GRO information on Births, Marriages and Death doesn’t have to be on expensive certificates

The Society of Genealogists is delighted to announce that the Government has accepted an amendment to the Deregulation Bill currently going before the House of Lords that allows for the publication of information from Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates in England and Wales to be issued otherwise than in the form of a certified copy. This is something the SoG has long campaigned for and is grateful to Baroness Scott of Needham Market, herself an enthusiastic genealogist, who suggested to Government that this deregulation is possible


The report in Hansard for 5th February,  (also shown in full here below)  allows for an amendment in the various Registration Acts. Most importantly this decision paves the way to allow the Government full opportunity to consult on the best way in which to bring in changes to how records are accessed. It will provide the Secretary of State with the power to lay regulations to define how a person may access these records, the type of product that can be issued, how the record is to be provided and the amount of fee payable. This would, for example, allow older records to be viewed online, similar to the systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland, or for the introduction of plain paper extracts to be offered to customers who do not require a watermarked certificate.

The clause would therefore provide a gateway to introducing new products and services relating to birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records. It would accept that any change to the current product and services could not happen immediately; there would need to be a full analysis of the options for implementation, decisions around funding and consultation with key stakeholders. Any change is likely to mean IT system changes. However, the clause lifts those legislative restrictions that have tied the Government’s hands in this area for many years and this is a major step forward to greater and more flexible access.

The Society of Genealogists looks forward to the consultations ahead and to working with the Home Office to ensure that the General Register Office is now free to see how it can best serve the needs of the family history community.

Else Churchill, Genealogist at the Society of Genealogists says “Having worked for over 15 years to reform the GRO system and to gain better access to this vital information for family historians in non-certified form I am delighted that the Government has at last paved the way for a more efficient and cost effective service encompassing modern technology.”

 

Hansard House of Lords 5th Feb 2015
Deregulation Bill Amendment 33
 

Lord Stoneham of Droxford moved Amendment No. 33A:


33A: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—

“Information contained in entries of births and deaths
(1) The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 is amended as follows.


(2) After section 34 (entry in register as evidence of birth or death) insert—

“34A Searches and records of information: additional provision

(1) The Minister may make regulations for the purpose of enabling the Registrar General—
(a) to carry out, on request, a search to find out whether the Registrar General’s certified copies contain a particular entry;
(b) to provide, on request, a record of information contained in an entry in the Registrar General’s certified copies, otherwise than in the form of a certified copy.

(2) The regulations may authorise or require the Registrar General to charge a fee of an amount specified in the regulations for carrying out a search or providing a record.

(3) The regulations may make provision—
(a) as to how a request for a search or a record may be made;
(b) as to the forms in which a record may be provided.

(4) The provision that may be made in the regulations includes provision for a record to be provided in a form that does not include all of the information contained in an entry.
(5) This section does not affect the entitlement under this Act of any person to a certified copy of an entry in the Registrar General’s certified copies.
(6) In this section, “the Registrar General’s certified copies” means the certified copies of entries in registers sent to the Registrar General under this Act or under any enactment repealed by this Act and kept in the General Register Office.

(7) Section 30(4) applies for the purposes of this section as it applies for the purposes of section 30.”

(3) In section 39 (regulations), in paragraph (a), for “and 10C” substitute “, 10C and 34A”.
(4) In section 39A (regulations made by the Minister: further provisions), in subsection (5), for “and 10C” substitute “, 10C and 34A”.”

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Lord Stoneham of Droxford (LD): My Lords, I am pleased to move this amendment on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market. She deserves all the credit for having raised this issue in Committee, and to have spotted the opportunity for it to be included in the Deregulation Bill. She is very grateful for the discussions that she has had with our noble colleague Lord Wallace to move it forward, and we are pleased to have the Government’s support for her amendment. Unfortunately, she is overseas on parliamentary business thus week and is very disappointed not to be here, not least to lead her initiative to success.

As my noble friend said in Committee, civil registration records, which include records of birth, death and marriage, date back to 1837. Regardless of their age, the only way in England and Wales to access this information is to buy a certified copy, a certificate, at a cost of between £9 and £10, depending on whether the certificate is purchased from the General Register Office, which holds the national data set, or from the local register office for the district where the event occurred.

The principal purpose of this amendment is to allow records to be available other than in the form of a certificate. Many family historians and genealogists do not actually need a certificate but merely the information contained within it. The thinking is that by allowing information, particularly from the older record sets, which is of most interest to such groups, to be made available in alternative formats, it would be cheaper and quicker to obtain, as it is already is in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where they operate a system where records are considered historic at 100 years, 75 years and 50 years for births, marriages and deaths respectively, which allows them to treat access to the older records in different ways. In a similar vein, this clause enables information on birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records in England and Wales to be provided in different ways, based on factors such as the age of the record.

The clause has been deliberately crafted as a paving amendment to allow the Government full opportunity to consult on the best way in which to bring in changes to how records are accessed. It will provide the Secretary of State with the power to lay regulations to define how a person may access these records, the type of product that can be issued, how the record is to be provided and the amount of fee payable. This would, for example, allow older records to be viewed online, similar to the systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland, or for the introduction of plain paper extracts to be offered to customers who do not require a watermarked certificate.

The clause would therefore provide a gateway to introducing new products and services relating to birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records. It would accept that any change to the current product and services could not happen immediately; there would need to be a full analysis of the options for implementation, decisions around funding and consultation with key stakeholders. Any change is likely to mean IT system changes. However, the clause lifts those legislative restrictions that have tied the Government’s hands in this area for many years and this is a major step forward to greater and more flexible access.

5 Feb 2015 : Column 876


Finally, these powers will apply to copies of entries in the records held by the Registrar General, which means that it would be for the General Register Office to provide any additional products enabled by the powers in this clause. The new clause does not extend to cover local registration services. However, the current ability for an individual to purchase a certificate from either the General Register Office or a local register office will remain. This change would provide wider access to historic records and would be of great interest and benefit to the growing number of people who pursue an interest in genealogy, and in particular to those looking into the history of their families. As my noble friend Lady Scott told us in Committee, one website alone—Ancestry—has 2.7 million subscribers.
Genealogists from across the world want to trace their ancestors back to these islands. The Irish and Scottish Governments have been much quicker than the English and Welsh Governments to appreciate the great tourist value in people looking for their roots. In Ireland, you can get essential information for €4, for Scotland you can order online from the Scotland’s People Centre. The General Register Office issues thousands of historic copies at £9.75 a copy, but does not make a profit. Putting this information online would fit in well with the Government’s deregulation agenda. The issue has been approached on several occasions in the past 30 years. Public consultation showed overwhelming public support in 1999. The General Register Office proposed a whole package of changes in 2005, but it was too wide-ranging for a regulatory order. This paving amendment will enable action to be taken to widen access to help people access information about their family histories going back 200 years. It is time the English and Welsh caught up with the Scots and the Irish. I beg to move.


Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government are delighted by the discovery by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, of an example of potential deregulation that they had not themselves unearthed. We are therefore very glad to welcome, and accept, this amendment, on which the Government have worked with the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, to refine. We are sorry that the noble Baroness is currently working very hard in the Caribbean. I hope it is not too cold there.

This amendment will achieve a long-standing government policy objective of providing greater flexibility over how, and in what form, records of birth, death, marriage and civil partnership may be accessed. It will provide powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations that will introduce a legal demarcation between those older records of genealogical interest and modern records relating to living individuals. We all recognise that the interest of the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, in this issue comes from her own active interest in researching family history. That interest is shared by a very large, and increasing, number of people across the country. As the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, said, the amendment will bring the system in England and Wales in line with those already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It will also bring access to civil registration records up to date by


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providing much easier access through 21st century technology, and will meet the information access expectations of today’s society.
Importantly, by introducing order-making powers, the new clause is flexible and enabling, and will allow the Home Office time fully to consider and consult upon the implications of any change prior to the laying of regulations. We therefore welcome this workable and balanced piece of legislation, which supports government objectives such as Digital by Design, transparency of data and improved public services. We are therefore very happy to accept the amendment.

Amendment 33A agreed.

 

Amendment 33B


Moved by Lord Stoneham of Droxford


33B: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—

“Information contained in entries of marriages and civil partnerships

(1) After section 65 of the Marriage Act 1949 (searches of indexes kept by Registrar General) insert—
“65A Searches and records of information: additional provision


(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations for the purpose of enabling the Registrar General—
(a) to carry out, on request, a search to find out whether the Registrar General’s certified copies contain a particular entry;
(b) to provide, on request, a record of information contained in an entry in the Registrar General’s certified copies, otherwise than in the form of a certified copy.


(2) The regulations may authorise or require the Registrar General to charge a fee of an amount specified in the regulations for carrying out a search or providing a record.


(3) The regulations may make provision—
(a) as to how a request for a search or a record may be made;
(b) as to the forms in which a record may be provided.


(4) The provision that may be made in the regulations includes provision for a record to be provided in a form that does not include all of the information contained in an entry.
(5) Before making regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult the Registrar General.
(6) Regulations under this section are to be made by statutory instrument.
(7) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
(8) This section does not affect the entitlement of any person to a certified copy of an entry in the Registrar General’s certified copies.


(9) In this section, “the Registrar General’s certified copies” means the certified copies of entries in marriage register books sent to the Registrar General under this Part of this Act and kept in the General Register Office.”


(2) In section 36 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (regulations and orders), in subsection (2), after paragraph (f) insert—
“(g) for the carrying out by the Registrar General, on request, of searches of entries in the register and the provision, on request, of information contained in the entries (otherwise than in the form of certified copies).”

3) In section 9 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 (conversion of civil partnership into marriage), in subsection (5), after paragraph (b) insert—
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“(ba) the carrying out, on request, of searches of any information recorded and the provision, on request, of records of any information recorded (otherwise than in the form of certified copies);”.”

Amendment 33B agreed.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.