HC Deb 12 March 1835 vol 26 cc886-8
Mr. Robert Steuart

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to establish a uniform system of Registration of Births, Marriages, and Deaths in Scotland. The defects of the English system of registration were generally admitted, yet that system was perfection itself, compared with the practice in Scotland. There existed in that country a registration of baptisms, but not of births—of bans, but not of marriages, and there was no registration of deaths. In Edinburgh, in thirteen parishes, of which the population was 75,000, and where, according to the ordinary calculation, the births must have amounted to 1,800, only 400 were registered. The Bill which he proposed would be similar to that of last year, and would proceed on the principle of compulsory registration. As to the details of the measure, however, he was not bigoted, but would be ready to adopt any proposition calculated to effect a real Amendment in the plan.

Sir George Clerk

objected to that princi- ple of the Bill which rendered registration compulsory, and would oppose the measure on that ground, when the proper time arrived. He admitted that registration was defective in Scotland, and was ready to improve it, but he could not consent to one clause in the Bill, which required the poor man to go to a registration office and pay a considerable fee. [Mr. R. Steuart—" 6d."] Well, even 6d. for registering the birth of his child at a time when he could least afford it. He objected the more to this compulsory provision, inasmuch as if an individual neglected to comply with it within forty-eight hours, he became liable to a severe penalty. Such, at least, he thought was the provision of the Bill of last year, which the hon. Member had professed his intention to revive. He admitted the advantage of a registration of births to the rich, whose children succeeded to property, but it would be difficult to prove that the poor, whose offspring inherited only the produce of the labour of their own hands, were equally interested, and should be compelled to comply with the regulations of a general registry under a penalty in case of neglect.

Sir John Campbell

warmly approved of the principle of the Bill, and did not see the reason why the State should not pay for the registries of the poor. The poor were interested in those registries, and he had in his own experience known cases where it would have been of great advantage to the poor man to be able to apply to a registry. It frequently happened that the relatives of poor men who died abroad were not able distinctly to trace their relationship, and property thus left was wasted in litigation. It would be equally advantageous to Church of England men, in the case of property which might be left to them by Dissenters, and he hoped to see similar Bills brought in for England and Ireland.

Dr. Bowring

had opportunities in other countries of witnessing the working of measures similar to that proposed, and did not think there would be any difficulty in carrying it into operation. By the systems adopted on the Continent they could trace an individual from his birth to his death. He hoped, in any plan which might be adopted, that the rights vested in individuals would not be interfered with, and that their concurrence in the measure might be acquired.

Mr. Pringle

thought, that difficulties would attend the application of the principle of compulsory registration, and hoped that the Bill would differ in its enactments from that of last year.

Mr. Hume

hoped that his hon. Friend, the Member for Haddington, would not allow the doubts that had been thrown out to have any weight with him. The measure was important in a national point of view; let the hon. Member proceed with it, and when he had brought in his Bill, let him subject it to a Committee up stairs, where all the doubts and difficulties now suggested might be easily dispelled.

The Lord-Advocate

thought that such a measure as the hon. Member proposed would be extremely beneficial, if properly carried into effect; and he was, therefore, willing to give it every assistance in his power. But he apprehended that the hon. Member would find some difficulties, not only in the details of his measure, but arising out of the nature of the subject itself, in a country where marriage might be performed without any religious ceremony, and it was difficult to know in some cases whether individuals were married or not.

Mr. R. Steuart

had stated, that he did not desire to stand by the details of the Bill of last year in every instance, if improvements could be pointed out; but he certainly thought, that unless the principle of compulsory registration were upheld, the measure would be wholly inefficient, particularly as to marriages which in Scotland were celebrated with so little ceremony.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.