HC Deb 12 April 1960 vol 621 cc1145-6
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 21, after "1938" to insert: in paragraph (a) of subsection (2) for the words 'in attendance', in both places where they occur, there shall be substituted the word 'present'. (2) In the said section one,". The object of this Amendment, taken with the Amendment in line 24, to leave out "in attendance" and to insert "present", is to remove an inconsistency in wording between paragraphs (a) and (b) of Section 1 (2) of the Registration of Still-Births (Scotland) Act, 1938. It will also remove an inconsistency in the Bill between Clause 3, which relates to Scotland, and Clause 2, which relates to England and Wales. These inconsistencies to which the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) referred in Committee, relate to the use of the expression in attendance at a birth and "present at a birth". Clause 2 substitutes the word "present" for "in attendance" in Section 11 (1, a) of the Births and Deaths Registration Act, 1953, which applies to England and Wales, and thus removes an inconsistency in the 1953 Act.

As drafted, however, Clause 3 did not alter the similar inconsistency in Section 1 (2) of the 1938 Scottish Act. The effect of the Amendment is to substitute "present" for "in attendance" in both places where it occurs, in paragraph (a) in the 1938 Scottish Act and in Clause 3 of the Bill. Thus, the word "present" will be used in all cases in Scotland as well as in all cases in England and Wales.

The reason for this change is that the word "present" carries no possible implication, as the phrase "in attendance" might, that the doctor who is there at the birth must necessarily be the doctor who is ordinarily in attendance on the mother. The use of the word "present" thus obviates any possible ambiguity, but I should like to assure the House that its use will not reduce a doctor's responsibility in any way. What it will prevent, however, is the possibility, which I do not think has ever occurred in practice, of the certificate being signed by the doctor in attendance on the mother although he was neither present at the birth nor examined the body afterwards.

Mr. Ross

I must express my gratitude to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for seeing that there was an inconsistency here and for his very full explanation. However, do not let us deceive ourselves. It does not mean an awful lot. We started out to bring the English law into line with the Scottish law, and we are now bringing the Scottish law into line with the amended English law. The Joint Under-Secretary of State says that although there has been this discrepancy in the English and Scottish legislation it has never caused any difficulty. The moral is that in future, when there is joint legislation involving amendment of the law, the officials of the Scottish Office should look to see whether they are applying themselves to possible discrepancies in the same way as their English colleagues. It is not often that we slip up, but I think that the Scottish Office slipped up in this case, and I am glad that it is putting things right.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 24, leave out "in attendance" and insert "present".—[Mr. Galbraith.]