I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The main purpose of the Bill is to improve the legal basis for the collection and publication of statistics of births, deaths and marriages and other vital statistics. At present, the information obtained when births, deaths and marriages are registered is used for compiling some statistics but this information is not sufficient for the preparation of the detailed classified statistics which modern statistical methods make possible and which modern conditions require. The Bill will enable more detailed vital statistics to be complied and will permit the specialised services of the Central Statistics Office to be used for the collection and publication of these statistics. Additional information can be sought at or after registration in relation to births, deaths and marriages, and for the first time information can be got about stillbirths or, as described in the Bill, foetal deaths. Further extensions of the scope of this work are also provided for so that, for example, a survey of sickness may be undertaken or the results of schemes of medical treatment or immunisation may be assessed.
This proposal to have power to get better information on the lives and health of the people is not founded on any desire on the part of the Government officiously to pry into private affairs. Nowdays, when so much private and public money is spent annually on health services, it is obviously in the public interest that the value of these services and the lines of their future development should be assessable on the basis of accurate statistics. Any information received from individuals in the compilation of the statistics will be kept strictly confidential by the officials concerned, disclosure being subject to severe penalties. These safeguards are on similar lines to corresponding provisions in the Statistics Act, 1926.
The opportunity is being taken to make other amendments of the births, deaths and marriages law, some of which dates back as far as 1844. These amendments are in advance of codification which, I think, will have to be undertaken at a future date. Of these amendments, the most important from the public point of view is, I think, the power to provide an abridged certificate of birth. The actual form of this short certificate will be specified in regulations later and will probably contain details of the name, date of birth and sex only with, possibly, the place of birth of the person concerned. It is proposed to take power also to provide for a short form of death certificate or marriage certificate. The full marriage certificate discloses parentage and a short from of this, similar in scope to the short birth certificate, might be prescribed at a future date. The full death certificate does not disclose parentage but contains detailed information which would not be required in all cases. A short form of this might also be desirable and is provided for.
I may mention that the power to issue the usual long certificate is not being interfered with, so that, when it is needed, for example, by the courts for identification purposes, etc., it may still be obtained. I hope, however, that in time the short form of certificate, particularly the short birth certificate, will become the normal form, otherwise one of the primary purposes which the provision of this form of certificate has in view will be frustrated. It may indeed be necessary to take steps to encourage the use of the short form.
Ministers of the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church are authorised to issue licences for marriages and are entitled to collect fees from the contracting parties. Maximum amounts for these fees are fixed in the Acts passed in 1844 and 1870, being at the rate of 5/- for a licence and 1/- for entering certificates in "Marriage Notice Books." It has been represented that these fees are inadequate nowadays and I am sure that Deputies will agree that this is so. It is proposed, therefore, in the Bill to remove these limitations of 5/- and 1/- and leave the Churches to fix the fees themselves. No State money is involved. The fees are paid by the contracting parties to the clergyman concerned. I think, therefore, that there is no call for the State to continue to fix a limit for these fees.
Provision is also made that the other fees fixed in the births, deaths and marriages code may be altered, if thought desirable, by regulations made by the Minister for Health. For the same reason, provision is included for altering the reduced fees for which certificates may be obtained under other legislation. It is felt that the fixing by statute of fees of this kind for varying types of certificates results in an undesirable rigidity, and that there should be power to vary such fees to meet changing circumstances.
The clerk of the poor law union was appointed in the old days as a matter of course to be superintendent registrar and to perform such duties as the checking of the registers of the local registrar, sending on particulars to the General Register Office, etc. With the alterations in the local government code and the replacement of the Poor Law Acts by the public assistance code, the power to appoint superintendent registrars on a permanent basis lapsed and, in recent years, only interim registrars could be appointed. The opportunity is being taken of remedying this unsatisfactory state of affairs. As vacancies arises the duty of acting as superintendent registrar will be assigned to the public assistance authority. This makes no fundamental change except that instead of specifying a particular officer of a local authority the local authority itself, acting through its officers, will discharge the duties. This provision brings the administration of the births, deaths and marriages code into line with modern procedure. It means also that the local authorities will retain the fees paid to them for the benefit of the rates, and, furthermore, that the amounts paid to the superitendent registrars from the General Register Office Vote will diminish as vacancies occur and will, in time, disappear.
Deputies will, I think, be glad to note that the titles "Registrar General" and "General Registrar Office" are now to disappear and are to be replaced in future by their Irish equivalents, "An tArd-Chlaraitheoir" and "Oifig an Ard-Chlaraitheora." It is also proposed to enable the hours in which Oifig an Ard-Chlaraitheora will be open to the public to be modified by regulations instead of by statute and to remove the time limit of one year for correcting entries in the birth registers—a limit which has imposed hardship in some cases.