MSPs back bid to net online register

A NEW law to allow online registration of births, marriages and deaths won the backing of a cross-party committee of MSPs today.

The legislation would modernise the registration of "vital events", pave the way for e-registration and allow the statutory register of births, marriages and deaths to be held in electronic rather than paper form.

It would also allow more flexible opening hours, permit the registration of births and deaths anywhere in Scotland and establish a "Book of Scottish Connections" kept by the Registrar General for Scotland which would enable people throughout the world with a Scottish connection to record births, marriages and deaths.

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The Scottish Parliament's transport and local government committee, which has been taking evidence on the Local Electoral Administration and Registration Services (Scotland) Bill today published its report endorsing the general principles of the legislation.

But it also called for more information to be provided on certain areas before the Bill proceeds to its next stage, including clarity on the justification for charges for certificates of birth, marriage and death.

The Bill, if passed, would bring traditional registration district boundaries into line with council areas, doing away with the current 230 districts, based largely on parish boundaries, and replace them with 32 new districts based on council boundaries.

And as well as greater use of electronic registration, information storage and retrieval, the Bill would allow people to authorise the registration service to notify third parties such as solicitors, insurance and pension firms of a relative's death on their behalf.

The Bill also introduces a new offence of giving false information to the Registrar General.

The committee welcomed a proposed single registration district for marriages and civil partnerships at sea, but asked for more information on the impact this would have on registrars' work.

And it added: "On the question of the wider practice of charging for certain certificates relating to births, deaths or marriages, the committee requests information from GROS on whether these charges are greater than actual costs of providing the certificates?"

The Bill also proposes changes aimed at improving the running of council elections. In the section of its report dealing with these proposals, the committee urged the Executive to examine "whether more can be done to ensure that polling places are accessible to all voters".

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It also sought "clarity" on what proposed new performance standards for returning officers in local elections would be. The committee welcomed clarification of the law on electoral fraud, but highlighted doubts which had been expressed about whether clarifying offences in relation to voting fraud would, in itself, help detect and stop such fraud.