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The implication of the current drafting is that those who have died could be required, on pain of civil liability, to record that fact on the register. It could also conceivably mean that such individuals could be required to enter in the register the address of their current abode and their residential status, again on pain of civil liability. Quite how the Government anticipate that would be achieved by an individual who is no longer sentient is beyond me. Indeed, the prospect of the register holding data from beyond the grave about every cemetery, perhaps even about burials at sea, is interesting.
That aside, there is a wider issue. We can assume that the logic of the scheme is based on finding appropriate technological and IT solutions for an eventual population profile of 60 million or so individuals. As a matter of course, the amount of data held on the register will be subject to upward and downward variation as a function of demographic changesmigration, the attainment of qualifying age and so on. But the inference of the provision is that the register will hold the details of all the registrable facts, including biometrics, of all qualifying individuals, living or dead. That has implications for the IT architecture of the scheme. As a matter of course, it implies that the register has to be constructed to provide additional capacity for expansion in future, on the basis that, when someone dies, his registrable facts will be maintained. Indeed, this may be relevant to the caution sounded in KPMG's report about a potential shortage of data storage space. Moreover, as biometric identifiers are added to the system without limit, their reliability as unique individual identifiers will degrade.
I fully understand the underlying motive of the provision; namely, to make due allowance for what could be called The Day of the Jackal or the Lord Buckingham scenario. To that extent, I do not object to its inclusion per se. But it creates huge problems, not only in terms of the scheme's IT design, but also in terms of qualifying the data of the deceased for deletion on the grounds of relevance. Without useable criteria for the deletion of such records that satisfy the requirements of the Bill and those of the data protection legislation, the register and its data run the risk of becoming wholly unwieldy. Accordingly, there is a strong argument in favour of the drafting in Clause 1(7)(d) being tightened up. I hope the Minister can explain how it is intended that the scheme will
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operate in respect of those who have died, without giving rise to the difficulties to which I have referred. I beg to move.
Baroness Seccombe: I shall speak to my amendments in this group; namely, Amendments Nos. 42 and 45. The amendments are straightforward, but they yet again lift the lid on the Pandora's Box of difficulties that this Bill will introduce: in this case, concerning the precise arrangements following an individual's demise.
I speak first to Amendment No. 42. Clause 7(d) includes as a reference to an individual's identity his date and place of birth and, if he has died, the date of his death. The amendment would remove from the list of registrable facts the date of the death of the individuals. Inclusion of such a fact in the register poses several questions, the first of which could be phrased in this way: with whom does the duty to register such a fact lie? This matter was raised in another place, and despite an assurance by the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality that it does not impose a burden on the individual's family or estate, on the face of it, that is exactly what it does. If the responsibility to inform the registrar of the date and fact of death does not rest with the individual's family, where does it rest? It was suggested in another place that the registrar of births, deaths and marriages will automatically pass the information on to the database after being notified by the estate of a deceased relative, as is the case under the current arrangements. But this does not answer the question in its entirety.
There are incidents where formal identification of the dead is a difficult and lengthy process. The terrible aftermath of the tsunami in south-east Asia is a recent example. In such cases, a formal pronouncement of date of death may prove impossible and, as the Bill stands, there is no provision in it to cater for such instances. There are no safeguards in the Bill to ensure that the bereaved family, already facing all the legal difficulties caused by the lack of a formal death certificate, will not be placed under the further administrative burden and given the further anxiety of notifying the national identity registrar.
A second question must also be answered: why is the date of death required, rather than the mere record of the fact of death? The Minister in another place admitted that this was a reasonable matter to examine, but no answers seem to have been forthcoming. If the purpose of the requirement is to close down the individual's file and preserve the integrity of the database, surely it is the mere fact of death, rather than its date, that matters. In the case of a fatal accident inquiry, for example, while it would be clear that an individual has died, the exact time, place and date may remain to be determined.
Furthermore, there are cases where the family of the deceased has to begin legal proceedings to gain a declaration of death, an example being the family of the late Lord Lucan. The Bill does not clarify whether the date of death can be a presumed date of death. The requirement to register a date of death therefore needs far more clarification. Without such clarifications and
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safeguards, the Bill will pave the way for yet more bureaucratic interference in what is already a fraught and difficult process for bereaved families who are waiting for formal identification of their loved ones or going through the probate process after the disappearance of a family member.
Amendment No. 45 would resolve the issues outlined above. It would protect the bereaved family from any more bureaucratic interference than would impede the handling of an estate and it would safeguard families from unnecessary and intrusive requests from those administering the database.
Paragraphs (b) and (c) of the new subsection raise the issue of the eventuality of someone dying without having provided all the registrable facts that would otherwise have been required. For example, he may have been ill in the few months that preceded death, and his address may have changed numerous times for reasons of treatment. Will the Minister agree, therefore, to the provision that would ensure that in no circumstances would the deceased's representatives or next of kin find that the grant of probate is delayed while those who are operating the register seek further information about the deceased? Will there be an undertaking that no new entries are made in the register in respect of deceased persons who are not otherwise registered as a result of actions of the registrar?
The issue of verification arises again in relation to the procedures on someone's death. What measures will ensure that the person on the death certificate is verified as the person on the register? At present, if you register a death in England and Wales, you are asked for the date and place of death, the name and surname of the deceased, the date and place of birth, occupation and address, as well as names and the occupation of the husband, where the deceased was a married woman or widow. In addition, the person registering the death is asked whether the deceased received a pension or allowance from public funds, and, if the deceased was married, the date of birth of the surviving widow or widower. This information falls well short of the registrable facts under the Bill, and to rely on date and place of birth alone will not prevent two people sharing the same name from the same town being confused with each other when the database is informed of one's demise.
What, then, is proposed to ensure that the right person is recorded as deceased under the register? Will more information be required when registering a deathpassports, for exampleand what arrangements are proposed if they lack these documents? Under current arrangements, a death must be registered within five days. A relative cannot possibly be expected to find all the registrable facts in that time, and with over 600,000 deaths each year in the UK, there is bound to be a time delay in verifying the deceased person and ensuring he is the right person in the identity register. What measures will prevent any risk of extending the cruel wait between a death and burial or cremation, due to verification difficulties?
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These questions lead inevitably to one of the key issues regarding the entire scheme, which will recur throughout this debatecost. What are the cost ramifications for any resultant change in the issuing of death certificates to meet the compatibility requirements of the identity register, and if there is to be any increase of issue of death certificates, will there be an undertaking that this will not be borne by the family?
Paragraph (c) of the proposed subsection introduces safeguards to ensure that the representatives of a deceased person do not face any civil penalty if they do not, or cannot, meet any requirements of the scheme to provide information on the deceased. It would be quite unfair if a grandson, for example, were penalised for not supplying information on the place of birth of his deceased grandfather. Can the Minister give a firm assurance that no charge or penalty will be raised against the relative or representative in such circumstances? I beg to move.
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