Select Committee on Deregulation and Regulatory Reform Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1 - 11)




  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 now.

  (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 adviser.
  (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.

Brian White

  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 Court finding.

  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.

Dr Naysmith

  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 Solicitor's office?
  (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 years ago.
  (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 originally consulted.

  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.

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