without a deal; and if he will make a statement. [911805]

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Our justice system is respected across the world. That was the case before we joined the EU, and it will continue to be the case after we leave. The Department has taken all necessary steps to ensure we are prepared for a deal across MOJ interests and for the possibility of a no-deal exit, to the extent it is possible to do so.

This includes working closely with other Departments to ensure that essential services continue; working with suppliers of key products to ensure essential supplies are in place; providing the courts and judiciary with additional training and resources to enable them to prepare for possible changes; and ensuring that contingencies are in place for any potential traffic disruption in the south-east of England.

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I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and welcome the strong statements he has made recently on a possible no-deal Brexit. Does he agree that, regardless of how much preparation is done, the implications of no deal for our justice systems would be dire?

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What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that leaving the EU without a deal risks some significant impacts across the justice system, including potential disruption to goods and services to our prisons; an increase in case load and case complexity across court jurisdictions; increased pressure on our courts system; the loss of access to several law enforcement tools, including the loss of data exchange tools, making it more difficult to protect the public; and market access impacts on our legal sector, restricting or removing our ability to operate in EU markets. So do I think a no-deal Brexit is a good idea? No, I do not.

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I commend the Secretary of State for his honesty, but I wonder whether he would pass on his knowledge on this subject to the two candidates to be the next Prime Minister, because, despite their recent and mercifully brief visits to Scotland, they seem unaware of the impact on the safety of people living in Scotland and across the UK if we leave the EU without a deal. Has he spoken to them to explain that if we do not have the use of the European arrest warrant, it will be extremely difficult to apprehend people who commit violent crime in this country and then go back to the continent, whereas at the moment this can be done within a matter of days?

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Both candidates for the leadership of my party have made it clear that they do not want a no-deal Brexit, and I wish them well—[Interruption.] I understand that the chances are “a million to one”, so I wish them well in their endeavours.

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It would seem that the Secretary of State and I must be reading different newspapers. In an earlier answer, he mentioned problems of data protection if we leave without a deal. Has he explained to the candidates to be Prime Minister that leaving without a deal means we would lose membership of Europol and, because of data protection rules, that would mean that not only would the police no longer have access to data held by Europol, but information that Police Scotland have currently been providing to Europol will be removed from Europol databases, thus prejudicing ongoing investigations? Does he agree that it is not acceptable for people in Scotland to have their safety so prejudiced?

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First, I can confirm that I suspect we do read different newspapers, but I agree that the loss of access to various law enforcement tools would make it more difficult to protect the public. I am sure there are ways in which these issues can be addressed, but a much better way forward would be to leave the EU—this is where we disagree—with a deal.

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A no-deal Brexit poses a serious threat to our justice system; ending access to the European arrest warrant and criminal database would leave us all less safe. The Justice Secretary agrees about those no-deal dangers, but I also fear that no deal is a stepping stone to a free trade deal with the United States of America. Labour’s justice spokesperson in the Lords recently asked whether our prisons would be up for grabs for American corporations in any post-Brexit free trade deal with the US, and the Government’s vague answer alarmed me. So will the Justice Secretary clearly state today that our prisons should not be part of any post-Brexit free trade deal with the USA?

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First, I think I read different newspapers from the hon. Gentleman, although I do read the Morning Star when he has an article in it. [Interruption.] Which is not quite every day, although it sometimes feels like it. On trade deals with the US, it is the intention of this Government, and, I suspect, of the next Government, to enter into a trade deal with the US, but we would want to do so in a way that protects public services.

Tackling Reoffending: Voluntary Sector

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11. What assessment the Government have made of the role of the voluntary sector in tackling reoffending. [911807]

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The voluntary sector has a pivotal role in supporting rehabilitation and helping offenders to turn their lives around. I want to expand that role, including in the delivery of local and specialist services by smaller organisations. We have committed to tender up to £280 million of contracts for unpaid work, accredited programmes and rehabilitation interventions in the future model.

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There are indeed many brilliant charities and voluntary organisations that help ex-offenders get back on their feet, including in my constituency the likes of Caring Hands in the Vale, which is led by the brilliant Diane Bennett, and other organisations that work throughout the country, such as The Right Course, which is led by Fred Sirieix. What practical help can the Government give to such organisations?

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My hon. Friend is right to raise the excellent work done by those two organisations. In fact, more than 10,000 people work for voluntary organisations that are involved in criminal justice, and I want to involve them more closely. I have mentioned the dynamic framework, but we will also have a £20 million regional outcomes fund to pilot innovative programmes. The new regional probation model will allow local approaches at a local level.

Support for Veterans

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12. What recent steps the Government have taken to support veterans in the criminal justice system. [911808]

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We all owe a great debt to those who serve in our excellent armed forces—including, of course, the hon. and gallant Gentleman—both during and after their service, and that also applies to those former armed forces personnel who enter the criminal justice system. The Government have committed £5.7 million to the support of ex-armed forces personnel in the criminal justice system, and we work in close partnership with a range of service charities to provide the help that they need.

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I thank the Minister for his response. I know he understands that veterans can have more complex needs than other offenders, but those needs are not always recognised, meaning that some do not get the support they require. Does he agree that we should have a dedicated veterans support officer in every probation and prison area?

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The hon. and gallant Gentleman raises an important point. He is absolutely right that many veterans have specific needs, which are, for example, often met in the custodial estate by service charities that understand and can relate to those needs. He raises a sensible and interesting suggestion that I am happy to pick up with him after questions.

Law Centres

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13. What his Department’s policy is on law centres. [911809]

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We recognise the valuable work that law centres do in local communities throughout the country and support them in that work through both grant funding and legal aid contracts.

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Law centres such as South West London Law Centres, which has an office in my constituency, provide a significant cost saving to the public finances by helping to resolve legal issues in the fields of debt, employment, immigration and housing before they spiral out of control. Will the Minister commit to securing Treasury funding to provide a central grant to law centres to ensure their survival?

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A few weeks ago I visited my local law centre in Blackpool, the Fylde Coast Advice and Legal Centre, and saw the excellent work that it does. The centre that the hon. Lady mentioned is on my “to visit” list, so staff there will be seeing me imminently. She makes the important point that we need to bring early legal advice as close as possible to the individual’s front door, and not wait for matters to reach the court door. We are committed in our legal support action plan to looking into how law centres can best be utilised to deliver on that agenda, so I am keen to hear what staff have to say to me when I get to meet them.

Family Courts: Rape and Domestic Abuse Survivors

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14. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of the service provided by family courts to survivors of rape and domestic abuse and their children. [911810]

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We are determined to improve the family justice response to vulnerable parents and children, including victims of rape and domestic abuse. An expert panel has been established to help us better to understand victims’ experiences in the family courts, and we will hold a public call for evidence to build a more detailed picture of any harm caused during or following proceedings.

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One of the most senior family court judges has described it as “shaming” to preside over so many cases where individuals are being forced to represent themselves because of the impact of legal aid cuts, especially as we should be minimising harm to children of victims of domestic violence. This really should be a central concern of our justice system. Is the Minister shamed by the effects of his Government’s policy?

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What we are seeking to do with the panel that we have set up is make sure that we reappraise the incremental changes that have occurred over time and understand how that has impacted on practice in the courts. I am very keen to see what the panel has to say. It is independent, and I am not trying to pre-judge its outcomes at all, but I hope that it comes up with a series of short-term changes that we can make immediately. Areas of further work may be required.

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I wrote to the Minister requesting the removal of automatic entitlement to joint assets from those guilty of attempting to murder their spouse. In his response, he expressed concern that to do so may punish the offender twice. But that is exactly what is happening to the victim: they are subject first to attempted murder and then to continued abuse through the courts and the potential loss of their home. The victims’ rights must always come first. Does he support the removal of the presumption of entitlement to joint assets in these cases?

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I do understand the points that the hon. Lady makes. I am glad that she read my reply carefully, and I understand why it might concern her. Part of the objective of this panel is to make sure that we look across the wide spectrum of practice in the family justice system. I have heard the points that she has made and I am sure that the panel will have, too. I look forward to seeing what advice the panel has.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [911822]

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The Government intend to bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows to create a Helen’s law. We propose to change the life sentence release test to ensure that, in a case where an offender has been sentenced for murder and the remains of the victim have not been found, the Parole Board must take account of any failure or refusal to disclose the location of those remains when assessing whether such an offender is safe to release. Although the Parole Board already considers such a failure or refusal as part of its risk assessment procedures, our proposal will set that out in statute. I pay tribute to Marie McCourt for her tireless work on the Helen’s law campaign and the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) for similar such work.

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Last month, in a letter to me, the Secretary of State revealed that more than £26 million of public money has been wasted in a single year fighting and losing personal independence payment appeals. That is a vast sum, in addition to an appeals process that is forcing many disabled people to wait for their decisions. Does he believe that we are getting good value for public money, or does he accept Labour’s view that this is not only cruel but wasteful, and that it shows that we need to scrap these unfit-for-purpose assessments?

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It is important that, where we have a benefit such as personal independence payments, we make an assessment as to whether those payments are going to the right people, and that, if there is an appeal against that, those appeals should be defended unless we believe that a mistake has been made. It is worth bearing in mind that, from memory, something like 4% of PIP assessments are overturned.

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I call Dr Caroline Johnson.

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Oh—I thought that I had Topical Question 6, Mr Speaker.

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Well, it is done on an alternating basis. [Interruption.] I am just helping the hon. Lady. One alternates between the two sides of the House, and although she has Topical Question 6, she is the first of the Government Back Benchers, so her time is now. During the period in which I have been helpfully prattling away, she will, I feel certain, have conceived of an absolutely brilliant question.

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T6. Following the debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, can my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State tell me when he will be able to bring forward a Bill to increase the penalty for those who are convicted of causing death by dangerous driving? [911827]

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am grateful to the Petitions Committee and to all hon. and right hon. Members who took part in that important debate yesterday, and to the families of the victims of that dreadful crime. It is my wish, and the wish of the Government, to bring forward the necessary legislation to change the maximum sentence from 14 years to life imprisonment as soon as humanly possible.

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Last week I exposed the fact that the number of homeless women going to prison has almost doubled in the past four years. What is especially shocking is that almost half of all women now going to prison are homeless. This is an appalling indictment of our broken justice system. Prison is all too often the very worst place for people who desperately need help to tackle the underlying problems of homelessness, poverty, mental ill health and substance addiction that led to them being jailed in the first place. Is the Minister concerned that our prison system is targeting the poor, the marginalised and the vulnerable?

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The hon. Gentleman sets out many of the reasons why we brought in the female offender strategy last year. We are seeking to address the root causes of criminality, which are very often—even more so with women—to do with mental health issues, as well as the fact that a very large proportion of women offenders are victims of domestic abuse. It is right that we have a female offender strategy that focuses on non-custodial measures; part of that will be women’s residential centres.

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Will the Minister update us on the sale or transfer to the Isle of Wight Council of Camp Hill prison? Is he aware of the importance of the site to the Island and to public housing on the Island, and does he understand the frustrations of Islanders, who see yet another bit of land being land-banked by either developers or Government Departments?

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My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I am as anxious as him to ensure that that land can be put to good use. I wrote to him last month. We have commissioned a demolition survey of the former Camp Hill prison, and I will meet him when the results are available later this month. I will also visit the Island to see the prison estate and to talk about the matter directly with the Island council.

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T2. Since the Corston review into women in the criminal justice system in 2007, over 100 women have died in prison. INQUEST has recently published an update on its report, “Still Dying on the Inside”, which sets out the tragic and often avoidable circumstances around the deaths of women in custody. What concrete actions has the Minister taken to resolve this crisis? [911823]

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The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. Although the female deaths in custody rate is lower than that of men, every single death is a tragedy that we must do everything we can to prevent; and likewise with self-harm. We have improved the support available to women in prisons. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, we believe that in many cases a community sentence or community support is better and more effective than prison. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the announcement we made a few weeks ago about the health and justice plan that we are currently working on to improve health and support for everyone in prison—not just female offenders, but obviously including them.

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Recent Ministry of Justice research shows the increasing concentration of crime in the hands of a few prolific criminals, but written answers that I have received in the past few weeks suggest that too few are being jailed. Will my right hon. Friend look to review the sentencing of prolific offenders?

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This is one of the rare occasions when I have to say that I disagree with my hon. Friend. For prolific offenders of minor crimes, it is my view that a non-custodial approach is the right one, but we need to ensure that that works effectively. That is why I have announced reforms to probation. One problem we have at the moment is that such offenders get a short custodial sentence, which only disrupts lives but does not allow any opportunity to do any work on rehabilitation.

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T3. I agree with the Secretary of State’s last point, but in order to achieve that he will need to reverse the trend that has seen a fall in drug and alcohol rehabilitation requirement orders from 170,000 five years ago to 120,000 this year. Will he look at that point? [911824]

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I certainly will. We have recently announced an extension of the community sentence treatment requirement pilots. That is the direction that we need to be going in to address some of the substance abuse and mental health issues that often lie behind these prolific offenders who do cause great difficulties for society. If we want to reduce reoffending, we need to focus on that group and take effective, evidence-led measures.

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On behalf of my constituent Linda Jones, may I thank and congratulate the Justice team, from the bottom of my heart, for bringing forward Helen’s law? Let us collectively hope that making parole harder to achieve unless a perpetrator reveals the whereabouts of the body will lead to the discovery of the remains of Danielle Jones—Linda Jones’s daughter—as well as those of Helen McCourt and all the other victims of such tragedies.

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I thank my hon. Friend, who has been tireless on this cause on behalf of his constituent. Having met Marie McCourt, I know the pain that is suffered by those relatives who never get the opportunity to say farewell to their loved one. My hon. Friend has been making that case very, very forcefully, and I thank him for that.

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T4. Contrary to the Government’s fairly timid review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, Jo Wilding’s new report on legal aid for immigration cases warns that urgent policy action is required to avoid catastrophic market failure in England and Wales. Will Ministers read that report and respond with the urgency required? [911825]

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I am always happy to read any report relevant to my brief. We are already reviewing many parts of the legal aid framework, particularly around the thresholds. I will have a look at that report and take it on board.

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As we head into the comprehensive spending review, what pitch will my right hon. Friend be making to the Treasury relating to prisons and schemes that have been successful in reducing reoffending?

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My hon. Friend raises a very important point about reducing reoffending. I hope that there can be a focus in the comprehensive spending review on what the evidence leads us to do in reducing reoffending and prioritising areas that are effective in bringing down crime. He hits the nail on the head.

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T5. I have been in communication with the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) about a constituent of mine who is facing an appalling situation with the Legal Aid Agency. The Legal Aid Agency applies a £100,000 disregard to eligibility for legal aid if someone is living in their main dwelling, but because my constituent is fleeing domestic violence and living in a women’s refuge, her property is considered to be her second home and she is being asked for the legal aid back. That cannot be the intention of the policy, but the Minister has not been able to do anything for my constituent. Will he urgently look into this and get us to a situation where people fleeing domestic violence are not penalised as a result of living in a refuge? [911826]

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The hon. Gentleman wisely sent his communication to my parliamentary email, so I got to read it. That is a note to other Members around the House as to how to get my attention. I have already asked to speak to officials this afternoon and I hope to be in touch as soon as I can.

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The Non-Contentious Probate (Fees) Order 2018 went through Committee at the beginning of the year but has still not been subject to a vote here. Given that the proposed increase, for no additional work, from £215 to potentially £6,000 has been described as an abuse of the Lord Chancellor’s fee-levying powers, has he had second thoughts and decided to reject this iniquitous proposal?

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I think the Government will be responding to that in due course.

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What does that mean?

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“What does that mean?”, the hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position. He is not in a minority of one in posing that question, but the Secretary of State’s reply was delphic.

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T7. Youth offending teams are struggling to provide their services for young people and the public as the result of year-on-year cuts to those services. This has meant highly complex case loads for staff, meaning that they can only respond through crisis intervention work. What are the Government going to do to help councils provide the sustained preventive interventions that are desperately needed in this sector? [911828]

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We, like the hon. Lady, value the work that youth offending teams do with children who have offended and the work they do to prevent offending. The Youth Justice Board’s total funding this year for frontline services, including youth offending teams, is £72.2 million, which is an increase on last year. We continue to invest in youth offending teams, but it is also important that we encourage innovations such as I saw when I visited Lewisham’s youth offending team earlier this year.

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IPP prisoners are those imprisoned indefinitely for public protection who have been found guilty of serious violent and sexual offences. In 2011, 300 were released. In 2017, 616 were released. How can the public feel safe when more than 10 of these people a week are being released on to our streets?

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My hon. Friend asks an important question about sentences of indeterminate length for public protection. I assure him that the Parole Board applies the most rigorous of tests before release. Indeed, the number of recalls to prison pursuant to that regime is about 1,000 prisoners. We still have 2,500 within the estate subject to that regime. There are counterweights that suggest to me that some prisoners have been there for too long, but I hear what he says.

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T8. I have an urgent topical question for the Secretary of State. He has always been very good on victim support, and he will be relieved that my question is not about miscarriages of justice. Brake in my constituency works with victims of road crashes and road injuries. It is a very good and unique group, but I have heard that it is losing its grant from the Ministry of Justice. Why would that be? [911829]

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. Let me look at that particular issue and, if I may, I will write to him.

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In his speech at Mansion House last week, the Secretary of State rightly and powerfully paid tribute to the integrity and value of an independent judiciary to this country. Will he make it possible for that speech to be disseminated to all Members of this House, so that everyone here recognises the responsibility that sits upon us to treat the judiciary with respect and support its independence from political or other attacks at all times?

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I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks. I believe it is very important to this country that we respect the independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law is at the heart of what we are about as a country. I can tell him that my speech is available on the gov.uk website—I hope that this announcement will not result in that website crashing, but I assure the House that it can be found there.

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Well, that sounds an intoxicating read.

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T9. I look forward to meeting the Prisons Minister next week to discuss HMP Nottingham. One of the major challenges at the jail is drugs. What is the latest update on the roll-out of body scanners at this prison and others? [911830]

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his continued interest in and concern for the welfare of prisoners and staff at HMP Nottingham. I look forward to updating him in detail next week. Among the issues we will discuss is that of drugs and how to eradicate them.

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I was delighted last Friday to present long-service awards to more than a dozen prison officers and staff at Long Lartin Prison in my constituency. Will the Prisons Minister join me in thanking them for their service, often of more than 20 years? What is being done on the recruitment and retention of prison officers?

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking such an interest in his local prison and taking part in that scheme. I mentioned the Prison Officer of the Year awards. The importance of those awards is to recognise the outstanding service of prison officers and other staff within the estate. In terms of retention, we are improving the way in which we train and support prison officers, particularly the newest recruits, and the number of prison officers has increased by 1,500 in the year to date.

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T10.   The work of our youth offending service in Sunderland is vital, yet since 2011 it has lost almost half its funding. If the Secretary of State is serious about diverting young people away from crime, will he look again at the current funding situation? We can and should be doing much more to support our young people, their families and the wider community. [911831]

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As I said to the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), we recognise the vital work of youth offending teams across the country. We have increased the funding for frontline services this year. Local authorities also have a role to play. While she is right that the funding has reduced, it is worth remembering that so too has the statutory case load, by a significant amount. That is not the only factor—they do other work, which must be recognised—but it is a factor.

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What assessment has the Minister made of the delays and errors at the Cardiff probate office, because what used to take a matter of 10 working days for my constituents is now taking months? Can he set out exactly what is causing the delays and, more importantly, what can be done to reduce them?

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As I said at the start of Question Time, it is wrong that people in a state of bereavement are having to wait so long for these matters to be addressed. In May the average waiting time was eight weeks, and it has now decreased to six or seven weeks. I intend to keep working with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to keep that downward trend and bring waiting times back to the traditional two to three weeks.

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The Prisons Minister has been good enough to keep me informed of developments at HMP Bristol in Horfield and of the urgent notification status. Will he agree to visit the prison with me, hopefully in the next couple of months, so that he can see for himself the challenges there are and how we can support the prison and the next governor to provide a safe regime?

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her continuing interest in HMP Bristol. The response to the urgent notification will be issued this week, and I will indeed visit the prison with her in the coming months to ensure that the necessary progress is achieved.

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In his answers to my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby) and for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), the Minister seemed content with youth offending services, yet every day we see the results of the Government’s neglect of those services. Assuming that he has learnt from that failure, what advice will he offer his successor to sort it out?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question—I am not yet sure whether that will be a matter for me or for a successor, but I assume he meant it kindly. He is right that the central Government grant has been reduced, as I said in answer to the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), and so too has that contributed by local authorities. It is important also to recognise the reducing statutory case load to set alongside that, although that is in no way to diminish the absolutely vital work that youth offending teams do. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight that. I share his concern and will continue to work closely with the Youth Justice Board on it.

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Campaigners and I are really pleased that the Government have commissioned a review of the treatment of victims of domestic abuse by the family courts, but we are concerned that survivors’ voices are not at the heart of the panel. I am looking forward to meeting the Minister next week, but will he take this opportunity to confirm on the record how victims and survivors of domestic abuse can participate in the review without fear of breaching gagging clauses imposed on them by the family courts?

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The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. I have already had discussions with the panel’s chairs on how to ensure that as broad a spectrum of people as possible can participate in the panel and its evidence taking. I will take away that point and hopefully have a concrete answer for her by the time we meet.

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Witnessing domestic abuse, especially as a child, is traumatising and has an impact on life for years to come. In the upcoming domestic violence legislation, will the Minister commit to including children who have witnessed domestic abuse in the statutory definition of a domestic abuse victim?

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The hon. Lady rightly highlights the importance of the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which we hope to bring forward as soon as we have fully considered the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft Bill. I know that is something that came up in evidence and in the Joint Committee, and it is something we will be looking at very carefully.

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My constituent Claire Ball was sexually abused as a child. She bravely went through the trauma of giving evidence against the perpetrator in court. Throughout that process, Claire was given less support than the perpetrator, had no option for witnesses to support her and, disgustingly, was accused of “leading him on”. He was found not guilty—Claire has still not been given a clear reason why—and has remained living close by. Can the Minister explain to me and to Claire, since she must relive the trauma every time she sees the perpetrator, when the Government will redress the inequity faced by child sexual abuse victims in our justice system?

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The hon. Lady makes a powerful point. The issues to which she alludes are likely to fall under the responsibilities of both the Crown Prosecution Service and the court. I am happy to meet her to discuss the specifics of the case and, as appropriate, take them up with the Solicitor General and the Attorney General.

Speaker’s Statement

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In a moment, we will come to the ten-minute rule motion. However, the House will be aware of the subsequent business appertaining to Northern Ireland. By way of explanation, I wanted to mention the following. Last night, my office received a telephone call from a sadly rather uninitiated tabloid scribbler who seemed much excited by the rumour that “Mr Speaker would not be chairing Committee proceedings”. He was most anxious to decipher the reason for this, because it seemed to him most mysterious. Kindness and generosity of spirit prevent me from naming the said individual. [Hon. Members: “Go on.”] However, perhaps I can be permitted to say on the Floor of the House what is well known to Members: it is a very long established convention that Mr Speaker does not chair the Committee of the whole House. When I say a long established convention I am referring to a convention dating back to the 17th century.

I know that some people are slow learners and others are late developers, but I hope that the chappie has now got the point, and it will be a professional utility to him thereafter not to need to trouble my staff to be educated on this front. There we go, there is hope for us all. The fella has now, I think, probably grasped the point.

Tin Mining Subsidence

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

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I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Coal Authority to undertake remedial works on properties with subsidence damage as a result of tin mining; to make provision for the Coal Authority to make compensation payments in lieu of such works; and for connected purposes.

The Cornish tin mining industry left many great legacies. In its heyday, it generated extraordinary wealth for our nation. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, there was even a stannary parliament in Cornwall that had the power to veto certain tax proposals coming from central Government. The industry was also a catalyst for great invention and innovation. Richard Trevithick from Camborne invented the first steam locomotive, and William Murdoch from Redruth invented gas lighting—both inventions that shaped our modern world.

There were companies, too, such as Holman’s, which developed extraordinary drilling technology that was exported to mining operations around the world. When the industry declined in the late 19th century, Cornish miners took their expertise around the globe to build mines as far afield as Australia, South Africa, California, Mexico and South America. Today, we still have the world-famous Camborne School of Mines, located with Exeter University at Falmouth, and a new generation of companies is taking that heritage of drilling expertise to the oil and gas industry, and to renewables. There is even some discussion about reopening the last tin mine at South Crofty, as tin prices have recovered.

For those living in Cornwall, however, there is a less welcome legacy from tin mining—the problem of subsidence damage caused by historical mine workings. The subterranean area in Camborne, Pool and Redruth in particular, but also in many parts of Cornwall, is said to resemble a Swiss cheese. It is a complex network of tunnels and mines under the towns in my constituency.

Those mine workings pose several difficult problems for residents. First, there can be significant costs when damage occurs. One of my constituents had to raise a second mortgage on their property to secure £20,000 to put right a mining feature that had opened up in their front garden. Secondly, there is sometimes ambiguity over the liability of insurers. In general cases, insurers help when there is damage directly to a property, although they seldom assist when there are problems arising within the curtilage of a property but not to the structure of the building. They do not generally remedy features to prevent future damage.

The final problem this issue poses for my constituents and others in Cornwall is that there are many cases where people undertake a mining search with a particular company when they buy a property and the company tells them there are no issues, so they purchase a property and secure a mortgage, but often when they want to move and sell their home, they find that a different buyer will use a different mining search company that has different data available to it, and that reveals an issue that can make it difficult for a purchaser to get a mortgage.

The problems arising from mining subsidence damage are obviously not unique to Cornwall—coalmining took place in huge areas of this country—but what is unique to Cornwall is that there is no Government-backed scheme to assist residents with the problems they face.

There has been a long-standing Government scheme for coal. In 1957, when the Coal-Mining (Subsidence) Act was introduced, there was an opportunity to include tin mining workings, but it was not taken. In 1975, there was a new Coal Industry Act, which formalised the role of British Coal in giving compensation, particularly to the nationalised industry. Again, the opportunity to include tin was missed. In 1991, new legislation was introduced to consolidate the compensation schemes in this area, through the Coal Mining Subsidence Act 1991. Again, tin was excluded. In 1994, the Coal Industry Act assigned responsibility for these compensation schemes to the Coal Authority and, again, this excluded tin. My Bill would correct that long-standing oversight and end the prejudice against communities that suffer from subsidence damage as a result of tin mining.

It is sometimes said that coal is different, and it is sometimes said that coal is different because it was a nationalised industry. However, this claim does not stand up to any kind of scrutiny, because the 1991 Act applies to all damage caused by coalmining, whether that was pre-nationalisation, during the war or post-nationalisation, and whether it was private or public. Even after the nationalisation of our coal industry, there continued to be some private mines. Indeed, the original 1957Act on coalmining subsidence mainly addressed the issue of private mines, where the liability for damage could not be established.

Sometimes it is said that the geology of Cornwall means there are fewer problems. Cornwall is okay, people say, because it is built on granite and there are fewer subsidence issues. All I can say is that if a homeowner does have a subsidence event on their property, that is every bit as difficult for them as it is for any resident in a coalmining area. The fact that there could be proportionately fewer cases in tin mining areas, frankly, ought to make the Government more ready to act in this space. There is no need for the Treasury to fret about the cost of it all, because including tin mining would be a modest extension of the scheme.

The Coal Authority deals with between 500 and 600 claims in coalmining areas each and every year, and it has a budget of about £27 million, much of which is spent on remedying subsidence issues. In 2014, there was a triennial review of the functions of the Coal Authority, and in 2017 a separate, tailored review was run by the Cabinet Office. Both those reviews concluded that the current approach and the current system in the Coal Authority were fit for purpose. They considered other alternatives to compensate communities, but those were all ruled out. My contention is that what is good for coal is good for tin.

I am aware, from my discussions on this, that the Treasury—I think some officials in the Treasury—also took the view that there was an unfairness here, with coal being treated differently from other types of mining. Initially, I was encouraged by that, but the Treasury being the Treasury, it of course had a rather different solution to this, which was to pull the rug out from under the coal scheme, rather than to add tin to it. Thankfully, both the reviews and Ministers have ruled out such action.

My Bill would broaden the remit of the Coal Authority, placing an equivalent legal requirement on it to assist in subsidence cases in tin mining areas. The geographical footprint for tin mining—located, as it is, mainly in west Cornwall, although in other parts of Cornwall too and in some parts of west Devon—means there will be far fewer cases for tin mining than there are for coalmining. As I said earlier, the geology of Cornwall—built, as it is, on solid granite—means the Government could expect proportionately fewer claims coming from these tin mining areas than they currently receive from coalmining areas.

The addition of tin to the compensation scheme that has existed since 1957 would be a drop in the ocean for a Department such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. However, it would mean a great deal to those families and communities that are affected by the blight of subsidence caused by mine workings. Given Cornwall’s great contribution to the wealth of our nation and to the industrial revolution, I believe that the least we could do in this House is correct this historical oversight, prejudice and injustice against Cornwall and against communities suffering from tin mining subsidence.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That George Eustice, Derek Thomas, Sarah Newton, Scott Mann, Steve Double, Mrs Sheryll Murray and Sir Gary Streeter present the Bill.

George Eustice accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 418).

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Considered in Committee (Order, 8 July)

[Dame Eleanor Laing in the Chair]

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We will begin with new clause 1, but before I call the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), I will point out a few matters to hon. Members. There are several changes to the provisional selection and grouping. These are fairly minor changes, but Members will appreciate that the Bill was published very recently and that there has been quite a lot of interest in it.

New clause 10, in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), currently appears in the second group of amendments. It should have appeared in the first group of amendments with new clause 1, so I would be grateful if Members read the first group of amendments as including new clause 10, in the name of the hon. Lady. New clause 19 should not have appeared on the provisional selection of amendments at all, as new clause 19 has not been selected. Amendment 11 has a small error in it, and an amended text of amendment 11 will be issued shortly; it is not dramatic.

New Clause 1

Marriage of same-sex couples in Northern Ireland

“(1) The Secretary of State must make regulations to change the law relating to marriage in Northern Ireland to provide that marriage between same-sex couples is lawful.

(2) Regulations under this section must be in force no later than 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before the regulations under this section come into force, any regulations made under this section and any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”—(Conor McGinn.)

This new clause would require UK secondary legislation to extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland unless a Northern Ireland Executive is formed by 21 October 2019.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 2—Pension for victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards preparing legislation to implement a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 1 on a report on progress made towards preparing legislation to implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 4—Reproductive rights of women in Northern Ireland: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in relation to the reproductive rights of women mentioned in section 3 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 2 on a report on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in relation to the reproductive rights of women, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 6—Historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards implementing the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995 is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 3 on a report on progress towards implementing the recommendations made by the Hart Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 8—Same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland: debate

“(1) A Minister of the Crown must, within the period of two sitting days beginning with the first sitting day on or after the day on which the report on progress made towards implementing marriage for same-sex couples in Northern Ireland is published, make arrangements for—

(a) a motion to the effect that the House of Commons has approved that report to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Commons sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published, and

(b) a motion for the House of Lords to take note of the report mentioned in paragraph (a) to be moved in that House by a Minister of the Crown within the period of seven Lords sitting days beginning with the day on which the relevant report mentioned in section 3 is published.

(2) In this section—

“Commons sitting day” means a day on which the House of Commons is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Commons is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day);

“Lords sitting day” means a day on which the House of Lords is sitting (and a day is only a day on which the House of Lords is sitting if the House begins to sit on that day).”

This new clause is linked to amendment 3 on a report on progress towards implementing the recommendations made by the Hart Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, and provides for the report to be debated in Parliament.

New clause 10—International obligations

“(1) In accordance with the requirements of section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 regarding international obligations, the Secretary of State must make regulations by statutory instrument to give effect to the recommendations of the Report of the Inquiry concerning the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 8 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

(2) Regulations under this section must come into force by 21 October 2019, subject to subsections (3) and (4).

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (1)—

(a) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament;

(b) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(4) If a Northern Ireland Executive is formed before 21 October 2019, any extant obligations arising under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect.”

Amendment 9, in clause 3, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) The report under subsection (1) must include a review of the current legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause to respect devolution, in order to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary to State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause to respect devolution, in order to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.

Amendment 10, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards preparing legislation implementing a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the implementation of a pension for seriously injured victims and survivors of Troubles-related incidents.

Amendment 11, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

‘(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards meeting international human rights obligations applicable to the United Kingdom in respect of Northern Ireland in relation to the reproductive rights of women.”

The subsection would include placing a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the implications of any relevant judicial decision in relation to abortion.

Amendment 12, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made towards implementing the recommendations made by the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, including the establishment of a publicly funded compensation scheme under an HIA Redress Board, distinct from the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2009.”

The subsection calls for a report on implementing the Report of the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland between 1922 and 1995, published in January 2017, which was chaired by Sir Anthony Hart.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) Before making a report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must publish a report on or before 4 September 2019 on progress made in preparing legislation to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in Northern Ireland.”

The subsection calls for a report on preparations for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

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I rise to speak to new clause 1 in my name and the names of many right hon. and hon. Friends and Members across the Chamber. I want to speak briefly about the purpose of the new clause, the rationale for my tabling it and for wording it in the way I have and my motivation for bringing this before the Committee today.

The purpose of the new clause is straightforward. It stipulates that, if devolution is not restored to Northern Ireland in the form of a functioning Assembly and Executive, the Secretary of State would bring forward regulations in this House to introduce the legalisation for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

My rationale for phrasing the new clause as I have, with the stipulations that it contains, is simple. There is an ongoing talks process at Stormont. Two and a half years since the Assembly and Executive collapsed, we are still waiting on that to come to a successful fruition. As I said last night at Second Reading, these issues are difficult and complicated, and politicians in Northern Ireland have my respect and full support in trying to resolve those; but if, in three months’ time, they—along with the two Governments—have not been able to ensure that a fully functioning Executive and Assembly are back up and running, we should legislate here for equal marriage. In the event that they are up and running before then, this provision would not be enacted. In the event that the Stormont Executive and Assembly are up and running after we enact this measure here, of course the power to legislate on marriage remains with the Stormont Executive and Assembly, and they could seek to change or overrule the regulation that we have made here.

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Is the hon. Member at all concerned that the implication of this could impact on the negotiation process and de-incentivise one of the parties from negotiating at this particular time—that it would just sit it out until 21 October?

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I think the hon. Gentleman is posing a question for his own party and other participants in the talks, because to my mind the idea that this measure would lead to a failure of those parties to restore the Stormont institutions and get on with doing the business of Government on everything, including health and education, is quite far-fetched. It should act as an incentive for the parties to come to an agreement and have the institutions restored.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about one particular party, I think he refers to Sinn Féin. It has been very clear with me that it wants to see this decision made at Stormont, not Westminster. I have had discussions through the Love Equality campaign—the broad-based campaign for equal marriage—but also directly with all the political parties in Northern Ireland, including members of the hon. Gentleman’s own party, about the new clause. I understand the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues’ strongly, firmly and sincerely held views, both on the substantive issue that we are discussing and on the interpretation of its impact on the devolved settlement. I hope, however, he will accept that I, in crafting the new clause in this way, have tried as far as possible, in absolutely and unapologetically trying to make this happen and have same-sex marriage extended to Northern Ireland, to give the time and space for the political parties and the two Governments to restore the institutions. I have also respected the devolved settlement by emphatically saying that the power remains with Stormont. But at the minute—

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We are very proud of the introduction of equal marriage in Scotland under an SNP Government, led by the former First Minister, Alex Salmond. I am happy to hear the hon. Gentleman making it clear that he respects the devolved settlement. It is much easier for many of us in the SNP to support this excellent measure in the knowledge that he is proposing it given the fact that there is no Assembly at the moment, but it still respects the devolved settlement.

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I thank the hon. and learned Lady for her intervention and pay tribute to her and her colleague the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) for the work that they have done to ensure that their party is in a position to support the new clause tonight. That is very important to me, because the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) raised a point last night about her validly and genuinely held concern about the impact this would have on devolution; and when the hon. Lady speaks, I listen, as I think do most Members across this House. I hope that, given the answer that I gave last night and my explanation today, she is comfortable with the knowledge that this power does remain a devolved one, but that in the absence of an Assembly and Executive we can make what might be described as an interim provision here, which can then be overturned by the Assembly if it is back up and running.

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I will give way to the hon. Lady and then to the right hon. Gentleman.

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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene. May I just remind him of the fact that a large number of constituents, and those who are not constituents, have emailed me, and have contacted other Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies and who have taken their seats here, greatly concerned about the possibility that his new clause might undermine the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland? What can I say to those constituents, in an email reply to them, that confirms to them that the hon. Gentleman’s new clause in no way undermines the devolved settlement that was crafted so carefully by a Labour party led by Tony Blair?

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I thank the hon. Lady again for the direct way in which she puts the question. I was not old enough to vote for the Good Friday agreement, but everything I have done in my personal life and political career has been about supporting that—supporting the principle of consent, supporting power sharing, supporting peace on the island of Ireland, and supporting reconciliation between people who live in Northern Ireland and between Ireland and Britain. I am a passionate defender of the devolved settlement and a devolutionist. I think that, despite the ups and downs we have had, it has been a force for good in Northern Ireland, and my priority, and what I want to see, is the Assembly back up and functioning in Stormont.

As I have said, it is my strong view that, given the way the new clause is crafted—it has been selected by the Chair—it does not impinge upon the devolved settlement; it explicitly recognises that this is a devolved power. At the minute, however, the Assembly and the Executive exist in the ether, or as a concept, not in reality, so if they cannot make this law, we will make it here, because, as I have said often, rights delayed are rights denied. We will make the law here, and then when the Assembly is back up and running, the power remains its to change it.

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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for giving way so frequently so early. This is an important issue because his proposal does drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution and, if the SNP is prepared to accept it, this House can legislate and then ask a devolved legislature to overturn it. That is an interesting and novel concept. But would the hon. Gentleman confirm that, in seeking to drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution, overriding the concerns—[Interruption.]—overriding the concerns of people in Northern Ireland that the hon. Member for North Down (Lady Hermon) has referred to, his proposal actually would be not for a vote in this House, but that the procedure would be a process of annulment, so that regulations would come forward without any further vote in this House? Perhaps he would explain whether that is the case; I am just asking a question of information

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Regulations would come forward in the usual form, on the basis of a vote tonight approving the mechanism to do that. The Bill in fact makes specific provision for the Secretary of State to introduce regulations, through statutory instruments, for governance in Northern Ireland. That is not specified—what I am actually doing is specifying one area where I would wish them to do that.

I understand that an issue like this is binary, and that the right hon. Gentleman and I are on opposite sides on this, but I hope he understands that it certainly is not my intention to drive a coach and horses through anything. I gently say to him, I have always supported the devolved institutions from 1998 and the power-sharing arrangements that were made then.

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No one challenges the hon. Gentleman’s sincerity, both on the point of his desire to see relations fixed in Northern Ireland and his opinion on this matter. We are just at different ends of the scale in terms of opinion on this matter. Surely he must accept, under the work that he did when he was in the shadow office, that this completely and totally usurps the role of the Northern Ireland Assembly. It does drive a coach and horses through the issues. There is not sufficient time between now and 21 October to establish a new Executive that would be able to function on these matters by that date. Surely he recognises that.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and I will answer him very directly. Far from usurping the role of the Assembly, I am acting on a mandate given by the Assembly when it voted in favour of equal marriage. That was vetoed by his party, using a petition of concern to block it. The majority of the Assembly, the majority of political parties in Northern Ireland, members of his own party, and the overwhelming majority of the public support legislating to legalise equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

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The constitutional debate we are hearing this afternoon is very important—no one would deny that. My hon. Friend has already made the point that the distinction between Northern Ireland and Scotland is that there is a functioning Scottish Government and a functioning Scottish Parliament. But this is not just about constitutions; it is about people and the fact that Northern Ireland is, at present, the only place in the whole of the United Kingdom, or indeed the island of Ireland, where LGBT people cannot exercise their right to marry. Given that there is already, as he says, a majority in favour in the Assembly and a majority in favour among the public, is this issue not now about democracy and human rights?

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I think it is. That has always been my contention and I hope to speak on that in my closing remarks. Did the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) want to intervene? I will give way one last time and then I will have to make progress.

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The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. He makes a point about rights. There is the protection of rights in the Assembly: the petition of concern allows for all rights to be protected. That is why, I assume, he supported Tony Blair when he introduced the petition of concern mechanism.

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It is very important that we have a mechanism where sensitive, cultural or constitutional issues get support on a cross-party basis. I do not believe same-sex marriage was one of those issues and I do not think it was appropriate to use the petition of concern in that respect.

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I pay tribute to the very pragmatic and careful way the hon. Gentleman has drafted his new clause and gone about this. What can I say, other than that I give my full support to him, the people of Northern Ireland and, in particular, the LGBTIQ people in Northern Ireland? The hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) made the important point that it is a very different situation when the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat for 900 days. The Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government are fully functioning, and Scotland has had a coach and horses driven through its devolved settlement. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) should remember that. We absolutely support the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). I hope that Democratic Unionist party and Government Members will listen to him very carefully. We have an opportunity to do something very positive here. I hope Members from across the Chamber will support him.

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I appreciate the hon. Lady’s remarks and the work she has done in Scotland. I also appreciate her acknowledgment that this can and should be done, and that it does not impinge on the devolved settlement.

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My hon. Friend knows his new clause has my full support. As I made clear on Second Reading last night, I am a proud devolutionist. I support the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government, as I do the other devolved Administrations. This matter is about a fundamental issue of rights. He has constructed this in a very careful way. Does he agree that there is a fundamental anomaly here? Individuals in the rest of the UK who want to marry Northern Irish citizens, or get in a marriage in Northern Ireland are unable to do that at present. That is a huge anomaly that affects relationships and people across the United Kingdom.

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Absolutely. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Ged Killen) is in his place. He is married to a Tyrone man. As an Armagh man, I make no further comment on his choice of husband and his county affiliations. [Laughter.] He makes the point frequently that, when he is in Scotland they are married and recognised by the law, but when they get off the plane in Belfast they quite simply are not. That cannot continue and, from a Unionist point of view, is anathema to anyone who values equal rights within the Union as a whole.

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My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I wholeheartedly support his new clause. Does he agree that we in this House need to remember that it is not unique for us to propose to legislate from Westminster in respect of Northern Ireland? It is not particularly anomalous. There have been myriad occasions in recent history, during the difficult periods of the political process in Northern Ireland and over the past two years, when we have legislated effectively in this place to either put in place important provisions for the people Northern Ireland or to keep the peace process on track. This is an important instance when we should do likewise and step in in the absence of the Assembly.

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I thank my hon. Friend for what he said and for the work he did as shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. This and other issues we will discuss today, on which I am sure he intends to speak, were critical to getting us to the point where we are now.

I want to close my speech because there are myriad other important issues—

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The hon. Gentleman is being generous in taking interventions. I am very pleased to have added my name to his new clause, and I speak as somebody who did not vote for the same-sex marriage Bill originally, but the world has not fallen in since. I would not vote to change the law and this is a matter of equal opportunities for people across the United Kingdom. I believe in the Union and therefore I believe that the opportunity should be open to every citizen of every part of the United Kingdom. Can I ask him—I am sure the answer will be yes because he supported my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill to have equal civil partnerships in England and, I hope, the rest of the United Kingdom—would he support extending that equality to Northern Ireland? If we brought those two together, what a double whammy that would be.

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I very much appreciate the sentiment, but let us get through today first and then we can have a conversation about that.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will, but I am afraid I will then have to close.

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I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate him taking this intervention. I hope he recognises that the comments I made last night about the unsatisfactory way in which individual issues have been adopted are not attributable to him. He is right, and has every entitlement, to advance the issues he so chooses. There are a huge number of issues that affect society in Northern Ireland and impinge on rights in Northern Ireland, yet there is no progress on legislation for them. I do not expect him to champion all those causes individually but, if he believes now is the time for Westminster to start acting and legislating on those matters, will he be responsive and proactive, and support a huge range of issues that we believe need to be addressed in Northern Ireland and cannot wait any longer?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I have always been clear that I am an MP from Northern Ireland, not for Northern Ireland. It is his job and the job of his colleagues and other MPs to lead on issues that are affecting their constituents. I do not claim a mandate from Northern Ireland but, as I said in last night’s debate, I hope people will accept that it is the place that I will always call home. Family and friends still live there. I try to visit when I can and I care deeply about the place.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about Westminster engaging in other issues that have been raised over the course of the debate on the Bill, I acknowledge that there is a deep frustration among people in Northern Ireland on a whole range of issues that progress is not being made. I think we are fast approaching the time when they will want politicians somewhere to do something. If that has to be this place, then, reluctantly, I would agree with him that after this current extension we have to think seriously about making some progress on all the matters that have been discussed. It would have to be, in my view, strongly based on a three-stranded approach, north-south co-operation with the Irish Government, and co-operation between the two Governments through the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

I have focused a lot on process in last night’s debate and in my speech today, because I want to provide reassurance about the devolved settlement. When I made my speech to move my private Member’s Bill in February 2018, I quoted some of the wit and wisdom of people in south Armagh and Northern Ireland, and some of the Ulsterisms that were used. I have to say that it is not funny anymore. This is really serious and it needs to be addressed. This House has failed LGBT people in Northern Ireland before. It failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland by not decriminalising homosexuality, and condemned them to discrimination, to abuse and to living in fear many years after that stopped being the case in the rest of the UK. It failed people in Northern Ireland by not extending same-sex marriage when it became the law here, making people in Northern Ireland less valued than the rest of us. Tonight, we have the chance to do the right thing. People in Northern Ireland, and indeed across Britain and Ireland, are watching. I, for one, am not going to let them down. I hope colleagues do not let them down either.

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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who made a powerful argument for extending same-sex marriage across Northern Ireland. I was the Minister who did not extend same-sex marriage to Northern Ireland at the time, because of the devolution settlement, so I viscerally understand his arguments. I regret that that was not done when the legislation was put in place for England and Wales.

I spent many hours at the Dispatch Box making arguments similar to those that the hon. Gentleman made about the importance of equal marriage. The state has no right to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, and we have laws that prohibit that. As marriage is a fundamental part of our society, we should encourage more people to be married, including those in same-sex relationships. He is right that we need to make this change, but today’s debate will be about whether this is the place to do so. Does this debating Chamber and body of people have the right to do that? If we had that right, we would have exercised it when the initial legislation came through. I will listen closely to the Minister’s response before I make a decision on whether to support new clause 1. My heart tells me that it is the right thing to do, but my head is yet to be convinced that this is the right place to do it.

At the heart of my comments are new clauses 10 to 12, in the name of the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), and amendment 9, in the name of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson). The Women and Equalities Committee did a detailed and forensic analysis of the current situation on abortion in Northern Ireland. That was because of the report by the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, which was published last year, and our concerns about the evidence that was put before us by individuals and organisations representing a range of beliefs and positions in Northern Ireland.

I will not go through all the recommendations in that report; I will focus on the key recommendation, which the Committee almost unanimously believed to be the change that should be made. It was about mums and dads facing the appalling prospect of their unborn baby dying before it is born or shortly after, because it has been diagnosed with what is called a fatal foetal abnormality. Our Committee felt strongly that the law needed to change in this respect forthwith—quickly, immediately—because of the impact that that was having on people’s lives and wellbeing, as well as the threat to their mental and physical health.

Hon. Members will be aware that cases are before the courts and will be going before the Supreme Court for consideration. There has already been partial consideration of the issue, following which the Supreme Court said that there was a very real prospect that the law in Northern Ireland contravened human rights. As a Parliament we should be concerned that not every woman in our constituencies, wherever they might be, enjoys the same access to care and support. If the women in my constituency were facing the prospect of having to carry a baby that was going to die, I would man the barricades to change that law.

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My right hon. Friend, who chairs the Select Committee, is making an excellent speech. The judgment of the Supreme Court—the case was lost on a technicality—made it quite clear that Parliament is out of step with its UN treaty obligations. Does she agree that it is regrettable that despite that, Sarah Ewart has been forced to go through the High Court in Belfast, when we could have changed the law and avoided that outcome?

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My hon. Friend gets to the nub of the matter. The human rights organisation in Northern Ireland did not have standing to take a case, because of a strange error in the way that the law was drafted. Presumably, that could be put right quickly—possibly through this Bill—so that individuals such as Sarah Ewart would not have to go through this process, which is heartbreaking and impossibly difficult for anyone, let alone someone who has lost a child in this way.

New clauses 10 to 12 go much further than the Select Committee’s recommendations, and they talk about implementing the CEDAW report in full. I have no problems with the CEDAW report. I think it is comprehensive and compelling, and the Government should address it in full, because we are signatories to this agreement—as a well-respected international country, we adhere to the rules and regulations that we sign up to. However, hon. Members should be careful before finalising their thoughts on whether to support new clauses 10 to 12.

The CEDAW report calls on the Government to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Doing so would go much further than simply making it lawful for an individual to undertake an abortion if they have had a diagnosis of a fatal foetal abnormality, and it would have significant repercussions not only in Northern Ireland but in England. I ask hon. Members to consider whether this Bill is the most appropriate avenue to make such a fundamental change.

I do not disagree with the sentiment of the hon. Member for Walthamstow. She has consistently made a powerful argument in many similar debates, and one day we will get the opportunity to debate the matter in full. However, it does not feel right to me to make these changes through a Bill that has absolutely nothing to do with England and Wales, on a matter that is fundamental to many hon. Members who are probably not here today because they might not have realised the implications of her new clause.

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My right hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. As a member of the Women and Equalities Committee, I, too, was involved in its detailed inquiry into this very challenging issue, and I completely agree with the cross-party recommendations in that report. I agree that the fundamental issue with new clause 10 is that it affects abortion law across the whole UK, not just in Northern Ireland. I remind her that we made a number of other recommendations in that report to assist women. Does she agree that the Government should consider all the recommendations in the Committee’s report with urgency?

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I thank my hon. Friend for all her work on the Select Committee, of which she is a valuable and valued member. She is right that we cannot look at these things in isolation. There has to be a package of measures. Hon. Members from all parties know that if we were to repeal the law in the way that is recommended in new clauses 10 to 12, we would also have to look fundamentally at the provision of services in Northern Ireland.

The first step is to address the issue of fatal foetal abnormality. I fear dreadfully treading on the toes of my colleagues from Northern Ireland, who represent the men and women who live there. However, in the absence of a functioning Executive, it would be an absolute abrogation of my responsibility as a Member of Parliament not to raise these issues in the House today. I have had conversations with my Northern Ireland colleagues and with members of other parties who choose not to take their seats here, because I believe it is important for the voices of the people who represent those in Northern Ireland to be heard strongly in this debate, but I do not think it is easy to argue against the factual findings of the Select Committee report.

New clause 10, to put it bluntly, asks the Government to cut and paste the CEDAW report into legislation. I do not think that that would really work, not least because it has profound effects for England and Wales as well, but I do think that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North is absolutely right, in amendment 9, to ask the Government to go further. It is a difficult issue, and sensitivities are acute, but

“placing a duty on the Secretary to State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland with an analysis of how that framework could be amended by Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause”

could be a constructive procedure, including, perhaps, cross-party involvement. I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Lady’s approach, which is perhaps a little more tailored to the situation in hand than new clause 10.

These issues are never easy to discuss, but I am not sure that a time when Parliament is already engaged in one of its most difficult discussions about Brexit is the right time for it to be tackling issues relating to the whole United Kingdom through a Bill that focuses on Northern Ireland. That, to me, is not an obvious way of solving the problems. I have enormous sympathy with the new clauses tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, but at this point I do not think I can find it within me to support them, because of the profound implications for my constituents in England and their ability to communicate with me about their thoughts and views, and for our ability to discuss more broadly how we would accommodate those changes in the United Kingdom as a whole.

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Thank you, Dame Eleanor, for giving me an opportunity to speak briefly about the new clauses and amendments.

I entirely respect the sincerity of the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) and the way in which he spoke about new clause 1, but I fundamentally disagree with his view that because the Assembly is not sitting at present, it is right for this place to legislate on certain issues but not on others, although I recognise that his approach was that we should legislate across the board.

There are many issues about which people in Northern Ireland feel strongly, including the health service, education, infrastructure investment, jobs, the suicide strategy, mental health and the implementation of the Bengoa report on health and social care. The lack of progress on those issues through legislation and Executive decisions is having massively detrimental effects, but no one has addressed that point today. Instead, Members have picked out certain issues, which I think is the wrong approach, especially when talks are under way and there is a prospect of devolution in the short term.

I entirely accept that if we do not reach that point and there is direct rule, it should be for the House to legislate across the board. It has the right to do so, and we can still have a debate and discuss and argue about those issues. As the Secretary of State explained yesterday, the purpose of the Bill is simply to maintain the status quo by moving two dates to allow talks to continue, with no election in the meantime. However, that has now been effectively hijacked by a number of Members who want to introduce measures to override the Assembly, which I think is wrong and which is certainly not in keeping with the vast number of representations that have been made to me and to other Members from across Northern Ireland by constituents who have said that it is not an appropriate way in which to proceed.

I am particularly concerned about the wording of new clause 1. It appears to propose that, if the Assembly is not already up and running, there will be no further vote in the House before the regulations are implemented and the law is changed. When I intervened on the hon. Gentleman, he did not dispute that. Here we have a major issue: a change that will not be subject to any further vote in the House before its implementation, but will be subject to the procedure of annulment. I think that that is a highly questionable approach.

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Does my right hon. Friend not find it amazing that when we spent literally hours in the House debating the Henry VIII clauses during the Brexit debate, those clauses were railed against by Labour Members and members of other parties, whereas Labour is now proposing that Henry VIII powers be granted to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland so that regulations can be introduced with no scrutiny and, in fact, never even presented to the House?

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My right hon. Friend has made an important point. We are to have four hours of debate on this and a number of other devolved issues, but that is not the way in which such laws should be made. Members who have railed against emergency procedures, a lack of proper scrutiny and all the rest of it would be the first to protest if we were dealing with a different issue.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman not accept that there have been instances in the recent past when we have legislated in this place on what has ostensibly been a devolved competence? I am thinking of, for example, the provision to extend access to medicinal cannabis to Northern Ireland.

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I think that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in relation to that issue, but there have been instances in which legislation has been passed for the whole UK, which was entirely appropriate because there was no dispute about it.

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May I draw the right hon. Gentleman’s attention to his own new clauses 15 and 17, which propose the introduction of legislation relating to the armed forces covenant and the definition of a victim through exactly the same process through which I am proposing legislation relating to same-sex marriage?

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I shall deal with new clauses 15 and 17 when we discuss the second batch of new clauses and amendments, but the issues that they concern are UK-wide. The definition of a victim should be a UK-wide definition, and the military covenant should apply across the UK. That is the difference between the hon. Gentleman and me: I am taking a UK-wide approach, while he wants to override the devolution settlement at a time when there is a prospect of devolution being restored.

I referred earlier to issues on which there has been a consensus, a cross-party view that something should happen. The Government have always been willing to take such issues on board, as, indeed, have the Opposition. One example is the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry. All the party leaders have written to say that that is one area in which they would be content for something to be done, but that had been agreed by everyone across the community.

In this context, it is clearly appropriate to mention the sad passing this morning of Sir Anthony Hart, the chair of the inquiry which did such fantastic work in relation to victims of historical institutional abuse. It is a shock to us all, and I am sure that I speak for the whole House in extending sympathies and condolences to his family. That inquiry, and the sterling work done by Sir Anthony and all involved with it, has resulted in recommendations that have not been able to be taken forward, and indeed the Assembly was collapsed just a few weeks before proposals could be tabled. We urged that the Assembly not be collapsed to allow these proposals to be taken forward, but that was ignored by the Sinn Féin Minister of Finance. The fact of the matter is that there is one area where we do have total cross-party consensus, and we would certainly be supportive of taking that forward.

There is not cross-party support on the other areas, but on abortion there would certainly be a degree of concern among all parties in Northern Ireland about legislating; although the Northern Ireland Assembly parties across the board may take a different view on what needs to be reformed, they might not agree with Members here about the extent to which reform should happen in terms of time limits and the other aspects.

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The point my right hon. Friend makes about the late Sir Anthony Hart’s inquiry is all the more poignant and pointed when we consider that the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee unanimously agreed that we should ask the Government to deal with this issue, and the point was ignored by the Government.

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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out that and the role the Select Committee has played in relation to it. That was a very useful and important report that again demonstrated that there was cross-party support for those recommendations to be taken forward.

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I had the opportunity to work very closely with the late Sir Anthony Hart. He conducted the inquiry in an incredibly professional way; it was very victim-centred. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be a poignant and appropriate legacy to Sir Anthony Hart if this Government acted swiftly to implement those recommendations in terms of redress that he has just recently concluded?

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Yes, I agree; that is entirely right. This points to where we should be taking things forward in the interim. There are certain issues that have total cross-party support in Northern Ireland and where the demand has come from the Northern Ireland parties to the Government to do something. That is entirely different from Members here seeking to impose changes that are not agreed by the parties in Northern Ireland and when other pressing concerns—mental health and suicide strategy, health, education, jobs—are not being put forward for consideration at this stage. Moreover, this is not the appropriate vehicle through which to do this.

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As has been said, it is important for us to be taking forward things that have got agreement. The recommendations of the working group on fatal foetal abnormality, which was commissioned by two Northern Ireland Ministers in 2016, have now been published; does the right hon. Gentleman agree that they present another example of how we could, in this period where we do not have a functioning Executive, move forward even on an issue as sensitive as that?

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The right hon. Lady will be aware that there are court proceedings in relation to that issue that are due to be concluded in September. Certainly, I agree with the principle that issues where there is a cross-party view that is supported across the board by the parties in Northern Ireland, and where the request comes from the parties, should be looked at with favour and support and approval by the Government and, indeed, this House as a whole, but that should not be the case where there is no such consensus and agreement.

Finally, I wish to mention pensions for victims. Victims have suffered grievously in Northern Ireland over many years, and many of them are dying without seeing proper justice on the one hand and without getting some of the recompense that has been recommended that they should receive from many years back. Therefore, I am entirely sympathetic to and supportive of the idea of having a report and certainly debates in relation to this matter. We address in our amendment the UK-wide definition of a victim, because there is a problem in Northern Ireland.

People do not like the idea of an amnesty for past crimes, obviously, but they also do not support the idea that those who injure themselves in the commission of a terrorist act—for instance the Shankill bomber who went out with the purpose of murdering people and who did murder people—should be regarded as victims as a result of the injuries suffered in the same way as the people they maimed and caused terrible injuries to through their criminal acts. That is an unconscionable situation and this issue is holding up the payment of pensions to victims in Northern Ireland. That needs to be addressed. Therefore, again, I support amendments that call for that to be looked at and to be reported upon and to be taken forward.

It is very important that we have a sense of perspective in this debate. These are very sensitive issues. It is not right that we should drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement in relation to certain issues that people feel passionately and deeply about here but that are the subject of devolved powers in Northern Ireland, and at a time when there are real prospects of discussions taking place among the political parties leading to an agreement for the restoration of devolution. The effect of taking decisions before agreements are reached is to skew those negotiations. As has been said, some people will say, “If we’re going to achieve certain outcomes, we don’t need to negotiate; we don’t need to reach agreements.” That is entirely counterproductive.

I ask Members to think very carefully, whatever their views are on these issues, which I respect deeply; they, too, should respect the views of people in Northern Ireland. They should also respect the devolved settlement and the fact that talks are going on in Northern Ireland and that these are very sensitive matters, and these talks could be impacted greatly by what we do here today.

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I rise to support new clause 1 and to agree with everything that the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) said in moving it. I take very seriously the points the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) has just made, as I am sure do many on both sides of the Committee. It is not a small matter for this House to decide that it will legislate in this area; we should consider it carefully, and I have done so and want to explain why I have reached the decision that it is right for the UK Parliament to step in at the moment.

First, we need to reflect on the fact that 28 countries worldwide have now legislated for, or enabled through a court or referendum decision, same-sex marriage: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and most recently Ecuador through the courts and Taiwan through its legislature. Costa Rica will make it 29, as of course England and Wales and Scotland have legislated too.

Too often, people find themselves saying that the UK has provided for same-sex marriage, but that is not true. It is anomalous, as has been said already in this debate, that citizens in one part of the United Kingdom cannot avail themselves of something that many people regard to be a fundamental right: to be able to enter into a marriage with the person they love.

Two arguments therefore have to be addressed. The first is that, in spite of it being the right thing to do, the UK Parliament should refrain from making such provision because it should be a devolved matter. The problem is that we do not have a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland. We have not had devolved government for some time, and notwithstanding the optimism of the right hon. Member for Belfast North—I hope he is right—we might not have it for some time going forward. Meanwhile, there are couples in Northern Ireland who do not enjoy the same rights as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. They wish to get married but are legally prevented from doing so. How much longer will they have to wait?

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Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this House has been quite patient on this issue, given that it involves a fundamental matter of human rights? Is it not clear that the House’s patience is now running out and that we have to act?

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I agree entirely with the hon. Lady. It was six years ago that this House legislated for equal marriage in England and Wales. There is a precedent for the proposal in new clause 1: when the Assembly was suspended in 2004, this House passed the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 to extend civil partnerships to Northern Ireland.

There is consent for this proposal in Northern Ireland itself. The Assembly has voted five times for this measure, and it is only because of the petition of concern that it has not already become law there. That petition could not be exercised now, because there would not be a majority for it in Northern Ireland. So if an Assembly were to be constituted under the current arrangements, it would almost certainly vote for equal marriage, because it is has said repeatedly that it would do so. We are not trespassing on what we know the Assembly wants to do; it is just that it does not exist, so it cannot act. The only body that is competent to act on this matter at the moment is the UK Parliament.

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The right hon. Gentleman has outlined a history of events that is not correct. The Northern Ireland Assembly voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage on a straight majority until the last vote, in which a petition was used. He also recognises that we as a party do not have the numbers to table a petition. Had he been here yesterday for our Second Reading debate, he would have heard that the one party that is frustrating the ability of the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate on this issue is Sinn Féin, the very party that says it wants to introduce it. If the Assembly were restored tomorrow—we have no red lines on whether it is restored or not; we want to see it—we could not prevent the Assembly from legislating on this issue.

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The hon. Gentleman has made his points, and I read yesterday’s debate very carefully this morning. Nevertheless, there is a majority for this proposal in the Assembly at the moment. That majority has been demonstrated. Crucially, there is also a majority among the public in Northern Ireland, but who is speaking for them at the moment? A Sky Data poll last year showed 76% support for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, with fewer than one in five opposing it. On any issue like this, that is a very large majority indeed. I believe that the case is made. We have waited for some time, and we have been patient. It is now right and proper that the UK Parliament should act.

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The right hon. Gentleman outlined the problem in Northern Ireland as one in which those in same-sex relationships are unable to be married, whereas they can be in the rest of the United Kingdom. The situation is actually more complicated than that, as was touched upon by the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), who was the responsible Minister when the legislation was taken through this House. A problem exists for those who are in a same-sex marriage in Scotland, Wales or England and who come to Northern Ireland, in that as soon as they arrive in Northern Ireland, their marriage becomes a civil partnership. That cannot be right within the United Kingdom, can it?

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I strongly agree with the hon. Lady. This shows that people in Northern Ireland simply do not have the same rights as those in the United Kingdom, and that is something we should act upon.

There is a case, on its own merits, for introducing same-sex marriage, and I just want to say to the Committee that, frankly, this argument has been won. It has been won in the country and it has been won in this House. One by one, the arguments against this reform fell away. First, there is no compulsion involved. The legislation that we introduced in England and Wales protects religious freedom. Churches are not compelled to introduce same-sex marriages in their own institutions. That is a matter for them. No individual is compelled to enter a same-sex marriage. There is a very simple remedy if someone does not like the idea of same-sex marriage: they should not enter into one; it is not compulsory.

Secondly, why should we not allow people to enter into an institution by which they will demonstrate a lifelong commitment to each other and make that commitment in front of their friends and family? What harm is done by this legislation? We as hon. Members know very well that we pass laws and vote for things every day that make people profoundly unhappy or that irritate them. We put on taxes, we restrict freedoms, we do things that irritate sections of our communities, and we do these things because we think they are right. It is not often that we pass legislation that has a single effect. The single effect of the legislation for England and Wales that was passed six years ago in this House was to make people happy. It was to allow people to enter into lifelong commitments that brought moments of enormous happiness to them and their families.

That is why public opposition to same-sex marriage has continued to fall away. I have enormous respect for those of my hon. Friends who voted against that legislation but who have now admitted that they were wrong. One by one, Members on the Conservative Benches have stood up and said that they were wrong to oppose the measure, just as some Members have said that they were wrong to oppose civil partnerships. They have seen that the legislation has been an unalloyed force for good.

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I was one of those who stood up and said that they had got it wrong. I got it wrong, and I now support the legislation. I agree with this proposal, and I agree with the one on abortion, but the problem is that this is like a crack in the dam. If we crack the dam, more and more things will come through. I do not mind that, because I am beginning to think that we will have to have direct rule. I would like very much for us to consider all the problems in Northern Ireland and to deal with them. If we do not have an effective Executive in Northern Ireland, we are going to have to do that anyway. What we have to realise today is that if we pass these new clauses, it will be the thin end of the wedge and other things will, and should, follow, because they are very important to people in Northern Ireland.

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I commend my hon. Friend for saying once again that he was wrong in opposing the same-sex marriage legislation. I am grateful for that, and I admire him for having the courage to say it. The reason I do not think that this is the thin end of the wedge, however, is that at the end of the day this is about something quite fundamental—namely, equality. I do not think that introducing a measure to ensure and promote equality can ever be described as the thin end of the wedge. I think it is the right thing to do.

Four years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States took a landmark decision that I hope will not be reversed, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, to allow same-sex marriage throughout the United States. In the concluding remarks of the lead judgment—which have been much quoted since—Justice Kennedy set out brilliantly why this is the right thing to do:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

That is all we are asking for the people of Northern Ireland today.

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It is a genuine pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert), and I agree with every word he said.

I will be proud to vote today for new clause 1 in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn), who is now leaving the Chamber. He made an incredibly powerful speech. I also support amendment 9.

I rise to address new clause 10 with great reluctance, because none of us wanted the governance of Northern Ireland to be in this position today. We all want to speak up for the importance of devolution but, as my hon. Friend said, human rights delayed are human rights denied. New clause 1, new clause 10 and amendment 9 all speak to the human rights challenges. I understand the concerns of the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) about it being the thin end of the wedge, but I see this as a temporary way of dealing with something that this place is centrally about: protecting the human rights of every UK citizen.

Those of us who are strong defenders of devolution and human rights tread carefully. Section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 charges this place with upholding our international obligations for the whole United Kingdom, even when the Assembly is sitting. As we have now not had an Assembly for two years, and as it is unlikely the Assembly will have sat for three years at this rate, it is even more important that we ask what our obligations are so that we do not see human rights denied.

The Women and Equalities Committee has been very powerful in stating that on those two specific issues, especially in the past couple of years, our country has been censured for what is happening in Northern Ireland. Members will know that I am a passionate defender of women’s rights, and I believe powerfully that we will never have true freedom if women do not have the same control over their bodies as men. If we say to women that we will force them to continue an unwanted pregnancy, they will always be second-class citizens compared with their male counterparts. That is exactly what we are saying to our fellow UK citizens in Northern Ireland. As the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs said, these amendments are about equality. They are about treating every UK citizen equally; in Northern Ireland there are no such rights.

The right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) talked powerfully of fatal foetal abnormalities. I cannot imagine what it is like for somebody who so desperately wants a baby to discover that their baby will not live. All our hearts have gone out to Sarah Ewart, but those court cases were not just about fatal foetal abnormalities; they were about sexual violence, too.

We are not living up to our obligations to protect the rights of the women of Northern Ireland—those 1 million women are UK citizens. If we do not act on these issues and find a way, in the absence of an Assembly, however temporary, to deal with this issue, it will not only be Sarah Ewart who has to go to court. We will be in the invidious position of rape victims having to go to court to have their rights upheld. That is torture, which is why the UN Committee against Torture censured our country and said that how we treat the women of Northern Ireland is torturous.

That is why it is right that we find a way through. I am very conscious of the words of the Women and Equalities Committee, which said that the Government need to set out a clear framework and timeline for addressing the breaches of women’s rights in Northern Ireland, which have been identified by CEDAW, if there is no Government in Northern Ireland to take action.

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The hon. Lady knows where I stand on this issue, and my position is very different from hers. She rightly indicates that there needs to be a framework, but if new clause 10 were to become law, abortion would take place in Northern Ireland without any framework whatsoever. It would be completely and totally unregulated. We have no idea of the scope. Would we have terminations at 12 weeks, 28 weeks or right up to birth?

We would have no regulations on where abortions could take place. There would be no regulatory framework on who could carry out those abortions, and there would be no regulatory framework on sex selection or, indeed, disability denial. All those matters require careful and considered regulation and legislation. Unfortunately, new clause 10 is not careful and does not give the time or scope for any of these matters to be properly considered.

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those issues, which are myths that need to be dispelled, although I understand his concerns. The CEDAW report talks about the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which is why a woman who is raped in Northern Ireland and seeks a termination after becoming pregnant will face a longer prison sentence than her attacker. It is why, in November, a mother who bought abortion pills online for her child—she was a child, because she was a 15-year-old girl in an abusive relationship—faces a jail sentence.

We must deal with the effects of this anachronistic, ancient law in Northern Ireland. My constituents, and constituents across England and Wales, are exempted from that Act, but it does not mean a free-for-all. In fact, new clause 10 is crafted in terms of statutory instruments under the Northern Ireland Act.

I am mindful that the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have all set out proposals for medical guidance. Absolutely, abortion should be regulated. Absolutely, there should be clear guidelines. Nobody is seeking to change the term limit we have in England and Wales. The question is whether the law should be underpinned by criminal legislation or medical regulation, which is what new clause 10 would allow us to consider. It would therefore allow us to answer the question about the inequality of experience between my constituents in Walthamstow and the constituents of the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) in Northern Ireland.

A thousand women from Northern Ireland have had to travel to England and Wales to have an abortion in the last year, and those are just the women who can travel. What a horrible, lonely journey to ask somebody to make at the most vulnerable moment in their life. That option is not available to women in an abusive relationship, who cannot get childcare or who cannot afford to travel.

New clause 10 is carefully crafted to respect the fact that, at the moment, we do not have an Assembly. If there were an Assembly, it could step in and deal with the criticisms that have been levelled at us by the UN. It could deal with the decisions made by the Supreme Court, which have not been enacted only because of a technicality. New clause 10 would mean these situations can be dealt with. Medical regulations could be introduced, but it would be done through a statutory instrument. It does not prescribe what the regulations would be, so it does not remove any of the protections the hon. Gentleman talks about.

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You have said many times, and it has caused distress, that a woman in Northern Ireland who is raped and seeks an abortion could face a longer jail sentence than her attacker. I have corresponded with the Police Service of Northern Ireland on this matter because of the concern you have caused out there. PSNI has confirmed that no woman has been sent to prison for an abortion-related offence, and I am meeting PSNI to talk it through.

Secondly, the issue about regulations is important. Regardless of whether you perceive abortion to be a right, the regulations are not prescriptive about some of the details highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), but your proposal would mean there is no scrutiny of the regulations.

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Order. You do not directly address another Member but address your comments through the Chair. This is obviously a sensitive debate, so it is important that we stick to the rules.

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Thank you, Dame Rosie.

It is simply not the case that people have not been prosecuted. A mother is facing a jail sentence in November. We know that, in 2017, a man and woman accepted formal cautions under OPA for the same offence, and the charges were withdrawn only after the judge imposed a ban on identifying the woman due to the heightened risk of her suicide because of her distress at the situation. We know that, in 2016, a 21-year-old pleaded guilty to procuring her own abortion by poison after she bought pills online and her flatmate reported her to the police. Prosecution is a very real prospect in Northern Ireland, but it is not a real prospect for my constituents in another part of the United Kingdom who are in exactly the same situation.

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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Forgive me, but I have given way. I am conscious that other people want to speak in this debate. I understand the concerns of the right hon. Member for Basingstoke, who is no longer here, but I genuinely believe that if we do not address the international obligations that we have—and that this legislation leaves us unable to address at the moment—we will continue to see these cases. We will continue to see the distress of women in Northern Ireland, and that will be a human rights issue.

There is a more fundamental point here, which the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs talked about: if we are prepared to jettison some human rights and say that they are not as important as others, that is the thin end of the wedge. Are we going to say that in Northern Ireland people will not have the same rights of freedom of expression, of protection from slavery and of protection from torture, and the same rights to life? Specific human rights, and specific international reports and obligations that we have been part of, are at the heart of this amendment. We will not be able to stand up and champion human rights in other parts of the world, because other countries will rightly turn to us and say, “Hang about, what about your own backyard? What are you doing there?”

I understand that, if it was not for the fact that we do not have an Assembly, this would absolutely not be the right way forward, but we do not have an Assembly and we will not have one any time soon. This is about a power of a statutory instrument; it is not about specifying what should be in that statutory instrument, and so there is plenty of scope to address these issues. Medical guidelines have been prepared by campaigners in Northern Ireland, be they Alliance for Choice, the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign, Together for Yes or those medical agencies.

There is a simple point here: each of us should want, in the work that we do at a national and international level, the same rights that we want for our own constituents. I would like every woman in Walthamstow to be able to have the choice—to have a safe, legal and local abortion if she wants it. We all know that stopping people accessing abortion legally does not stop abortion. The cases where there have been prosecutions, where people have been killed and where we see online the stories of these women tell us that abortion is still happening for Northern Irish women, but right now that issue is being exported, rather than dealt with as an equalities issue. So I ask the Committee: how much longer are the women of Northern Ireland expected to wait? How much more are they expected to suffer before we speak up—the best of what this place does—as human rights defenders, not human rights deniers?

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I find myself in agreement with the concerns expressed by the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee about the far-reaching implications of new clause 10, which relates to abortion law changes in Northern Ireland but has implications for England and Wales, too. So I am against that proposal, and new clauses 11 and 12. This is not the time, nor the place, to be making such changes, which are of course completely unconstitutional, bearing in mind that devolution has ensured that abortion is an issue that Northern Ireland and its own Assembly have had authority to make decisions on for almost 100 years.

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Does my hon. Friend recognise that treaty obligations are a matter for Parliament, so this is not actually an issue about devolution? The Supreme Court has made that point, too.

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I will come on to that point in considerable detail in my speech, if Members will bear with me.

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I wish to touch on a point that was raised earlier. Does the hon. Lady agree that things are being said about this, particularly in relation to threatened imprisonment, that are not true and causing additional distress? In relation to the recommendations, they are simply recommendations on the way this could be done. It is right and proper that this is scrutinised to see exactly what the detail should be, and it should not be done by way of simple regulation or statutory instrument.

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I absolutely agree. If Members will permit me, I will go into detail on those concerns.

Last year, this House debated a similar Bill and many similar arguments were aired when we debated the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), which was passed and became section 4 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018. That section required the Secretary of State to

“issue guidance to senior officers of all Northern Ireland departments which will specify how to exercise their functions in relation to—

(a) the incompatibility of the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland with the continued enforcement of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 with the Human Rights Act 1998”

within three months of the Act passing. That guidance was issued by the Secretary of State in December. She clarified that:

“No declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998 has been made by the Courts in respect of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.”

She added that the guidance notes that it does not, and cannot be used to change the current law on abortion. Section 4 did not require any further reporting on the law or its operation in Northern Ireland. So here we are again with Members seeking to put forward a considerable number of amendments relating to substantial changes to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, despite this issue being within the devolved competence of the Assembly.

I am disappointed that new clause 10, which seeks to change the law substantially, has been selected, along with new clauses 11 and 12, and I wish to make three initial points on that proposal. First, it clearly overreaches the devolution settlement and sets a precedent that should concern all the devolved jurisdictions. Secondly, the people of Northern Ireland would have no opportunity to have a say in the decision, which does not respect democracy, if we were to pass these new clauses today. Thirdly, they require the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations, but I understand that those will be unamendable. This is no way to legislate for sensitive matters such as abortion.

The amendments tabled by the hon Member for Walthamstow rely on the authority of CEDAW and its committee, which is a minor sub-committee of the UN that looks at that convention. It is important for this House to note that the convention does not provide a right to abortion. That is not my opinion; hon. Members will want to hear the views of Lord Wilson, a Supreme Court Justice in the 2017 case of R (A and B) v. Secretary of State for Health, who said:

“The conventions and the covenant to which the UK is a party carefully stop short of calling upon national authorities to make abortion services generally available. Some of the committees go further down that path.”—

as the CEDAW committee has—

“But, as a matter of international law, the authority of their recommendations is slight.”

The hon. Lady also suggests that, since the CEDAW committee made various recommendations on the law on abortion in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State must act. But the Northern Ireland Act 1998 devolved human rights to the Northern Ireland Executive. In the case where the Supreme Court makes a declaration of incompatibility under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998, which it has not, it is for the Northern Ireland Assembly to act. However, the hon. Lady is suggesting the Secretary of State must act under section 26 of the Northern Ireland Act—she relies heavily on that. It requires action from the Secretary of State if proposed actions by the Assembly are considered incompatible with international obligations or she considers actions should be taken to give effect to international obligations. However, the guidance issued in December 2018, which I have just cited, made it clear that the Secretary of State does not believe that we are in either of those situations. Her guidance did not even mention the CEDAW committee, upon which the hon Member for Walthamstow relies for authority. That is not surprising, as it is a committee with no judicial authority.

Professor Mark Hill, QC has written extensively about the authority of the CEDAW committee and its report. He says in paragraph 4 of his opinion:

“The Committee does not have the capacity or standing to give a binding adjudication on the United Kingdom’s obligations under CEDAW or on the proper interpretation of CEDAW. The interpretative function under the CEDAW is reserved, not to the Committee, but to the International Court of Justice.”

He goes on to say in paragraph 5:

“The Committee’s views are not binding interpretation of the law, nor do they contribute to customary international law when approaching the interpretation of these rights.”

I make no apology for quoting at length from the opinion: it is really important because of the reliance of the hon. Member for Walthamstow on the CEDAW committee. Professor Hill says:

“The text of international treaties such as CEDAW are carefully crafted expressions of intent and belief. There is no reference to abortion in the text of CEDAW. There is nothing in the text of CEDAW which requires a state party to allow abortion on specified grounds and/or decriminalise abortion generally. The absence of such a provision in the formal text gives a clear indication that no such obligation exists. The International Court of Justice has not interpreted CEDAW in a manner which departs from the plain wording of the text so as to require a right to abortion or the decriminalisation of abortion to be “read in”.

Finally, Professor Hill says:

“Nevertheless, the Committee, ‘based on its expertise in interpreting [the Convention]’, recommends that abortion be decriminalised in all cases and asserts that ‘States parties are obligated not to penalise women resorting to, or those providing such services [abortion]’. The Committee is not a judicial body, no source is given for its claimed ‘expertise in interpreting’ CEDAW”.

It simply does not have the power it has abrogated to itself to interpret the CEDAW regulations in the way that the hon. Member for Walthamstow proposes.

The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee referred to its report on abortion in Northern Ireland. The decision on the report was not unanimous. In the minority report, my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall North (Eddie Hughes) said that

“to suggest that the Government establish a framework to address the recommendations of the CEDAW report places a disproportionate and misguided degree of authority on its substantive findings and the limited jurisdiction of this unelected UN Committee.”

Indeed, the non-binding nature of the CEDAW committee’s report was acknowledged by the chief executive of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission himself in evidence to the Women and Equalities Committee during that inquiry.

Let me turn briefly to the Supreme Court judgment that has been referred to. That judgment is non-binding. It is being used to justify the proposals for change, but there is nothing in it that could be said to give rise to a requirement for such a change. The Supreme Court and Lady Hale made it clear that, although important, CEDAW and other treaties are not binding on our domestic law. There is simply no basis for the Secretary of State to act on the basis of the CEDAW report. New clauses 10, 11 and 12 should be rejected. The law on abortion is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. I hope we will see the Assembly restored soon so that this matter can be resolved in its right and proper place.

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Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, colleagues will be aware that a large number of people wish to contribute. I cannot set a time limit, but let me put it this way: we could certainly get everybody in if everyone spoke for around eight minutes each.

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I shall endeavour to make sure that everyone has time to speak, Dame Rosie.

The Opposition Front-Bench new clauses each cover three issues in three stages. On each issue, the relevant new clause would: first, compel the Government to bring forward a report on progress to implement change in the relevant area on or before 4 September 2019; secondly, require the Government to bring forward, within two sitting days of that report, a motion to take note of the report; and thirdly, require the Government then to introduce legislation, following the passing of a motion. Let me be clear that any incoming Labour Government would seek to legislate on these issues.

Let me address new clause 1, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). I can add little to the speeches made by my hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on the subject of gay marriage. I will say, though, that I had the very sad honour to attend the funeral of Lyra McKee in Belfast earlier this year. Much attention has been paid to some of the sentiments expressed at that time. We heard that day that Lyra was making arrangements for her own marriage to her partner. Sitting in the cathedral, I was struck by the huge sadness and irony: we rightly praised this remarkable young woman for being a child of the peace process, for being so openly happy with her own sexuality, and for having touched every part of Northern Ireland society with her optimism, but while she was making plans for her marriage to the woman she loved, her own society was in essence saying to her, “Away you go to Donegal. You can’t do that here.” What a great testament it would be to her memory, and for the thousands of people throughout Northern Ireland who simply want to express their love, if we could make progress on this issue.

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I am grateful to the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene at this early stage of her contribution. I have looked closely at the new clauses tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, and I have also looked carefully at the wording of new clause 1, which was tabled by the hon. Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). Will the hon. Lady explain how the devolution settlement would be protected in the new clauses for which she is encouraging us to vote? The hon. Member for St Helens North was very careful to draft his new clause to respect the devolution settlement, but that does not appear to be true of the Leader of the Opposition.

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As the hon. Lady knows, Labour was the architect of much of the devolution throughout the United Kingdom, so we are proud of the devolution settlement. We are asking the House to give a voice to people who currently do not have one. Our proposals would require the Government to bring forward reports to make some progress on issues on which, some two and a half years on—by the time we get through this legislation, it will be some three years on—no progress is being made.

Let me turn my attention to the proposals on abortion. It is some 50 years since this place recognised the cruelty, danger and hypocrisy of the law in respect of women’s rights, but in the late 1960s the Northern Ireland Parliament did not adopt the change. From 1972, when that Parliament was suspended and direct rule was introduced, until 2010, when the criminal justice and policing powers were introduced in Northern Ireland, abortion law was the responsibility of the UK Government. Successive Administrations, both here and in Belfast, have turned a blind eye to this issue over the past 50-plus years and hoped that it would go away. Continually, each year, 1,000 women travel for abortions.

Last night and today, we have yet again heard exemplified the arguments on whether this is a human rights or a devolution issue. We are citing laws—both here and in the European Court and the Supreme Court—regarding whose responsibility this is, which particular legislation or Act we want to be mindful of, whether we have suddenly become cloaked in the glory of devolution or whether this is a human rights issue. But I ask all hon. Members to hear the testimony of the women who are involved and their voices because this is not going to go away. Whether these women are fleeing abuse, domestic violence or rape, know that their baby cannot live, have concerns for their own health, have family reasons, or do not wish to be pregnant, we have to trust women.

The Supreme Court’s opinion was crystal clear that the UK is in breach, yet we are still making women take their cases and relive the trauma of their travelling. The women in Northern Ireland are being caught in this absurd political ping-pong across the Irish sea and it is simply time for it to come to an end.

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When we first started to debate these issues, I said to the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) that I would listen and meet women from Northern Ireland. I did that: I met with Denise Phelan and Sarah Ewart. Nothing could have prepared me for hearing about their experiences. I cannot even imagine what they have been through. Is it not time to stop making women tell their stories and being re-traumatised just so that they can get basic human rights? Is it not time that that changed?

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I wholeheartedly agree. I commend the hon. Lady and others. Women have travelled here to tell us about those experiences. I commend hon. Members, whatever their views, to take time to listen to those experiences. Like her, I heard Denise’s testimony. I learned more when I heard evidence at the hearings of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly. The way in which services here are not established to cope with what then happens to people, particularly if they are travelling, and particularly with regard to foetal remains, is just the most shocking thing that I have heard in this place. It really is time that that stops happening and that we stop making these women relive this experience. Let us be very clear: they are determined to do that and they will keep coming forward and supporting each other.

Let me just move on to historical institutional abuse, which is another issue covered by these amendments. May I also join the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Nigel Dodds) and pay tribute to Justice Anthony Hart, who has sadly passed away suddenly today? His diligence and work on the inquiry have helped to shine a light on the suffering of many in Northern Ireland.

Thousands of people were let down when they were placed in the state’s care. That pain has been compounded by the delay in establishing the compensation and redress mechanisms laid down under the recommendations of the Hart inquiry. I understand that representatives of victims and survivors will be in Westminster tomorrow to give evidence on the delay in legislating to provide compensation. That is really helpful to them. They are travelling again to talk to us so we hear what they have to say. Labour has consistently called on the Government to legislate on this issue as it is an urgent matter. It has been said many times in this place that, since the publication of the Hart report, some 30 survivors have passed away. Again, we need to see action now as these people are passing on.

Let me turn to the issue of pensions. We have again called for the implementation of pensions for those seriously injured as a result of the troubles. More than 500 people have been unable to live the lives that many of us have been able to, and to plan for their future with their family and to build up their pensions. I have met many of those people through the Wave project and the South East Fermanagh Foundation. Again, they are travelling here to talk to us. I urge hon. Members, when they have the opportunity, to listen to them and to hear how their lives have been devastated.

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I am sure that the hon. Lady is aware that some of the people who have been identified as possible beneficiaries of this pension are former IRA terrorists who injured themselves in the pursuit of their terrorist activities. Can she confirm that the Opposition are clear that no IRA terrorist should benefit from these pensions?

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The hon. Gentleman raises what is a hugely controversial subject, as he knows. I have met some of those people, who have challenged me directly on the matter. We know that it is a controversial and difficult subject, but we have the definition from 2006 and it is absolutely our view that that remains and, if it is to be changed, it has to be with the agreement and work-through of the political parties in Northern Ireland.

The pension is a recognition of the suffering of those people as a result of the troubles. Again, we need to make sure that this matter is progressed. There are real victims who are struggling in Northern Ireland and who do not have a voice. It is absolutely incumbent on people here to listen to them and to make progress.

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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth). Having given a fairly lengthy speech on Second Reading last night, the House will be relieved to know that I intend to speak only once in Committee.

The devolution settlement is perfectly clear, as is, I believe, our duty to respect it. Less clear, I suggest, is how we as politicians address the issues raised in the amendments today when devolution is not present, but where there is a clear and pressing call for action. I understand entirely that human rights were devolved under the Northern Ireland Act 1998, but I cannot understand why that was the case. It seems to me that there is an incredibly strong and compelling argument about the universality of human rights for citizens of the United Kingdom and to try to move away from that in some way starts to pick away at some of the fabric of Unionism.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I will not. Having given way many times yesterday, I just want to make my remarks today. The hon. Gentleman will, I am sure, forgive me.

The amendments clearly deal with sensitive issues covering moral, legal and rights considerations. They are being argued with clarity and passion. However, it is my view that this is a process Bill. It has two days of debate. It is not a policy Bill, but rather a housekeeping Bill to ensure that civil servants can keep some sort of show on the road to serve the citizens and residents of Northern Ireland. I want the devolution talks to succeed and I share the hope that the Bill, as suggested by the Secretary of State, will not actually need to become an Act. If it does, I want it to be a clean Act—in other words, an unamended Act.

I say to the Secretary of State and to the Minister on the Front Bench that I am certainly prepared to see the extension of the Bill’s provisions to the short date, but ideally not to the long date—to 21 October, but not to 13 January next year. I believe that I am not alone in thinking that direct rule is not desirable, but the clear message for fresh elections is becoming almost irresistible. We need to be clear that if a drop-dead deadline is useful to concentrate minds in the Brexit debate then so too must it be for the restoration of devolution.

If this Bill is amended, I shall be very frightened—seriously frightened—that that might prove to be a reason, an excuse or a smokescreen to collapse the talks coming from either end of the spectrum, and that would be lamentable. I do not believe that this House should do anything to jeopardise those fragile talks. I understand entirely the passion that underpins the amendments, but effectively, for the reason given, I intend to abstain on all amendments this afternoon. I will also abstain on Third Reading if the Bill is amended. I do not think that that is an inappropriate stance for the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to take.

In the words of Bob Dylan, someone whom I have not knowingly quoted before, the times they are a-changin’. Politics in this place and in Northern Ireland will injure itself—possibly irreparably—if it seeks to set its face against the arguments of change that we are hearing today. It is my view that it is not a question of whether change is delivered, but how and in which forum. It appears that profound social change is coming to Northern Ireland. That change is going to be authored either here in Westminster or in Belfast, but the issues articulated by the hon. Members for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) and for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) can no longer be dodged or fudged.

The choice of where, how and by which mechanism that change is delivered will be in the hands of those involved with the talks. I impress upon them—not that I believe that the impression needs to be made—the urgency of the need for speedy success. I hope that the parties involved in those talks are seized of their responsibility, because the next few weeks, as far as the future political arrangements of Northern Ireland are concerned, really are the last chance saloon.

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There is great dismay in Northern Ireland at the way a Bill described by the Chair of the Select Committee as a process Bill that is narrowly focused on a particular issue—how to keep Northern Ireland government going during a period when we do not have devolution, and how to get devolution up and running again—has been hijacked by those who have their own particular interests in specific issues, and who are now using the Bill as an attempt to drive through that agenda.

I do not intend to enter into arguments about whether we should have same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland or whether there should be a change in the law relating to abortion. I have totally different views from those expressed in the Chamber today, but that is not what the debate on the Bill ought to have been about in the first place. This debate is about the narrow issues in the Bill. The other issues that have been introduced have been introduced in a way that does not do justice to this House; that creates great dangers in Northern Ireland, especially when there is a sensitive talks process going on; and indeed, that angers many people in Northern Ireland whose views will be ignored if the amendments are passed today.

I want to say three things about the amendments and the reaction of some Members of this House. First, there is a very clear inconsistency. These matters are devolved. It really does not matter whether there is a devolved Assembly in operation at the moment or not; they are still devolved issues.

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It kind of does.

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The hon. Lady says from a sedentary position, “It kind of does.” If it kind of does, why are those who are saying that we should interfere on the issue of same-sex marriage and abortion not being consistent and arguing that we should be using the powers of this House and bringing back to this House all the other issues, many of which are also human rights issues, such as the human rights of people who need special education to get special education, and the human rights of people who need life-saving operations to have life-saving operations? I do not hear any siren calls from the people who are saying, “Yes, it kind of does matter that there is no devolution in Northern Ireland.” If it does, let us bring other matters back to this House.

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Looking around the Chamber, it strikes me that there are a number of people present who were not here for yesterday’s debate, when we talked about a range of these issues. Whenever we talk about human rights, it is important to say that there are people sitting on waiting lists, when one of the fundamental human rights is the right to life. People on waiting lists are dying while waiting for cancer treatment and other treatments because there is no Assembly in Northern Ireland and there is a refusal of this place to intervene and try to do something about that. We do care about the rights of people right across the board, but that means that we must have the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running to deal with these issues.

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And indeed, it is significant that some of those who are saying that they do not wish to see steps being taken to deal with those issues are not even prepared to accept that what has stopped those issues being discussed in Northern Ireland is the attitude of Sinn Féin and the refusal of Sinn Féin to get back into government. There is an inconsistency there.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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Well, the hon. Lady has just wandered into the Chamber, so I am not going to give way.

The second inconsistency is that many of those who are saying that these limited and very specific powers should be taken by this House are the same people who, during the debate on Brexit legislation, complain time and again that we should not interfere with the powers of devolved Administrations. Indeed, when the Government were suggesting that some of the powers that currently reside with Brussels might be brought back and held at the centre—or at least, that they would wait to discuss whether those powers should be devolved—there was an outcry in this House: “You’re interfering with the devolution settlement and the powers of devolved Assemblies.” Yet the very same people who made those arguments are now saying, “But it’s okay to take away the powers of the Northern Ireland Assembly on these sensitive issues.”

Look at the inconsistency of SNP Members; they cannot even be consistent for 24 hours. Yesterday evening, the SNP spokesman, the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), said that

“the SNP Benches do not vote on matters devolved to other parts of the UK…We are not blind to the circumstances in Northern Ireland, but we intend to stick to that principle.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 75.]

Well, the Gorilla Glue they used did not work very well because they are not sticking to that principle at all. They have changed their minds on this issue within 24 hours.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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No. I have told the hon. Lady that I am not giving way. Despite the fact that SNP Members have railed against this House when it comes to devolved issues for Scotland, they seem to believe that it does not matter when it comes to Northern Ireland.

There is also an inconsistency regarding the way these issues would be dealt with—that is, through regulations introduced by the Secretary of State, which we will never debate in this House and which will not be scrutinised. I can remember many hours of debate in this House about how the power-grabbing and power-snatching desire of the Government must be opposed by those of us who are democrats and who want to stop these Henry VIII powers being taken by a dictatorial Government. But the Members who tabled these amendments today are quite happy to say to the Minister, “Go ahead. Take the powers. Make the regulations. We don’t care whether they are scrutinised. Make sure they are in place for 31 October.” When people look at the way these issues are being dealt with, they will ask, “Where is the consistency?” That is an issue that people in Northern Ireland will be asking questions about, but it is one that this House ought to be asking questions about.

Either we respect devolution and we do not want to see powers granted to Ministers that are unscrutinised, or we do, and if we do in these particular instances, we have to ask ourselves the question, “In what other circumstances will that happen?” If this House decides that government is not going to function in Northern Ireland, as might well be the case, and decides to take these powers back, I, as a democrat, even if this House votes for things that I do not want, will fiercely argue for that.

If this House is a decision-making body, I will have to live with that, as will many of my constituents who might take a different view from people in this House, but at the minute we cannot have it both ways, such that these issues are devolved and the Assembly should decide them, but that the House will take part when individuals in this House decide, “Here is an issue that I’m not keen on.”

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In dealing with the overarching issue of the devolution settlement, does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the problem—he seems to be alluding to this—is that some Members of the House seem determined to say, on the one hand, that they want to get all the parties together to agree in Northern Ireland, yet, on the other, that they are going to try to force through issues here that drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement? Those are the very issues, among others, that divide parties and people in Northern Ireland, rather than uniting them.

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Yes, and the danger is that that has an impact on the talks that we are trying to progress to a satisfactory conclusion.

Furthermore, the proposed measures are undemocratic. The views of the Assembly on abortion have been clearly expressed. Back in 2015, the Assembly—not by a vote using a petition of concern, but by a majority, and a big majority at that—decided that it did not want to change abortion legislation in Northern Ireland. Indeed, in October last year, a ComRes survey in Northern Ireland showed that 64% of people in Northern Ireland did not believe that this issue should be decided here, but should be decided in Northern Ireland. Significantly, 66% of women took the view that that should be the case, and, among young people, 72% of those aged between 18 and 32 believed that the issue should be decided locally. That being the case, trying to impose change through this place on the people of Northern Ireland, ignoring the devolution settlement, is obviously undemocratic.

If we are going to take extra powers to this House, why take them on some of the most sensitive issues? They could be taken on other issues where people would accept that, but these are some of the most sensitive. The fact that I have had hundreds of emails on this issue within the past week indicates how sensitive it is. Regardless of whether people agree with my views on the two issues before us, they should ask themselves, “Is this the way this should be dealt with?” I do not believe it is. It is not consistent with previous decisions of the House and it is not democratic.

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I believe that decisions regarding the law on abortion in Northern Ireland should be a matter for the people who live there and their elected representatives. The whole concept of devolution is based on the idea that different jurisdictions in the United Kingdom are entitled to adopt different approaches to areas within their competence. It was a decision of this House to transfer policing and justice powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and Westminster has not sought to impose legislation in this area at any stage during the history of Northern Ireland since 1921.

In 1967, the elected representatives of Northern Ireland determined not to embrace the Abortion Act 1967. As recently as 2016, the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland voted not to change the law on abortion in any way. In that sense, Northern Ireland’s law enjoys a more recent democratic sanction than that of any other part of the United Kingdom. This is a matter of great debate in Northern Ireland, but there is robust statistical analysis to show that about 100,000 people who are alive in Northern Ireland today would not be if we had embraced the 1967 Act. I point to what the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) just said: polling shows that a large majority of people in Northern Ireland—64%—say that this is not a matter that should be addressed by Westminster, rising to 66% of women and 72% of 18 to 32-year-olds.

Inevitably and understandably, it will be pointed out that the Executive has not been functioning since January 2017. However, for reasons the Secretary of State has articulated on numerous occasions, there has been a concerted effort to avoid direct rule, which is no way to run a complex society such as Northern Ireland’s; only in extremis should it be considered. If direct rule came in, this House would of course be entitled to legislate on matters that are currently devolved. Ministers would be accountable for legislation and for the operation of Executive Departments in Northern Ireland. But direct rule has not been introduced, and while this remains the case, this House cannot selectively intervene in relation to some issues as if direct rule were in place without unravelling the wider devolution settlement.

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If that is so, why did Lady Hale say in the Supreme Court, when looking at whether this is incompatible legally, that Parliament, not the Northern Ireland Assembly, has three choices to correct it?

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I am going to deal precisely with that point if my hon. Friend will be patient.

The process we are undertaking this afternoon does not assist the talks process—quite the opposite. Some of those who support these amendments and new clauses will claim to generally accept this argument but suggest that abortion is different because there is a human rights imperative to override the devolution settlement. However, significant misinformation has been spread with regard to the status of the law on abortion in Northern Ireland in relation to human rights. Specifically, as we have heard, a number of claims have been made with regard to the CEDAW and a recent report by the CEDAW sub-committee on Northern Ireland.

First, let us consider the position of the legislation on abortion in Northern Ireland in terms of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European convention on human rights. It is important to stress that at this point there has been no declaration of incompatibility with regard to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. Yes, in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission judgment released in June 2018, a majority of judges indicated that if the plaintiff had standing in the case, they would have made a declaration of incompatibility with regard to cases involving fatal foetal abnormalities and in cases of sexual crime. However, these non-binding comments do not constitute a declaration of incompatibility.

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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

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I had better keep going to obey your ruling, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I want to reply to this point, which has been made in an intervention.

In addition, the Supreme Court, again in non-binding comments, unanimously found that the law on abortion in Northern Ireland was compliant with the European convention on human rights in restricting access to abortion on the grounds of non-fatal disabilities. This part of the judgment is conveniently often forgotten in the rhetoric of proponents of change in the law on abortion in Northern Ireland. One might instead think, listening to the arguments made by some, that the Court found that the decriminalisation of abortion is required on the basis of human rights. That is simply false and needs to be understood as such. Individuals are of course entitled to argue for the decriminalisation of abortion, but they are not entitled to make this claim on the basis of human rights conventions or jurisprudence.

A future panel of the Supreme Court might well make a similar finding to that made in the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission case. Indeed, a properly constituted case is currently before the courts in Northern Ireland with regard to fatal foetal abnormality. However, even if that were the case, the incompatibility to be resolved would be on the narrow grounds of some of the most tragic and difficult cases imaginable—that of fatal foetal abnormality, not on the grounds of decriminalisation of abortion. Furthermore, section 4(6) of the Human Rights Act makes it clear that even had the Supreme Court determined that a piece of primary legislation was incompatible—which it did not in this case—and made such a declaration, a declaration of incompatibility

“does not affect the validity, continuing operation or enforcement of the provision in respect of which it is given”

and

“is not binding on the parties to the proceedings in which it is made.”

Indeed, Baroness Hale pointed out that, even in cases where there is a ruling of incompatibility, that does not compel the legislature to change the law. It still has what she describes as a “do nothing” option.

That leads me on to CEDAW and the report of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. I remind the House of the legal opinion of Professor Mark Hill QC, which points to the reality of CEDAW and the status of the committee. On a point of fact, which needs to be reiterated due to the number of times this has been claimed, the CEDAW committee and the United Nations are not coterminous. The CEDAW committee does not represent the entirety of the United Nations. Professor Hill argues cogently that there is no requirement for the UK or Northern Ireland to act in response to the CEDAW committee’s Northern Ireland report, first because there is no right to abortion under the convention, and secondly because the committee does not have the power to make binding resolutions on the UK. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) quoted Professor Hill’s report in some detail, so I do not need to repeat it.

Far too much weight has been put on the recommendations of the CEDAW committee. To imply that the Secretary of State should consider taking action in law as a result is entirely inappropriate. We need to be very careful with regard to the precedent we would set if we passed these amendments and new clauses. Do we want to give reports of UN treaty monitoring bodies this kind of status, irrespective of the topic?

The United Kingdom Supreme Court certainly does not treat reports of the CEDAW committee with the kind of authority that these amendments do. As Lord Wilson, with whom Lord Reed and Lord Hughes agreed, put it in R (A and B) v. Secretary of State for Health—this is an important point:

“The conventions and the covenant to which the UK is a party carefully stop short of calling upon national authorities to make abortion services generally available. Some of the committees go further down that path. But, as a matter of international law, the authority of their recommendations is slight”.

These amendments and new clauses are not required under human rights jurisprudence and could lead to an unhelpful precedent. They tear up the devolution settlement and are a naked power grab that must be rejected.

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I rise to speak to amendment 9, which has cross-party support. I was very pleased that the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), spoke in support of my amendment. The amendment would add to clause 3 a new subsection to place a duty on the Secretary of State to report on the legal framework on abortion in Northern Ireland, with an analysis of how the framework can be amended by this Parliament during the period when there is no Executive, subject to a sunset clause, to respect the devolution settlement. That would be done to comply with the human rights obligations of the United Kingdom.

We have had plenty of debate about our human rights responsibilities, and I know that many Members of this House are very concerned about the breaches of women’s human rights in Northern Ireland in relation to abortion. As we have heard, the law is still based on the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, which punishes a woman who terminates her pregnancy or anyone who assists her with up to life imprisonment. Members will also be aware that the Abortion Act 1967 has never applied in Northern Ireland.

The law on abortion in Northern Ireland is one of the most restrictive and harshest in the world—abortion in cases of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormality is not allowed in Northern Ireland. We know that prosecutions take place. We have heard about the mother who bought tablets off the internet for her daughter, who was in an abusive relationship.

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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I am going to carry on.

We have heard about the woman who had a self-induced abortion because she could not afford to travel to England or Scotland. We have also heard of the 1,000 women who travel to access abortion services in England and Wales.

Following the referendum in the Republic of Ireland, a very stark light is now shining on this archaic law in Northern Ireland. With no Assembly sitting for over two years, we have seen no progress in dealing with this situation, but we have seen the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women finding grave and systematic breaches of women’s human rights in its inquiry into abortion in Northern Ireland in February 2018. The Women and Equalities Committee said:

“The UK Government needs to set out a clear framework and timeline to address the breaches of women’s rights in Northern Ireland under the CEDAW Convention that have been identified by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women if there is no government in Northern Ireland to take this action.”

In July 2019, the UN Committee Against Torture said:

“The Committee recommends that the State party ensure that all women and girls in the State party, including in Northern Ireland, have effective access to the means of terminating a pregnancy when not doing so is likely to result in severe pain and suffering, such as when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, when the life or health of the pregnant person is at risk and in cases of fatal foetal impairment.”

Some Members have tried to disparage the committees of the United Nations, but the United Kingdom Supreme Court identified a breach of human rights in relation to cases of fatal foetal abnormality, rape and incest—it simply did not make a declaration of incompatibility because the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission did not have locus, due to a drafting problem with the legislation that needs to be rectified. The Women and Equalities Committee has made it clear that it believes a very strong case is made by the highest court in the land.

There is a case currently making its way through the courts, and it is very likely that there will be a finding of incompatibility in the next few months. I want to pay tribute to that exceptional, strong, brave woman from Northern Ireland, Sarah Ewart, who, supported by Amnesty, is bringing this case through the courts because of her own experience of having to travel to England when she was told that her pregnancy had a fatal foetal abnormality. The reasonable approach to take, recognising that that finding of incompatibility is coming at us in the next few months—

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Will the hon. Lady give way?

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I need to finish this point.

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It is on that point.

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I will give way, then.

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