§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD WALSINGHAM
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, it might be considered that 1112 some apology was needed for the appearance of the Bill at so late a period of the Session. It had been, perhaps, somewhat delayed to make way for other measures of equal or greater importance, because, inasmuch as it had twice passed through their Lordships' House almost exactly in the present form, it was not anticipated that any serious opposition would now be brought to bear against it. In fact, he believed he might say for it that it had the support of all parties. After the experience of 36 years—for it was in 1837 that civil registration of births and deaths was introduced into England—it had only been during the last two or three years that the necessity of rendering such registration compulsory appeared to have been fully recognized. Two Select Committees of the House of Commons had reported in favour of compulsory registration, and the Royal Sanitary Commission had also recommended it. A Bill was introduced with this object in 1871 by Mr. Lyon Playfair in the House of Commons, and the noble Lord who was then at the head of the Department on which such a duty would devolve promised, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, that they would propose a more comprehensive measure, and that Bill was accordingly with-drawn. Compulsory registration had been in force in Scotland for 17 years, under a far more stringent enactment than that which was now proposed, and in Ireland also the principle was adopted and enforced. The object of the Bill might be shortly stated to be "to make complete the civil registration of births and deaths in England and Wales." It was sought to effect that object, first, by making it compulsory, under penalty, for relatives and others to register every birth and death, at the same time increasing their facilities for doing so; secondly, by obliging medical practitioners to give, for insertion in the register, written certificates of the cause of death of their deceased patients; thirdly, by making a statutory declaration necessary before correcting errors of fact or substance in registers; fourthly, by giving power to the Registrar General and the Local Government Board to alter the limits of registration districts where necessary; fifthly, by providing for the recovery of fines and forfeitures, on summary conviction before 1113 two justices, and authorizing superintendent Registrars to prosecute; and, lastly, by providing regulations as to the burial of stillborn children. As compared with the present registration law, there were many beneficial changes introduced in this Bill. The number of legally qualified informants was increased, and the time for gratuitous registration enlarged. In other cases the fees were reduced; facilities were given for registration after lapse of time for recording changes of name, and for registering deaths after instead of before funerals. In extensive sub-districts great convenience would be afforded to the public in meeting Registrars on fixed days at "stations" distant from the residences of the Registrars, but near to the inhabitants, and from Registrars being accessible at their offices at fixed hours known to the public. Certificates of registration might be demanded at a cheaper rate than at present and greater security was provided against the improper alteration of registers. Moreover, the proper record of births and deaths occurring on board merchant vessels was provided for. Although the Bill, from its compulsory character, proposed more stringent enactments than the public had hitherto been accustomed to, much consideration had been given to protect them from undue constraint; and whereas in Scotland since 1854 the law had been most stringent, requiring relatives within a prescribed number of days, under pains and penalties, to proceed personally to the office of the Registrar, however distant, and there record particulars of births or deaths, the Registrar being prohibited from taking his books away from the office to the residence of an informant under any circumstances whatever, it would be found that no such arbitrary provisions were contained in this Bill, which really only secured the adoption of what might be called a mild and convenient form of compulsory registration. The noble Lord concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Walsingham.)
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow,