I am today formally laying in the House, under section 3 of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019, reports on progress towards forming an Executive and other matters.
Northern Ireland has been without a sitting Assembly and Executive since January 2017. Since becoming Secretary of State for Northern Ireland I have made working to restore the devolved institutions my absolute priority.
Whilst significant gaps remain on rights, identity and culture, the Government’s assessment is that the range of outstanding issues in the cross-party talks is relatively narrow.
This means it should prove possible—with intensive engagement—to resolve the strands of talks on the programme for government, transparency and sustainability relatively swiftly. There has been good engagement too on the petition of concern.
While the parties remain engaged and are demonstrating a willingness to find solutions to the remaining critical issues, a renewed determination to find agreement will be needed if the process is to conclude in the coming weeks.
Northern Ireland needs a restored Executive and the political leadership that would bring. The UK Government, working closely with the Irish Government in accordance with the three-stranded approach, will now intensify our efforts to put forward compromise solutions to the parties. If that does not succeed, then my next update to the House will set out next steps to ensure adequate governance in Northern Ireland and the protection of the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement.
The reports I have laid in the House today also address other critical issues for Northern Ireland. These include a report on the progress of implementing the recommendations made by the report of the inquiry into historical institutional abuse in Northern Ireland. I want to pay particular tribute to the survivors I have met, who waited so long for acknowledgment and accountability for the appalling abuse that they suffered. Good progress has been made on drafting legislation to deliver redress for the survivors, and I will continue to press for a slot to introduce the legislation at Westminster as soon as possible.
I have also laid a report setting out next steps on abortion in Northern Ireland. The Government acknowledge that this is a highly sensitive subject, and I continue to believe it would be better in principle if it could be addressed by the democratic institutions in Northern Ireland.
Given the very long and drawn-out cross-party talks process, the House spoke clearly in July this year. There are now legal obligations for the Government to deliver change to the law on abortion in Northern Ireland in the event that the Executive is not restored. The Government will update the House and the public regularly on the steps it is taking, mindful that the legal obligation will be triggered from 21 October in the absence of an Executive. This will result in the repeal of the relevant criminal law in Northern Ireland [sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861], and a moratorium will also come into effect on that date, meaning that no criminal investigation may be carried out, and no criminal proceedings may be brought or continued after this time.
By no later than 31 March 2020, a new legal regime allowing for lawful access to abortion services, implementing the recommendations of the 2018 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Report, will be in place.
The full list of reports is as follows:
Historical institutional abuse
A single report covering:
Transparency of political donations
Higher education and a Derry university
Presumption of non-prosecution
Troubles related guidance
Abortion law review
Armed forces covenant
Definition of a victim
Both Houses will debate the motions on the first reports relating to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Act 2019.