MPs debate extending same-sex marriage and abortion to Northern Ireland

Attempts to extend same-sex marriage and abortion to Northern Ireland are expected to be voted upon by MPs.

Commons Speaker John Bercow selected for consideration cross-party proposals for Westminster to take action in the absence of the Stormont Executive.

But Mr Bercow did not select Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s new clause 14, viewed as the most significant of his most recent proposals designed to stop a no-deal Brexit, during the latest stage of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.

The Bill aims to again push back reintroducing a law that would place a legal duty on Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley to call an Assembly poll, from the end of August to October 21, with the option of a further extension to January 13.

Labour’s Conor McGinn is leading a cross-party proposal to require Westminster to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland if a new Stormont Executive is not formed by October 21 2019.

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, is also leading efforts to extend access to abortion in Northern Ireland with new clause 10 requiring the Northern Ireland Secretary to make regulations to give effect to recommendations from a report.

The regulations would have to come into force by October 21 unless an Executive is formed before this date.

Speaking at committee stage in the Commons, DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said the equal marriage proposal, which MPs are set to vote on at 5pm, is “seeking to drive a coach and horses through the principle of devolution, overriding the concerns of people in Northern Ireland”.

Independent unionist MP (North Down) Lady Sylvia Hermon said of her constituents: “They are greatly concerned that this amendment might undermine the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland.”

But Mr McGinn (St Helens North) warned MPs are continuing to fail LGBT people in Northern Ireland.

He said: “It failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland by not decriminalising homosexuality and condemn them to discrimination, to abuse and to living in fear many years after that stopped to be 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.

Belfast
Parliament Buildings at Stormont, Belfast (Paul Faith/PA)

“Tonight, we have a 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 and I hope colleagues in this House don’t let them down.”

Mr McGinn said his proposals would be “an interim provision” if the Assembly failed to reconvene by October.

He added: “This power does remain a devolved one but in the absence of an Executive and an Assembly 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.”

Conservative former minister Nick Herbert said he would support the equal marriage amendment, telling MPs: “Too often people find themselves saying the UK has provided for same-sex marriage but that isn’t true, and it is anomalous… that citizens in one part of the United Kingdom cannot avail themselves of something which many people regard to be a matter of their fundamental rights, which is to be able to enter into a marriage with a person they love.”

Angela Eagle, a Labour former minister, added the House of Commons’ patience over the issue was “running out and we have to act”.

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