HC Deb 13 May 1834 vol 23 cc940-50
Mr. Brougham

, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, felt himself bound to proceed with the measure which he had now an opportunity of bringing forward; but in consideration of the advanced period of the evening, he would state, as briefly as possible, the nature of the measure which he had the honour to propose. It was unnecessary to preface this subject with any remarks on the want of parochial registration—of a registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages—and as this was the only civilized country in Europe which did not enjoy the advantages of a registration of this description, he would at once pass to another point. When he first contemplated this measure, he had proposed to incorporate with it some mode for the celebration of marriage among Dissenters, which would remove the obnoxious feeling which obtained among them at present in connexion with this subject. Such a design was comprehended in the measure which had lately been introduced by his noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces; but the dissatisfaction of those for whose relief it was intended, though he would not stop to discuss the question whether that dissatisfaction were reasonable or not, had caused the progress of that Bill to be suspended, for the present at least; and this circumstance had induced him to proceed with his original intention. He would remind the House, that certain objections (he did not pretend to say whether they were or were not well-founded), were entertained by the Dissenters to the provisions of his noble friend's Bill. The first objection was, that they brought the parties into unnecessary contact with the clergymen of the Established Church; and that, as the banns would be published in a place of worship where the parties would not be known, because it was not frequented by members of their peculiar religious persuasion, and before persons who would have no interest in interfering with the bans, no protection could be given by the supposed publicity; and that, therefore, its only object was, to produce a fee for the clergyman. Another objection made was, that the application to be married by licence brought them again into contact with an officer of the Church of England, who styled himself in the licence, "Bishop by Divine Providence." They urged, also, that a Dissenter who wished to be married, would have to go to the clergyman to put up the bans, and of course pay a fee; next, he must get a certificate from his own minister to prove him a Dissenter; then the bans must be put up by the clergyman of the Established Church; then the marriage ceremony was to be performed by his own clergyman; and then he must pay a fee to the registrar for transmitting the record to the diocesan of the see. Now, he would not enter into a discussion on the propriety of these objections; but if some measure could be devised which would have the effect of banishing, or at least neutralizing, this ill-feeling,—if something of this sort could be done,—he thought his pains would not have been ill bestowed. He would shortly state to the House, the heads of the Marriage Bill which he had prepared, although he had not yet given notice of an intention to bring in such a Bill; but it had been prepared in such a manner, that if the House should sanction the Registry Bill he had now to propose, it could be made to follow on the shoulders of that measure. His plan was, that buildings for the celebration of marriage should be enrolled and licensed at the quarter Sessions, and that persons should be there qualified to celebrate marriages with such religious ceremonies as the peculiar tenets of each sect might require. He did not say, that the Justice of the Peace who was to grant this licence must of necessity be a layman, because, although the Dissenters might wish to avoid any contact with a justice who was also a clergyman of the Established Church, it would be extremely inconvenient to confine these powers to lay justices of the peace. In many counties of England, with such provisions in the Bill, a dissenter would have to travel thirty or forty miles before he got a licence, and, in the county of Suffolk in particular this would be sure to happen. Marriage was perfectly distinct from a religious ceremony; it was only a civil contract. He proposed that any Justice of the Peace might be authorized to give a licence, whether he were clergyman or layman, and he would make it necessary for the parties contracting marriage to show that they were in all respects qualified to contract it, as they now were before the performance of the present ceremony. The plan he proposed would, in his opinion, afford as great protection against the improvident and fraudulent marriages as was now attained from the intervention of the surrogate or the licence of the Archbishop, and a greater protection than was now afforded by the publication of bans, under which system he maintained there was extreme facility for the formation of improvident or improper marriages. The next provision he would make was, that the minister to perform the ceremony should not be authorized to do so until he had first received the certificate. The course to be pursued, then, was this:—The parties went to the registry-office and proved before the register that they were in all respects, as demanded at present, capable of contracting marriage. They obtained a certificate or licence, and this they were bound to deposit for one fortnight in the hands of the minister to officiate, before the marriage could take place. This was the minimum time, but the licence was to remain in force for three months, during which, at any moment, the Minister might perform the ceremony according to the form of religion professed by the parties. Now, if it should appear, that this Bill would satisfy the Dissenters, and remove those objections which they felt to the measure proposed by his noble friend (Lord John Russell), it would be desirable in his opinion that it should be dovetailed with the Bill for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages. Referring to the latter measure, he apprehended, that the great principle on which they should legislate was, that registration should be made as much a civil and as little a religious ceremony as was possible. The registration of marriages was to be distinguished from the registration of deaths and births; he would deal with the latter in the first instance. He proposed to provide in every parish a civil officer to register the facts of deaths and births, and to transmit the records from time to time to a central office in London. Theretofore all plans with such objects in view had been met with this difficulty in the outset. There were 15,000 or 16,000 parishes in England and Wales, and the expense of the necessary machinery to register and transmit would be enormous. A great number of officers would be required, since it was obvious, that to have a registry complete, each register should only act within narrow limits. Deaths and births could not, as being of constant occurrence, be registered with the certainty or the facility of deeds or instruments. The expense of the machinery, he calculated, would amount to nearly 800,000l. a-year. Therefore, unless he could exhibit some device by which the object could be attained at a far less cost, the question could not be entertained by that House. The population of England and Wales, according to the census of 1831, was 13,897,187. These were distributed nearly as follow:—

Parishes or places containing Inhabitants. No. of Parishes. Persons. Population.
Less than 100 1,907 averaging 50 95,350
From 100 to 300 4,774 200 954,800
From 300 to 500 3,121 400 1,248,400
From 500 to 1,000 3,038 700 2,126,600
From 1,000 to 10,000 2,567 containing 6,135,399
Above 10,000 129 containing 3,332,561
15,536 13,893,110
True Population 13,897,187
Error of the averages 4,077

Thus it appeared the minimum was 100; the maximum was not 1,000; the average number of entries in the year then would be thirty-five. He had constructed a table of births and of deaths, and he had ascertained) that there were three per cent of births to the population, and two per cent of deaths. Therefore this gave an average of five per cent of entries of both deaths and births upon the population. There was a less percentage of marriages on the population. From Mr. Rickman's estimate of baptisms, registered and unregistered, it appeared, that the pro- portion was one in thirty-four; the proportion of births deduced from the table of mortality, formed from Rickman's table of burials, was one in 33.4; the births might therefore be taken at three per cent; the deaths at nearly two per cent; the marriages one in 128; births and deaths five per cent on 13,897,187, or 694,859, nearly 700,000; marriages, 110,000–810,000. Now, the parishes in which there was the largest amount of population were not the greatest in extent. In some the population was scattered over a large surface. The number of officers accordingly required for parishes with a population above 10,000 would not be so great in proportion as would be required for parishes with a population below 10,000. Therefore, he had only to deal with the more populous parishes; there would be no difficulty in providing proper officers and paying them; but the difficulty of a general registration was to provide, say 12,000 officers for the various parishes throughout the country, and thus put an end to any project which should have for its basis the actual appointment of officers for the purposes of registration. Now, it occurred to him, that if machinery could be taken which was now at work, and that they, by some modification of it, could apply it to the purposes of registration, two great advantages would thus be attained—first, a saving of expense in the experiment; secondly, a diminution of the risk of failure. At that moment England and Wales was divided into districts for the purpose of the collection of the taxes. There were 190 surveyors of taxes, and there were 129 districts, in each of which there was a person under the control of the Commissioners of Taxes. In every parish and township of England and Wales there was a person called an assessor, and one called a collector of taxes. The assessor was generally chosen by the parish, subject to the approval of the Commissioners of taxes. Sometimes, however, in small rural parishes, both offices were held by the same individual. It appeared to him that if the collector, who was generally an intelligent and competent person, could be made use of for the registering of births, and deaths, great advantages would result from it. They were already paid by a per centage upon the taxes collected, and by a small salary; the machinery was all prepared, and had been found to work well. They were in regular communication with the surveyor, and he with the London Board. He had received from Mr. Wood and gentlemen connected with the Treasury, and in answers from the surveyors, information to the following effect:—"The collectors always serve more than one year, when practicable and best for collection. In towns they are generally respectable tradesmen—men of intelligence; in country places the schoolmaster, or respectable farmers, or yeomen: generally speaking they would be perfectly competent; but it would be important to make them as permanent as possible, and no doubt a capable person might be found in every township. The surveyors meet the collectors frequently—not less than six times a-year, and might superintend the register without interference with their tax duties. The plan is very practicable." The surveyors to whom he had written, all approved, he hoped the House would believe, of the plan, and declared the collectors competent to perform the work. He should therefore propose to make the collector of taxes the civil register of births and deaths, and to provide him with a book containing tabular forms, in which he was to make entries. He was also to be provided with a number of loose sheets, on which he was to make entries, and transmit each sheet, as soon as it was full, to the surveyor, who would afterwards forward it to London. The entries made in his book would form duplicates to those upon the loose sheets, and when the volume was full, the registrar was to deposit it in a parish church as a place of safe custody. While the registrar had the volume in his keeping, he was to furnish any extract or information which might be required from the volume; but after it had been deposited in the Church, application should be made to the clergyman of the parish. He did not think Dissenters could reasonably object to this arrangement. Its object was, to provide a place of safety for the register, and in the event of the Dissenters meeting with any inconvenience through the conduct of the clergyman, who in respect of that register would be only acting as a civil officer, they might at once obtain the information they desired by application to the London Board, with which it was impossible they could be brought into collision by any matters of religious difference. The next question was, how were these officers to be paid? It was obvious, that in rural and small districts, where the number of entries would be small, the scale of remuneration must be greater than it would be in populous places. He thought it was a just principle to regulate the payment of the registering officer according to the number of entries which he made. They ought to give him a direct interest in making as many entries as possible, and therefore he should be remunerated by fees. The scale of payment which he considered most just would be to give, as a fee upon each of the first ten entries, 5s. This might appear large; but if they recollected how many places there were in which the number of entries in the year would not exceed ten, they would see that the 50s. would not be too great a remuneration for the officer. For each of the next ten entries he proposed to give a fee of 2s. 6d.; and for all entries above twenty a fee of 1s. each. The House would at once perceive the principle of this arrangement. It would not give too large emoluments in populous parishes, or too small in rural districts. The result would appear from the calculation he would read. The hon. Gentleman then read the following table, in which the first column of figures presents the number of places averaging certain entries, which are given in the next column:—

£ s. d. £ s. d.
1,907 50 or 2½ Entries 0 12 6 1,191 17 6
4,774 200 or 10 2 10 0 11,935 0 0
3,121 400 or 20 3 15 0 11,703 15 0
3,038 700 or 35 4 10 0 13,671 0 0
2,567 2,400 or 120 8 15 0 22,421 5 0
129 places above 10,000, supplied with 150 registrars, each having 22,000, or 11,000 entries, 57, 15 0 8,662 10 0
69,585 7 6

Thus it appeared the expenses of registration were 69,585l. 7s. 6d., and he submitted to the House whether the services of 16,000 officers were not cheaply procured at that rate. The expenses of the registry-office in London was not included in this, but they would be trifling nor was the expense of the surveyors included, which would be also small. These he proposed to pay by small fees, which would give them a salary of from 30l. to 35l. a-year. It had been suggested to him, that it would be well to have the whole expenses of the machinery of registration paid out of the Consolidated Fund. He, however, preferred the plan of having it raised by a rate on each parish, and proposed to have the registrars severally paid by the overseers of the parishes. The benefit to be derived from this he conceived would be, that the parish officer would act as an effectual check upon the Registrar; and that this would tend to make the registry more pure and complete than it otherwise could be. The interest of the registering officer would be to make as many entries as possible, and the interest of the overseer would be to permit as few. The expense, too, would press equally, not, as by the other plan, fall heavily upon the rural districts; and it would fall lightly upon all. By the census of 1831, it appeared there were 2,911,874 families in England and Wales, and the cost of the proposed plan would, upon a charge of 69,585l. 7s. 6d., be to each family about 5d. He proposed, that the superintendants or surveyors should be paid by the London office. As to that office, if his plan were adopted, the registry-office would become a branch of the tax-office. An officer, entitled the Registrar-General of England and Wales, should be appointed, subject to the control of the Commissioners of Taxes; and that officer would, in his opinion, be amply remunerated for his labours by a salary of from 500l. to 600l. a-year. Of course he should have some clerks, the number of whom would probably increase in time, when the London-office became the great place of search for evidence touching births and deaths. The superintendants were to send in the records quarterly to this office. The entries were to be at once indexed. He thought it better to have them only indexed, filed, and placed in bundles. In cases of marriage these entries were the autographs of the parties, in cases of births and deaths the depositions of the witnesses. It had been suggested, however, that it would be better to have the entries fairly copied into a volume, upon the ground that the writing in the original document, and the state in which it arrived at the London-office might render it unfit for the purpose of reference. He would next show how the entries were to be obtained. He did not think it would be possible in this country to make the registration compulsory upon the parties immediately concerned under the sanction of heavy penalties, as was done in France and other foreign countries. On the other hand, it was impossible to have a perfect system of registration without something more than the voluntary communication of the parties. He proposed, then, that the occupier of every house should be bound to give notice within three days to the registrar of the fact of any birth or marriage which might have taken place therein, under a penalty to be recovered before a justice of the peace by a judicial process; the power of remitting the penalty, if he saw fit, being left to the justice. It would next be the duty of the registrar to ascertain from inquiry the sex of the child, its name, and that of the parents, and to enter these together with the time and place where the child was born. He should also endeavour to discover the occupation of the father. Further, he had to say, that there was to be no penalty on the parties concerned for refusing information; but there was to be a penalty for giving false information. In cases of deaths, no person was to be authorized to bury the body without the production of the register of the death; the name, sex, age, and occupation of the dead person was to be entered on the record. To prevent fraudulent attempts to represent children as legitimate, who were really not so, he proposed to provide, that unless a birth was registered before the expiration of fourteen days after it was alleged to have taken place, the entry on the registry, though permitted as a record of the fact of a birth, was not to be admitted as legal evidence of birth. The same rule was to apply to the record of deaths. As to the registry of marriages, if they enacted, that marriage was only to be a civil contract, the person before whom the contract was entered into might also be the Registrar. He did not approve, however, of shocking by such an enactment, the conscientious feelings of a large portion of the community, who believed, that it was the religious ceremony, and not the civil contract, which made the marriage binding. Seeing, too, that there would be great difficulties and inconveniencies arising from the appointment of a Registrar to attend at marriages as a witness, and record them for registration, he proposed, that the officiating clergyman, of whatever persuasion he might be, should be the Registrar in each case of the marriage which he solemnized, or the marriage contract at which he presided. If any sects should object to go to the Church of England, even for the purposes of search, they must keep books them- selves; although it certainly would be inconvenient to the community generally, that one register should be kept in the parish church, and another in the house of a Baptist minister. There were various other points of detail to which it was unnecessary at that time to advert. He might, however, state that a printed formula would be made out, setting forth the manner in which registration would be effected; and thus the people would gradually become familiar with the new system which it was proposed to introduce. The hon. and learned Gentleman moved for leave to bring in "a Bill to establish a register of all Births, Marriages, and Deaths throughout England and Wales."

Lord Althorp

said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had explained his plan in a way which must have rendered it intelligible to every one who had listened to him. The plan promised to be one of a practicable character, and the expense attendant upon it would not certainly be nearly as great as would be necessary, in order to carry any other plan which had been proposed into operation. He hoped, that the details of the measure would be rendered so perfect, as to enable it to work well. It appeared to him, that with respect to the greatest part of the plan, there would be no difficulty whatever in carrying it into operation; but there might, perhaps, be some objections to that part of it which related to communications with clergymen. All difficulty upon this point, however, might be overcome by the establishment of a general registration-office in London, as proposed by the hon. and learned Member. It was in his power to confirm what had been stated with respect to the practicability of employing individuals in the Tax-office department in carrying the details of the Bill into operation. Mr. Wood, of the Tax-office, had informed him, that the hon. and learned Member's plan might be adopted without disadvantage to the conduct of that office. Under these circumstances, he would offer no obstruction to the introduction of the Bill; but would reserve to himself the right of making such suggestions as he might think fit.

Lord John Russell

also thought, that it would be a national benefit to pass such a measure as was proposed to be introduced, founded upon the principle that registration was altogether a civil proceeding. There was no sacrifice which the country ought not to make, in order to get rid of the present imperfect system of registration. He entertained some doubt as to whether that part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's plan, which related to marriage, would afford sufficient security against improper marriages. It would, he thought, be necessary to provide some means of obtaining publicity upon this subject, which was required, not for the Church, but the State. No doubt this object would be attained by the introduction of some words when the Bill should be in Committee. He was extremely glad that such a Bill was about to be introduced. The principle on which it was founded, was one on which Parliament ought to proceed in legislating.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.