Offences Against the Person Act 1861 : 5th June 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) 
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech and I agree with much of what he says. Does he agree that, especially in relation to the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), it is important not to forget that this is actually about the right of a woman to choose? It is not confined merely to those who have foetal abnormalities or who have been raped or in some ghastly incestuous relationship; it is about women’s rights and our right to control what we do with our bodies.

Tony Lloyd
I agree, and my voting record is clear on this issue.

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con) 
I am proud to say that for as long as I can remember—probably since after it was first passed—I have been a proud supporter of the 1967 Act. I remember in the ’70s and ’80s marching many a mile in defence of the ’67 Act, and my views have not changed. The reason why I came to the conclusion that it was one of the greatest pieces of legislation ever passed in this place has already been identified by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin) and my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). It is simply this: I recognise ​that, for myriad reasons, a woman or a young woman may find herself with an unwanted pregnancy, and I believe that she has a right to choose what happens next. I gently say to my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) that I do not seek to impose my views on anybody. I seek to offer a choice. That is the distinction. I say to DUP Members, with respect, that they impose their views on not just women, but their extended families.

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)
Will the hon. Lady give way?

Anna Soubry
I will not take any interventions because Mr Speaker has been quite firm with me, and I am keen to curry favour with him—it would make a change.

There is an important point to make. Nobody happily, willingly skips into a clinic to terminate a pregnancy. Invariably, they do so after a heartrending, thoughtful process, often with a partner, a boyfriend or even their own parents. We must recognise that reality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes said, the reality is that if we make abortions illegal, they do not stop. Members know that from the evidence in Northern Ireland: 724 women went overseas in 2016 to have terminations.

Before the ’67 Act was passed, women—living, breathing human beings—died in their hundreds of thousands at the hands of backstreet abortionists, or found themselves in a position where they were damaged and could never again have the child that they often longed for, but at a time that suited them and their circumstances. That is what that Act was all about, and those rights should now be extended to Northern Ireland. It is 2018, and I gently say to them: your laws are cruel and repressive. They do nothing for the advancement of women or for families, and they have to change.

What the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) is suggesting—I congratulate her on it—delivers exactly the thing that should happen. It is what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) eloquently and properly advocated in her ten-minute rule Bill: getting rid of these ridiculous and ancient laws that criminalise abortion. That is the right thing to do. Let us get rid of them. The beauty in doing that is that it strengthens devolution, because the responsibility for sorting out what happens in Northern Ireland will go back to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

I thought that I was going to stand up and make a speech about the importance of devolution and why it is not the job of this Parliament to do what the hon. Member for Walthamstow suggests, but actually she has convinced me. She is absolutely right. What she suggests delivers the right thing to advance our abortion legislation and, secondly, strengthens devolution, because it hands this straight back to where it should be—the Northern Ireland Assembly. I gently say to them: get it sorted out, because this will not be tolerable any longer in our nation. We are a United Kingdom. We believe in the Union. Get that Assembly up and running. Do the right thing, not just by the people of Northern Ireland, and the women in particular, but for the security and furtherance of this great Union.

Anna Soubry 
So what’s the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it? That’s what I would ask him. What about the 724 women who came to this country to have an abortion? What are you going to do? Make them stay in Northern Ireland to have children they do not want? What’s your solution?

Sammy Wilson
Our solution is that since this is a devolved issue it will be decided by, and reflect the views of, the people of Northern Ireland. The shadow Scottish National party spokesman for Northern Ireland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), outlined it very well: there are reasons for devolving issues across the United Kingdom. Devolved Administrations are meant to reflect the views of the people in the areas that they represent, and I believe that the laws in Northern Ireland reflect the views of the people of Northern Ireland. That is why the Northern Ireland Assembly voted to maintain those laws.