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Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Bill - Report

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 1st March 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) 1:00 pm, 1st March 2019

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for prompting this debate on the provisions contained within the Bill relating to the coronial investigation of stillbirths. I am aware of the reservations which the noble Baroness has in relation to the scope of the power contained within Clause 4(4) of the Bill, but I hope that what I am about to say will reassure her.

The amendment, like the one we debated in Committee, would 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. This power is needed because the provisions for the exercise of coronial powers are limited to very explicit duties which do not provide for coroners to undertake an investigation of a still-born baby.

As I said in Committee, we shall consult on this issue. The consultation will be wide-ranging and will seek views from a number of interested parties, including, as the noble Baroness asked, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, whose members provide crucial services to all expectant mothers. We recognise that, while there are those who are keen to see this change, there are others who have well-considered reservations, and it is important for us to hear from them.

Clause 4 provides that the Secretary of State will report on the question of coroners investigating stillbirths and, having consulted and produced that report, if the conclusion is that coroners should indeed 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 at Clause 4(5) and Clause 4(6) appropriate to the changes that are in scope. I reassure the noble Baroness that, if the Government decide to proceed with giving coroners powers to investigate stillbirths and draw on the power provided at Clause 4(4), we will publish our regulations before they are laid in Parliament. This additional scrutiny will ensure that robust and well-understood provisions for changing Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 are brought before Parliament. Should we make such change, the Government will also undertake a post-implementation review within two years of its implementation.

The Bill as it stands provides for the enabling power to expire after five years beginning from the day on which the report is published. This would allow further amendments to the provisions for investigating stillbirths if they are deemed necessary once any new legislation has bedded in.

Finally, the powers provided for in Clause 4(4) are intended to allow 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 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 noble Lords’ consent whenever they amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

I hope that, in view of the reassurances I have provided, the noble Baroness accepts that the Government will consult widely before they make any decision to provide for coroners to investigate stillbirths and that, having done so, they will put to the public any legislative proposals before bringing regulations to this House and the other place for approval. I hope that, with those reassurances, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.