HC Deb 02 July 1834 vol 24 cc1073-80

On the Motion of Lord John Russell the House went into a Committee on the Register of Births Bill.

Clause 1 and 2 were agreed to. On the 3rd Clause being read, Mr. Finch objected to proceeding with the Bill until explanation were given. He wished to know why the Dissenters could not establish a system of Registration without breaking up the system established by the Churchmen and without handing them over to the tax-gatherers.

The Attorney General

said, that a Registration of Births of Dissenters was necessary even to Churchmen and to all persons who had or who might be left property. Without a proper and legal registry of births, marriages, and deaths it would be in many cases, and in cases where members of the establishment, and of every sect might be concerned, very difficult to decide in a Court of Law to whom property belonged. In the course of his practice he had seen in Courts of Law forgeries and many other expedients resorted to to obtain property, all of which would have been prevented if there had existed a full registry of births, marriages, and deaths.

Lord Sandon

objected to that part of the proposed measure which enjoined a penalty even on the poor man unless it was found that he registered within a certain period. Besides this pecuniary punishment, he considered it harsh that a family should be disturbed at a time when death had brought them under affliction, and that they should be put to the cruel inconvenience that would result from this Bill.

Lord Althorp

said, that the Bill was brought in because the present mode of registration was extremely defective. The principle of it would be to cause the collectors of taxes to receive the registers, which were to be supervised by the surveyors of taxes, and transmitted by them to a general Registry-office. It seemed to him, that this mode of registration might answer. He saw no reason whatever why the machinery of the Bill should not work well, and he considered, that this was the best mode which had been yet suggested for the purpose of the registration of births.

Colonel Davies

agreed in the importance of the Bill, but did not object to proceeding with the discussion of it at that time. He should have preferred it if the duty of keeping the parish register had been thrown on the clergyman or the parish clerk than on the tax-gatherer. He thought, that by this means the register would be taken greater care of, as it would be locked up with the other documents belonging to the parish.

Mr. Baines

thought, that there would be many objections to such an arrangement as was proposed by his hon. friend (Colonel Davies). One of the chief objections to the arrangement proposed by the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) was, that it created an appearance of dependence on the Church.

Dr. Lushington

had not expected that the Bill would have been proceeded with during the present Session. He agreed with the Attorney-General as to the absolute necessity of some general registry of births and marriages. He could state, from his own experience, that the present system was productive of the greatest inconvenience, and he was, therefore, willing to lend his assistance to any measure which would remedy the defects of it, so that there should be a complete register of births, marriages, and deaths. At the same time, he was bound to state, that it appeared to him that the question was replete with difficulties, and it required the greatest deliberation on the part of the House, both as to its principle and details, before the House could deal with it. He doubted whether the present measure would attain the ends in view. If, however, his Majesty's Ministers and the House thought there was time in the present Session to frame the Bill in such a way as to overcome all the difficulties which might arise, he would concur, and would render every assistance for the purpose of carrying it into effect; but it would be most objectionable to attempt to carry any measure which was not satisfactory. He thought it most desirable that they should have a registry to refer to in cases of difficulty; but the present Bill admitted the registry as evidence in cases in which he believed that it would not be altogether prudent. He was afraid, also, that the machinery contemplated by the Bill would be too expensive, and doubted whether the consequence would not be the keeping a number of registers, and thus diminishing the security. He would not oppose proceeding with the Bill, but would wait till it came out of Committee, when he should be able to judge whether the measure was sufficiently improved to be carried into effect. Though the advantages of a registry were very great, he never would agree to a measure for the purpose, unless it could be easily carried into effect, and at the same time afford security.

Sir John Wrottesley

was most anxious that the measure should be carried into effect. He thought that the tax-gatherer was the best person who could be selected in each parish to keep the registry, as he was generally an intelligent man. He would be in constant intercourse with the collector, to whom he could refer in case of difficulty, and the collector would be able to refer, if necessary, to the Board.

The clause was agreed to, as were the clauses to 12 inclusive.

On clause 13 requiring occupiers or owners of houses to give notice of births, &c.,

Dr. Lushington

said, he wished to ask the hon. and learned promoter of the Bill, how it was possible to reconcile clause 11 with the clause now under consideration? There was nothing in this Bill which could enable the registrar to ascertain the fact of either birth or death with positive accuracy. As the clauses stood, the foundation of the entry in the registry would be no better than hearsay evidence, and as such evidence could not be received in a Court of Law, it followed that a registry so conducted would be of no possible advantage. He had not been aware that it was intended to press this measure through during the present Session, or he should have examined its provisions with greater care; but the House ought not to agree to this clause as it stood. He was told that a clause was to be introduced to correct the defect to which he had alluded, and all he could say was, that in the framing of any such clause great care should be taken to provide that the entry in the registry should only be made on the information of a party who had means of ascertaining the fact, stated positively and beyond all doubt.

Lord John Russell

said, that he felt the full force of his hon. and learned friend's observation. The defect which he pointed out was one that ought to be remedied, and therefore he hoped that his hon. and learned friend would assist in framing such a clause as would meet the difficulty to which he adverted.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that in the case of births it would be extremely difficult, as they all knew, to obtain such information as could be relied on; and the same observation would apply to the case of deaths, though not perhaps with equal force. As far as related to the members of the Church of England, he was inclined to believe that the existing system of registration would be preferred to that now proposed. The present system of registration kept up the spiritual connection which ought to subsist between the Mi- nister and his congregation; and he should object to any measure the tendency of which would be to discontinue that connection. There was another point on which he thought the promoters of this Bill were bound to furnish the House with information, and that was as to the probable expense which would be incurred in carrying this measure into effect. Day after day Committees of that House were employed in cutting down the public and local expenditure of the country, but how could the county rate, or any other rate be reduced, if Bills of this description, imposing new burthens, were continually multiplied? On principles of toleration, the Protestant clergy should be suffered to keep the registries which they were now bound by law to keep, if they were willing to do so, and if the members of the Established Church were satisfied with the present mode of registration, it would be unfair to fix new burthens upon them. He was convinced that the mode of registration proposed by this Bill, would not be half so satisfactory to the members of the establishment, as that which existed; and therefore, although he attached very great importance to a general registry of this nature, he must object to any measure which might have the tendency of undermining the registries kept by the clergy of the Church of England. He was satisfied, that no persons belonging to the communion of that Church would avail themselves of the new law, even if enacted.

Mr. Brougham

said, that the Bill was intended not only for the relief of Dissenters, but of the whole community. When he introduced it, he stated that it was not meant to interfere with the registries kept in churches, or the fees consequent upon those registries payable to the clergy. This was apparent in the first clause. There was no intention whatever to disturb the existing law relating to the registration of baptisms and burials: on the contrary, the Act of the 52nd of Geo. 3rd, under which such registries were kept, would remain in operation. At present there was no record of births and deaths, and the great object of this Bill was, to supply that defect, which was severely felt in cases of title and other cases involving property. He thought that such a record would be a great benefit to the community at large, and therefore he hoped the Committee would agree to the clause.

Sir Robert Peel

—Then it would seem that the statute of the 52nd of Geo. 3rd was to continue in operation, notwithstanding this Bill passed into a law. This fact in itself created an almost insurmountable difficulty. By the 52nd of Geo. 3rd, the clergy of the Church of England were bound to provide books in which the registries were to be kept, and that being the case, where was the necessity of this double expense? But there was something, he must say, very anomalous in having two sets of registries. The registry of baptisms and burials was to be kept by one party, while that of births and deaths was to be kept by another, but would not such a system lead to endless complexity? The person who made a search would have to consult two distinct authorities, and if those authorities happened to disagree, or did not tally exactly with each other, what would be the consequence? In such a case, and it was one likely enough to happen, where would be the advantage of either registry? Such a mode of registration would, to say the least of it, be a most cumbrous proceeding, and therefore, however willing he was to admit, that there ought to be a record of births and deaths as well as of baptisms and burials, he could not give his assent to that which, even if adopted, could lead to no beneficial result.

Mr. Baring

observed, that the whole merit of a registry of births would depend upon the fact of the child being named in the entry; for without the name the entry would be unintelligible. What information, for instance, would an entry furnish which stated that the child of Henry Thompson and Mary Ann, his wife, was born on such a day? The registry of birth, and the baptism of the child must, to be worth anything, be contemporaneous acts, and parents must have their children baptized almost as soon as born.

Mr. Pease

said, that although he belonged to a body who would not give up the mode of registration which they had adopted for any other, he still thought that a correct record of births and deaths was desirable. The 17th clause would remove the difficulty which had been raised with respect to the name of the child.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that a double registry was calculated only to embarrass the investigations of titles. Evidence of birth derived from one source and of bap- tism from another would involve titles in such difficulties that it would be impossible to get over them; but if the registry was to be kept by the same party the objection to which he alluded might be got over.

Lord John Russell

said, the registry, as at present made, only noted baptisms and burials, not for civil purposes. For these purposes it was absolutely necessary that there should be a registry of births and deaths. This registry would be best effected by using the machinery of the Tax-office, and the expense incurred by using this machinery, would not be above 60,000l. or 70,000l.—an expense which he was satisfied the House would not consider too great for accomplishing so important a national object.

The Attorney General

certainly wished to see one general measure of registration established. The one proposed he did not look upon as perfect; but it could not be denied, that it was a great improvement on the existing practice. It was a measure which would, so far from injuring, be of great service to the members of the Establishment; for as their registries at pres nt stood, baptisms and burials were of no avail in courts, as Judges could not receive such registries in evidence. The expense which it would entail on members of the Established Church ought not to be urged, when it was remembered that Dissenters were frequently taxed for purposes purely connected with the Establishment.

Dr. Lushington

thought it would be wrong to continue the old mode of registry concurrently with the new one. It would only involve double expense, and the old system gave not what was desired—a registry of births and deaths, but of christenings and burials.

The Attorney General

said, that if, on the faith of an untried experiment, they were at once to abolish parochial registration, they would create the greatest alarm throughout the country. If his hon. and learned friend had read the evidence, he would have found, that there were many persons who seriously believed it would endanger the Church. A large number of persons were interested in it, for they derived large emoluments from it. As a practical man, he wished to ascertain that the new system would work well before he abolished the old one. Old London bridge was not pulled down till the new one was built, and its stability proved.

Mr. Pollock

knew, that the present system, imperfect as it was, had conferred many benefits on the country, and he thought it desirable to have more than one means of obtaining correct evidence, especially as reasonable doubts might be entertained in many cases whether the provisions of this Act would be strictly followed. It would be hard to refuse to the professors of the Church of England the privilege they now enjoyed, if they thought proper to desire its continuance. He hoped that in what his hon. and learned friend had said, he did not mean to attribute interested motives to those persons to whom he had alluded.

The Clause, with verbal Amendments, was agreed to.

On arriving at the 17th Clause, enacting that "a penalty be imposed on any person registering a child in one name, and baptising it in another," it was proposed to fill up the blank with the sum of twenty shillings.

Mr. Goulburn

considered the penalty too large—a smaller sum would answer every purpose.

Mr. O'Connell

thought that they lived in rather changeable times, and ought to allow a little variety in one matter as well as in another. For instance, if a man registered his child as John Russell, and afterwards, altering his mind, baptized it as Robert Peel, it was only following an example which was frequently set him, and why should he have to pay 20s. for that change in his opinions, which others paid nothing at all for.

Mr. Estcourt moved, that it be reduced to half-a-crown.

The House divided on the original Clause:—Ayes 73; Noes 55; Majority 18.

The penalty was subsequently fixed at five shillings, and the clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The remaining Clauses of the Bill were agreed to, and the House resumed. The Report to be brought up, on a future day.

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