The chances of successfully steering a private member’s bill through all its labyrinthine parliamentary stages are usually quite slim, and MPs usually keep it simple, with one main theme to bring about a change in the law.
So when I came up in the private members’ ballot last year, for the first time in 20 years of trying, I didn’t exactly make it any easier when I chose to cram four changes in the law in my bill involving four government departments and four different ministers.
It was therefore with a sense of great achievement and relief that my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill cleared the final hurdle in the Commons last week and now takes its chances in the Lords, who I hope will be gentle with it so it can go on the statute book before next summer.
To recap, my bill will oblige the government to extend civil partnerships to opposite sex couples; rectify the ridiculous anomaly since 1837 in England and Wales where the mother’s name cannot appear on a marriage certificate; require the health secretary to set up a review about recognising stillborn babies which, if born before 24 weeks’ gestation, are simply not acknowledged by the state; and finally, allow coroners the power to investigate any still birth they judge needs further investigation.
The last of these issues was brought to me by our excellent West Sussex coroner Penny Schofield who has worked so hard on the Shoreham Airshow crash inquest and who rightly sees this as a gap in the law when coroners have the power to investigate every other human death. The 24-week injustice was first raised by one of my constituents from Worthing and has had an emotional airing in parliament, attracting many parents to write to me with their own tragic stories.
|Also in the news - a senior councillor has been quizzed on why weekly refuse collections in Adur and Worthing will be scrapped; Stephen Frith’s elderly father issued an emotional video appeal over the tragic murder of his Worthing son; and a jury has concluded that an 18-year-old patient at a Worthing mental health clinic died as a result of her mental health issues which led her to self harm|
It was touch and go on one of the few ‘sitting Fridays’ when only private members’ business can be debated. I inserted an amendment at the last minute requiring the government to bring in the new civil partnerships within six months of my bill passing.
The government had already moved significantly by announcing, during the Conservative Party conference, that it would extend civil partnerships, but failed to put a time frame on it. So I gave them a gentle prod and, with a lot of muttering from the government benches but a lot of members in support from all parties, the bill passed unopposed.
The Lords is a little more unpredictable but I know there is a lot of support for all these measures and, with a fair wind, we should get it through and into law before next summer. I know it will have a positive effect on many people’s lives but perhaps next time I should keep it a bit simpler!
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