Clause 65

Statistics and Registration Service Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:45 pm on 25th January 2007.

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Establishment of Registrar General as corporation sole

Photo of John Healey John Healey The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

We now turn to part 2 of the Bill, which deals with questions concerning the Registrar General and future provisions for the registration service, a matter that I am particularly pleased we were able to cover.

As I said on Second Reading, we are using the Bill as an opportunity to establish, finally, proper employment rights for registration officers in England and Wales. Currently, they are appointed and paid by a local authority, but can be dismissed only by the Registrar General. They do not, therefore, enjoy the rights and protections afforded to other staff, such as access to an employment tribunal. That has for some time been a great concern for my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East. The provisions in this part of the Bill are in no small measure due directly to his continuing efforts on the subject. He may well wish to add his own comments on that.

Registration officers provide a vital service that benefits all of us in the community. Almost all of us will come into contact with the registration service at some point in our lives—normally at the most important moments in our lives and the lives of our families. It is only right and proper that this group of workers is given for the first time the rights and protections that are already available to others.

Under the Registration Service Act 1953, the Registrar General for England and Wales is currently a statutory office holder, appointed by Her Majesty, with functions set out in statute. That has been the position since the post was created in 1836. The Registrar General has statutory functions relating to the civil registration service, but also has other, statistical, responsibilities such as conducting the census. Under the Bill, the Registrar General’s current statistical functions will become the responsibility of the statistics  board. The Registrar General will remain as head of the General Register Office and will retain his or her responsibility for civil registration in England and Wales.

Clause 65 modernises the position of the Registrar General, who is head of the civil registration servicein England and Wales, by establishing him as a corporation sole. I concede that that does not sound very modern, but a corporation sole is an office occupied by one person that has a separate legal identity from the office holder. Also, the office continues to exist even if the office holder retires and is replaced, or if there is a vacancy in the post. Currently, the rights and liabilities of the Registrar General are personally held by the office holder on behalf of the Crown. Establishing the Registrar General as a corporation sole means that the rights and liabilities of the office of Registrar General are separated from the office holder and the rights and liabilities become the responsibility of the office, rather than the office holder. That means that in the future the Registrar General could enter into contracts in his or her own right and such contracts would be the responsibility of the office, rather than the office holder.

Separating the Registrar General from the National Statistician, and the General Register Office from the Office for National Statistics, will reinforce the ability of the Registrar General to operate independently, while still allowing the General Register Office to be incorporated into a wider structure if that is what is determined. I hope that the Committee will accept that that flexibility is sensible and desirable, given that the location of the General Register Office has still to be finally determined. It has been considered as part of potential machinery of government changes. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members will agree that clause 65 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.