It is a legal requirement to register the birth, including still-birth, of every child in England and Wales and the death of every person in England or Wales. The law also sets out what must be done with the records and registers once registration has taken place. The current legislation provides for a paper-based system and is based on legislation which has been in place since the nineteenth century.
Since 2009, the registers of births and deaths have been kept in both paper and electronic form.
The Registers of Births and Deaths Bill 2019-21 (the Bill) is a Private Member’s Bill. It was presented to Parliament by Andrew Mitchell (Conservative) on 5 February 2020. Explanatory Notes, prepared by the Home Office with the consent of Andrew Mitchell, state that the purpose of the Bill is to reform the way in which births and deaths are registered in England and Wales. The intention is to remove the duplication of processes by removing the requirement for paper registers and introducing an electronic register for the registration of births and deaths. The Explanatory Notes state that this would create “a more secure system for the maintenance of birth, still-birth and death registers”.
The Bill would enable the Minister to make regulations to provide that, where registration is effected otherwise than in hard copy:
- a person’s duty to sign the register is instead a duty to comply with specified requirements; and
- a person who complies with those requirements is to be treated as having signed the register at that time, and, where required, to have done so in the presence of the registrar.
The Bill states that the regulations might, among other things, provide for a person to sign something other than the register, and require a person to provide specified evidence of identity. These regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, requiring the approval of both Houses of Parliament to become law.
Both the Government and the Opposition support the Bill.
The Bill had its second reading in the House of Commons on 16 October 2020 and a single sitting in Public Bill Committee on 27 January 2021, when it was reported without amendment. It is listed for remaining stages in the House of Commons on 12 March 2021. The Bill largely extends and applies to England and Wales only.
In debate on the Bill, Andrew Mitchell said that it would pave the way for a move to online methods of registration. He also stated that there would be significant savings for the taxpayer.
Junior Home Office Minister, Kevin Foster, said that, even though an electronic register is already in place, the current legislation requires a paper record of every event to be kept, resulting in a duplication of effort for registrars, and that this could be addressed only through primary legislation. He also confirmed that existing birth and death registers, dating back to 1837, would continue to be held indefinitely.