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1. In October 2000, GROS consulted on a number of proposed changes to improve and modernise the registration service in Scotland. Following that consultation, proposals for change were subsequently announced on 5 November 2001. Work commenced on a draft Bill which was published as part of this second consultation paper on 2 January 2005. A list of the 23 proposals contained in the Bill is shown below at paragraph 13, and a list of the consultees is at annex A. Over 600 copies of the Consultation Paper were issued, and it was also made available on the GROS website. The consultation period ended formally on 31 March 2005, though a small number of responses were submitted after that date. Since then, there has been ongoing discussion and meetings with responders to achieve a better understanding of the proposals and improve their operation. The current draft of the Bill - now entitled the Local Government (Electoral Administration and Registration Services) (Scotland) Bill - contains changes made in the light of those discussions.
2. A total of 50 responses to the consultation paper were received, the bulk of which were from "service providers" - local authorities (which are the local registration authorities), district registrars, the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators in Scotland, UNISON (the union representing registrars) and the Association of Registrars of Scotland.
Number of responses
3. Other responders included bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland, the UK Passport Service and the National Association of Funeral Directors who had an interest in a number of the proposals. The "others" group also included a small number of single-issue responses that addressed a particular proposal, or suggested a change to existing statute not contained in the draft Bill. For example, there was a particularly helpful suggestion from a member of the public on how we might extend the scope of the Book of Scottish Connections, in certain cases, beyond one generation. Some of the responses sought legislative change where existing statute is already flexible enough to accommodate the desired outcome. Other responses sought legislative change in an area already being considered as part of policy development elsewhere, such as the review of burial ground and cremation regulations.
4. A further suggested change to existing statute concerned the registration of still-births, and was made by 3 responders - Scottish Borders Council, the Chief Registrar, Scottish Borders Council and the Registrar for the district of Coldstream. The suggestion was to make publicly available the register of still-births, in the same way as the other statutory registers of births, deaths and marriages, to avoid any perception of "shame" and "secrecy". At present, obtaining an extract from the register of still-births is currently normally restricted to the parents of the still-born child, and the registrar must not issue an extract without the consent of the Registrar General. The register of still-births is not replicated and made available locally for public inspection, for example, to facilitate family history research, in the same way as the other statutory registers. There is much sensitivity surrounding this issue which merits wider consideration involving all those with an interest, such as groups representing bereaved parents, doctors and midwives etc. In view of this, it is not proposed to take forward the suggestion, at this stage, before there has been an opportunity for a much wider public debate.
5. Of the 23 proposals, 9 attracted no negative response ( see annex B). They emphasised the proposals that generally enhance local service delivery, such as more flexible opening hours, the devolution of centrally controlled functions to district registrars (for example, the re-registration of births) or the powers to better handle difficult or sensitive individual circumstances (such as the re-registration of still-births).
6. All but one of the other 14 proposals attracted more support than opposition.
7. Proposals 1 and 13 generated the highest level of negative response. Proposal 1, to create a single registration district for each of the 32 local authority areas, with co-terminous registration district and local authority administrative boundaries, was unpopular in particular geographical areas with strong traditional local identities, such as Scottish Borders and Highland. The table below shows that there were initially 14 objections (5 of which were from Scottish Borders Councillors). The fear was that a change of district name recorded in the registers from, for example, "Hawick" to "Scottish Borders" would lead to a loss of local identity. Officials from GROS had meetings with local government officials and local councillors, and agreed an arrangement that would enable local names to be retained. As a result the number of objections reduced to 2 ( see the table at paragraph 13 and annex B). The option to retain local names will be available in all 32 local authority areas, if that is the local preference.
8. Proposal 13, to allow for on-line registration, in addition to face-to-face registration, initially envisaged registration data being handled centrally by the Registrar General, thus impacting on the number of events being registered locally by district registrars. In the light of comments, an alternative on-line registration model was developed, providing for registration data submitted electronically to be handled locally by district registrars, so that the registration of vital events would continue to be done only by district registrars. The public would be given the option of choosing any computerised registration office in Scotland to complete the registration. As a result, the number of objections reduced to 13 ( see the table at paragraph 13 and annex B). A further reduction in the number of objections is expected when the alternative model is more widely known and understood.
9. There were a number of responses against proposals 5, 9, 11 and 22. It was felt that proposal 5, to make available an all-Scotland "list of intended marriages" on the GROS website, might deter celebrity marriages in Scotland, where the couple want to avoid media intrusion, because it would be very easy to consult an all-Scotland list on a website, rather than a local marriage list for a particular district. In recent years, celebrity weddings in Scotland have helped to promote marriage tourism, and it would not be desirable to do anything to deter this. Marriage, in Scotland, between couples neither of whom is resident in Scotland is on the increase - of the 32,154 marriages in Scotland in 2004, 9,710 fell into this category. The list of intended marriages shows the couples' names and proposed date of marriage, but not the location. So, while it is indeed easier to identify a celebrity couple on an all-Scotland list, the location would not be known. Further, the maximum period of notice allowed is 3 months, and so the proposed date of marriage could be on any day during that period, and subject to change at the last minute (provided that a minimum notice period of 14 clear days is observed). So there is sufficient uncertainty about the "actual" date and place of marriage to help the couple avoid any unwelcome media intrusion. GROS is well used to advising celebrity couples on such matters.
10. Proposal 9, to provide free of charge, at the time of registration, an abbreviated certificate of death excluding cause-of-death information, attracted 10 expressions of concern from local authorities about the risk of a loss of revenue. The current cost of a certificate at the time of registration is £8.50, so the level of income derived from this by local authorities is relatively small, and there is no evidence that a free abbreviated certificate would reduce this significantly. Death certificates are used by the deceased's family and executors to inform banks, building societies and insurance companies etc. about the death. Banks and building societies, unlike insurance companies, generally have no need to have information about the cause-of-death, and so an abbreviated certificate could be used for this purpose. So, where a person's estate is small, with perhaps only a bank account and no insurance policies, the free abbreviated certificate would suffice, and would avoid the need to purchase a full certificate. The absence of details of the cause-of-death, where the circumstances are sensitive, will have the added advantage of sparing the family embarrassment at the local bank.
11. Proposal 11, to supply a change-of-name service at an earlier stage, also attracted 10 expressions of concern about abuse from local authorities who wanted to retain the current 2 year period of qualification, or to shorten it to 3 or 6 months. However, by contrast, other agencies felt that more control can be exercised by ensuring that a change-of-name is available at a very early stage obviating the need to have a non-official identity for a period before it is made official. In addition, GROS do not propose to relax the current limitation to the number of name-changes that may be made (one change of forename and 3 changes of surname).
12. Proposal 22, to create a new registration district comprising all Scottish "internal waters and territorial sea" for the purpose of marriage only, attracted concern about operational difficulties such as the practicalities of licensing a vessel for civil marriage, the attendance of a registrar to solemnise a marriage, or the collection and return of the marriage schedule to the issuing office where the person solemnising the marriage is an approved celebrant rather than a registrar. Most of these issues can however be overcome in discussion with the couple.
Summary of proposals and responses
13. The table shows the number of responses for and against each proposal. Figures in brackets show the revised views of those who responded, after follow-up meetings at which amended proposals were discussed.
1. Amend statute to make all registration-district boundaries co-terminous with local authority administrative boundaries.
2. Amend statute to allow for different premises forming part of the one registration office to have different opening hours.
3. Allow the birth of a child occurring anywhere in Scotland to be registered at any registration office in Scotland.
4. Allow the death of a person occurring anywhere in Scotland to be registered at any registration office in Scotland.
5. Retain the existing requirement for advertising marriages on a local registration-office notice board but, in addition, augment it with a list of all forthcoming marriages in Scotland, to be held centrally by GROS, and be available to potential objectors and to the public on the GROS website.
6. Supply automatically and electronically (for an appropriate charge) birth, death and marriage details already visible publicly on the registers to all other relevant government bodies, central and local.
7. Allow informants (for a fee) to be able to ask for wider notification of births, deaths or marriages to nominated bodies outside the government sector.
8. Enable third parties (for a fee) to ask GROS to notify them of the death of a person if and when it occurs in Scotland.
9. Allow for the issue, free of charge at the time of registration, of an abbreviated certificate of death, excluding cause-of-death information.
10. Once a no-longer-current register entry is available from GROS as an on-line image, to allow local registrars to issue an authenticated formal extract on security paper (as distinct from an informal "information" copy of the imaged entry).
11.GROS to supply a change-of-name service at an earlier stage, with widespread notifications.
12. Allow persons with Scots connections to record in Scotland's registers births, deaths and marriages already properly registered in other countries including England.
13. When sufficient protection against fraud can be given, to enable registration on-line of births and deaths as an additional option to face-to-face registration of births and deaths (which will continue).
14. Scottish Certificates of No Impediment to continue to be issued by district registrars who will also complete a search of marriages in the national centrally held computerised indexes.
15. Enable the Registrar General to "register afresh" an existing register entry to correct any information contained in the registers which is proved to be false, such as following a decree by a court.
16. In cases where paternity has already been acknowledged, to devolve to local registrars the existing power held by GROS to re-register a birth to include the details of the child's parents' subsequent marriage.
17. Allow a person who held parental responsibilities and rights for a child immediately prior to the death of a child to apply to re-register that child's birth to include either the father's details or the marriage of the parents. In the latter case, where paternity had already been acknowledged, the power would be devolved also to local registrars.
18. Enable the parents of a still-born child to apply to re-register the child's still-birth entry to include either the father's details or the parents' subsequent marriage. Applications would be made either to the local registrar or to GROS.
19. Amend existing legislation for recording a forename or a change of forename of a child under the age of 12 months so that only a person holding parental responsibilities and rights in relation to the child would be qualified to apply to do so.
20. Insert in legislation a new offence of giving false information to the Registrar General or any person acting on his behalf. There is an existing offence of giving false information to a district registrar.
21. Remove the existing requirement on a person who is not domiciled in the UK to provide a Certificate of No Impediment when intending to marry in Scotland.
22. A new registration district comprising of all Scottish "internal waters and territorial sea" to free-up the territorial waters of Scotland to extend choice for couples wishing to be married.
23. Errors of transcription or other prescribed errors to be corrected by registrars (without the need for the informant to be present) up until the examination process has started.
General Register Office for Scotland
2 November 2005
List of Responders to the Consultation Paper on the Registration Services (Scotland) Bill
1. Aberdeenshire Council
2. Angus Council
3. City of Edinburgh Council
4. Clackmannanshire Council
5. Dumfries and Galloway Council
6. East Ayrshire Council
7. East Lothian Council
8. East Renfrewshire Council
9. Falkirk Council
10. Glasgow City Council
11. Highland Council
12. North Ayrshire Council
13. North Lanarkshire Council
14. Perth and Kinross Council
15 . Renfrewshire Council
37. Scottish Borders Council
16. Shetland Islands Council
17. South Ayrshire Council
18. South Lanarkshire Council
19. West Dunbartonshire Council
20. West Lothian Council
21. Association of Registrars of Scotland
23. UK Passport Service
24. The Law Society of Scotland
25. Allan Baillie (individual respose)
26. Privacy Advisory Committee
27. Society of Local Authority Lawyers
28. Student Loans Company
29. The National Association of Funeral Directors
30. The Federation of British Cremation Authorities
31. Society of Genealogists on SAFHS Council
32. General Assembly of Church of Scotland
33. Registrar (name withheld)
34. Registrar (name withheld)
35. Registrar (name withheld)
36. Registrar Sheila Richardson
38. Registrar John Nicholls
39. Registrar (name withheld)
40. Registrar (name withheld)
41. Registrar (name withheld)
42. Registrar (name withheld)
43. Registrar (name withheld)
44. Lorna Simpson (individual response)
45. William Smith Councillor SBC
46. Alasdair Hutton Councillor SBC
47. Catriona Bhatia Councillor SBC
48. Councillor (individual response)
49. David Paterson Councillor SBC