HL Deb 09 February 1965 vol 263 cc26-46

3.38 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, to return to the Second Reading of the Bill so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I intervene, for only a short moment, because I have had considerable experience—some twenty years' experience—of the importance of registration in Scotland, since I have been a member of a local authority, and a rural local authority at that, for all those years. I should like to testify to the value of local registration and the local registrar. He is often the key person in a village and is someone to whom people will go to register those events in their lives which are associated with the most fundamental of life's happenings—namely, births, deaths and marriages. These words themselves evoke in all of us very many memories, and how vivid they still remain although the events may be a long way off!

I believe registrars are very important people, and although this Bill stresses to some extent the importance of central registration and of the central Registrar, my feeling is that the local influence and the local importance of registrars are very great indeed, certainly in village areas. I am speaking thus because in my area at the present moment I have the secretary of the Registrars Association of Scotland, who is registrar in the Burgh of Selkirk, and I take this chance of raising with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, some of the points I have discussed with him.

The first thing of importance to realise is that in Scotland, out of 950 registrars, approximately 900 are part-time and only 50 or so are full-time registrars. This, in itself, is proof of the value and importance of the local aspect of registration. The 900 cover small areas, perhaps, but in their areas they will know almost everybody in the community and this is very important. Therefore, in my experience, registration is first of all a local service, although the Bill stresses its national aspect. It is also a local government service.

It is not always easy to get people to take on this job, because, as well as being interesting, it is exacting. A registrar never knows when people are going to call on him and give him vital information to be registered, and he has really to be available at almost all hours. I have found, in the area which I know best—the Borders—that the local registrars are devoted people. And I hope very much that their interests will be safeguarded in this Bill. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn referred to this. Being part-time and in local government service, they cannot speak up for themselves in the same way as the full-time registrars, who have an association to speak for them. Clause 7 of the Bill refers to the dismissal of local registrars, and I hope that the Minister is sure that they will be properly represented in such an event and will get proper compensation.

With reference to the registration of births, dealt with in Clause 13, about which other noble Lords have spoken, there is a change in principle. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said: We want to make it as easy as possible for people to register, but there is a great deal to be said for registration by declaration and for information to be sent to the home registrar of the person concerned. All the information regarding a family would be passed on to the place where the family lives. Sometimes it might not work that way, if people were migrant, but in my experience, although now in the modern era people may move about more, on the whole people stay very much in the same areas, certainly in the rural areas. It is important to send information from the places where family events have occurred—in hospitals, for example—to where a family actually lives and where most of the information about the family and its forbears is registered.

On the point about the new certificate of birth, I see that it might be valuable to have the abbreviated certificate. We do not want to stress the problem of illegitimacy, which, alas! arises rather often these days. On the other hand, a great many people prefer the full certificate they have been used to getting, which records information which over many generations forms an interesting record, and I hope that there will be no discouragement to getting a full certificate, if it is indeed the policy now to stress the abbreviated certificate.

The hours of attendance of local registrars has been mentioned in the course of the debate. There is a difficulty here, since most local government officers work only five days a week and an important event might have to be registered on a Saturday. In villages the registrar is often very well known. Perhaps he is someone who has a small business in the village. And the information gets to him almost at the moment it has taken place, so that information is almost constantly made available. In the cities it must be quite different. Yet I think, that with a little arrangement of hours, it would be possible for registrars to cover the whole of a 5½ -day week at least, which I believe would be of great value to people who may want to make registrations. Certainly a rota of some kind could be organised in the smaller areas and, I hope, in the cities, too.

I agree with what noble Lords have said about the value of records in a locality. I would suggest that they need not all be sent to the central register. By the use of microfilm and other photographic means of recording, a record could be sent to the centre and the local areas might be allowed to keep their own records.

I hope that this Bill will go through. It is a valuable Bill. But I should like to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that he should consider these points, in which registrars in Scotland are keenly interested, and I hope that he will be good enough to allow us to discuss these points, perhaps in the form of Amendments to the Bill, on Committee stage. I support the Bill very much indeed.

3.48 p.m.


My Lords, may I crave your Lordships' indulgence for intervening in this debate? I do so as a geneticist, who is consequently much interested in pedigrees and in ensuring their accuracy. As the law stands at present, the new-born child must be registered in the registration district of its place of birth. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has pointed out, with the development of maternity hospitals, as well as for other reasons, it makes sense to extend this to the registration district where the parents usually reside and from that to where the mother is living shortly after the birth.

But I cannot see any good reason for extending this to the registration district where the father is living, and there are many reasons against so doing. To take the best aspect of those circumstances—that is, where the father at the time of the birth or immediately thereafter is living elsewhere than with his wife by reason of employment—I can find it of no great convenience that he should effect the registration. If his wife is still confined, then she can persuade any of the persons mentioned in Clause 14(2) to effect the registration on her behalf. But if a third registration district is possible, then there is the probability of confusion due to duplication, which may be accidental or may be deliberate. For who will name the child? And if the child be given different names and if in any case the surname be hyphenated, it may be very difficult for the Registrar General to discover that a duplicate registration has been made. In cases where the paternity is suspect there is more likelihood of deliberate misinformation, and the duplication will be more difficult to discover. The argument that the father is the best person to acknowledge paternity falls to the ground in cases like this. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will take another look at this matter so that the Bill may be amended and confusion avoided.

In Clause 19 another change is made in the existing law, also, I think, for the worse. It substitutes the abbreviated certificate of birth for the full excerpt which is at present given free on registration. There are two important points in favour of the continuation of the issue of a full gratis extract at registration. First, the person to whom the possession of documentary evidence of his birth is most important is in later years the child himself. Obviously he can exercise no choice when his birth is recorded. Whether or not a full extract is obtained (if not to be issued gratis) depends entirely upon the parents, who may or may not, for financial reasons or otherwise, obtain such a full extract. It seems reasonable that there should be provided in every case a full extract so that complete documentary evidence is given in the first instance. Where desired an abbreviated certificate could be obtained on request. To suggest the substitution of an abbreviated certificate for the present full certificate, so that by the wider use of the former a minority would be spared embarrassment, seems to me to be unfair to the large majority.

Secondly, the recording of particulars of parentage for the registration of marriage and deaths is necessary, and with the setting up of a system of record linkage in the General Register Office must inevitably be more so. All registrars, I believe, would agree that it is because of the availability of the birth certificate (that is, the original gratis full extract) that the records of marriages and, in particular, deaths are as complete as they are. Registrars are the only persons who can speak with assurance on this point, and I understand that they do so with the complete conviction that the disappearance of the full gratis extract will lead to an increase in the incompleteness of records or a considerable inconvenience to informants who may not otherwise have particulars of parentage available.

The importance of many a Bill is emphasised by saying that it affects the life of every citizen. In the literal sense this can be said more truly of this than almost any other Bill. For it most certainly affects the life of every Scot who does not emigrate. Although, in its ultimate application, we Scots may not be able to enjoy personally the fruits of this Bill, nevertheless, for the convenience of posterity and the justification of generations yet unborn it behoves us to deliberate to-day with wisdom and circumspection.

3.53 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will be pleased with the welcome that his Bill has received from this side of the House this afternoon, and, indeed, I do not want in any way to detract from that welcome. On the contrary, I think that when one looks at Schedule 2 to the Bill and sees the legislation that is repealed, then this Bill must be very welcome indeed. The law that is repealed is in some cases to be found in books so archaic that it required a longer walk in the Temple this morning than I was prepared to undertake to find them. This must in itself be justification for what the noble Lord said in opening.

There are, however, one or two matters with which I should like to deal, as have other of my noble friends this afternoon. I would take up the invitation of my noble friend Lord Craigton to elaborate one point in particular; that is to say, the provisions of Parts II and III of the Bill about where and how registration of births and deaths is to take place. As most noble Lords have said, the present law, both in England and Scotland, is that registration of birth and death can take place only in the district, or the sub-district in England, where the event took place. In England there is a mitigation of this rule only so far as birth is concerned, and not death, in that the person qualified to inform the registrar on this subject may make a declaration to any other registrar who will pass on the information to the registrar concerned. This Bill provides for the continuance of that type of system. It is provided for the general public in a slightly different way, and it extends that convenience also to the case of registration of death. In view of what has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon, I am sure that the noble Lord opposite will have a further look at this point.

But perhaps I should tell the noble Lord what I think would probably be an improvement on what the Bill says. As I understand it, there must be three criteria of this sort of registration—and I do not know in which order they come: the public convenience; the accuracy of the entry; and the certainty that the registration takes place, and takes place once only. I think that for the purposes of carrying out those three intentions behind the law it would be better if registration took place in the district where the event took place, and there only, but that there should also be a declaratory system, both for birth and for death, so that the information required might be passed on by any registrar in Scotland to the registrar in whose district the matter had to be registered.

To take the point that you must have certainty that the information is registered, and registered only once, surely it must be the registrar in the district where the event takes place who is most likely to know about the event. Furthermore, if he, and he only, has the responsibility —as I think ultimately he has under this Bill, because in the end he is the person who has to chase up any defaulters who have not done their duty under the Bill—then no other registrar in the areas where parents live, or in which a person has lived and then unfortunately has died somewhere else, need be worried about what has happened outside his district, He need concern himself only with what goes on inside his district. Both of these points, I suggest, are going to lead to greater certainty that the matter is properly carried out.

My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn mentioned the difficulty about the Border country. It is, indeed, going to be strange for Scots people, if this Bill comes into law in the form in which it now is, that if they have lived all their lives in Scotland and they should happen to die in England across the Border, or if they have lived all their lives in Scotland and given birth to a child South of the Border, they or their relatives will find that, instead of being able, as the Bill provides under Scottish law, to register in the district where the residence normally was, this cannot be done and the registration can take place only in England. Equally, there will be confusion for English people living South of the Border when they find the difference in the Scottish law that would be brought about by this Bill. This, I think, could be largely overcome if the suggestion I am putting forward were adopted by the Government.

There is also the difficulty that my noble friend Lord Balerno mentioned of the possibility under the provisions of the Bill of more than one registration taking place. As he said, there can be up to three registration districts where birth can properly be registered, and in order to prevent duplication of the sort that I have in mind there has had to be provided the specific provisions of Clause 14 (4), so that the Registrar General can sort out any muddle that may occur. I should have thought that the necessity to put in that type of provision pointed to the possibility that a considerable amount of administrative time and trouble would be involved in checking all those matters.

Then, as to the accuracy of the registration, I think some people would say it is important that the information in the register should be accurate; and I would not disagree with that. They might also say that one of the things that should appear in the register is the signature of the informant concerned. Under a declaratory system of registration of both births and deaths, I do not believe there is any reason why inaccuracy should occur. After all, any registrar to whom the declaration is made will be perfectly familiar with the process that is being carried out. He will know precisely what questions it is customary for himself to ask when he is registering somebody in his own district, and if he is in charge a perfectly accurate record ought to be able to be sent on quite easily to the registrar in whose district the event took place. Moreover, if there is a necessity for a signature to be available for later inspection there cannot, particularly now that we have moved into the realms of microfilm and photography, be any insuperable difficulty about it, because the declaration could be signed by the informant when the registrar asks him the questions; and the document itself could be passed on to the registrar who is actually going to effect the entry in the register, and it could there be kept or photographed, or whatever is suitable, and there the signature would be.

One thing I do feel is that a declaratory system would be of even greater convenience to the public than are the provisions in the Bill at the moment. Any registrar would be available for the informants to visit in order to go through the proper statutory provisions of the law. I appreciate that with this system a birth certificate might be a little delayed, but I do not think that there would be a great difficulty. I also appreciate that a death certificate might, in some cases, be delayed. This might present a greater problem, but I would invite the noble Lord, if he has not already done so (and I am sure he has), to look at the provisions of Section 24 of the 1953 English and Welsh Act, which provides for the issue of a death certificate under proper safeguards, even before the death has been registered in the register in the ordinary way. It may be that any practical difficulties which would be involved in that particular instance could be overcome as they have been, I think, in England. I believe there can be no difficulty now about the idea in Scotland of having deaths registered in a different place from that where they actually occurred, because this, after all, is what the Bill itself is providing. Therefore, I see no reason why the curious anomaly of English law should have to be perpetuated North of the Border. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will look most seriously at this point again to see whether the Bill cannot be improved. He will be given an opportunity at a later stage to do so.

There are three points that I should like to mention about the effect of the Bill upon illegitimate children—and this is a matter which I consider to be very important indeed. First of all, the provisions of Clause 18 (1) which provide for the father's name to be entered in the register by means of a statutory declaration are something that I welcome very much. I do not remember whether this is a change in the law, but it is certainly something that does not occur in England, and the fact that it should be in the forefront of the Bill for Scotland is something I applaud. The further provisions in subsection (2) of Clause 18, for the subsequent entry of the name of the father of the illegitimate child in the Register of Corrections Etc., in the circumstances set out, I also find very welcome indeed. The English provision is very much more narrow and, I think, certainly is lacking in some of its respects, and if the Scottish law is going to provide for this type of registration it will do a great deal to satisfy the inevitable anxiety of an illegitimate person to know who he is, and who his father was, which is a very real problem. It will also ease the situation which is now involved where the father of an illegitimate child seeks access or custody under recent Acts of Parliament, and it may also allow upon the register itself the appearance of a legitimacy if the mother is living with the father, and has, as is possible in Scottish law, quite easily, taken his name.

I should like also to comment on Clause 19 of the Bill, and to part company, I am afraid, most profoundly here with my noble friend Lord BalerNo. 1 believe this provision is absolutely right, and that the encouragement of the shortened birth certificate is a very great service to the illegitimate child. I do not believe that, on balance, the disservice, if any, to the legitimate has any comparison whatsoever. The shortened birth certificate has not in fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, been as widely used as it might have been, and its mere production still involves a grave suspicion that it is merely a covering up of the illegitimacy that the person does not wish to admit. If there is one thing that one would not wish to do if one could help it, it is to saddle an illegitimate child with an extra stigma or extra occasion for distress or grief which his birth involves, and for which he cannot be blamed in any way whatever. So I hope there will be no change whatever in the noble Lord's approach to Clause 19, and that he will retain the provisions of the Bill here exactly as they are.

I hope also that if there are any institutions—I think there are a few—which still require the long form of birth certificate for some purpose, be it good or bad, they will take the opportunity presented by this Bill to have a good look again at the reasons why they do so, and to make quite certain that they really cannot, in the present circumstances, accept the shortened form which, after all, will now become standard in Scotland.

I believe there are now to be a few changes in the law, set out in Clause 28. I do not believe they are very important, but if the noble Lord is going to look over the Bill again, I do not know whether he would agree to change the sidenote to that clause, because although we all know that death is certain to everybody, I am not sure that I wish the procurator fiscal to intimate the fact to me.

There are one or two very small points regarding the end of the Bill. In Clause 35—and this really ties up with Clause 44—I hope that the modern reproduction systems that are set out are going to be of the type which ensure that a copy of the original entry in the register is available to those who wish to see it, not in the form of a Roneod sheet or a typescript, but as a photograph or some other suitable reproduction of the actual entry which took place. If there are to be signatures on these documents it is not the slightest use, when the original register is sent to Edinburgh, or wherever the central registry may be, for the copy to be sent back and not to look exactly the same as the original register was.

If there is going to be, as there is, a Register of Corrections, et cetera, at the central point, I am sure that it is very important, as the noble Lord said was going to be done, that there should be a full cross-reference system between corrections made in that register and the copies of the original registrations in the local registries, so that when someone goes to search at the local registry he may be quite certain that by some reference, asterisk or sidenote, he will realise that since the date of that original copy a correction has been put in. While talking about these systems, I wonder whether this is the first Act of Parliament which has used the word "xerography"? If so, I congratulate the noble Lord upon this very up-to-date drafting and also upon the introduction of a word beginning with "x".

My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn—and this is my last point, I promise your Lordships—was talking about the ease with which names may be changed in Scotland. I look at the provisions of Clause 43 (7), and I do not know, incidentally, whether a name like Macpherson is counted as a non-English name and, if so, what is its English equivalent. But I do not understand the provisions of this subsection at all. If in fact there is a perfectly good provision in the Bill for somebody to change his name and to have it registered, why is there any necessity for someone, perhaps of European origin, to have two names which are apparently valid in Scotland? Surely he ought to be required to choose one or the other, and if he chooses the so-called English variety, why can he not have that registered as his proper, legitimate name in Scotland? I suggest to the noble Lord that this provision is a little strange, and I would ask whether that subsection might with advantage be left out. With these remarks—and I am sorry for keeping your Lordships so long on them—I join with the rest of my noble friends in welcoming this Bill and hoping that, amended I trust, it will have a speedy passage through Parliament.

4.10 p.m.


My Lords, it is with considerable temerity and trepidation that I venture to intervene in a debate on Scottish affairs conducted up to now by Scottish Peers and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. My only reason for doing so is to underline the point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, that in this Bill there is no provision at all for officers and staff who may be adversely affected by the operation of the Bill, if and when it becomes an Act of Parliament. This omission is all the more surprising in view of the fact that it is now a well-established principle that where a general Act of Parliament adversely affects officers and staff, arrangements may be made for compensation provisions to be included in that Act.

I do not propose to argue the matter further than that this afternoon. I hope that between now and the Committee stage the Government will put down an Amendment and that, if not, the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, or other noble Lords will do so. I would support such an Amendment. It is well that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill should know that this is a point of interest not only to the other side but to his own colleagues.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, in the first instance I should like to express my thanks to all noble Lords who have taken part and for the general welcome that they have given to the Bill. Many points of possible amendment have been raised but, having regard to the number of noble Lords who had given me previous notice of the points which they wished to raise so that they could hear what the answer might be, I am persuaded that in no case is a point being brought up merely for purposes of embarrassing debate, but that all are designed to do what the Registrar General himself is trying to do in working out the details of this Bill: to make it a more efficient machine for the operation of the registration of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland.

It is in that spirit that I propose, so far as I can in the time, to reply to the points that have been raised. I do not know that I shall necessarily deal with all of them, but I doubt very much whether I shall miss many because of the care with which noble Lords primed me in advance so that they would get good, rather than impromptu, answers.

The first point which the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, raised was about consultation. Consultation has been on the widest possible basis. In fact, in addition to the Government Departments affected, more than thirty bodies having some interest or other in registration have been consulted. We are not aware of any body with the slightest connection with registration who has not been consulted at some time or other during the four years that this Bill has been in preparation. If this had been a more political debate, I rather think the point would have been made that as it had taken four years this is very much more Lord Craigton's Bill than mine.

On the subject of correction of errors, the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, asked if it was going to be easier to get spelling errors corrected. Yes; it is a cumbersome procedure at the moment and it is going to be made very much easier. Clause 42 is the clause designed to that. Most of the errors are errors of spelling and sometimes of dates. Sometimes, for instance, a name may be spelled "Mc" and it should be "Mac"; or a wife discovers to her horror that her husband has given her age as 35 when, in fact, it should be 32. One doubts very much that she would rush to correct the error if her husband had given her age the other way round. In future these errors are going to be much easier to correct.

Item 5 of the notes that I have here is on compensation for loss of earnings, a point made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, and my noble friend who raised it just a moment or two ago. This is a very difficult point. One appreciates that some of the changes, particularly those in relation to the registration of births and deaths other than in the place in which they occurred, could cause quite a diminution in the number of entries in the offices of particular registrars. One thinks, for instance, of the registrar in whose district is located the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. If a great deal of use is made, as it would be expected to be made, of the opportunity of making the registration at the place of residence, it could cause quite a bit of diminution at any of the large hospitals.

The difficulty of putting a compensation Clause 1n an Act of Parliament is that this is only one of the causes by which a man's work could be varied. The operations of local authorities themselves in demolishing old houses in one area and creating new housing schemes in different districts altogether can also have the effect of changing very much the incidence of work as between one local registrar and another; and it seems to me, at first glance, that it would be exceedingly difficult to make provision in the Act for compensation for one particular change alone and to ignore all the others which could take place in the ordinary course of local authorities' execution of their duties and which could have as great, or even greater, effect on registrars' volume of work.

However, in view of the fact that we are continuing in the Bill, as in the present Acts, to combine what is a national system of service with local administration, the question of the salary that the registrar has to be paid remains a matter for the local authority; and speaking with more than a quarter of a century's membership of local authority behind me, I know it is one of the grievances of the ratepayer that local authorities are very reluctant to diminish the salary of their officer whose circumstances of employment may have changed through no fault of his own. It is very much the case that local authorities tend to preserve the salary which the man has achieved, although not necessarily guaranteeing to him any future increases that he might have got if the circumstances had remained as they were. However, in view of the fact that a number of noble Lords have raised this question I will certainly undertake to look at it, but I do not offer a great deal of hope that we shall put in a compensation provision, because we feel that it would create more problems than it would cure.

The free abbreviated certificate of birth has met with a varied reception. I must say that I was very pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, found it possible to give it the same sort of reception as I greeted it with when I first saw it. I cannot bring myself to agree either with the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, or with the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, on this point, although I appreciate the value of the full certificate. All I would say, if I may, with Lord Craigton's permission, to return to my Opposition manner, is that they have only to pay 5s. 3d. and they can have it; and if a child who grows up feels that his parents were not sufficiently interested in him, or were too much interested in the 5s. 3d. to get him the full certificate, he can still get it on payment. But, things being what they are, I would not guarantee that it will necessarily still be 5s. 3d. in twenty years' time.

With regard to the old parochial registers, this is a point which more than one noble Lord has raised. The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, raised it first, and I think there is some substance in what has been said: that people might value the actual possession of the old register, and some authorities or associations or churches with these in their possession would perhaps wish to keep them. Personally, I do not see any difficulty in accepting the microfilm or photograph or other processed copy of the register. I will undertake to go into this point with the Registrar General and if it would be acceptable for his purposes, as I suspect it would be, we will make an Amendment to accept either the register or a copy, as the present owners or apparent owners would wish.

The subject of the declaration system for births and deaths, instead of what is proposed in the Bill has been raised, particularly by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross and the noble Lord, Lord Craigton; and I think the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, also spoke on this point. Having come so recently, I think I can say without any fear that your Lordships may think I am prevaricating that I have a completely open mind on this subject. I am not wedded to what the Registrar General has to say. These are the proposals of the expert in this matter; and, of course, it is well known that it is very easy to get experts to differ. I should not like to swear on soul and conscience that what is in this Bill is necessarily the best way of doing it. But what I am prepared to say is that, from all the inquiries that have been made by the Registrar General in seeking to improve it, it is what he believes to be the best way of doing it. Having regard to the convenience of the general public, I do not think it can be contradicted that this makes it the easiest possible way for the citizen to register either a birth or a death. I am, however, impressed by the stress which has been put on ensuring that there is only one registration taking place of each event, and I would wish to look at this matter from that point of view.

I must say that I approach this matter—and my colleagues will forgive me for saying so—from the point of view that I do not necessarily work on the basis that anything done in England is right, and that when we are making a change in the law in Scotland the first thing to do is to prove that we ought not to accept the English system. We try to work out what is the best way of doing it. If we decide that it is what the English are doing, then we give that way our approval, but not otherwise. I do not, therefore, approach this from the point of view that this is something which works in England, so let us do it in Scotland. After all, twelve years has elapsed since the last English Bill, and quite a number of changes have taken place, particularly in social habits.

In this connection, I think that the figures in Scottish cities show that the proportion of births taking place in hospital is well in excess of that with many English authorities. We show a lead in this, as the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, well knows. In any event, as the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, said, in the question of registration of deaths we are going further than the English law at the present time. Without giving any undertakings on the matter, I will read in the Report of to-day's proceedings all that has been said on this particular subject, and will go into the matter very thoroughly with the Registrar General, so that we may decide whether in fact we can combine convenience to the public with the accuracy of the records better by the system which he has proposed in the Bill or by the alternative which has been suggested by your Lordships this afternoon.

The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, referred to xerography, and we thought that he was going further than that by asking what was meant by "any other convenient process". But he must have found out in the meantime, because he did not ask that question. Not only have we got to the letter X in the alphabet in Scotland, but we are assuming that xerography is not necessarily the last provision, and we are providing for the Registrar General to be able to take advantage of anything that is here now or anything that may be invented in the years to come.


My Lords, with regard to the inventions that are either present or to come, will only those which result in a photographic or other precisely similar representation of the original be available at the local register? Will typescripts and Roneos, which will not give exact representation, be avoided?


It is difficult to be certain, but one presumes that there would be continued reliance on a system which reproduces the document as it is, with both typewritten and written material on it, including signatures.

The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, stressed very much the importance of local registrars—and I agree entirely with what she said in this connection—and she went on to speak about the five-day week. This is something which does not affect the local registrars in the area which she knows very well—in fact, there the registry system is really round the clock. The registrar in some of these small areas, where he knows every man, woman and child in the district, is prepared, if need be, to get up in the middle of the night to effect registration. So that this is principally a worry of the cities. It is a problem which is already with us and one does not know where it is going to end.

I read the other day in my local newspapers of a firm in Scotland which is taking the opportunity of reducing the 42-hour week to a 40-hour week by working on 4½ days, finishing at lunch time on Friday, so that the women workers will have the same opportunity of recreation as their husbands and will get the shopping done on Friday afternoon. Obviously, if there is a prospect of a further reduction in the working week one cannot have a system under which the registrar's office is closed on three or four consecutive days. I am told that at present where there is a five-day week arrangements are made wherever possible for the registrar or his assistant to be available on Saturday morning to deal with urgent business, although I cannot answer the question put by my noble friend Lord Mitchison who, when Lady Elliot of Harwood spoke of an important death, asked, "When is a death important?"

The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, also spoke on a number of points in connection with salaries and staffing arrangements. The position here is that we have continued in this Bill a combination of national and local service. The conditions under which registrars work are national; they work to rules laid down by the Registrar General, so that the same system is applied, whether it is in Aberdeen or elsewhere. But the question of the conditions of employment is a matter for the local authority in whose area they are. The negotiation of these salaries is a matter which rests almost entirely—it is almost out of the hands of local authorities—in the hands of the Whitley machinery. More and more the system is growing up that what is paid in the area of one local authority is comparable with what is paid for a similar job in another area, and we are content to leave this to the good sense of the local authorities concerned.

I must say that this was one of the points upon which there was most consultation, and the counties of cities wished the whole service to be taken over and run as a Government service. On the other hand, the County Councils Association and the Convention of Royal Burghs, representing at least as large a section, if not a larger section, of the population than is covered in the cities, and certainly representing a much greater preponderance of local authority opinion, wished to have the present system, which they felt combined the advantages of a national service with the opportunity to apply to it local knowledge. The Government have no strong feelings on the matter. If the general feeling of local authorities had been that they wished to have this taken over and run by the Registrar General from Edinburgh as a uniform system, then consideration certainly would have been given to it. They do not wish necessarily to take it away from the local authorities. The balance of advantage therefore rested with the majority, taking it on heads, of those concerned who wished it to remain a locally administered service. The Government thought it was better that they should accept that majority opinion and let it so rest.


My Lords, before the noble Lord passes from that point, may I say that he was asked whether the staff of the district registration offices will be treated, whether part time or whole time, as normal local authority employees. Is that the position?


Yes. I was coming on to that.


I apologise to the noble Lord.


I was going through the pieces of paper that have been passed from the Officials Box in the course of the debate. There is one important point before I come to this matter—namely, the question of the location of the office. The Bill states that the office of the Registrar General shall be at New Register House in Edinburgh. It will be no surprise to the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, that the views he expressed on this matter had already occurred to me. It would be completely wrong, at a time when the present Government are pursuing with even greater vigour the idea of their predecessors in Scotland to have Government offices winkled out of London, that we should present Ministries down here, which are most anxious to keep their Departments in London, with such a ready-made excuse as that when we ourselves are presenting a Bill, not only do we say that the Department is to be in Scotland, but we put in that Bill that it is to be in Edinburgh.

We have decided—I am sure that Lord Craigton will welcome this—not to substitute for "in Edinburgh" the words "in Scotland", but to take out the words "in Edinburgh" and just leave the clause without them. It will serve the purpose. We cannot conceive of any Government ever coming into power in this country who would wish to have the office principally in charge of the registration of births, marriages and deaths in Scotland located either in England or in Northern Ireland; so we do not think it necessary to put this in the Bill. We reserve full freedom in this respect. But this does not mean that there is any present intention or idea at all of moving it out of Edinburgh. If, however, circumstances should ever make it as desirable that the General Register Office should be out of Edinburgh, as it is that certain Ministries or offices should be out of London, then I hope that we shall be as forthcoming ourselves as we should wish our English colleagues to be at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Craigton, referred just now to part-time registrars. He asked whether they would be treated as local authority employees. He went on to ask whether they could join the Association of Registrars. The answer in both cases is, Yes. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn—he was supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, in this matter—raised a question about the registration of a birth taking place, say, in Berwick to someone who was normally resident North of the Border, or taking place in Scotland to someone who was normally resident in Carlisle. I will have a look at this. I will read out the answer which the Registrar General has passed over to me and then I will say what I want to say. He says This would require simultaneous legislation in both countries. The present Bill applies to Scotland only. In any event a reciprocal arrangement of this kind would be very difficult indeed. If he had left it at the first two sentences I should not have bothered to say any more about it, because it would have seemed to be insuperable; but when he added the words about being "very difficult indeed" it makes me feel that I should look at it to see if anything could be done from the point of view of simplifying events for the citizen. It may be that the unanswerable part is in the first two sentences—namely, that it would require simultaneous changes of the law, and that it may not be possible to do this. While it is a common custom to have a long Bill dealing with English affairs and then to have a sentence or a clause added on at the end saying "This applies to Scotland", and for this purpose "refer to Schedules 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6", I doubt whether an amendment of the English registration law to this effect would meet with a welcome South of the Border. However. I will look at it.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde—it he will permit me to use this less customary term in your Lordships' House—asked what we meant by "elsewhere". By "elsewhere" I mean what he would mean by "elsewhere". Then he went on to say, had it anything to do with a church in Charlotte Square? In fact no decision at all has been taken about where the surplus records could be stored. All the Bill does is to make it legal for them to be stored somewhere other than in New Register House; and the decision on where they will be taken will depend, I suppose, on terms of acquisition, and so on, and it will be taken in good time.

There was one other point which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, raised—namely, as to the residence of the father being a qualifying place under Clause 14. I do not think we have had this point raised previously by anyone else. I must say, as against the reception which I gave to his proposals about a full certificate, it seems to me that this point in connection with the residence of the father is one which we ought to look at from the point of view of the security of the register. I certainly should wish to look at that point most particularly.

In regard to some of these matters, and some other items to which there has been no reference, a number of Government Amendments will be put down. As the noble Lord, Lord Craigton, in particular, will not be surprised to know, quite a number of them will be of a purely drafting nature. I thank the noble Lords for the helpful reception that they have given to the Second Reading, and with their co-operation in succeeding stages I am quite sure that we shall be able to pass on to another place a Bill of which this House need not be ashamed.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.