Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 22 JANUARY 2002
1. Can I welcome you to our Committee. Can you
quickly introduce yourselves for the benefit of the record and
then, as the position has changed since we met last week, perhaps
it would be helpful if you made a statement from either side to
tell us exactly where we have reached and what the position is
(Ceinwen Lloyd) I am Ceinwen Lloyd and
I am responsible for the Births and Deaths Registration Branch
in the Office for National Statistics.
(Sally Harris) I am Sally Harris and I am ONS's legal
(Mr Solomons) I am Edward Solomons, the Deputy Official
Solicitor representing the Official Solicitor.
2. Welcome and if you would like to begin by
telling us where we have reached.
(Ceinwen Lloyd) First of all, can I apologise that
we had to lay an Order before you where all the issues were not
finally sown up and resolved. Since the period of consultations
when we received some concerns from the Official Solicitor, we
have been in correspondence with the Official Solicitor's office
trying to resolve those concerns, but it is really only since
we received some informal feedback from your own Committee which
gave us a useful steer that we have been able to have further
consideration between us. There was really one sticking point
that the Official Solicitor felt and that was the issue where
the person making a statutory declaration about paternity of a
child was the same person who had obtained a Court order which
gave details of the paternity of the child and there was a concern
that there would be no corroborative evidence of paternity in
those circumstances and therefore the necessary protection in
the requirements for amending the birth entry may not be maintained.
In our statement to the Committee, we did say that we recognised
that there was some merit in that concern. Since that time, we
have been able to agree a way forward with the Official Solicitor
so that he is happy to work with us on an amendment, and we have
started that work on an amendment to the Order to provide for
corroborative evidence to be needed in those circumstances. The
wording of the amendments needs to be finalised with the draftsman
and we would ask if we could withdraw the Order and make that
amendment and relay it as soon as possible, obviously depending
on parliamentary draftsmen's time. All I can say is I apologise
if that has created any inconvenience for you.
(Mr Solomons) Sir, I associate myself with everything
Miss Lloyd has said, in particular the apology. The Official Solicitor
was invited to make representations. He did so and a number of
his concerns were resolved. The principle concern remained that,
in some circumstances, the Court finding might not corroborate
the statutory declaration and so the original intention of Parliament
in the Act that there should be corroboration would not be achieved.
The Official Solicitor welcomes the fact that the ONS is now willing
to accommodate those concerns. We believe that we have agreed
the principle. There is a small amount of drafting needed to finalise
the new Order, but I hope that something may be capable of being
laid which will meet our concerns and I hope will be satisfactory
to the Committee.
3. Are not some of the concerns you expressed
just about keeping solicitors in jobs? Is that not what it is
really about, keeping a closed shop?
(Mr Solomons) I think I left that closed shop when
I left private practice seven or eight years ago. I do not think
so. It is actually a simple process where two people make statutory
declarations which is a very easy process for them. The concern
is a very simple one, that one and one do not necessarily make
two if it is the same one being added, and one person giving a
statutory declaration and adding to that a finding in Court which
was based exclusively on that one person's evidence means that
the statutory declaration is not actually adding anything to the
4. Would the corroboration happen at Court?
(Mr Solomons) Not necessarily. In certain circumstances,
it might have been unopposed or in some type of proceedings the
person who might have wanted to oppose might not have been a party.
That is the concern.
5. I am slightly concerned about how long this
process has taken and what happened when you sent details of the
proposal to the Official Solicitor's office and then commented
on some of the points and then they sent it back to you, and then
presumably you tried to accommodate them and then sent something
back to them. Why has it all taken so long and why do we end up
in this situation when there is a draft Order made and only now
are we finding something that you can accept from the Official
(Ceinwen Lloyd) You are quite right, there was a quite
lengthy round of correspondence which obviously you will have
had the chance to see.
6. It took years really.
(Ceinwen Lloyd) No, it was only this summer.
7. The whole process started 18 months to two
(Ceinwen Lloyd) The whole process started quite a
long time ago and was rather delayed because of the realisation
rather late in the day that this might affect births of children
to members of the Armed Forces overseas and they had not been
included in the initial Order. So there was a further round of
consultation to make sure that we included those people. There
are not many cases but, the way things go, as soon as the Order
had been passed, there would have been one; so we certainly did
not want to exclude them. That built virtually another year into
the process. Certainly the correspondence with the Official Solicitor
has been since the summer and there have been several rounds and
I think it has been complicated by the fact that the person in
the Official Solicitor's office who was dealing with it was promoted
and left the department so there was a bit of a hiatus there,
and also our legal adviser was away sick for several months which
created another one. Quite often it is difficult to contact people
in the Official Solicitor's office because they spend so much
time in Court; it is not that they are not dealing with it but
that they are just not available to be contacted.
8. Was the Official Solicitor consulted right
at the beginning in order that he could know what you were consulting
about or was it in the subsequent consultation?
(Ceinwen Lloyd) It was subsequent consultation.
9. Why not right at the beginning because obviously
he is a very important consultee?
(Ceinwen Lloyd) That was our error and in fact I was
quite surprised that he was not on the list of those who were
10. Whose fault was that?
(Ceinwen Lloyd) Whoever compiled that list. That is
our department's fault. I was not involved at the time but that
is no excuse.
11. So a procedure has been put in place to
make sure that that sort of thing does not happen again.
(Ceinwen Lloyd) Indeed. In fact, at your recommendation,
we got several lists from the Lord Chancellor's Department who
obviously have a number of dealings in this particular area.
Chairman: Obviously you will understand that
the Committee were concerned because of the situation and it is
unfortunate, but at least the position has been resolved. We were
thinking that we might have to take evidence from one side first
and then listen to the other side later but we have been able
to take you both together because we have reached a situation
where if the proposal is being withdrawn, it is accepted that
things went wrong and we look forward to receiving an amended
version in due course which of course will mean we will have to
start again on the date when it is laid. Can we thank you very
much for coming here this morning.