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Registration Services (Scotland) Bill

Registrar General for Scotland Consultation Paper on the Registration Services (Scotland) Bill

The UNISON Scotland Response

March 2005

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland supports in principle the proposals contained in the Registration Services (Scotland) Bill which we believe will improve the service delivered to the local community.

  • We acknowledge that many of the proposals are needed to bring legislation into line with current practices.

  • We do not accept, however, that the needs of citizens have to be posed against the needs of the service providers. Valued and committed staff will provide the high quality, modern and efficient service the Registrar General seeks.

  • We need assurances that the technology to be used will be reliable and accurate and that all technological issues will be resolved prior to implementation of the proposals.

  • We envisage that there could be staffing implications due to closure of some offices and that the proposals could result in increased workloads and responsibilities for the staff involved. We expect that any changes will be the subject of negotiations with the relevant trade unions.

  • Our main concern is with the proposals for Marriage in Scottish Waters which we believe will cause difficulty for many of our members. We have outlined our concerns and need assurances that the difficulties will be addressed.

  • At the present time UNISON Scotland does not support the proposals for e-registration for the reasons highlighted in this response.


UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing over 150,000 members working in the public sector. UNISON Scotland represents workers from registration services throughout Scotland, with members amongst the Registrars themselves, to administrative and support staff in Registration Departments.

Unison Scotland welcomes the opportunity to comment on the proposals contained in the Registrar General's consultation paper for a new Registration Services (Scotland) Bill which will amend the Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 and the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977.

General Response

UNISON acknowledges that the current legislation is 40 years old and has to be updated to take account of changes to the way society in general is organised, technological progress and changes to the local authority structures that have occurred since 1965.

We also accept that several of the proposals suggested are currently in use and new legislation is needed to regularise that position.

Nevertheless, we have concerns at the viability of some of the changes proposed as well as the adverse effects that some of the proposals could have on our members working in the service.

We are especially concerned that one of the key principles is stated as "putting first the needs of citizens rather than service providers". UNISON is fully committed to the principle of the delivery of first class services, and this can only be achieved by sufficient committed, well trained, well rewarded staff, who feel valued and fully motivated. To pose this as opposition between citizens and service providers is unnecessarily confrontational and poorly thought through

Most of the proposals outlined in the consultation rely on increased technology. The recent poor history of new computer systems operated by the private sector in the public services are well documented and we need to ensure that any new systems are capable of doing the job they were purchased for.

Several of the proposals could lead to greater workload and responsibility for our members staffing the Registration Services. Any increased duties and responsibility may lead to the need for increased grades for the members affected.

Increased duties and responsibilities can result in stress for the staff concerned and every effort must be made to ensure that management addresses any potential issues.


3.1 Reorganisation of Local Registration Services

The proposal to change the boundaries of the Registration Districts to make them co-terminus with local authority boundaries is one aspect which is already current practice in many areas. We see this as an opportunity to correct some of the anomalies in areas that have not yet moved their services into single registration districts.

However, we are concerned that this could lead to the closure of some offices previously used by some of the smaller districts, and we require assurances that this process will not be used as a means of cutting jobs in the service. Nor would we wish to see Registration staff being forced into other roles, either in conjunction with some registration duties, or completely performing other duties.

With regard to the proposal for different registration offices to have different opening hours, we expect any changes to working practices to be negotiated with the trade unions to ensure that no employees are forced to work hours, or from locations which cause them difficulties. In this connection the use of flexible working may be necessary to ensure cover for longer opening hours and annual and sickness leave.


    1. Registration of Births and Deaths
    2. UNISON Scotland agrees that these provisions will provide greater flexibility for service users.

      With regard to the proposal to allow registration in any district, we have some concerns, at the possibility of breakdown between the district where registration takes place and the Registration District in which the person is resident. The systems put in place to provide for this must be robust.

      We also believe that the provisions in this section have the potential to cause job losses for our members and again require assurances that the aim of the proposals is not to achieve cost savings.

      With regard to the provision to issue abbreviated extracts from the death register, we are concerned at the potential loss of revenue if the extracts are provided without charge.


    3. Notification of Births, Deaths, Marriages, etc.
    4. UNISON Scotland supports the provisions contained in this section which would provide an improved service to the public and public bodies.

      We believe, however, that this could cause increased workload for our members and any changes to workload need to be negotiated and monitored to ensure that proper staffing levels are maintained.

      We also require assurances that civil liberties will be respected and that notification to other bodies will only be carried out on request.

      In order to provide accuracy and security of information processed in this way, we require assurances that the IT equipment utilised is able to provide this capacity of work.

    5. Registers, searches, etc.
    6. UNISON Scotland supports the proposals to allow searches in Registration Districts across Scotland which will provide an improved service for communities. We also note that this allows for an increase in fee revenue for local authorities. We expect that the question of location of the search facility, the funding for it and the staffing issues will be discussed with the local trade union in each Authority. We also believe that the Registrar would be the appropriate person to conduct such searches, to maintain security of the information.

    7. Change of Name and Correction of Errors
    8. UNISON Scotland is concerned at the proposals to remove the requirement for a 2-year gap between changes of name, as we are concerned that this could open up the process to abuse. We are also concerned that "spur of the moment" decisions could later be regretted. We believe that there must be some requirement for documentary evidence of the desire to change the name.

      We are happy to support the proposals to correct errors.

    9. Registration of Events Occurring Outwith Scotland
    10. UNISON Scotland is happy to support the proposals regarding Registration of Events Occurring Outwith Scotland as this will provide a useful service to users that previously was very cumbersome. In addition we understand this could create additional income to authorities. Any additional increased duties and responsibilities will however, have to be monitored.

      We acknowledge the need for the authentication of proposed register entries by the Registrar General and accept that he will have to issue guidelines on what constitutes "a connection with Scotland"

    11. Marriage
    12. UNISON Scotland is happy to support the advertisement of proposed marriages as the common marriage notice list is believed to be working well.

      In addition we see no problems with the removal of the requirement of Certificates of No Impediment from other countries which will bring the Scottish legislation into line with that in England and Wales and many other countries.

      We are happy to support the proposals for the creation of a new registration district of all Scottish "internal waters and territorial sea".

      However, we have many reservations about the proposals for Marriage in Scottish Waters.

      Firstly, we believe that the logistics would cause many problems with Registrars being absent from their office for a considerable period of time to officiate on ships which could be travelling some distance. Up to 3 days absence was used in one estimate, which could mean staffing shortages at the base and cover would have to be addressed. This in turn would mean staff being away from home for additional time, and could involve pay and grading issues, childcare costs, additional expenses, etc. We also wish to seek assurances that attendance on such trips would not be compulsory, as individual members of staff may not wish to undertake such duties for a variety of reasons.

      Our members would need to be assured that they would not be in any danger in such circumstances and the seaworthiness of any ships to be used had been ascertained, as well as risk assessments undertaken on other aspects of the duty. A system of registration of vessels would have to be introduced. In addition, weather conditions would need to be taken into consideration. Our members believe that these issues could render the proposal unworkable and most consider that the Registrar General allowing the Registrar to register these marriages is the preferred option.


    13. E-Registration

Our members raised several objections to this proposal, some of which mirrored the disadvantages highlighted in the consultation paper:

  • Reduced need for local offices
  • Increase in the provision of false information
  • Loss of accuracy
  • Additional need for registrars to chase up all the queries/ mistakes/ omissions
  • Loss of face-to-face contact with the informants
  • Possibility of non Registrars staffing the 24 hour helpline

We also remain concerned about the technological issues. At present a doctor or GP issues a proof of death notice and as yet, this cannot be done electronically. In addition, issues being raised by the Shipman enquiry will delay any implementation of such a system in the NHS.

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For Further Information Please Contact:

Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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