THE EARL OF MINTO rose to move for Returns from each county in Scotland
of the number of cases of sudden death, or of death under suspicious circumstances, which have been the subject of precognition by procurators fiscal in each of the years 1875 and 1876, and in which the investigations were from the first connected with charges of murder, culpable homicide, &c.; also specifying the number of such cases as have afterwards become the subject of criminal trials (Supplementary to Lords' Paper, No. 4, 1878); and also to call attention to a Return, headed "Precognitions (Scotland)" (Lords' Paper, No. 4, 1878) relative to
cases of sudden death, or of death under suspicious or unknown circumstances, which have been the subject of precognition by procurators-fiscal, &c. &c.,
and also to the insufficiency and incompleteness of the system of certification of deaths in Scotland, under the 39th and 40th sections of the Registration Act of 1854. The noble Earl said, his object was, in the first place, to supplement the Returns which had already been obtained in regard to precognition in cases of sudden death under suspicious or unknown circumstances, so that they might have on the whole subject complete information; and he did not conceive that anyone would have any objection to this. He wished to call their Lordships' attention for a few moments to those Returns which had already been laid before them. The Return recently laid before the House gave the number of private inquests into cases of sudden death under suspicious or unknown circumstances, and the result of these was worth stating—in fact, it was the only valuable part of the whole Return. In the year 1876 there were 2,606 of these private inquests held; and, of these, there were only four in which the results were made known to the public—they only became known through criminal trials following as the results of them—unless there was such a trial, the public never heard anything of the cases. There were, therefore, 2,602 of these private inquests of which the public learnt nothing whatever. The people of Scotland were beginning to feel that that was not a state of things that ought to continue, and it was certain that if the number of deaths of this character in England bore the same proportion to population that it did in
Scotland, the result would be that in England they would have 15,000 private inquests of which the English public would never hear anything. In reference to the second part of this Notice, he would like to make a few observations on the subject of the certification of deaths. Now, as in England, there were in Scotland, rules that every death should be certified. What was meant by an uncertified death, was any death which took place without a certificate as to the cause being sent to the Registrar General from a medical man, or any death which had taken place and which had not been certified to the Registrar General. The Medical Officer of Health of the city of Glasgow had gone into the subject very carefully, and, a year or two ago, published the results of his investigations, for the benefit of the authorities. He would now only give the figures in one or two cases brought under their notice. In Glasgow, in 1874, according to the Report of Dr. Russell, there were 16,323 deaths, and out of these no fewer than 3,601, or 22 per cent, were uncertified. In deaths that were uncertified there was naturally ground for suspicion. He was sorry to say that it was in the case of children that these uncertified deaths were most numerous. The total number of deaths of children under five years of age in 1874 was 7,414, and out of these there were 2,279 uncertified. They would notice that the proportion was much higher than in the case of deaths of persons above the age of five years. He wished some explanation of these figures. He thought it necessary that the attention of the Lord Advocate should be called to the whole subject, for some remedy was assuredly required.
Moved for, Returns from each, county in Scotland of the number of cases of sudden death or of death under suspicious or unknown circumstances which have been the subject of precognition by procurators fiscal in each of the years 1875 and 1876, and in which the investigations were from the first connected with charges of murder, culpable homicide, &c.; also specifying the number of such cases as have afterwards become the subject of criminal trials (supplementary to Lords Paper No. 4., 1878).—(The Earl of Minto.)
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
said, the last part of the Motion of the noble Earl was one of very considerable importance, dealing, 650 as it did, with the certifying of deaths in Scotland. That a vast number of deaths which took place in Scotland were not certified, was certainly a matter that would require some attention. He would communicate with his right hon. Friend the Lord Advocate on this point, and ask whether there was any means by which the information which the noble Earl had stated was not forthcoming, and which he understood could not be produced, could be ascertained in some other way? He was not aware of the facts of which the noble Earl had informed the House, and which had been published by the eminent Medical Officer of the Board of Health in Glasgow. His statements affecting the death-rate of Glasgow were worthy of attention. He would refer to that communication, of which the noble Earl had given him a copy, and see whether any further information was required, and whether it could be given. He would make inquiry on the whole question of the working of the Registration Act of 1854. He was not aware that it was insufficient or incomplete; but, as the noble Earl seemed to think so, he would make inquiry and inform himself.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Returns ordered to be laid before the House.