I rise to add my warm congratulations to my hon. Friend Tim Loughton on the tremendous work he has done to compile the Bill and steer it through its various stages.
I am happy to support all the clauses of the Bill, as it has been amended, not least clause 1, under which, as hon. Members have said, mothers will be recorded on the marriage certificate.
Of course I support the concept of the electronic register that will be set up under the Bill—it is a modern way of recording very important information—but I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed from the Dispatch Box when she sums up the debate that there will still be some form of paper signing in the church or other venue where the marriage takes place. I ask that because my constituent, Councillor Tim Pollard, has made the good point to me that the traditional ceremony in which the piece of paper is signed is an important part of many people’s experience of marriage. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed that the signing ceremony will still be part of the process, even if the information is ultimately recorded electronically, rather than in the old bound books.
Clause 2 is about preparing a report on bringing in civil partnerships for people of all orientations. I strongly support that provision. I respectfully disagree with the comments my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien made in his speech a few moments ago. He criticised the proposal on the grounds that it would create a two-tier system of relationship recognition: civil partnerships and marriage. He referred to civil partnerships as a “halfway house”. I do not accept that they are a halfway house at all; in my view, they are entirely equal to the institution of marriage. I associate myself fully with Chris Bryant. On this issue, I am entirely at one with him—I mean that intellectually, rather than in the biblical sense. I think that people should have the choice. As a Conservative, I believe in personal liberty and personal choice. The individual should be able to choose which of the two institutions they subscribe to.
I do think there is a difference between the two institutions, because marriage carries religious connotations. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough said that the institution of marriage predates religion, but even in times before Christianity and Judaism, the marriage ceremony always had religious overtones. Some people may decide, for their own reasons, that they do not want to associate with that. Indeed, my hon. Friend said that he had in the past been one of them. I therefore think that the choice should be available. Personal liberty and personal choice must sit at the heart of our philosophy in relation to these matters.
Clauses 3 and 4 introduce welcome measures. The report under clause 3 will look into how we might go about implementing the registration proposals. I suggest that parental choice should be the overriding consideration. Different parents will probably feel differently depending on their personal circumstances, and it should be up to the parent to choose whether the registration takes place. Perhaps that could be my early submission to any consultation that takes places on the matter.
Clause 4 is about investigations. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I think, raised a concern about providing only for parental choice, as there might be some circumstances where the parent—for reasons of domestic violence, for example—might not exercise their choice when properly they should. I wonder whether another way of handling this would be to say that an investigation should take place if either parent or one of the clinicians involved opted to trigger a coroner’s investigation. That is, if any of the interested parties felt that an investigation was appropriate, one would take place. That might guard against my hon. Friend’s concern, while also allowing an element of parental choice.
As parliamentarians, we should focus on trying to reduce—as far as we can—the awful tragedy of stillbirth and neonatal death. Of course, my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) have campaigned tirelessly on the issue. I draw the attention of the House to the work of Tamba—the Twins and Multiple Births Association—which has run a pilot over the last couple of years, encouraging 30 maternity units to fully adopt National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines in relation to multiple births. As a result, stillbirths in those units declined by 50% and neonatal deaths declined by 30%.
Tamba is campaigning to get these guidelines rolled out across all maternity units. I am a father of twins who were born very prematurely, at 25 weeks and one day. They were very fortunate in that they received excellent care from the NHS and survived, but that is not an experience that all parents have when their children are born as prematurely as 25 weeks and one day. I strongly support Tamba’s campaign and ask the Secretary of State for Health to adopt its recommendations and carry them forward.