The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill was read a second time yesterday, 2 February, with qualified Government support: the Member in charge of the bill, Tim Loughton, had evidently come to an agreement with the Home Office about amendments to be tabled in committee.
Replying to the debate, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, said that the Government would table amendments to Clause 2 (reform of civil partnership) to require the Government
“to undertake a further review of the operation of civil partnerships, and to bring forward proposals for how the law ought to be changed so that the difference in treatment in the current system is resolved. The amendment will go further than the current marker clause in the Bill before the House, in that it will require the Government to report to Parliament and to include a full public consultation”.
As to opposite-sex civil partnerships, she explained that it was not a simple matter of changing a sentence in the Civil Partnership Act 2004: it was not just about eligibility but also about the rights that would flow from any changes: “For example, the rules for the dissolution of civil partnerships and divorce in the case of marriage are different for same-sex and opposite-sex partners.”
The work to which the Government was committing had four elements:
- to continue its existing work on assessing the relative take-up of civil partnership and marriage among same-sex couples;
- to consider whether phasing out civil partnerships for same-sex couples was the best way forward and, because the Government wanted to approach the issue sensitively and delicately and understanding how that would affect same-sex couples who continue to opt for a civil partnership and who do not wish to convert their civil partnership into a marriage, to undertake research with same-sex couples “to understand their motivations for forming and remaining in a civil partnership, and what they may do if the evidence drives us to remove them”;
- to survey the demand for civil partnership among opposite-sex unmarried couples: previous consultations did not suggest that there was a significant demand for opposite-sex civil partnerships; and
- to review what had happened in other countries faced with similar choices.
She hoped to have “a proportionate amount of data” by September 2019.
As to marriage certification, the Government fully supported the correction of the anomaly under which mothers’ names were not recorded. In addition:
“The Long Title of the Bill refers to only mothers being added to certificates. We need to ensure that when the marriage entry is updated it allows for all the different family circumstances in society today—for example, same-sex parents.”
She thanked Tim Loughton for agreeing to amend Clause 1 of his Bill in Committee to insert the provisions of the Registration of Marriage (No. 2) Bill (introduced in the Lords by the Bishop of St Albans and in the Commons by Dame Caroline Spelman) in its place.
As to registering stillbirths, Clause 3 would provide for the Government to review the issue and whether the current law on registration of stillbirths should be changed to allow for the registration of pregnancy loss before 24 weeks’ gestation. As part of this review, the Government would seek views and evidence from all interested parties.
As to coroners’ investigations, the Government agreed wholeheartedly with the need to look at the role that coroners could play. Currently, under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, coroners did not have jurisdiction to investigate when a baby did not show signs of life independently of its mother:
“Coroners can commence an investigation if there is doubt as to whether a baby was stillborn or lived independently of its mother, but the investigation stops if the coroner’s enquiries reveal that the baby was stillborn. Clause 4 places a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to enable or to require coroners to investigate stillbirths. It also gives the Lord Chancellor a power to make regulations amending part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 so as to provide for when, and in what circumstances, coroners will investigate stillbirths.”
The Government thought it important to carry out a review and produce a report in that area before making any changes:
“There are important and sensitive issues to explore, such as the question of how far into a pregnancy coronial involvement should be triggered, and the potential role of other factors, such as violence to the mother or medical negligence. We need to hear a wide range of views, including those of coroners, including the chief coroner, medical professionals, researchers in the field and, of course, bereaved parents and the organisations that support them.”
The Government was pleased to be able to support the Bill.