HC Deb 25 February 1812 vol 21 cc947-9
Mr. Rose

, in pursuance of the notice he had given, wished to obtain the attention of the House to a few observations he had to make previous to submitting to their consideration the motion he intended to bring forward relative to Parochial Registers. He was sorry to find that many misconceptions had gone abroad respecting the measure, which he had no doubt would be done away when the nature of the Bill he now meant to introduce should be generally known. It must, he thought, be universally allowed, that parish registers were of great importance to all ranks and classes of people from the nobleman to the peasant; and it was highly desirable they should be regularly entered, and safely deposited. At present, instead of being kept in the house of the clergyman of each parish, they were kept in a very slovenly manner in the dwelling of the parish clerk, and he bad found, as Treasurer of the Navy, numberless instances of the widows of seamen, who, from this culpable negligence, were not able to prove their marriages. He was surprised to find that his intention to bring in this Bill had given considerable alarm to the clergy in many parts of the kingdom, and that in the neighbourhood of Epsom a meeting of clergymen had been called on the subject; but he was sure when they became acquainted with what was meant to be done they would immediately be free from such alarms. It was his intention in the present Bill to enact that all registers throughout the kingdom should be uniform, and that the parishes should supply themselves with the form from the king's printer: that the registers of births, baptisms, marriages, deaths, &c. should be entered into a book to be kept for the purpose by the clergyman of every parish; that such register should be made up once every year, and a duplicate thereof transmitted to the bishop of the diocese. Dissenters to have the power, at the end of every quarter, or of every year, to deliver their registers on oath to the clergyman of the established church of the parish in which such dissenters resided. At present all registers were kept in dwelling-houses, in a very insecure way. It would be highly culpable to suffer them to remain so; and he therefore moved for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulating and preserving parish and other registers of births, baptisms, marriages, and burials in England.

Mr. Bathurst

thought the object of the Bill commendable, and that it deserved support, if it did not trench on the feelings of individuals. There existed a mass of confusion in these registers, which it would be most beneficial to the general interests of the community to have remedied: but he hoped the Bill would be freed from all the objectionable parts, which abounded so much in that brought in by the right hon. gentleman, on the same subject, last session; such, as if a clergyman failed in accuracy in keeping such registers, he should be liable to felony; in other cases, to be suspended from his functions, and liable to imprisonment for a certain number of days. These things, he believed, had caused great alarm; and if not done away in the present Bill, such alarm would be increased.

Lord Folkestone

did not object to the introduction of the Bill, as he understood it was a measure of quite a different nature from that of last session, to which he had many and great objections. Some of these his lordship proceeded to enumerate, and then turned to the consideration of the Bill now proposed. There were, he said, other modes of enforcing the law for the more perfect keeping of these registers, already in the power of the bishops of the various dioceses. If the law, as it now stood, therefore, was ineffectual, the most simple and efficacious mode would be to invigorate it, and not, as the right hon. gentleman wished, shape out an entirely new course. But there appeared to be some reason for this total change, which was, that it would lead to a source of revenue, as new offices would be created, and stamps were to be necessary before extracts were given from the records. The object was, however, desirable, though great care and attention was necessary in framing the Bill.

Mr. W. Smith

observed, that if the clergy, as well as the laity, had considered the Bill with the same spirit of conciliation that had actuated the House, much of the ill-blood to which it had given rise would have been spared. He was convinced that the right hon. gentleman had only the public benefit in view, as was shewn by his conduct during the last year, when he procured his act to be circulated through the country, courting objections and amendments to it. His chief design, in now rising, was to contradict an opinion, which he was informed had gone abroad, that this Bill was introduced at the suggestion and for the benefit of certain dissenters. In truth, of all persons, they would receive the least advantage from it: indeed they were called upon, perhaps unnecessarily, compulsorily to deliver in registers which were not before required. He said unnecessarily, because they had already a much better means than was here offered, of preserving them with the utmost regularity, and with little or no danger, from accidental causes. They had besides, this additional merit, that they were registers of births, and not of baptisms. He had been commissioned last year to learn from those with whom he was particularly connected, whether the dissenters had any objection, as far as related to them, to comply with the proposed measure, and he was happy to say that they had no wish to start any difficulty.

Mr. Rose

replied in a few words, denying that patronage or revenue were in the slightest degree connected with the design of the measure. With regard to the first, the little there was of it was entirely with the archbishop of Canterbury; and the second was answered by saying, that it would not produce one farthing.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.