HC Deb 11 February 1861 vol 161 cc315-20

said he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Ireland. He thought he should not be justified in detaining the House at any length in endeavouring to point out the advantages to a country of a general system of registration. In whatever light regarded, the advantage of a general system of registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages was universally admitted by all civilised countries, and it would be, therefore, only a waste of time for him to trouble the House with any general observations with reference to it. In every country in Europe the system existed, but in this kingdom they had not been quick in adopting it. In Scotland the system of registration had been in existence for not more than eight years, and it was with very great surprise that the representatives of different parts of Europe who attended the International Statistical Congress, which met in Paris a few years ago, found that no system of registration had hitherto been established to show the number of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Ireland. He was sure it was the desire of Parliament to extend the system to Ireland, and it was the more important that the Bill should be passed this Session, for, as it was intended this year to take the census, the commencement of a fresh decade would form a good starting point for a new system of registration. He would now say a few words as to the mode in which this was to be done. He would speak first of the Births and Deaths. In England the clerks of the various unions were the superintending registrars, who received the reports of the parochial officers who conducted the primary registration in their several districts. In Ireland there already existed admirable machinery for carrying out a similar system by means of the clerks of Poor Law Unions and the officers of the medical districts. He proposed that every Poor Law Union should be the district of a superintending registrar, and that every medical district into which the unions in Ireland were divided, should be the district of a registrar, who was to collect the statistics. There were 163 unions in Ireland, and in each union there would be the office of a superintendent registrar. There were between 700 and 800 sub-divisions of unions into medical districts in Ireland; but it might be found necessary again to subdivide some of the larger medical districts, for the purpose of registration, so as to bring the machinery more nearly home to the people, so that there would be somewhat more than the number of 700 or 800 registration districts throughout the coun- try. As for the machinery to be used, it was proposed that the clerks of unions should be, in almost all cases, the superintendent registrars, and that the medical gentlemen of the various medical districts should be the persons charged with the duty of actually obtaining the statistics immediately from the population. He assumed that the remuneration to be made them, calculated according to the English scale of remuneration, would be an adequate inducement to those gentlemen to accept the office of registrars. It was intended that the clerks of unions should be the superintendent registrars, and that the actual statistics should be obtained by the medical gentleman; and he thought that, besides other advantages of employing the local agency of persons familiar to the people, and trusted by them, great public advantage would result from enlisting in the service of the State, for an object so conducive to social and sanitary science, the members of the medical profession, who might be expected to bring some most useful qualities to that task. The same arrangement that worked so well in Scotland and England might be expected to work well in Ireland, and the Registrar General in England had lent the valuable aid of his experience to devise this measure. It was proposed to make it compulsory on the surviving relatives, or on the occupier of a house in which a death should have occurred, to give notice to the district registrar; or the medical adviser would be subject to the same provision. The district registrar would make a half-yearly return to the superintendent registrar, in the shape of a duplicate of the entries he had made; and the superintendent registrar would make a similar return half-yearly to the Registrar General. The whole result of these statistics would be laid before Parliament, in the same manner as the statistics collected in England by the Registrar General. He had now to approach the most difficult part of his measure, the registration of marriages. With regard, indeed, to the marriages of Protestants, no difficulty would arise, as their registration was already provided for by law, and it would not be necessary to interfere with that which at present existed. But a question arose, how were the statistics of Roman Catholic marriages to be obtained? He proposed that the State should furnish to the Roman Catholic clergymen duplicate books, in which they would have to make entries recording the marriages lawfully celebrated by them; and he trusted that, looking to the great advantages which this system was to confer on the community, they would not object to return copies of those duplicates to the local officers, the superintendent registrars, who would generally be the clerks of the unions, persons selected by the ratepayers or their representatives. The registers of Marriages would thus be sent in to the Registrar General in the same way as Births and Deaths. Thus a complete system of registration would be supplied, without trespassing on the feelings of any class or section of the community. With regard to the cost of it, those charges which in England now were defrayed by the Consolidated Fund should, in the same manner, in Ireland, fall on the Consolidated Fund; while those charges which in England and Scotland fell upon local rates should be defrayed in Ireland by the guardians of the poor. Such was a brief outline of the Bill he asked the House to entertain, and he hoped it would receive careful consideration, and that they would this year establish a complete system of registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages throughout the United Kingdom. He would now move for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, he highly approved the establishment of a correct and uniform system of registration in Ireland, but he was afraid that there were some parts of the Bill which would require alteration to make it generally acceptable. He did not object to the machinery it was intended to employ, so far as the clerks of the unions and the dispensary gentlemen were concerned. He thought, however, it would popularise the system if the appointment of the registrars were to be vested in the Boards of Guardians. But there would be great objection, he should imagine, on the part of the Roman Catholic clergy to be made the responsible officers of a Government which took notice of them in no other way, subject to a variety of pains and penalties, for the paltry remuneration of 6d. per entry, which, on an average, would amount to about 20s. for each clergyman. It would be better to require the parties themselves to take a certificate from the officiating clergyman to the registrar and register their own marriages. The penalties imposed on a Roman Catholic clergyman for the celebration of a mixed marriage were inflicted neither on Protestant nor Pres- byterian clergymen. The continuance of the Act by which these were imposed was a disgrace to the statute-book, and its abolition had been recommended in 1858 by a Committee of the Dublin Statistical Society, composed of gentlemen of eminence, the majority of whom were Protestants. But, although the Act was one which he personally felt ought to be disregarded as long as it remained in force, clergymen either did not dare to disobey it, or, if they did, wore prevented from recording the marriages in the registers. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see the propriety of amending the Act in the particulars to which he had called attention.


said, when the Bill was before the House last Session, he had spoken to the Attorney General for Ireland with reference to repealing the Act which made it penal for a Roman Catholic priest to celebrate mixed marriages, and the learned Gentleman replied that in his opinion there would be very great difficulty in approaching the repeal of that measure. He (Mr. M'Mahon) told his hon. and learned Friend that he should endeavour to obtain a Committee of that House in order to have the matter discussed, and to have that statute repealed. There was one other matter to which he wished to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. There were at present registrars of Marriages in Ireland but not of Births and Deaths; but by the provisions of this Bill those Gentlemen would be deprived of their offices. He considered that difficulty might be met if the right hon. Gentleman would allow those gentlemen to continue to hold their offices, and to act as registrars of Births and Deaths as well as of Marriages, or if not, that some compensation should be made to them for being deprived of offices which they had held so long.


said, the Bill did not interfere with the registrars. It left them entirely untouched, so that no case for compensation would arise. With regard to the question of mixed marriages, all he could say was, that the Bill had been most carefully framed so as not to impose any difficulty or any penalty upon Roman Catholic clergymen. It was true that certain statutes imposed the penalty of felony on Roman Catholic clergymen who celebrated mixed marriages. For his own part he had no wish that any penalty or disqualification should apply to Roman Catholic clergymen which did not apply to clergymen of the Church of which he was himself a member. But the House would be aware that there was a great difficulty connected with the marriage question, and it was not possible to deal with a part without bringing up the whole subject for discussion. His endeavour in this measure had been to frame a Bill which should steer clear of this difficult question. He wished to promote a most useful and important matter, to have a proper system of registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, in this census year 1861, and to provide a cheap and efficient means whereby the legitimacy of children might be proved. This was important not only to the peer but to the peasant, who, he was happy to say, was frequently receiving from his relatives in other countries, humble legacies which he might wish to leave to his children. In order to obtain this boon, he had endeavoured to steer clear of the law of marriage.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the Registration of Births, Deaths, and Marriages in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CARDWELL and Mr. BAGWELL.

Bill presented, and read 1°.