HC Deb 28 June 1836 vol 34 cc1011-21
Lord John Russell

moved the third reading of the Registration of Births Bill.

Bill read a third time.

On the question that the Bill do pass,

Mr. Goulburn

rose to move an amendment. In doing so he wished it to he understood, that he had no objection to the Bill, so far as it went to remove one of the grievances of the Dissenters, in giving them a system of registration. Nor did he wish to oppose that which was essential to the interests of this country, the establishment of a complete and general system of registration of births, marriages, and deaths. But while fully and cordially concurring in these two objects, he did not feel debarred from expressing his opinion on the provisions by which this Bill proposed to carry them into effect, especially if they imposed additional burdens upon the members of the Church of England: or, still farther, if they gave a parliamentary sanction to the omission on the part of such persons of a rite, which their Church inculcated as essential to the happiness, both present and future, of its members. He would, therefore shortly state the nature of the objection which he felt to one of the provisions of this Bill and the amendment which he intended to propose for the adoption of the House. As the Bill at present stood, it required, that upon the birth of every child the parent should furnish to the registrar the name of that child. Thus it imposed upon members of the Church of England the necessity of naming their children before bringing them to the baptismal font. He should propose an amendment in Clause 19, which should require the parent to give in to the registrar, upon the birth, of a child, every particular which the clause as it stood at present required, with the exception of the name. If that were acceded to, he should then propose, in Clause 23, to omit some words at the commencement of it, and to introduce others, requiring that within a certain time after the baptism of a child the parent should communicate to the registrar the certificate of baptism, in order that the name might be inserted in the Registry. We adopted precisely the provisions which the Bill now contained, enabling parents after having given their child a name in the first instance to alter it after baptism. No greater difficulty, therefore, would attend his plan than attended the provisions of the noble Lord for altering names. With regard to persons who conscientiously objected to the celebration of the rite of baptism according to the ritual of the Church of England, he proposed that a declaration should be given to the registrar, that they did so object, accompanied with the name of the child to he inserted in the Registry. By this process he thought the noble Lord would attain his objects as effectually as by the Bill as it now stood: while at the same time he would exonerate the members of the Church of England from the necessity of naming their children independently of their baptism at the font. He (Mr. Goulburn) was anxious not to propose any thing which might bear even the appearance of pressing upon the consciences of Dissenters; but he did not believe they had in any petition to that House required, or that they would require, that the members of the Church of England should be, by having any additional burden imposed upon them, induced to violate one of the rites of that Church to which she attached the greatest possible importance. It was, in the opinion of all members of the Church who reflected on the subject, of great importance, that the act of naming a child should not be severed from the rite of baptism; and he need hardly suggest, that if such a severance prevailed in practice, it might lead some persons to omit the rite altogether. He entreated the House to look at the awful responsibility which this involved. Let the House reflect upon the situation to which the conscientious incumbent would be reduced by this Bill as it at present stood. By the law of the land at present baptism must be public—in the church: it required this, because it considered, that not only the welfare of the infant, but the instruction of the spectators, should be regarded in the administration of the rite of baptism. And though private baptism was in particular cases allowed, it was an exception to the general rule. Under this Bill, if it passed as it now was framed, the incumbent would be either compelled to induce his parishioners to violate the law, or to bring their children to be privately baptised before the period arrived at which they were to be registered. Let the House remember, that upon the due performance of the rite of baptism depended the performance of some of the most solemn ceremonies of the Church: the rite of confirmation—the visitation of the sick—and, still more, the burial of the dead. And let them reflect for a moment upon the responsibility they would incur, by giving a parliamentary sanction to the omission of the rite of baptism, if, without having been baptised, a child being afterwards brought to the burial ground for interment according to the ceremonies of the Church of England, and the incumbent, acting conscientiously according to the directions of his Church, and the requirements of the law, should upon ascertaining that circumstance be compelled to harrow up all the feelings of the weeping relatives and assembled friends by declining to read the burial service, so instructive to the bearers—so consoling to the relatives! Speaking to an assembly the majority of whom belonged to the Church of England, he (Mr. Goulburn) hoped he should not be considered presumptuous in pressing this amendment upon their attention. He assured the House, that in doing so he was actuated by no earthly motives but those which he had stated, and he was supported by the opinions of many entitled to respect for their judgment and conscientious conviction. He begged to move, that in Clause 19, page 7, after the word "child" the words "except the name of the child," be inserted.

The question having been put,

Lord John Russell

said, I shall not enter into any lengthened discussion upon this subject, I agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has stated as to the importance of the rite of baptism, but it does seem to me that he has made out no proof that the effect of this clause would be, that children would not be brought to the font; and I do not see any reason why those who believe the administration of the rite of baptism to be essential to the welfare of their children, should not bring their children to be baptised without being under the necessity of resorting to a private baptism. Indeed, the right hon. Gentleman has given one reason which clearly shows that the inducement to members of the Church of England, to baptise their children, will be as strong when the Bill is passed as at present. If the reading of the burial-service depend upon the due performance of the rite of baptism, and if the incumbent on learning that that rite has not been performed, is compelled to harrow up the feelings of relatives and friends by refusing to read the service; why surely this will operate very strongly, as inducement to parents to take their children to be baptised. And I really cannot see why the mere inserting of their children's names in a public register, should be of itself an act which would prevent them from so doing. As I see, therefore, no reason whatever to apprehend the consequences which the right hon. Gentleman anticipates from this Bill, I cannot consent to adopt his amendment.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, with respect to what the noble Lord seemed to think, that the rite of baptism would be as much regarded, if the Bill passed as it was now, he (Sir Robert Inglis) would remind the noble Lord that the name under this Bill must be given within, a certain number of days, whereas at present, any interval within six, or even sometimes twelve months might elapse before the rite of baptism was administered to a child. The noble Lord had said, that the refusal of an incumbent to read the burial-service, on the ground that the deceased had not been baptised, would operate as an example to induce in others attention to that rite. But then let the House remember that the injury was done to the child in the mean time. All that he (Sir Robert Inglis) asked on the part of the Church was, that in framing a measure of relief to Dissenters, the noble Lord would leave to its members the enjoyment of a registry with which they were content; and not make the Bill (as it was now) a Bill of pains and penalties against those persons, by imposing on them an additional burden of trouble which they were not now obliged to take, and compelling them to pay a fee which they were not now paying; by maintaining at their expense a system which they did not desire; and thus holding out a temptation to them to forsake or neglect a rite to which their Church attached great importance, — in order to attain an object not connected with the spiritual, but the mere temporal advantage and convenience of a distinct class of his Majesty's subjects.

Mr. Ewart

objected to the mode in which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to carry his object into effect; the postponement of the naming the child till after baptism, would in his opinion be a most circuitous method, and one which would throw great difficulties in the attainment of the general object of the Bill. And as to the ground on which the right hon. Gentleman proposed his amendment, viz. that the Bill as it stood now would encourage the omission of the rite of baptism, he (Mr. Ewart) was quite convinced that conscientious persons would never omit the rite of baptism merely because of that Bill, and those who were not conscientious would not be rendered more attentive to the rite by reason of the amendment of the right hon. Gentleman.

Dr. Bowring

agreed with his hon. Friend, the Member for Liverpool. The object of the Bill was misunderstood by Gentlemen opposite. It was not to promote the observance of a religious rite, but to supply, by means of a general registry, statistical information, which it was highly necessary for the advantage of the community that the state should possess.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

hoped the amendment would be pressed to a division, and expressed his regret that he should hear such a sentiment as that expressed by the hon. Member who had just sat down with respect to marriage. He trusted that a respectable minority would support the valuable amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge.

Dr. Lushington

said, he could not perceive in the whole of the Bill one provision which had the slightest tendency to prevent or discourage compliance with any of the rites of the Church of England, or even to render compliance with them more onerous than they were at present. The complaints of hon. Gentlemen opposite might apply to some Bill existing in their own imagination; but to the Bill before the House, they had no application whatever. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford University, had assumed that all the members of the Church of England were content with the existing system of registration. Whereas, it must be obvious to every one having any experience in these matters that they suffered as much from the evils of that system as the Dissenters; with respect to the amendment of the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the University of Cambridge, did he mean to make his provision compulsory or optional upon parties? He (Dr. Lushington) apprehended not compulsory, but if it were made optional, he asked was there not a probability almost amounting to certainty, that numbers of persons would not go back to the registrar with the name of the child who had been baptised, to be inserted in the registry? And would not then the whole object of the registry be frustrated,—the securing the identity of the persons registered? He (Dr. Lushington) saw no reason for this amendment upon a religious ground. If he were discussing a Bill which in his opinion was calculated to injure the Church of England, by appearing to encourage neglect of her rites on the part of her members, he would not hesitate, as a member of that Church, in giving it his opposition. But he must say he could see no tendency of that kind in the Bill before the House. He was yet to learn that the compelling members of the Church of England to register the name of their children before baptism, had a tendency to encourage their omission of that rite altogether.

Sir Robert Peel

said, it was gratifying to observe, that this discussion had been carried on in a tone and temper worthy of the House, and suitable to the gravity and importance of the subject under consideration. It had been admitted on the opposite side, that it would be a great evil, by any legislative enactment, to relax the sense of the importance which at present attached to the performance of the baptismal rite. The question then was, whether such was likely to be the result of this Bill. He did not think that the object of those who framed the Bill was to bring the baptismal rite into disrepute or abeyance. His complaint was, that they undervalued and overlooked the probable practical working of the measure. By law and usage the name of the child had been associated with the baptismal ceremony. This was and had been the universal practice of the Church of England. It had also, he believed, been the practice of the Roman Catholic Church; and if he were not mistaken, the majority of the Dissenters looked upon baptism as essential in naming their children. What was proposed by the Bill? By a legislative enactment, to sanction the naming of a child without the baptismal ceremony. Could that be looked upon by the unthinking and uneducated in any other light than as a disregard of that ceremony? An Act of Parliament separated the naming of the child from the baptismal rite, and made the registration as valid as the ceremony. This might not be productive of any evil consequences amongst the upper and more respectable classes, who would most probably resort both to the registration and the baptism; but what would be its effect upon the great mass of the population? Would it not be an inducement to them to rest content with having the name entered upon the civil record? Many plausible arguments had been used in support of the measure, and amongst others this, that where there was a true sense of religious feeling, the ceremony would be resorted to. Now it was of the utmost importance, that where this religious sense did not exist, the House should, as much as possible, indicate its necessity. It was impossible to say how the feeling in favour of the religious observance could be best created; but surely the omission of the ceremony, as proposed by this Bill, was not the way to promote it. It had been urged, that if registration were not enforced in the manner pointed out by the Bill, the trouble of effecting the registration would render it difficult to obtain a perfect record; but would not the same argument hold good the other way? If the avoidance of trouble would prevent registration, would it not also prevent baptism? By this Bill was encouraged the omission of the rite. Not by a direct obligation, but by sanctioning the omission of that which the great mass of the people at present considered of great importance. By passing a law in contradiction to that feeling, they were led to suppose that the legislature disparaged the ceremony. Why violate, in that manner, the consciences of a great mass of the people? Suppose there were a large body of Dissenters placed by this Bill in the position which those of the Church of England hold now. Suppose they said, "We do not want any change. We wish to retain the ceremonial. Legislate as you please for yourselves, but leave us as you find us." Should not they say, in answer to this just demand, "Seeing the importance which you attach to this ceremony, we will not do any act which would have a tendency to desecrate it in your opinions, or to violate that which you hold sacred." He objected, then, to this part of the Bill, because it violated the conscientious opinions of the members of the Established Church, and he never could consent to the omission of a rite which that Church considered so solemn and necessary. He would merely state further, that he gave his cordial support to the amendment of his right hon. Friend.

The House divided on the amendment —Ayes 73; Noes 97—Majority 24.

List of the AYES.
Agnew, Sir A. Follett, Sir W.
Arbuthnot, hon. H. Forbes, W.
Ashley, Lord Gaskell, J. Milnes
Bailey, J. Geary, Sir W.
Balfour, T. Gordon, hon. W.
Bolling, W. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Bramston, T. W. Goulburn, Mr. Serg.
Calcraft, J. H. Graham, rt hon. Sir J.
Chichester, A. Hale, R. R.
Codrington, C. W. Halford, H.
Cole, Lord Vise. Hamilton, G. A.
Compton, H. C. Hawkes, T.
Duffield, T. Hay, Sir J.
Dunbar, G. Hayes, Sir E. S.
Eaton, R. J. Henniker, Lord
Egerton, Sir P. Herries, rt. hon. J. C.
Egerton, Lord F. Hogg, J. W.
Finch, G. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Johnstone, Sir John Plumtre, J. F.
Johnstone, J. J. H. Praed, W. M.
Irton, S. Price, R.
Knight, H. G. Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.
Law, hon. C. E. Richards, J.
Lees, J. F. Rickford, W.
Lowther, hon. Colonel Rushbrooke, Colonel
Lowther, J. H. Scarlett, hon. R.
Lygon, hon. Colonel Sheppard, T.
Mahon, Lord Viscount Stanley, E.
Martin, J. Trevor, hon. Arthur,
Norreys, Lord Trevor, hon. G. R.
Packe, C. W. Twiss, H.
Palmer, G. Wilbraham, H. B.
Patten, J. W. Wilson, H.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.
Perceval, Col. Sir G. Clerk
Pigot, R. Mr. Ross
List of the NOES.
Adam, Sir C. Lister, E. C.
Aglionby, H. A. Lushington, Dr.
Ainsworth, P. Lushington, C.
Baines, E. Maher, J.
Baring, F. T. Marshall, W.
Barnard, E.G. Marsland, H.
Beauclerk, Major Morpeth, Lord Visct.
Benett, J. Morrison, J.
Bernal, R. Mullins, F. W.
Blake, M. J. Murray, right hon.
Bowring, Dr. J. A.
Brotherton, J. Nagle, Sir R.
Buller, E. O'Loghlin, M.
Campbell, Sir J. Palmerston, Lord
Chalmers, P. Viscount
Collier, J. Parker, J.
Crawley, S. Parrot, J.
Denison, J. E: Pease, J.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. Pechell, Captain
C. T. Pelham, hon. C. A.
Donkin, Sir R. Potter, K.
Duncombe, T. Poulter, J, S.
Ebrington, Lord Vise. Power, J.
Ewart, W. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Fergus, J. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Fitzsimon, N. Rooper, J. B.
Folkes, Sir W. Russell, Lord J.
Fort, J. Scott, J. W.
Gordon, R. Seymour, Lord
Grattan, H. Smith, R. V.
Grey, Sir G. Smith, B.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Stewart. P. M:
Hastie, A. Stuart, Lord J.
Hawkins, J. H. Talbot, J. H
Hay, Sir A. L. Talfourd, Mr. Sergt.
Hector, C. J. Thomson, right hon.
Hobhouse, right C. P.
hon. Sir J. Thompson, Colonel
Howard, P. H. Thornely, Thomas
Howick, Lord Visct. Tooke, W.
Hutt, W. Trelawny, Sir W.
Labouchere, right Troubridge, Sir E. T.
hon. Tulk, C. A;
Lennard, T. B. Vivian, J. H.
Lennox. Lord A. Wakley, T.
Lennox, Lord J, G, Walker, R.
Wallace, R. Williams, W. A.
Warburton, H. Winnington, H. J.
Whalley, Sir S. Woulfe, Mr. Sergt.
Wigney, I. N. Young, G. F.
Wilbraham, G. TELLERS.
Wilde, Mr. Sergeant Mr. E. J. Stanley
Williams, W. Mr. R, Steuart.

Other proposed amendments were put and negatived.

On the question being again put, that the Bill do pass,

Sir Robert Peel, before the Bill passed, wished to call the attention of the noble Lord to the position of Parish Clerks, whose incomes would be greatly reduced by the Bill, particularly in the north of England. He was acquainted with one case where the income of the parish-clerk, who had a freehold in his office, amounted to 75l. per annum, and of this 62l. were derived from fees on births and marriages.

Lord John Russell

was very sorry that parish-clerks should suffer from the operation of the Bill; but he did not see how he could provide compensation for the losses they might sustain, as he could not tell to what fees they were legally entitled, and what they had legally received. Hereafter Parliament might take the case into its consideration, and give such compensation as the circumstances seemed to require.

Lord Francis Egerton

called the noble Lord's attention to another case, which was not less hard than the case of the parish-clerk's, namely, that of those gentlemen who served parochial cures, not only in the metroplis where the evil chiefly prevailed, but in all great towns. The income of these gentlemen was in many cases derived from the fees received upon births and marriages, and he, therefore, hoped that the noble Lord would not refuse to hold out the same hope to them which he had permitted parish-clerks to entertain.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

remarked, that one of the most valuable pieces of preferment in the metropolis would, if this Bill passed, hardly be worth holding.

Sir Robert Peel

remarked, that the parish clerks stood now in a better position than they did in the morning, for the noble Lord in alleging that he did not know what the amount of their losses might be, and whether their fees were legal, impliedly promised that if their losses were ascertained and their fees were shown to be legal, he would do something for them. This would, no doubt, be very acceptable to them, for a Minister's promise gave great satisfaction to the parties who received it.

Bill passed.

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