Northern Ireland

Peers back NI same sex marriage and abortion reform

House of Lords
Image caption The debate took place in the House of Lords on Wednesday evening

Peers have backed moves to introduce same-sex marriage and abortion reform in Northern Ireland.

The emotive debate took place in the House of Lords on Wednesday.

However, the government says there will have to be a consultation period of between eight and twelve weeks over the abortion changes.

The consultation will explore how the changes will be implemented but not whether they will happen.

On a free vote, peers passed the abortion changes overwhelmingly by 182 votes to 37.

On same-sex marriage, Lords backed an amendment which means it will not come into force until early January to allow changes to be made to the legislation.

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Media captionBBC News NI looks at the history of Northern Ireland's same-sex marriage debate

The Lords debate follows last week's historic vote in Westminster when MPs backed changes to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill designed to ensure the government does not have to call an early assembly election.

It means same sex marriage and abortion reform will be introduced in Northern Ireland unless devolution is restored by 21 October.

Under an amendment put by Lord Hayward, same-sex marriage will not come into force until 13 January.

"Pushing back the commencement date for these regulations will allow the government and the Northern Ireland civil service more time to make necessary changes to legislation as well as the essential operational changes, " he said.

'It is fatally flawed'

"Any less time than this would jeopardise the government's ability to extend the full set of rights and entitlements to both same-sex married couples and opposite sex civil partnerships."

On abortion reform, Lord Duncan for the government said: "If it is accepted that a consultation has to be carried out under Section 75, can I confirm the substantive point is how women will obtain access to abortion but not whether they should be able to do so.

"I want to be absolutely clear, consultation would not be on the question of whether this should be done but only how the recommendations can be implemented in Northern Ireland."

The Labour Peer, Lord Dubs, said he found the clarification helpful and comforting.

Earlier, Lord Tebbit condemned the way the legislation had been introduced, saying when legislation is as complex as this, "it is fatally flawed."

He said the government should repeal the devolution act "and take over in an honest manner".

The bill will go back to the House of Commons for its final reading on Thursday.

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