GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS COMMITMENT TO MODERNISING CIVIL REGISTRATION

The Government’s proposals to modernise civil registration in England and Wales suffered a serious setback in December when the regulatory reform committees of both House of Parliament ruled that the scope of the reforms was too complex to be effected by regulation. Of particular concern, both committees cited the proposed transfer of statutory registration officers to local government employment and the future intention to allow the public to register births by telephone and online.

In its conclusion the House of Lords’ Committee stated: “We do not dispute that modernisation of civil registration is important and desirable. In our view, however, …there is a clear need for the greater level of Parliamentary scrutiny and debate to which bills are subject.” So what now for the Government’s modernisation proposals?

In a ministerial statement to Parliament on 1st March, Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury said: “This Government remains committed to the modernisation of the registration service in England and Wales. This service, with its roots in the nineteenth century, touches everyone during their lives and it is important that it reflects the needs of society, families and individuals. Modernisation will provide more choice for the public in how they deal with the service, improved service delivery and easier public interaction with government on a wider range of services. I am actively looking for ways of delivering the key elements of civil registration modernisation and will be working closely with stakeholders over the coming months to agree a way forward. In the meantime, new and more modern technology is planned to be introduced that will make it easier for members of the public to deal with the local registration service.”

Without a change to primary legislation it is not possible for the delivery of the local registration service to become a local authority function or for statutory registration officers to transfer to local authority employment. The General Register Office (GRO), LACoRS (Local Authority Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services) and senior representatives from the local registration service have formed a strategic planning group to agree priorities for the modernisation of registration services.

At the same time, GRO is considering those aspects of reform which might still be possible without legislative change and exploring all options for achieving necessary legislative change. In the short term GRO is proceeding with the procurement of a web-based IT system to replace the current registration support software. It is intended that this will be used, initially, for civil partnership notices and registration from December this year and be phased-in for births and deaths registrations from March 2006. Marriage notices will be taken on the new system from July 2006. Despite the disappointment of the parliamentary set back there is still much that authorities can do to prepare for the future and further information about the review is available on the GRO website at: "http://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/aboutus/lookingahead/index.asp#0" .

The results of the preparedness assessments undertaken by HM Inspectors of Registration during 2004 have also recently been published (se below) and the detailed results may be viewed on the LACoRS website. These assessments took place over a nine month period so inevitably, those authorities that were assessed toward the end of this process had greater opportunity to implement change and this was reflected in the ratings. It is anticipated that phase two of the study, to commence after Easter, will look at local authority readiness for the proposed web-based system and related issues.

Rating

 

Fully Prepared

  2

Significant progress made against plans

14

Some progress made against plans

75

Clear plans established

65

Early planning stage

15

No progress made

-

Total assessments

171

Tony Elwood, Head of Local Government Implementation

General Register Office Tel. 0151-471-4568 e-mail tony.elwood@ons.gov.uk