HC Deb 18 March 1851 vol 115 cc112-4

rose to put a question to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department respecting the schedules of inquiries sent forth to procure the information necessary for the census. On a former occasion he expressed something of the objections felt to answering all the questions that were put, but he did not fully detail the difficulties which existed regarding these returns. An Act, as the House would recollect, was passed, the main object of which was to obtain as correct returns as possible respecting the numbers and condition of the population of the united kingdom. The Act gave power to the Secretary of State to issue such other queries beyond those especially provided by the Act as might seem to him necessary. It appeared that on the present occasion papers had been sent to the ministers of religion in various parts of the country, and they were not only sent to officiating ministers, but to others in their parishes or within their districts. Of this he had not only to complain, but he had also to complain that the inquiries so sent were vague, and, in some respects, unwarrantable; for instance, they demanded a statement of the average number of persons attending the place of worship in which such minister officiated. The House, he had no doubt, must see that it would be hardly possible for any clergyman to answer such questions, unless he resorted to the practice of regularly reckoning in detail the members of his congregation. By those papers it was also required that the clergy should furnish the particulars of their incomes, from whatever source derived; and this with more minuteness than even for the purposes of the property tax had ever been required. Though this paper purported to be addressed to the clergyman of the parish, yet he (MR. Goulburn) had received a letter from a most respectable clergyman, stating that he had not received such a circular, but that the registrar of the parish had received it, and had called upon him to furnish details of his income in conformity with it. Now that was surely never contemplated under the Act, and he begged, therefore, to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he would not view these questions as being of no use, and calculated to excite needless alarm?


replied, that information under what was called the first class was absolutely required by the Act; that that demanded under the other class was furnished both now and on former occasions by means of those inquiries to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. He was a little incorrect in his statement on a previous occasion, when he stated that circulars informing the clergymen that they were not bound to give the information had already been sent to them; the fact was, that the circulars were ready to be sent, but they were not yet issued. The letters, as he said, informed the parties to whom they were addressed, that there was no legal obligation upon them to furnish the information required, but that it was very desirable to obtain the information; they were invited to co-operate in obtaining correct information respecting the means of education and of religious worship that existed in their respective districts. As to the letter from the clergyman to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, he thought there must be some mistake; for though the returns requiring the information had been sent to the enumerators, yet they had received instructions from the Registrar General not to issue them till a prescribed time, that time being after the parties should have received the circular to which he had alluded. The House must see that it was desirable to obtain as much and as accurate information upon such subjects as possible, and the public authorities in this case only required such information as the clergy could easily give.


said, that the right hon. Baronet, seeing the inconvenience of the system on which those papers were sent out, made it appear that the clergy, in his opinion, were not under any legal obligation to answer the questions which he put; but what did the Act say? It distinctly declared that the parties to whom such questions were put, under the authority of the Secretary of State, were bound to answer them, or incur a penalty not exceeding 5l., nor less than 20s.


stated, that the opinion of the Attorney and Solicitor General had been taken, and they held that the penalty need not attach, unless in the cases which the right hon. Gentleman now brought under notice. According to the best legal opinions, the clergy were not bound to furnish the information requested in those papers. He did not believe that any clergyman would refuse to give full information on such important matters as the amount of provision for education and religious worship in their respective districts, which was admitted by all parties last year, in the debate on the Education Bill of the hon. Member for Oldham, to be so desirable to obtain. With regard to the incomes of the clergy, that was of very little importance, and might be withheld altogether, if necessary.

Subject dropped.