HC Deb 01 February 1995 vol 253 cc1103-4 4.33 pm
Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 in connection with the procedures relating to the registration of deaths in England and Wales. The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 allows a death to be registered only in the district in which it occurs. My Bill proposes that that procedure be modified, so that the necessary details and declaration of death may be made with the registrar of any district. That registrar would then forward the details to the district where the death occurred for registration to take place.

That which I propose may seem to be a small, superficial and rather obscure change, but it is one that would make a substantial difference to the difficulties that some find themselves in now when a death occurs. The difficulties add to the distress at a time of grief.

Last summer, a family of mother, father and baby daughter—all constituents of mine—went on holiday to Skegness. One morning, the parent woke up to find their seven-month-old baby daughter dead in her cot. All parents will know how such a death, and fear of such a death, worries them. We all know how many times we check our sleeping babies to ascertain that they are still breathing. Surely we can all imagine what the mother and father felt at that fear becoming a reality.

Given the suddenness of the baby's death, the coroner who covers Skegness was notified. He directed that a post mortem should be performed by the specialist paediatric pathologist who is based at the Queen's medical centre at Nottingham, which is a hospital of considerable renown. It is one that is used extensively by Erewash, and it was therefore close to the home of the family.

The mother and father returned from Skegness to Nottingham, the post mortem was undertaken, cot death was confirmed, and arrangements for the funeral were set in hand. It was only then that the parents found that, to register their daughter's death, one of them had to return in person to Skegness. That is the requirement of the law as it stands. The 200-mile round trip was bad enough, but having to revisit the place of the tragedy added to the grief that my constituents were already experiencing.

Such a procedure can be changed. One way would be to allow the registration of the death to take place in any district. Although that has the immediate attraction of simplicity, it would cause other complications, about which registrars and coroners have expressed their concern. If the present system continues without change, however, it will inevitably continue to add unnecessary upset to many people each year.

My Bill would allow the necessary documents required for death registration to be received by any registrar, who would then forward them to the appropriate district. My constituents would have been able to go to Nottingham, Derby or Ilkeston. The documents would then be sent by post, fax or electronic mail to Skegness. Thus, while maintaining the continuity of the place of registration, the parents of the baby would at least have had the process made emotionally and physically easier for them.

The 1990 White Paper on registration contained proposals for change similar to those that are set out in the Bill. The White Paper met with approval from doctors, coroners and registrars. The Derby registrar and coroner, whose districts cover Erewash, have expressed support for the changes that I propose. I am grateful to them for their assistance and advice as I am to the registrar of Ilkeston. The Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths has advised me of its support. It was my constituents' general practitioner, who wrote to me initially about the case to which I have referred asking for a change in the law, who prompted the Bill.

The mother of the baby girl said to me two weeks ago, "Make my case public." She added, "I will do whatever is necessary, so that no one else finds themselves in the situation that I did." I agree with her.

The House is in a position to do whatever is necessary. We spend much time on the great affairs of state, as we have this afternoon, and rightly so. Yet it is often the smaller things of life that most affect, for good or ill, people's lives.

I am proposing a small change. The Bill is only a modest measure. However, the small change could make a significant difference to many people. The Bill would change the registration process so that no longer would it add to people's hurt at a time of great personal distress. Instead, the procedure would help them. That is why I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Angela Knight, Sir Timothy Sainsbury, Sir Ivan Lawrence, Mr. James Clappison, Mr. Peter Butler, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. John Heppell, Mr. Gyles Brandreth, Mr. Nick Hawkins, Mr. Alex Carlile, Mr. John Greenway and Mr. David Lidington.