Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Their object in coming might be prompted by mere inquisitiveness…

I am again reading files from the National Records of Scotland regarding the administration of the Old Age Pension. It seems by this time there was a bit of a backlog of cases to be searched in both the OPRs and the census. Mr William Beale, an MP in Ayrshire, was asking questions in parliament. In the minutes I am reading there is a ‘Notice of Question for Tuesday 21st February 1911’. It reads: “To ask the Lord Advocate, whether his attention has been called to applications for old age pensions at Cumnock, Ayrshire, and elsewhere, in which the applicants are unable to prove their age by reason of the absence of proper records of baptism during the disturbed period preceding the disruption of the Church of Scotland, and in which applicants desiring to supplement their available evidence by the help of Census Returns, were informed by the Local Government Board for Scotland that the Census Returns were not available for consultation by the applicants; and whether the Local Government can, and will themselves, consult the Census Returns in such cases, or procure access thereto for the applicants, or can and will otherwise facilitate proof of age where neglect in the keeping of the public records puts applicants to disadvantage.” In the somewhat lengthy reply made by the Registrar-General (James Patten McDougall) there is this paragraph that I found rather entertaining: “I should stipulate that the enquiries are to be made at the instance of the Pension Officers only, and not by the public. If the public were to be allowed access to the Census documents, I am afraid it would open a very wide door and might lead to abuses, e.g. the public would come here without having recourse to the ordinary registers, and their object in coming might be prompted by mere inquisitiveness. Further I am afraid that these old books would not last long if handled by all and sundry.”

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