Report on civil partnership

Part of Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:20 pm on 26th October 2018.

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Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 12:20 pm, 26th October 2018

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Trudy Harrison.

I thank and pay tribute to my hon. Friend Tim Loughton for bringing forward the Bill. I congratulate him on getting it to this point with Government support, which is significant. I applaud him for the parliamentary dexterity with which he has incorporated into the Bill so many issues that he has seen as wrongs and injustices over his career in Parliament—I am sure it has a long way to go—since 1997. It is certainly a lesson for us all that we can squeeze a huge number of issues into one private Member’s Bill and still get it through Parliament.

It is a great honour to co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, and it is the parts of the Bill relating to baby loss that I would like to focus on briefly in my contribution. The group exists only really for two purposes: to reduce miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death; and to ensure that we have world-class bereavement care and support right across our NHS for those who sadly still go through one of those tragic occurrences. The Bill goes a long way to addressing both those objectives.

First, the element of the Bill on coronial involvement is really quite significant, particularly in relation to stillbirth. We still do not know why around 50% of stillbirths happen, and there is a huge lack of research and evidence. Allowing parents, whether it is voluntary or not—that is still to be decided—and whether it is a late-term stillbirth or slightly earlier, to have coronial involvement is really significant. As part of that evidence-gathering exercise, it is so important that when mistakes are made—the NHS and the medical profession are human businesses, and inevitably mistakes do happen—we learn from every single one. That is why the element on coronial involvement is so significant.

I mentioned this in an intervention, but I would like to pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar. In respect of coronial involvement, the Bill is just a piece of enabling legislation. As soon as a Government Department accepts that we are going to do something, it can still take months and in some cases years to introduce legislation, but my understanding is that the work that the Minister and his departmental officials have already done means that a measure could come in as soon as within 12 months. That may strike fear into the hearts of officials, but it is quite incredible when we consider the complexity of this issue. Given my point about ensuring that we have the research and evidence base to look at and some understanding of why stillbirths happen, that will enable us to start implementing the measures that we know need to be introduced and start to address it. Working in tandem with the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, the former Health Secretary, this could have a huge impact, in particular on reducing stillbirth.

The second element, in relation to the registration of pre-24-week baby loss, is part of the bereavement piece and also really significant. I cannot continue my contribution without again paying tribute to Mrs Hodgson, who has spoken so movingly about her personal experience of this issue—a hugely brave thing to do—and campaigned tirelessly. She has been key in both forming and working with the all-party group, including as part of her work as a shadow Health Minister.

This is really important because it is so difficult for any parent who suffers a miscarriage or a stillbirth, however it is termed, at 23 weeks and a few days or at 22 weeks to go home with no recognition whatsoever. We have an opportunity to give great comfort. Whether it is still classed technically as a miscarriage or a stillbirth, that baby is still born: the mother has given birth and, in many cases, the father is present. Such a recognition, albeit seemingly quite a small element, is important—that life existed; that individual existed. I know that I do not need to make that point to my friend on the other side of the Chamber.

This Bill has probably achieved such an aim, in that the former Secretary of State has set up the pregnancy loss review, which is being spearheaded by Zoe Clark-Coates and Samantha Collinge. This work is already being undertaken, and it is recognised at the highest level of the Department of Health and Social Care. I have no doubt that we are going to find a solution, but again it is very complex. There are lots of different views about exactly how we do it, such as whether it is voluntary and at what point in the pregnancy it applies. I have differing views on that, and I will certainly feed them into the review.