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Points of Order

Volume 663: debated on Thursday 18 July 2019

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think convention says that a Bill that has got this far in both Houses is rightfully the property of Parliament rather than the Executive. Both Houses have spoken very clearly about the constitutional nature of this Bill, and you have ruled that it is completely in order. However, there are rumours—perhaps fallacious—that the Government are thinking of pulling the Bill. Can you confirm, Mr Speaker, that that would be unconscionable and unacceptable, and that you would not be supportive of any such move?

I think that it would be quite extraordinary, but I have no expectation of it, and I am fortified, reinforced and encouraged in my view by the clear sedentary head-shaking of no less a figure than the Patronage Secretary, aided and abetted by the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose). They are both signalling that the Government have no intention of abandoning the Bill, and the Chief Whip, having shaken his head, is now in a position, if he so wishes, to nod his assent to the proposition that I have just made.

I hope that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd) is satisfied. I thank the occupants of the Treasury Bench.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Bill that we have just debated contains clauses inviting the Government to make progress towards the implementation of a “severely injured” pension for victims of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. There has been considerable distress in Northern Ireland because of concerns about the criteria, and a report has suggested that terrorists who went out to murder and maim and ended up injuring themselves may be eligible for such a pension. Unfortunately, we have not had an opportunity to debate those issues today owing to the nature of the proceedings. While I welcome the comments of Lord Duncan in the other place, may I ask whether there will be any opportunities—perhaps next week—for these matters to be aired, debated and hopefully answered in this House? I should be very much obliged.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her point of order, to which the answer is yes: there could well be such opportunities. The hon. Lady would not expect me to commit myself now—on the hoof, if you will—in respect of the form that such an opportunity might take, but we have four sitting days next week before we rise for the summer recess. This is a matter of the utmost importance, and, indeed, considerable sensitivity. In the short time during which I have come to know the hon. Lady, I have come to be aware of how dexterous she is in the use of parliamentary time, and if she wishes to take her opportunities, I think that she will not be disappointed.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. It concerns the decision that the House has now taken to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland by repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. This means that the abortion law in Northern Ireland will be more liberal than in England and Wales. Women will no longer be subject to criminal sanction in Northern Ireland, but, of course, the law has not been repealed for women in England and Wales, who remain subject to the criminal law. If, for example, they buy abortion tablets on the internet, they can still face prosecution. I wonder, Mr Speaker, whether the Government have given any indication that they will make a statement to the House next week to ensure that women in England and Wales are treated as fairly now as we hope they will be in Northern Ireland.

I have not yet received any such indication, but, as I indicated in response to the previous point of order, there is time for these matters to be aired. There could be a Government statement, but in the absence thereof, there are other ways in which to secure parliamentary time. I think I would command the assent of the House if I said of the hon. Lady that the word “indefatigable” could have been invented to describe her campaigning zeal. I am very confident that if she wishes to raise the matter in the Chamber next week, she will be able to do so.

If there are no further points of order—and I thank colleagues for their interest, attention and patience—we will now come to the Back-Bench motion on the Bishop of Truro’s report on the persecution of Christians overseas. We are already having to start this debate later than any of us would have liked. The occupant of the Chair who succeeds me will do his best to protect the time for it, and it would be appreciated if colleagues who wish to conduct conversations on other matters would leave the Chamber quickly and quietly, so that those who wish to get on with this important debate can do so unimpeded and with appropriate attention.