Government hints at change to abortion charge rules ahead of knife-edge Commons vote
The Government has hinted at a concession to allow Northern Irish women to access free abortions on the NHS in England.
The Conservatives had been facing a knife-edge vote in the Commons when MPs decide on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech calling on the Government to allow Northern Irish women to “access medical services including abortion procedures in England if they so wish without charge”.
The motion was tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy and is believed to have the backing of a number of Conservative backbenchers, putting in doubt whether the Government will have enough support to see off the change.
But Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom indicated the Government could indicate a change in policy before the vote this afternoon.
“The Department for Equalities and the Department of Health are discussing and looking very closely at this issue today,” she said, after a question from Tory MP Maria Miller.
Ms Miller had asked “how this wrong will be put right” and said the existing situation, which requires women living in Northern Ireland to pay for abortions in England, was “wrong”.
Another Conservative backbencher, Anna Soubry, said there was “much concern” about the current rules, and the Guardian reports that “about a dozen” Tories had expressed discontent.
That would be enough to overturn the Government’s advantage in the House, with the Conservative minority government propped up by the votes of 10 DUP MPs.
Ms Creasy said ahead of the vote: “Now is the time to speak up for our Northern Irish sisters.”
Speaker Bercow selected Ms Creasy’s amendment as one of three proposed changes to the Queen’s Speech that will be voted on later.
Jeremy Corbyn’s call for the Government to adopt its agenda will also be discussed.
Meanwhile Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s proposal that ministers should “set out proposals to remain within the customs union and single market” – the third amendment selected – could reopen divisions within the Opposition and Government about Brexit policy.