§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to amend the law regarding the appointment of a Registrar-General of births, deaths and marriages in Scotland. The appointment of that official is regulated to-day by the Lord Clerk Register (Scotland) Act, 1879, which provides for the appointment of a Deputy-Clerk Register, who shall be an advocate of ten years' standing and who shall receive a salary of £1,200 per year. That Act further provides that the Deputy-Clerk Register, without special appointment and without additional salary, shall also hold the office of Registrar-General for Scotland. Thus, the Deputy-Clerk Register ex officio becomes Registrar-General for Scotland. Sir James Patten-McDougall, who held the dual offices with great distinction since 1909, died in 1919, and the offices have since been vacant. I do not think I need enlarge on the view that the duties of Registrar-General in Scotland, as well as in England, have enormously increased both in volume and in importance in modern times. They comprise the work of the periodical census which is to take place on the 24th of April, 1921, as well as the work of vital registration. The import- 1817 ance of these respective duties to the national interest is so obvious that I do not delay the House in order to stress the point. In my humble judgment it is beyond question, that the time has now arrived when the Registrar-General should be a person appointed expressly to perform the duties of that office, and the purely legal qualification that he should be a barrister of ten years' standing is wholly inappropriate to the duties of that particular office. This Bill proposes to give effect to that view. As to the finance of the Bill, regarding which I imagine some questions may be asked, I desire to meet in advance any such questions, so far as I can. It is proposed that the salary to be attached to the office of Registrar-General should be £850 per year, rising by yearly increases of £25 or £50 to a sum of £1,000. As regards the Deputy-Clerk's Register's office, I hope to be able to arrange for the distribution of his duties, at very little cost, among existing officials. There will thus be no additional charge on the Exchequer involved by this rearrangement, and I hope I am not going too far when I say that I trust a saving may even be effected. Accordingly, from the point of view of finance, I have no hesitation in commending this Bill to the House.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I will look into the point, which can be met, if necessary, in Committee. Certainly the intention is that the salary attached to the position of Registrar-General shall not exceed £1,000 per year, even when the highest stage is reached, and so far as the Deputy Clerk Register's duties are concerned, those would be discharged by other officials who exist to-day, and with little extra cost. Therefore, with a salary of £1,000 for the Registrar-General, if the other duties can be discharged, say, at a cost of less than £200, a saving will be effected. I want to give an explicit pledge to the House that there will be no extra charge on the Exchequer involved by the passage of this Bill.
§ Mr. HOGGE
It is rather unfortunate that my right hon. Friend should ask us to give a Second Reading to this Bill at this time in view of the fact that we are 1818 going to discuss on Thursday the question of economy. The only reason I can find is that some people are desirous of having the status of a particular office raised, but even that argument one is not entitled to use at a moment like the present unless we can arrange matters as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, in the way which he has described. I am rather dubious whether he can do what he suggests. Under this Bill, Section 7 is to be abrogated, and Section 5 of the Act of 1879 deals with the position of Deputy Clerk Register. It is provided that he is to perform certain duties, and amongst them he is the Keeper of the Signet, which involves a considerable amount of legal work. Section 5 also provides that the Deputy Clerk Register shall be an advocate of the Scottish Bar of not less than 10 years' standing, and that he shall have a salary of £1,200 per year out of moneys voted by Parliament. It is also provided that he shall, without special appointment or additional salary, hold the office with all the powers and duties of Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Scotland. In the opinion of those who drafted the original Act the Deputy Clerk Register-apparently had so little to do that it is provided he should also perform the work of Registrar-General. My right hon. Friend to-day proposes to appoint a new official and to call him Registrar-General. It is proposed to appoint a man who understands that particular side of the work rather than a lawyer. The appointment of an advocate of the Scottish Bar also lends itself to patronage, and therefore there may be a good case for having another individual to do the work of registration and taking the census rather than an advocate. The money proposal is to give this new official £850, rising to £1,000, but I very much doubt whether you will get a good Civil Servant to accept a salary of £1,000. It means, I suppose, something less than £500 on the pre-War value of money. If we take the sum of £1,000, that leaves £200, and my right hon. Friend proposes to get all the work of the Deputy Clerk Register done by a number of other people for £200 or less. If he can get the whole of that work done for £200, this Deputy Clerk Register has been paid £1,000 too much ever since 1879. The Act then provided that the salary should be £1,200 for the work he was doing, and it contemplated that he was doing so little that in Section 7 it 1819 added some other work which he was to do for nothing.
§ Mr. MUNRO
My hon. Friend, I am sure, desires to be fair. It was provided that he should do the other work without extra remuneration, it is true, but it was also in contemplation that £1,200, in being made the salary, was not paid in respect of the duties of Deputy Clerk Register alone, but also in connection with the duties of Registrar-General.
§ Mr. HOGGE
That may have been understood, but that is not what was done. If the Deputy Clerk Register is not required, why have a short Bill of this sort, which only deals with Section 7 of that Act of 1879? Why not do away with this office altogether, and then there will be no question about a re-arrangement of the work?
§ Mr. MUNRO
It is impossible to abolish the office of Deputy Clerk Register and to repeal the Section which deals with the salary until we have imposed the duties which he has to discharge on other people, as there are duties laid by Statute on the Deputy Clerk Register. This must be allocated among other officials before we can touch the question of abolishing the office and its salary, but in the meantime the office will not be filled, and the salary will not be paid.
§ Mr. HOGGE
Is my right hon. Friend prepared to commit himself to the abolition of this office as soon as he has made the necessary readjustments? If he will do that, we will support this proposal, insomuch as it does not impose a charge. I am perfectly willing that the £1,200 should be divided in the proportions which he now suggests, on condition that he abolishes the other post, because once that is done there will be no question of this Government or any future Government filling it up. This question of patronage does crop up from time to time, and this House and the country have a very short memory in these matters, and these things might easily be forgotten.
§ Sir G. YOUNGER
It seems to me that this is a mere matter of method as to whether you should deal with the question of the Deputy Clerk Register as well as the Registrar-General in this Bill, or whether yon should pass separate measures. Personally, I think it would 1820 be more desirable to put both into one measure, but I think the assurance of the Secretary for Scotland should be quite sufficient for the House, namely, that there is no intention of making any extra cost. May I ask whether the re-arrangement of these offices is going in any way to expedite the settlement of the question of the Sasines Office? I was rather surprised that my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) did not mention that. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us what effect this Bill will have on that question, and to what extent we shall be able to know when the settlement of this vexed question will be reached.
§ Mr. A. SHAW
I should like to know why this important office has been vacant for so long—almost two years. It is an office which must have had a great deal of work to do. My right hon. Friend has told us that the salary which he proposes is £850, rising to £1,000, and I should like to know whether the sums mentioned cover all the emoluments of the office, or whether there are not any fees or other emoluments payable in addition. My third point arises out of the proposal in the first Clause, and the words at the end of that Clause which are put in italics, namelyand who shall receive out of moneys provided by Parliament such salary as the Treasury may fix."I gather that there will be no additional charge, and in these circumstances neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) can quite understand why these particular words should occur in this Bill. My fourth point is a very simple one. My right hon. Friend by this Bill is dealing with the man who is at the head of the Registrars of Scotland, and I would like to ask him whether in this Bill it would not be possible to insert a Clause—perhaps he will consider it with Mr. Speaker and the authorities—dealing with the grievance that is felt by the local registrars, who do their work with such great efficiency, and whose remuneration has remained unaltered since 1854. I know my right hon. Friend's sympathy with them and the answers which he has given to myself and to the hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) on the subject show his sympathy; but many local authorities have done nothing whatever to increase the remuneration of these officers. If my 1821 right hon. Friend could give any hint that legislation dealing with the salaries of these men would actually be brought forward either this Session or next Session, he would give a great deal of satisfaction to a body of men who have done their work in a most uncomplaining fashion, and who have really no political power and no possibility of bringing political pressure to bear.
Mr. C. D. MURRAY
As the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) has said, it is entirely a question of method. The questions of the Deputy Clerk Register and of the Registrar-General might have been dealt with, I think, in one Bill, but in order to get on, one position is now ready for solution, and although there has been considerable delay in filling up the office, the reason for that is known to this House, because quite recently the Secretary for Scotland stated—and I think hon. Members will agree that he was wise in so doing—that looking at the advantage of the reconstruction scheme, it was very advisable to proceed with some caution and from the experience of the year, to gain information as to how he could best allocate the office. It is for that reason that the delay has taken place, and it is because we have now that experience and are in a position to deal with the first part of the problem that this difference of method has arisen. We are ready now to deal with the Registrar-General, and we ask the House to do so. We will be immediately in the position of dealing with the office of Deputy Clerk Register, but in the meantime I am certain that Members of this House will accept the assurance of the Secretary for Scotland that it will not involve any additional Treasury charge.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman explain why it" is necessary to have those words in the first Clause in italics?
Because, although there is a statutory authority under the Act of 1879 to pay a salary, there is really a transference of the charge. One other matter only has been raised, and that is with regard to the local registrars. My hon. Friend (Mr. A. Shaw) is quite right in saying that that matter has been sympathetically considered by the Secre- 1822 tary for Scotland already, and it is now receiving his consideration; but it would hardly be appropriate in a one-Clause Bill of this kind to deal with that which is s. totally alien matter. A question has been put up in regard to certain difficulties which have arisen in regard to the Sasines Office. That, again, is entirely alien to this Bill, but the position of that matter is this, that the head of the Sasines Office in Edinburgh has put forward proposals with regard to the adjustment of certain figures, and it is now before the Treasury.
It has been before the Treasury for years, but the question of the adjustment of the figures is now before the Treasury again. With these explanations, I hope the House will now give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.