The government is ploughing ahead with its decision to create buffer zones around abortion clinics across England and Wales, despite concerns that they could infringe upon the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR).
On Tuesday 18, following cross-party support, an amendment was made to the Public Order Bill. If the bill were to come into force, the amendment would make it an offence to gather outside medical centres where abortions are performed. It's believed the offence would include public prayer and the singing of hymns.
The move sparked frustration from some pro-life Christians that choose to gather in such areas to provide spiritual support, or spread the gospel.
However, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of Steve for the Home Office, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, has now published a written ministerial statement stating his belief that at the amendment renders the bill incompatible with the ECHR.
Despite the possible conflict, he says the Government intends to press ahead with the plans.
Section 19 of the Human Rights Act requires any minister in charge of a Bill to lay a statement before the Bill’s second reading stipulating whether or not the document is in accordance with human rights law.
Even if it is incompatible, the government can still proceed with the readings.
Lord Sharpe’s statement reads: “Section 19(1) of the Human Rights Act provides a mechanism to notify Parliamentarians if a statement cannot be made that a clause is compatible with the ECHR, but this does not fetter the right of Parliament to legislate in such a way, should it wish.
“I am unable, but only because of clause 9, to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Bill are presently compatible with Convention rights but the Government nevertheless wish to proceed with the Bill.
“The Government have published a separate ECHR memorandum with their assessment of the compatibility of the Bill’s provisions with the Convention rights: this memorandum is available on the Government website.
“I am sure this House will naturally wish to debate and scrutinise this amendment further. I look forward to continue working with all colleagues on this legislation as the Bill moves through Parliament.”