Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill - amendments on abortion and marriage equality

A number of constituents have contacted me about the votes which took place recently during the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill regarding amendments on abortion and marriage equality.

Firstly, on abortion, I am pleased that the Government recognises the sensitivity of this issue and the range of views expressed by people on all sides of the debate. It is important that the matter is considered with due care and sensitivity, and the strength of feeling from MPs was clearly demonstrated during the votes on the Bill.

In relation to marriage equality, I believe that marriage is one of the most important institutions we have. The principles of long-term commitment and responsibility which underpin it bind society together and make it stronger. It was the view of the Government that the state should not deny someone the chance to get married because of their sexuality, which is why it passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act through Parliament.

If Northern Ireland is part of the UK, then equality of the law should apply to all. In the absence of an agreement about Stormont, I took the opportunity to express that view on both amendments.

Following the votes, careful consideration must be given to both the policy detail and implementation. While the votes do not automatically change the law, they compel government to make the changes if devolution at Stormont is not restored by 21 October. Abortion has always been a devolved matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and it has been the Government's consistent position that it should be decided by locally accountable politicians there.

The Government is now actively considering how it can take forward these amendments and ensure they are workable. Restoring the Executive remains the Secretary of State's key priority and it is very positive news that a new phase of talks began in May.