Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:53 am on 2nd February 2018.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 11:53 am, 2nd February 2018

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. Charities and the Government have to work hand in hand with each other and with parents, many of whom want to do something to support the hospital that helped them after they suffered their tragic loss. Parents are helped not just by hospitals, but by charities, too. After our loss in 2014, my wife said to me, “I don’t want flowers. I don’t want the house to be full of flowers that then die.” So we set up a JustGiving page to enable people to donate money—in the end, it was a huge amount—to the specialist bereavement suite.

The work being done by groups such as Rotary, as well as by charities and individuals up and down the country, is to be applauded and welcomed, but the Government should not use it as an excuse not to act in places that do not have such facilities. The Secretary of State has been very positive in that regard, and he wants there to be a bereavement suite attached to every maternity unit in the country.

Bereavement care is hugely important, and I am pleased to say that the bereavement care pathway has been launched and is operating in 11 trusts. The plan is to roll it out nationwide later this year, to provide consistent bereavement care for those who suffer the loss of a child. Not only are the consequences of getting it wrong too great for the parents and the family, but there is a huge social cost, as we can see from the number of parents who, sadly, separate after the loss of a baby.

I want to touch on the point about recognition. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West made this case very powerfully in her speech, and I applaud her for her bravery in setting out the case for this change more powerfully than I ever could. We come to the very term “stillborn.” In effect, when we talk about stillbirth we are talking about a “still born” baby. It is important to recognise the double meaning: they are indeed still born, whether it is pre-24 weeks or post-24 weeks. For the parents who hold that baby in their arms—perfectly formed, beautiful babies—the only difference is that they are not breathing. I am not going to be the person who says to that parent, “That baby didn’t live,” or, “They weren’t here. They weren’t with us. They weren’t a real entity. They shouldn’t be recognised in the law.” The time has absolutely come for this change. We pretty much have cross-party consensus on that, and I am really pleased that the Government support it. The review will make a difference and the all-party group on baby loss will, of course, feed into that.

Clause 4 is a policy that I very much support. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and I are undoubtedly very much on the same page on investigations into stillbirth, and his campaign is a very big part of why the Government have made so much progress on this issue. We can learn a huge amount more from people’s experiences and share them across the NHS, and that has to be a good thing, because the more we speak to parents, the more we hear that those who lose a child want their child’s life, however short, to have meaning. I raised that in an intervention on the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, but I am not sure it helped all that much. What I mean by that is that parents want to know what happened, how it happened, where there will be learning, and that those learnings will be shared across our NHS to ensure that as few parents as possible have to go through that huge emotional tragedy and ordeal.

I was kindly invited by the Secretary of State for Health—now the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care—to his speech to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. He came immediately afterwards to make a statement, saying that from April this year, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will investigate every case of stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death notified to the RCOG Each Baby Counts programme. To put that into numbers, there are around 1,000 incidents every year. He also announced—this point is significant in relation to the Bill—that he would work with the Ministry of Justice

“to look closely into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law”—[Official Report, 28 November 2017;
Vol. 632, c. 179.]

This seems an appropriate time for me to pay tribute to the Secretary of State for all the support that he has given me and the all-party group in our campaign to reduce the stillbirth and neonatal death rate. I also pay tribute—this is my first opportunity to do so in the Chamber since the reshuffle—to my hon. Friend Mr Dunne for all his work as Minster of State in the Department of Health, following on from his predecessor, the Care Quality Minister, the former Member for Ipswich. As Back-Bench MPs, we have numerous meetings with Ministers, and we know that those take place more out of courtesy than anything else, but that was never the case with my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow. He genuinely took an interest in the issue and our work, and he recognised that we had a real opportunity to make a huge difference in reducing our stillbirth and neonatal death rates in this country. We should all be very proud of that legacy.

My wider point is that the Government are listening. The Bill reinforces the mood music and soundings that we have had from them in this regard. They are trying to learn from best practice elsewhere and from unfortunate incidents where stillbirth occurs. Most importantly, as I mentioned, the Secretary of State has already told the House that he is looking into coroners investigating stillbirths, and that is very much welcome. When that work has been undertaken, we will certainly work with him and anybody else who wants to be involved with the all-party group.

Improving support for bereaved parents and learning from experiences so that we can lower our stillbirth and neonatal death rate are small things, but they will make a huge difference to thousands of people up and down the country. I will support the Bill.