Report on civil partnership

Part of Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:28 pm on 26th October 2018.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 12:28 pm, 26th October 2018

As my hon. Friend Tim Loughton has described the Bill as one about hatches, matches and dispatches, I feel it is incumbent on me to dispatch it swiftly from the Dispatch Box, so I shall not detain Members for long. My hon. Friend has been described today as tenacious. I certainly know that he is very diligent and committed in relation to these issues, and I thank him for his work to raise the profile of them.

We have heard excellent contributions from Members on both sides of the House, particularly Mrs Hodgson. She spoke about the work she has done alongside colleagues, but also alongside the Department of Health and Social Care. Many tributes have been paid to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, and I delighted to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price, is also now in the Chamber. I know that she has worked very closely with Members on these issues, particularly when it comes to baby loss, and I congratulate her on that.

My hon. Friend Victoria Prentis brought a perfect combination of humour and seriousness to what is sometimes a difficult subject for us to talk about, and I congratulate her on that. Many Members raised issues faced by their constituents—Mohammad Yasin mentioned bereaved parents in his constituency, and Andy Slaughter spoke about his constituents who were successful at the Supreme Court. My hon. Friend Julian Knight made an excellent and thoughtful contribution, speaking about a difficult experience in a moving way. He made an interesting point about the distinction between civil partnerships and marriage, and those who may simply not wish to go through a marriage, but for whom a civil partnership would be the right thing.

We had an interesting discussion across the House with my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien and I thank him for the points he raised, which clearly provoked strong feelings and interesting conversations. My hon. Friend Chris Philp wished to know a specific point about marriage certificates and schedules, and whether couples who marry in a church would still be able to sign a schedule. I reassure him that they and their witnesses will be able to sign that schedule, which will include all the relevant information such as name, date of birth and occupation, as well as, for the first time, the details of both parents. That is something we all welcome and have wanted to happen for a long time.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Erewash (Maggie Throup) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison), as well as my hon. Friend Will Quince. He has spoken previously in the Chamber about his personal experience and the work he is doing with the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West. He always speaks thoughtfully, and Ministers welcome his serious thoughts on this matter.

As we have heard, the Bill will introduce the first reform of how marriages are registered since 1837. It removes the requirement for paper marriage register books to be held in more than 30,000 religious buildings and register offices, moving to an electronic system of marriage registration. I assure my hon. Friends that the Bill will not prevent couples who want to marry in the Church of England or Church in Wales from marrying following ecclesiastical preliminaries, such as the calling of banns and the issue of a common licence. As I said earlier, instead of a schedule, the clergy will issue a marriage document that will be signed at the ceremony by the couple, and returned to the register office for entry into the register. The Government—I know this will put fear into the heart of Chris Bryant—will aim to implement those reforms as soon as possible, subject to the successful passage of the Bill, and will enable changes to be made to include the names of both parents of the couple.

Clause 3 has progressed with strong support from hon. Friends, all of whom agree that the report is both timely and urgent. Work on that report is already under way, and the Department of Health and Social Care is engaging with many key stakeholders, including health practitioners, registrars, charities and academics. The review team has spoken to parents with lived experience of losing a baby before 24 weeks’ gestation to learn about their experience and how best to ensure that the NHS is able to provide the best possible care and support when such a tragedy takes place. The clause requires the Secretary of State to publish a report. Many hon. Friends have already contributed to the report for which the clause provides, and I encourage Members on both sides of the House to support that extremely important work.

On civil partnerships, the Bill certainly sets the Government a challenge, particularly on timing. As I pointed out, there is a great deal of work to be done, including a substantial legislative trawl to ensure that the existing statute book works for opposite-sex civil partnerships. There are policy decisions to be made, and consultations on issues such as the conversion and dissolution of marriages and civil partnerships, as well as the resolution of cross-border issues. Although the Government are firmly committed to equal civil partnerships, for all those reasons, we must ensure that we proceed carefully and thoroughly, as I am certain we will.

The Government are grateful to all those who have taken time to speak to the matters raised by clause 4, and it is important that a broad and diverse range of views is heard and considered carefully. It is clear that when considering whether to enable coroners to investigate stillbirths, we must engage the wider public so that any proposals are thoroughly explored and understood. We think that the review is the right approach, and the Bill is an important step in that direction.

I once again thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for bringing forward these important issues, and I congratulate him on his tenacity. I look forward to the future passage of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.