I rise briefly to add my support to this Bill. It is a fantastic piece of legislation in all respects, and I want to congratulate my hon. Friend Tim Loughton, who has been tenacious in his pursuit of this change for a long time. Like all pieces of really good legislation, the question always is, “Why hasn’t this happened before?” It seems so obvious in many respects. The Bill seeks to let opposite-sex couples enter into civil partnerships, permits the registration of the name the mother on a marriage certificate, allows the registration of stillborn deaths before the 24th week of pregnancy, and gives coroners the power to investigate stillborn deaths.
As for the first part, allowing opposite-sex couples to enter into a civil partnership, it is often said, “Why don’t they just get married?” Well, I am a person of faith, and I must say that it can sometimes be quite fragile—it can be difficult to retain that faith in the modern world—but part of being a person of faith is also about recognising and respecting no faith. Many people feel that marriage perhaps has religious connotations that they do not wish to enter into. Marriage is also expensive. It can be a huge undertaking at a time of student debts and other financial difficulties for young people embarking on life together, or for people of any age, to take on what can often be a crippling expense. People may also have different experiences of marriage. They may have seen their parents married or perhaps been married themselves, and they may have seen that marriage did not work for their parents or for themselves. We need to respect that and to understand that the days in which people just jumped into a marriage or in which marriage was the natural progression are now gone for many in our society.
Chris Bryant made a powerful point about rights on Report which resonated with me given an event in my own life. His point was about the rights of people who are in a long-term relationship and experience a catastrophe in their lives and then discover, frankly, that their word does not count for what it should. In 1999, my partner at the time was involved in a car accident. She was hit on
Now, I was not even given any medical updates at first, and it took me a day to get in to see her. Although our relationship may not have been at the stage at which we would have considered a civil partnership if we had had that option, our relationship was legitimate and deserved recognition. I remember that moment when I went to see her, a day after she had been hit, and I was warned that she would have tubes going into her body and all the paraphernalia that comes with a serious head trauma. I was warned that she would look very strange and that I was not to be shocked. Well, as far as I was concerned, she looked as beautiful as ever. I was touched by what the hon. Member for Rhondda said, and it was that that made me rise in support of this Bill more than probably anything else.
The Bill’s second key aim is to review the registration of marriages. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend Dame Caroline Spelman has pursued the matter relentlessly in her role as Second Church Estates Commissioner, and it is a great privilege to sponsor and support her Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill. There are roughly 2 million single parents in the UK, around 90% of whom are women, so it is curious that, as the law stands, should their children go on to get married they would be permitted to put the details only of the father into the marriage register. My mother brought me up from the age of 10 after my father left home. I still have good relations with him, but she brought me up, working two jobs and all the hours that God sends, and yet when I got married in 2014 my mother’s name did not appear on the marriage certificate. That is just ridiculous on every level, and I hope that the Government brings forward secondary legislation to end that anomaly.
I want to reiterate a point made by Baroness Williams on Second Reading in the Lords, when she highlighted how the proposed changes would also enable all marriage entries to be held within a single electronic registry, negating the need for multiple bound marriage registers. That seems like a sensible change, but it is obviously not the sole reason to do it.
The third part of the Bill seeks to assist people who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks’ gestation. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and Mrs Hodgson on their work in raising baby loss awareness.
This legislation is well overdue. It is finely drafted, and it covers off so many things—so many wrongs in our society—that we as parliamentarians need to address. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and urge everyone to support it.