HL Deb 22 May 1916 vol 22 cc4-6

My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether they contemplate making any special arrangements for the registration in a permanent and official form of the deaths of those individuals domiciled in the United Kingdom which have taken place on the Continent of Europe or elsewhere during the war.

This subject has a double aspect. It has in one aspect the possibility—I think the noble idea—of having ultimately a complete Roll of Honour of all who have sacrificed their lives in this great war, not only those domiciled in the United Kingdom but those domiciled in the Dominions and Commonwealths, in India, and other places. The whole subject, I think, is well worth considering. But at the moment I am asking more particularly as to those domiciled in the United Kingdom. It is most important that an official record of such deaths should be provided, because it is very difficult for a relative, especially a person in a humble position in life, to get legal evidence of the actual occurrence of the death. I am sure that in principle no one can fail to see the importance, indeed the necessity, of this. I frankly say that I am concerned with the way how best to do it.

It is quite clear that the local Registers cannot be used, because they must be written up at short interval, and if entries were made in them some time afterwards it might, as I understand, upset the whole theory and practice of local Registers, at any rate so far as they are kept in Scotland. On the other hand, so far as Scotland is concerned, with which I am more familiar, a Foreign Register does exist under an Act of 1690; and births, deaths, and marriages in foreign countries of those domiciled in Scotland are recorded through the machinery of Consuls and other officials of a like nature. But that is obviously inappropriate to the case of soldiers and sailors, and in my humble opinion a special machinery must be set up. An attempt was made in the South African War, but it was not satisfactory and not successful. It will take a great deal of time to do this. I should be glad to hear that something has been done, but if nothing has been done up to the present time I suggest to the Government that no time should be lost in starting it.

I understand that the English authorities have said that no Register will be started until after the end of the war. I respectfully enter a protest against that. I do not think we ought to wait till that time. I feel strongly that a useful purpose, especially in Scotland, would be served by the establishment of such a register as I have indicated, and that a Bill, which I cannot help thinking would be non-contentious, should be introduced to meet the reasonable wishes of those concerned. I have had a good deal of correspondence in connection with this matter, and the Government can take it from me that there is a widespread desire that something of the kind should be done.


My Lords, the registration of deaths of British subjects in foreign countries in Europe and elsewhere has been in existence from 1850, and returns have since been rendered annually by British Consuls to the Registrar-General at Somerset House. There is, however, no statutory provision for registration, but notices are exhibited at all British Consulates that both births and deaths of British subjects can be registered. From some countries in Europe copies of the local registration of deaths of individuals domiciled in the United Kingdom are received from time to time by the Registrar-General. All such returns are indexed and preserved at Somerset House, and copies thereof issued under signature. Since the war broke out Germany and Austria-Hungary have, through the United States Ambassador, sent notices of deaths of British subjects to the Foreign Office, and these have been transmitted to the Registrar-General and preserved by him with other miscellaneous returns. Arrangements have also been made whereby the deaths of British civilians interned in Germany and Austria are notified to the Foreign Office, and the deaths of British prisoners of war in Germany notified to the War Office. The War Office authorities are keeping a record of the deaths of all soldiers in the British Army who die abroad, and by arrangement with the Registrar General a return of such deaths will, at the close of the war, be rendered to him in accordance with the provisions of the Births, Deaths, and Marriages (Army) Act, 1879, which provides for register books being kept by the Registrar-Generals of England, Scotland, and Ireland of the deaths, marriages, and births occurring amongst the officers or men of His Majesty's Forces or their families when serving out of the United Kingdom. The War Office meanwhile supplies certificates to the public of (a) reported deaths, and (b) cases in which it is believed that death has occurred. There are some 40 recording officers who are compiling returns from the regiments. These returns will be supplied to the War Office in the form desired by the Registrar-General, so that at the close of the war, when the returns are received from the War Office, the Registrar-General will be able to issue definitive certificates to the public as required. I am unable to inform the noble Lord whether it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to institute legislation on the terms which be suggested.