§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE EARL OF MORLEY,
in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, it was almost precisely the same as that which he introduced to their Lordships' House last year. It was passed by their Lordships, but owing to pressure of Business, was stopped in its progress through the House of Commons. The main object of the Bill was to make the registration of births and deaths compulsory in England as it was already in Scotland and Ireland. The Sanitary Commissioners and other authorities were of opinion that such a provision was very desirable. The Act which at present regulated the registration of births in England—the 6 & 7 Will. IV., c. 86—attached no penalty to the omission to register a birth, and it was not compulsory therefore on the relatives or any other person to give information to the registrar; but since the passing of that Act compulsory Registration Acts had been passed for both Scotland and Ireland. The consequences 893 of this omission in the case of England had been found to be very unsatisfactory. By the present Bill the number of informants upon whom the duty of registering the births was thrown had been considerably extended. The duty of registering a birth was imposed in the first instance upon the father or mother; but besides the parents of the child, the occupier of the house in which to his knowledge the child was born, each relative of the child or other person present at the birth and the person having charge of the child were included in the list of informants. Notice was to be given to the registrar within 42 days. Where from any cause a birth had not been duly registered the registrar might, after the expiry of 42 days, require any of the persons specified as informants to attend at his office and give the necessary information. The period within which gratuitous registration might take place was enlarged from six weeks to three months. After the expiration of 12 months no birth was to be registered without the written authority of the Registrar General. The next portion of the Bill dealt with the registration of deaths. This was at present complied with in a more faithful manner than was the registration of births—not that it is directly compulsory as in Scotland and Ireland, but for this reason—burial must follow death, and any person who buries a body without receiving a certificate from the registrar that the death had been duly registered, or an order from the coroner, must give the registrar notice of the fact that he has buried a body; and if he omits to give this notice he renders himself liable to a penalty of £10. But in many cases there was no statement as to the cause of death; and, in order to prevent such omission, there was in the Bill a provision that the medical practitioner who had attended the deceased person in the last illness should certify as to the cause of death. It was further provided that where no medical practitioner had been in attendance the registrar should withhold his certificate for burial until he communicated with the coroner, and should not issue his certificate until the coroner had signified that he did not think it necessary that an inquest should be held. Another portion of the Bill dealt with the registration of deaths at sea, which was at present regulated by 894 four or five different Acts of Parliament, some of which were conflicting. Clause 32 of this Bill would consolidate the whole of the enactments relating to this subject. It enacted that the Master of every British Ship shall, under penalty of £5, enter into his log book any death that might occur on board, with the particulars set forth in a Schedule to the Bill; this entry was to be sent to the Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen, who was to send it to the Registrar General of Births and Deaths, who was required to enter it in a Marine Register book. The question of the registration of still-born children was one which had engaged considerable attention, and had been strongly urged by the Sanitary Commissioners. After a consideration of the subject the Government were of opinion that they could not give effect to the recommendation of the Sanitary Commission, and introduce into the Bill a provision for the registration of such births. Such a registration would involve difficult and delicate investigations which many in the position of the registrars would not be capable of undertaking; and, moreover, in many cases a registration of such births would be useless for any administrative purpose; at the same time it was felt to be desirable to do whatever could be done to check infanticide and to prevent children born alive from being buried as still-born. Under a section of the Bill to which he had already alluded, the persons liable for the registration of the birth would be liable to one penalty if they had neglected to register the birth, but they would be subject to a second and more severe penalty if they buried without a certificate a child which had been born alive, and the making of a false declaration on the matter would be treated as a criminal offence, involving punishments which might amount to penal servitude.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Morley.)
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, he did not mean to oppose the Motion for the second reading; but, as some of the arrangements provided by the Bill were of a very complicated character, he hoped the noble Earl would allow full time for a consideration of the details before their Lordships were asked to go into Committee. He did not at present see what 895 very great difficulty there would be in the registration of still-born children. Were the conditions in this Bill respecting the registration of births the same as those existing in Scotland and Ireland? If the systems in operation in Scotland and Ireland were found to answer well, he did not see what good reason there was for introducing anything more complicated here.
§ LORD REDESDALE
thought it was to be apprehended that the number of informants under this Bill would lead to confusion by extending the responsibility too widely.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
said, the conditions imposed by the Bill were not precisely the same as those existing under the Irish and Scotch registrations. It was hoped that the changes which were proposed to be made would be an improvement on the regulations in operation in those two countries. As no doubt the parents of the child would in the vast majority of cases register the birth, he did not think there was any reason for the apprehension of confusion suggested by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. He would fix the Committee on the Bill for such time as their Lordships might think most convenient.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday the 8th of May next.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before Six o'clock, 'till To-morrow, a quarter before Five o'clock.