I thank my hon. Friend that intervention, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating Ruth on her engagement. We look forward to many more mother of the bride conversations in the Members Tea Room.
I thank my constituents, Julie Fisher and Howard Johnstone, for writing to me about their civil partnership plans after 30 years of being together. It is crucial that this change is made by primary legislation. Although secondary legislation could be used, it would necessitate the replacement of all of the 84,000 marriage register books that are in use and would be costly and ineffective, where is if we proceed with this Bill, a new unitary digital database could be created for the marriage register, providing not only a safe and secure model but one that is cost-effective and efficient.
I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for seeking to change the registration procedure for stillbirths. The fact that people go through such a traumatic experience only for the loss of the parents to go unregistered is a long-running travesty. The story of parents such as Sarah Henderson, who lost her daughter at 23 weeks and four days and yet received no certification, exposes the incompatibility of such rigid legislation and such a personal and emotive area. Sarah’s story compelled 370,000 people to sign her petition supporting a change in the law very similar to that being proposed today. That shows the strength of feeling in this country about such a sensitive issue.
Although I commend previous Parliaments for scrutinising this area and making amendments, we must take this step to bring greater humanity to our birth-related legislation. Parliament previously supported a change to the stillbirth definition from “after 28 weeks” to “after 24 weeks” following the then clear consensus from the medical profession about the age in which a foetus should be considered able to survive. The pain and distress that parents might feel when they may not register the birth of a baby born before 24 weeks is unimaginable, but parents might also be distressed at the possibility of having to do so.
This Bill affects three areas of life that are often missed in our intense political climate but have an immeasurable emotional impact on the people of this country. Births, marriages and deaths occur every day, and we must reflect upon and amend legislation affecting them. Finally, I would like to once again commend my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for his efforts on the Bill and the campaigning he has persisted with on the issues within it.