Skip to main content

Registrar General's Office, England

Volume 236: debated on Thursday 6 March 1930

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Motion made, and Question proposed,

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,960, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1930, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Registrar General of Births, &c."

The Estimate I have to present to the House is accounted for by the legislation involved since the Estimates were framed last year.

On a point of Order. I beg to state that hon. Members on this side, below and above the Gangway, are unable to hear either what was the Estimate you called or the hon. Lady.

The Estimate I have to present is Class V., No. 3, page 12 on the paper—"Registrar General's Office, England." The bulk of the Estimate is accounted for by legislation which has been passed by this House since the original Estimate was framed, and the two heads accounting for most of the expenditure are the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act, 1929, and the Local Government Act, 1929. Under the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act, 1929, the Department has to verify the ages of a very large number of widows and wives. In a great number of cases, also, it is necessary to verify the marriage of widows and wives. In all, we have to make over 815,000 verifications, and approximately 100,000 of these will fall to be verified during this financial year. We shall need additional staff to the extent of about £2,500. Under the Local Government Act, 1929, there is a transfer of certain registration duties to Local Authorities, and the transfer necessitates additional staff. There is an additional sum for bonuses, but that matter has already been explained in all the previous Estimates. With regard to the second item, £780 odd, the necessity arises from a very unfortunate cause. There were more deaths in the March quarter than were estimated and the fees for the registrars have therefore been in excess of the Estimates. That accounts for the sum of £780 mentioned. I hope the Committee will be satisfied and will, after this explanation, pass the Estimate.

I would like to put one or two questions to the Minister. She has explained that part of the Estimate is for salaries for the additional staff. Can she tell us whether that staff has been taken from other departments and a corresponding saving shown. We have been told that a certain number of ex-Servicemen have been turned away from various Government departments. Questions have been raised in this House on the subject about these ex-Servicemen, who are probably suitable for this kind of work, who have been turned away. Have those men been given a chance of being taken on by her department for this work?

Will the hon. Lady answer a question about Subhead (A) which concerns additional assistance required in connection with searches in the records of births, deaths and marriages in consequence of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1929? Can she give the Committee any idea of what is the average cost in each case for research of this kind?

We are estimating for £2,500. We believe there will be 100,000 eases. With pencil and paper I think the hon. Member will be able to calculate the average sum for that 100,000.

It is a supplementary amount which is required. It would not cover the whole cost.

It is a supplementary amount for new work falling to be done during this financial year. We estimate the number of such cases for this financial year at approximately 100,000. I cannot divide by 100,000 in my head, but with a pencil and a piece of paper the hon. Member will be able to do that sum.

Will the hon. Lady answer my question? Have the men been taken from other departments, not the Ministry of Health, for this work? Have ex-Servicemen who have been turned away by this Government been given a chance to do this work?

I will communicate with my hon. gallant Friend as to the details of the staff. I have not got them with me at the present time.

I would like to ask a question about this. I want to know why in this additional provision required such a large sum of money has been expended. I happen to know the machines used for getting information concerning births, marriages and deaths are automatic machines and only a very small amount of extra labour ought to be necessary to get the information connected with the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act, 1929. I cannot understand why it is necessary to spend that amount of money since all you have to do is to pile the cards into the machine, turn the handle and the result is given. I should have thought that with a little expenditure one could have got all this information without expending this large sum of £3,680, which is divided up into various details. The hon. Lady ought to have given us some information about the details of this sum. I should like an answer to my question.

It would save a little time if the hon. Lady would reply to what the hon. Member has said.

If the hon. Member will give me the name of a maker of machines that can search the register and can ascertain the date of death of the husbands of all the widows we have to deal with I am sure the Department will be very grateful. I know of no machines which will give you an answer if you put the question to it, "When did Mr. Brown die?"

The date of death of all the people in this country is registered and is discoverable as I said by means of an automatic machine.

I would put the hon. Lady another question and it is this. Would Members be good enough to pay attention to the passage marked with an asterisk in which we find references to two appropriations in aid. There is an Appropriation-in-Aid under Subhead G of £1,500 and then we have this figure of £3,680 which refers to additional provision required in connection with the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act and which is marked with an asterisk. Of this sum it is stated in the footnote that £2,500 will be recovered from the Pensions Account and appro- priated in aid of the Vote for the Ministry of Health. The same remark is made about a sum of £190 under Subhead C. We ought to have a little information about that point. While we are talking about it, we might ask the hon. Lady whether or no that sum is sufficient to do the work necessary. That from the point of view of the widows is a very important matter. Those of us who are Members for constituencies and have had a lot of letters from widows—[Interruption.] I have had a good many and I can assure the hon. Members that they have caused me no hilarity whatever.

I have a letter here from a widow and I have great pleasure in calling the attention of the Minister to it. It is about this very question. This widow writes from a slum street in Leith to me and she tells me that she and two others can get no answer whatever from the pensions department as to whether or no their claims have been received, or whether they are going to get an answer in the affirmative or not. She is not hilarious about it and she adds this:
"When the General Election comes round these Labour people will stand where the Tories were last time."
This matter is relevant because this sum of money is in connection with these researches and I am not satisfied that the department has taken enough money to do the work efficiently and well so that the widows might know as soon as possible where they are and whether their claims will be met. If hon. Members want long discussions on these points they can have them, but I am genuinely concerned, as I am sure my hon. Friends are who hear from their constituents that widows have put claims in and can get no answer. The result is that our correspondence bags in this House are made very weighty and that some of us whose incomes are not too large have to pay a much larger postage bill than we ought to if the proper amount had been taken for this service.

1.0 a.m.

It is dated 19th February. This is the first time I have raised such a matter on the Floor of the House. I always take any question of the sort up with the Department. The only time I would take it on the Floor of the House would be if I thought that the Department had made a grave mistake on a matter of public policy. This is not a matter for hilarity.

I wish to ask the Minister a simple question on a matter that has cropped up in the last few months, since the passing of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act. It is in connection with the Appropriation-in-Aid over the amount received from fees for research. Can the right hon. Lady tell me what is the charge to those widows for research work, to find out the date of marriage or the date of birth? I hope the fee is a very small one, otherwise it will be a great hardship on the people.

Just for the sake of information, is it not a fact that records of births, deaths, and marriages are only kept locally by local authorities, and that there is no single clearing house? I wish the hon. Lady would tell me that, because it is important. If there is some central registration Department, I think we ought to know. I always understood that you had to go to the local authorities to get the information.

I wish to draw the attention of the hon. Lady to an item of £1,500 under Sub-head G. Appropriation-in-aid in respect of cash fees. Broadly speaking, the cost of certified copies of documents is relatively small.

The price of search is ordinarily, I believe, only a shilling a search. It would not be unfair to suggest that the greater part of the sum of £1,500 is attributable to searches. That seems an extraordinarily large sum. Assuming, which I think is a little generous assumption in favour of the Minister, that one-third of the £1,500 is in respect of certified copies, that leaves £1,000 payable in respect of shilling searches. That means that there have been 20,000 searches over the original estimate. I ask the hon. Lady if she will give an analysis as far as she can of the £1,500, and also indicate what is the nature of the searches; whether they arise under the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, and whether the charges fall on the pockets of those who are to receive the benefits of the Act.

The answer to the question as to who bears the cost of the searches under the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act will be satisfactory. The applicants are not asked to make the searches. With regard to the question of why the public have asked for so many searches and certified copies, I really cannot say. But the hon. and gallant Member for North East Bethnal Green (Major Nathan) is a little mistaken when he says a shilling is charged for a certified copy. It is half-a-crown. With regard to the question of the delay in getting replies to applications for widows' pensions, I would be only too glad to deal with any particular case, but Members must remember, and it would be a kindness if they would explain this, that the searches, especially with regard to the older widows, are often very difficult. You have to go back over many years to ascertain whether the husband was a man who was in insurable employment. The circumstances are exceedingly difficult. These widows' pensions fall to be due in July, and, if their pensions are delayed, they will have a grievance. But I do not think it is a very great grievance to ask them to wait while the necessary researches are being made.

In the case of widows who have to wait a very long time, it would be a great help if a notification were sent that their claims had been received. I do not ask for that in every case, but only in cases where the wait is very long.

I will consider it, but I do not think it is possible that we could send out 500,000 acknowledgments.

For the satisfaction of the Minister may I say that I am one Member, at any rate, who has not received a single complain; from any widow.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next. Committee to sit again upon Monday next.