Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill - Committee

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:30 pm on 1st February 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities (Department for International Development) 1:30 pm, 1st February 2019

I thank the noble Baroness for bringing forward her amendment, but I am afraid that I am not able to support it. Amendment 3A seeks to remove from the Bill an important provision that will allow for the extension to parents of stillborn babies the same transparent and independent investigation into their loss that is granted to the parents of a newborn baby whose life ends soon after birth. The power is needed because the provisions for the exercise of coronial powers are limited to very explicit duties. There is no provision for coroners to undertake investigations beyond this. A stillborn baby, having not lived independently of its mother, is out of scope of the investigatory duties of the coroner.

We will consult on this issue. It is our intention that, if we conclude at the end of the consultation that it is right for stillbirths to be investigated by coroners, their duty to determine who has died—and how, when and where that death occurred—will be extended to apply to specified stillbirths. Should that be where the consultation takes us, we will want to learn lessons from investigations into stillbirths, just as we do at the moment in child and adult deaths where, under certain circumstances, the coroner will produce a prevention of future deaths report.

Coroners’ powers to investigate a stillbirth would mirror those relating to other deaths, with powers to compel witnesses and require the production of documents and order medical examinations of the stillborn baby. The powers provided for in Clause 4(4) are intended to allow for the existing framework for coronial investigations to be extended to include the investigation of stillbirths. The existing provisions were thoroughly scrutinised when the Coroners and Justice Bill, now an Act, was debated in this House and another place. In exercising this power, the Lord Chancellor will be required to lay any regulations before your Lordships’ House for consent when the regulations amend primary legislation.

Clause 4 provides that the Secretary of State will report on the question of coroners investigating stillbirths. But, having consulted and produced that report, if the conclusion is that coroners should investigate stillbirths, the Government should then move forward in a timely way. Clause 4(4) provides the mechanism to do that, with the safeguards provided in subsections (5) and (6) appropriate to the changes that are in scope. The power is rightly limited by Clause 4(6), a sunset provision which sees the power fall away if it is not used within five years of the Secretary of State publishing his report.

Reforms to the way that health providers review stillbirths have been evolving, with significant developments under way. This period provides the flexibility needed should the final legislative proposals need to reflect these developments, while providing for the Government to act quickly if the report finds that this is what is needed.

I am sure that it was not the noble Baroness’s intention, but to amend the Bill to leave out Clause 4(4) without also leaving out Clause 4(5) and (6) and without further amendments to Clause 5(2) and (3)—which also reference the power provided through Clause 4(4)—would leave Clause 4 not in a coherent state, if I might put it like that. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Hodgson will agree to meet the noble Baroness in due course, but I hope that at this stage she will withdraw her amendment.