HC Deb 29 July 1965 vol 717 cc846-51

Amendment made: In Clause 47, page 28, line 8, after "payment", insert "to him".—[Mr. Hannan.]

10.40 p.m.

Mrs. Hart

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

In the spirit of harmony that has prevailed throughout the course of this Bill we could have had the Third Reading "on the nod", but its merits and importance warrant a few words. I am extremely glad to be able to do so at this stage.

This is a Bill which can be considered as a small but very important piece of law reform, and I pay tribute to hon. Members opposite, because both sides, in Committee and on Report, have taken an almost equal share. It has been a somewhat technical Bill, but in Committee we brought out its real purpose and its wider objectives. I do not know whether you are aware, Dr. King, that in the Scottish Standing Committee we may have achieved a record by dealing with a Bill which had 59 Clauses in two sittings, certainly an accomplishment of which both sides of the House can be proud.

The primary object of the Bill is the creation of a long-term series of records of births, deaths and marriages as accurate and as complete as possible and made in as up to date a way as possible. The whole act of registration, dealing as it does with those fundamental occasions in the lives of families, brings up a number of personal problems. We dealt with these fully in Committee, and I believe that our discussions were very useful. We fully considered the service which registration is intended to perform to individuals and organisations and especially to our descendants. Their rights in a number of respects may depend on how accurately and effectively we compile a register of births, deaths and marriages.

The register will fulfil another function in which increasingly more and more of us are becoming interested, that of supplying the vital statistics on which so much of our planning depends. Much medical and social research nowadays depends on how accurately we record the information which, under the Bill, will be recorded.

There are one or two matters which I should like to mention before we leave the Bill and one of them concerns the difficult question which the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) raised in Committee—over the Border registration of births and deaths. I assured him in Committee that the Registrar General in Scotland would have discussions with the Registrar General of England and Wales on possible modifications and improvements which we might be able to make to meet some of the difficulties which he mentioned. These discussions will go on. I do not know how long they will take, but we shall certainly pursue this matter as vigorously as we can.

The hon. Member also asked what would happen when someone died and his body had to go one way or the other over the Border. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may not have been in Committee when we discussed this matter, but I can assure them that the hon. Member for Dumfries wrung our hearts with his description of the personal problems which could flow from this situation. The Registrar General in Scotland is discussing with the Registrar General for England and Wales the procedures for when a body is removed across the Border, and we shall certainly let the hon. Gentleman know when our discussions have finished.

A Departmental Committee on death certification has been set up in England and its terms of reference include reviewing, among other things, the law and practice relating to the issue of medical certificates for the disposal of dead bodies. Although this Committee is concerned with the procedure in England and Wales, the hon. Gentleman may like to know that the issue which he raised and which we discussed so fully has seemed to it to be relevant and we have reported it to the secretary so that these matters can be considered in the English context.

In Committee, doubts were expressed about the highly controversial use of "etcetera" in the Bill. Parliamentarians tend to be a little unhappy when we use slightly unorthodox words like "etcetera", because we may meet with some difficulty. We were well aware of the difficulty of registrars throughout Scotland and that they wanted to preserve the traditional usage of the initials R.C.E. for all the corrections to the registers, but, at the same time, we had to find a word which would cover not only corrections, but additions to the register, following on new events in a person's life.

In view of the doubts, I went into the matter very carefully and spent an hour or two with the Oxford English Dictionary and came up with a large number of words which might commend themselves to the Registrar General. One or two are slightly unusual, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether the House is familiar with the words—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. If the words are not in the Bill, no matter how interesting they are, they must not be spoken of on Third Reading.

Mrs. Hart

That is a great pity. I had hoped to educate the House in one or two interesting words which had some unusual secondary meanings. However, I can go on to say that, despite their secondary meanings, these words do not find favour with those who know, in detail, the implications that they have to have in the Bill. What I can assure the House of is that very important historical precedents have been found for the use of the words "et cetera" in Parliamentary legislation.

The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie), who was so concerned about this is now reassured. He has written to tell me he is satisfied, in view of our explanation, that the words "et cetera" can be used. It has been very frequently used in the Titles of Bills and other legislation. We need not be afraid that we are creating an undesirable precedent in the usage of the English language.

I conclude by saying how grateful I am to the Opposition for making the Bill such a co-operative venture. I think that between us we have carried out very quickly and effectively, an important, if undramatic, piece of law reform.

10.47 p.m.

Mr. Stodart

As the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary said, some interesting revelations came about during the course of the progress of the Bill. The first, as she has said, and I think that I detected a trace of incredulity on your face, Dr. King—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I was too gallant to correct the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State, but the hon. Gentleman must address the Chair in the proper way.

Mr. Stodart

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought I noticed an expression of incredulity on your face on hearing of the speed of the Scottish Standing Committee in getting through its work. As the hon. Lady said, we discovered, as a result of searches done by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), the extraordinary fact that although dead bodies can be transported anywhere about Scotland and England, they may not cross the Border with England more than once, although great difficulties can arise over deaths and cremations in the Border area.

I think that it is worth putting on record the fact that the registration system in Scotland, even before the Bill was introduced, had been regarded as the best system in the world. Many people from other nations have expressed this opinion. Even the best can be improved, however, and that is what we have sought to do in the course of our discussions.

I would like to make several points which, I think, are of value as a result of the Bill. First, it has been urgently required that the pressing accommodation problems of the Registrar General in Edinburgh should be dealt with. Before the Bill he had no powers to keep registers outside the Register House, or to use any modern system of filing. I hope that the obtaining of this extra accommodation will not suffer any delay as a result of the cuts about which we have read.

It depressed me to read in The Scotsman, two days ago, that one building which was to suffer was the new record office in St. George's Church, West.

Secondly, there is no doubt that the interest of the public will be served by the introduction of the system of the ability to register births and deaths in one of two places. I think that this will be of particular benefit to those who live in the Highland areas.

Thirdly, the position of registrars has, without doubt, been improved as a result of our discussions because the Registrar General will now be consulted about the salaries or remunerations of district registrars, whereas before this was entirely a matter for the local authority. This will go a long way towards doing something which, I think, will be of help to district registrars because they have been worrying about this matter, as we know from the correspondence we have had on the subject. It will secure some consistency of salaries in the different parts of the country.

Fourthly, although there has been room for argument, and there probably still is, about the abbreviated birth certificate, if it came to one or the other and not to both, I would be most firmly in favour of the abbreviated one. This will give much relief from embarrassment to many people.

I wish to return the kind words voiced by the hon. Lady. My hon. Friends and I did our best to co-operate. We received great "come hither" from her and her hon. Friends, as a result of which we now have a better Bill than when it was first drafted.

10.52 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

As the hon. Lady the Under-Secretary has taken so much trouble over the problem of the Border areas, I wish to put on record my appreciation for her work and the speed at which these two Committees have gone into action. When I go home tonight I will have the happy thought that my children will not have so much trouble disposing of me at the end of my days.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.