‘(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations indicate the payments to be made in the event of a pregnancy that is carried beyond the twenty-ninth week, but is not carried to term or live birth.’.
The Minister owes it to Parliament to take the Bill seriously; after all, he is proposing it—the rest of us are trying to scrutinise it. Following that gross disrespect, we move to amendment No. 64.
Amendment No. 64 seeks to probe Government thinking, but it sounds to me as if they cannot be bothered to think and, if necessary, amend the Bill on the issue of payments to mothers who, for whatever reason, at the later stages of pregnancy, when it is often at the most tragic, do not carry their babies to full term. I hope that, for once, the Minister will take the matter seriously, because outside this Room, people think it is extremely serious.
I note from the draft regulations that a woman who has given birth to a child, or a stillborn child, is entitled to payment of the health in pregnancy grant, if she was at least 25 weeks’ pregnant, and before that birth, had received advice on matters relating to maternal health from a health professional. Of course, I should be more than willing to withdraw the amendment if I received adequate assurance that the regulations touch on it. My anxiety is that the need to have received health advice will become the trigger, rather than the needs of the mother, who will no doubt be going through extraordinarily difficult times, when anything that would help her health, not least through diet and nutrition, so that she can overcome desperate stress and grief must be our primary focus.
The draft regulations published by the Medical Research Council, which I circulated to the Committee some time ago and which, incidentally, included the list of professions that would be involved in the work, set out the detail about the entitlement conditions. In particular, regulation 2 of the draft sets out the conditions in relation to pregnancy, and refers specifically to women who have a stillbirth after the 25th week of pregnancy. That would include the exceptional cases where a pregnancy has to be terminated on medical grounds after the normal 24-week limit for legal abortion. I assure hon. Members that we have carefully considered this most sensitive matter. When a woman loses her baby, we do not want to add to the distress that she and her family will be facing, by placing additional requirements on her. Accordingly, where a woman meets the specified conditions of entitlement, as set out in clause 121, and claims within the time specified in regulations set out under clause 122, she will continue to be entitled to the grant, regardless of the outcome of her pregnancy.
The Patients’ Association supports Tamba—the Twins and Multiple Births Association—and Bliss on multiple births. Although we have raised these points already during our proceedings, the Minister was rather short on his answers, so we did not get the reassurance we sought and I shall have to detain the Committee for a short while. The Patients’ Association is
“concerned to learn that the Health in Pregnancy Grant proposed in the Bill will penalise mothers giving birth to twins and multiple births.”
The Minister will recall that there were a series of reasons for that concern, which it was important to consider. Indeed, they were reprised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton in her contribution. There was concern about the focus on the birth, which is what the Government pray in aid, as compared with the health of the baby and the mother, who is under much greater demand when it is a multiple birth. One must think carefully about making these grants available to individual human beings, be they boy or girl, on the basis of health rather than simply as an event of birth. I wonder whether the Minister would like to amplify his comments on that point, given that he chose to keep his remarks rather short during our previous attempt at the subject.
The way the grant will be administered is the same as for other pre-pregnancy grants such as the healthy start voucher, which is administered regardless of the number of babies that a pregnant woman is expecting. The evidence suggests that women with twins do not have additional nutritional requirements to those with single births.