The House of Lords Secondary Legislation Committee has blasted the Government over a move to directly commission abortion services in Northern Ireland, calling it action ‘poor practice’ and inappropriate’.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) described the decision as an “illegitimate power grab” and is asking its supporters to urge MPs to vote against the measure”.
The influential Lords Committee, which considers the policy effects of statutory instruments and other types of secondary legislation, was highly critical of the Government’s use of statutory instruments in Northern Ireland, which gave the Secretary of State powers to commission abortion services in the province.
The committee said: “We regard it as poor practice to bring new policy into effect when the House is not sitting, and using a procedure which prevents discussion before the legislation takes effect.
“It is particularly inappropriate when that policy is likely to be controversial, and the House may wish to ask the Minister to explain it.”
The highly controversial move by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis came into force on 31st March, while the House of Commons was in Easter recess. It has not yet been debated in Parliament.
Michael Robinson, director of Campaigns for Northern Ireland for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: “We certainly hope that MPs will ask Mr Lewis to explain what he is doing. Interfering in a devolved matter, especially one as highly sensitive as abortion, is bad enough, but to sneak it through with no scrutiny is outrageous.
“This was an illegitimate power grab, which undermines the democratic viability of the NI Executive.
“The people and politicians of Northern Ireland have demonstrated again and again that they do not support the extreme abortion regime mandated by the Westminster Government. But not content at trying to railroad it through while the Assembly was not sitting, Mr Lewis is now claiming dictatorial powers to force the democratically elected representatives of the Province to speed up the killing of unborn children.”
The Lords Committee was also critical that the Government halved the time for the instrument to come into effect. ‘Contrary to the convention of allowing at least 21 days between laying an instrument and bringing it into effect, the 2021 Regulations came into effect eight days after laying,’ which further reduced the time for scrutiny.
The report also raised the question of whether compelling Northern Ireland ministers to commission abortion services would impinge on the conscientious objection protection in last year’s regulations.
Mr Robinson concluded: “We are calling on MPs to vote down these regulations when they are finally brought before the House.”
Picture: Pro-lifers protest outside Stormont against Westminster’s imposition of abortion on Northern Ireland in this file photo.