HL Deb 14 May 2002 vol 635 cc222-4

7.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

rose to move, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on llth March be approved [17th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order before the House is designed to simplify the procedure for correcting information about paternity contained in birth and death registers. Before an error may be corrected, the law currently requires statutory declarations to be made by two people who could have registered the birth or death—these would usually be the parents of a child—or by two people with firsthand knowledge of the facts. Where a dispute about a child's paternity follows the breakdown of a relationship, those involved are not always prepared to co-operate with each other in making the statutory declarations required to correct the register.

The purpose of the order is to amend the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Special Provisions) Act 1957, which apply to records of events that took place outside the United Kingdom among the Armed Forces and their dependants, to extend the means of correcting an error in the official record of a child's paternity.

As the law stands, even where clear evidence exists to show that the wrong man has been named as the child's father, it is not possible to amend the register unless two suitable statutory declarations are obtained. That does not make sense to the families involved and can cause them problems when a birth certificate containing incorrect information has to be produced. There are sometimes existing court findings about paternity, made when maintenance or access disputes were settled. The proposed change would allow a specific court find of paternity to replace one of the statutory declarations needed for a correction to the record. No additional burden would be placed on those applying for a correction, because the provision for two statutory declarations to be accepted will continue. The acceptance of an existing court order in place of one of the statutory declarations is an additional facility.

There has been extensive consultation on the proposals and careful scrutiny by the parliamentary deregulation and regulatory reform committees. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in your Lordships' House expressed no concerns about the order. However, the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee in another place expressed some concern that court findings of paternity should be required to be specific, and commented on the scope of the consultation. As a result, the Office for National Statistics undertook further consultation among groups with an interest in family law. Following observations by the Official Solicitor, the order was amended to provide that where a court finding of paternity was based on the sole evidence of the same person who made the required statutory declaration, corroborative evidence will be required.

In practice, even where the person who is prepared to make the statutory declaration is the same person who has obtained the court order, there is often corroborative evidence available from the other person registered as the parent of the child in the form of correspondence that he or she has had with the registrar, or a statement to the court.

The order has now been approved in the other place in its amended form. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended approval by this House. I confirm to the House that I am satisfied that the terms of the order are fully compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft deregulation order laid before the House on 11th March be approved [17th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee].—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.]

Baroness Harris of Richmond

My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches believe that this, too, is a most sensible order. It will certainly simplify what was a very technical and potentially disputative problem. We support the measure.

The Earl of Northesk

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his customary courtesy in explaining the order to the House. We on these Benches are entirely content with the measure in its amended form. However, I should perhaps pick up on one point that I hope the Minister will not consider unduly churlish.

As the noble Lord will know, the Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Committee of another place, at paragraph 11 of its report, expressed, dissatisfaction at the way it [the order] has been handled by the Government Departments concerned". The order before the House is the last draft order to be brought forward under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. That measure will now be superseded in virtually every respect by the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. Accordingly, I hope that the Minister can reassure the House that appropriate lessons have been learnt from the unfortunate muddle to which this order was subject. In particular, I hope that he can reassure us that draft orders laid under the Regulatory Reform Act—I note that there are a number under consideration—will not suffer in the same way.

I acknowledge that it is a relatively small point. As I said, we are entirely content with the substance of the order.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of both noble Lords and for the welcome that the order has received.

The noble Earl, Lord Northesk, rightly said that this is the last order under the 1994 Act. It is covered by the transitional provisions for deregulation orders included in the replacement Regulatory Reform Act. The Regulatory Reform Act came into force on 10th April 2001, last year, and replaced the provisions for deregulation orders with regulatory reform orders. The transitional provision to which I referred was for orders that had already been laid before Parliament by 10th April last year. This order, in its previous form, had been laid on 26th March 2001.

I hope that the House will agree that the delay which has occurred has been entirely benign in the sense that, although it has taken a long time, there has been the additional consultation asked for and there have been amendments for which the Official Solicitor asked. As a result of this perhaps protracted—but, in my view, entirely correct—process, this is a better order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.