It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. You will know that it is a bit of a novelty for a member of the Government Whips Office to perform these duties, but I feel in good company with a former Chief Whip, a former deputy Chief Whip, a former Comptroller of the Household, and Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton, who was my Whip for about five minutes when I was first elected in 2015, before he went on to greater things at the Ministry of Defence.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield for his continuing support in bringing forward changes to the way in which births and deaths are registered. The Government are supportive of his Bill and delighted that it has reached this stage. I noted yesterday from reading the Second Reading debate that this is only his second private Member’s Bill outing since March 1991, but he is recording an impressive personal best here and leading the charge for his Bill with great passion and skill.
Under the present legislation, all births and deaths must be registered by an informant through personal attendance at the register office and the signing of the register in the presence of the registrar, as has been the case since 1837. This situation is outdated. The Bill will reform how births and deaths are registered, removing the requirement for paper registers and moving to digital methods of registration that will enable all births and deaths to be registered in a single electronic register. It will move the registration of births and deaths into the 21st century, which is a step I am sure all members of the Committee will see the benefit of, particularly in the present circumstances.
As my right hon. Friend said, the electronic register is already in place and has been since 2009. However, primary legislation still requires a paper record of the event to be kept. We need to rectify this anomaly as it is a duplication of effort for registrars. As well as creating a simpler, more efficient process, it will make the registration of births and deaths much more secure than it is today with the reliance on paper registers. It should be noted that when civil partnerships were introduced in 2005, the opportunity was taken to modernise the process of registration and an electronic register was introduced with no requirement for a separate paper copy to be held. Similar plans are also in place for marriages to move to electronic means of registration.
The covid-19 pandemic has clearly highlighted the limitations and inflexibility of the now outdated primary legislation. There is a need to be able to offer more flexibility in how births and deaths are registered by removing the requirement for face-to-face registration. The Bill removes the requirement for the signing of a birth or death register by an informant in the presence of a registrar if specified requirements are met. That paves the way for the introduction of online registration in which informants would be able to register an event online at a time to suit themselves from the comfort of their own home. That will provide more choice and convenience for informants, particularly in difficult and upsetting times such as when registering a death. However, the provision to attend personally at the register office will remain if that is the informant’s preferred option. The current legislation is restrictive and does not reflect modern society.