HC Deb 20 February 1862 vol 165 cc514-26

Sir, I rise to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the Registration of Births and Deaths in Ireland. This is a subject which is acknowledged to be of very great importance to Ireland. It is admitted that the registration of births and deaths would be of extreme advantage in the promotion of both the moral and material interests of that country. In fact, in a general point of view the advantages of a system of registration cannot be denied; and all I, on the part of the Government, want the House to do now, is to give Ireland that measure of justice which has already been meted out to England and Scotland. England, as the House is aware, was dealt with in this matter by the Registration Bill of 1836, and Scotland by the Registration Bill of 1854. The greatest possible inconvenience results from the present state of things in Ireland, which is, I believe, the only civilized country in Europe where there is no system of registration. Property has become alienated for want of a proper and careful registration. All parties and religious sects in Ireland are thoroughly agreed as to the necessity of it. The Protestants of the North are not less anxious for it than the Roman Catholics, who have been the greatest sufferers from the want of an efficient registration. The Registrar General, Mr. Donnelly, has informed me that he knows of numerous cases of Irishmen who have died in America and the colonies leaving property, but their poor relations in Ireland, although the undoubted heirs, have been unable to recover the property from the absence of the means of proving their connection with the deceased. This matter has been several times considered by the House, and also by a Select Committee. The noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas), when Secretary for Ireland, introduced a Bill on the subject. In 1861 my right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell) the Chancellor of the Duchy, also introduced a measure though different from that of the noble Lord (Lord Naas). Both Bills were referred to a Select Committee, and certain resolutions were passed which rendered it impossible in the course of last year to proceed with them. The subject, as I have already stated, has been long before the Irish public. I was looking over some correspondence the other day in reference to it, and I observed that Sir William Somerville, when Secretary for Ireland in 1847 and 1852, was urged to introduce a Bill. Again in 1855, although he was not then a Member of the Government, he was urged to bring in some measure on the subject; but he said there were so many difficulties in the way, he must decline to meddle with the question. I believe those difficulties have now in a great measure been removed. We have arrived at a period when we can fairly and honestly legislate on the matter for the benefit of Ireland; and I believe if the House will accede to the motion with which I shall conclude, the Bill to be introduced will meet the approval of Irish Members. To show the great inconvenience that arises from the present state of things, I will read a letter written as far hack as 1850, by the clerk of the Dublin Presbytery, to the Registrar General, Mr. Donnelly, in which he says— Prior to 1861 the registry of birth and baptism was not attended to, and thousands of baptisms could not now be found. Then, there is another letter addressed to the Registrar General, which still more forcibly points out the necessity to the people of Ireland of such a measure as that I now propose. The writer, dating from Boyle, July, 1853, says— A brother of mine having died intestate, his life was insured for a large sum of money; but, from the difficulty of obtaining the necessary certificate to satisfy the just requirements of the insurance office as to identity, it was most vexatious, protracted, and expensive. Year after year the public suffer very much for the want of a proper and safe mode of registry of births and deaths. Here is another letter, from a minister at Coleraine, dated 1853, also addressed to the Registrar General— I take the liberty of addressing you relative to some general measure of registration of births and deaths. The importance of such a measure in a social and moral point of view can scarcely be overrated. The official and accredited records of parishes and congregations of the various sections of the Protestant Church in Ireland are meagre, incorrect, and incomplete. Among the Roman Catholic population, constituting the great majority, the defect is still greater, as there is no specific ecclesiastic law requiring a priest to preserve a record. Observe what would be the immediate effect of the introduction of a measure such as I now propose on the well-being and morality of the country. First of all, parties would be able to prove their respective ages, and by proof of their pedigree to establish their title to property. At present parties dying abroad, in the colonies, or India, often die intestate. The usual course is to advertise for the heir; but, from the extreme difficulty of ascertaining who the heir is, there are numberless cases of the entire loss of the property which ought fairly to come to the poor relatives. By this Bill I hope that state of things will be remedied. I have said that Ireland is unhappily, I believe, almost the only country in Europe which is debarred the advantage of civil registration of births and deaths. The other day I read an able article in a foreign review in which allusion was made to Ireland in reference to this subject. The increase of population was spoken of, but without carrying with it that prosperity which should be proportionate. The prejudice which so long existed in Ireland in regard to registration is happily passing away. All classes are agreed to promote such a measure without reference to politics or religious differences.

I will now, with the permission of the House, very briefly explain the principal provisions of the measure I seek to introduce. But, first, I may state that I have submitted the Bill I propose to introduce to the criticism of the Registrar General for England (Mr. Graham), and I am happy to say that he has written me a letter, in which he says— I have given my best attention to the accompanying Bill, and I have made in it several alterations which I think essential. I hope you may succeed in what for several years each succeeding Secretary for Ireland has failed to accomplish, and this measure, as prepared by you, will, I think, be found to answer admirably. The principal features of the Bill are these:—We make the present Registrar General of Marriages in Ireland the Registrar General of Births and Deaths. His salary, at present £800, will be raised to £1,000; and we propose to give him a central office in Dublin, where he will direct the whole subject of births, deaths, and marriages. Abstracts of the registers will be laid on the table annually, and searches will be allowed to the public free of expense—of course, subject to certain restrictions. But then comes the great question which has so long agitated the public mind as regards the districts and who should be the registrars. Practically, the question who shall be the registrars has been the great stumbling block. I have given the subject my anxious attention. There are six different modes in which the object may be accomplished. First of all, there is the proposal of registration by medical officers, then that by postmasters, then that by ecclesiastics, then that by persons nominated by the Lord Lieutenant, next that by persons appointed by the boards of guardians, and, lastly, that by the constabulary. To devolve this duty upon the postmasters, would, I think, be absurd; to devolve it upon persons selected by the Lord Lieutenant would be to place too much power in the hands of one officer in Dublin; that such a civil matter should be entirely intrusted to ecclesiastics would clearly be distasteful to the public; while, again, if the registrars were chosen by the boards of guardians, they would have to be nominated by the majority, and the minority would then always be at issue with the person elected. Consequently, I have resolved these six schemes into two, for it appears to me that only two of them are applicable to the circumstances of Ireland. The one of these is registration by medical officers, the other by the constabulary. The noble Lord the Member for Cocker-mouth recommended the constabulary for the discharge of this function, while my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy recommended the relieving officers—that is to say, he followed the system in force in England under the Poor Law. I have carefully considered this subject. The great thing is to have the work done most efficiently, and at the same time most economically. Now, the advantages of using the constabulary as registrars of births and deaths in preference to the medical officers of unions will be seen from the following facts. The number of constabulary districts in Ireland is 1,570, giving an average area of twenty square miles to each; the number of dispensary districts, on the other hand, is 716, with an average area of about forty square miles. So that the registering constables will have districts less than one-half the size of those of the medical officers. Again, the average number of families to be visited by each registering constable will be 719, while the number to be visited by each dispensary officer will be 1,577. The average number of births and deaths to be registered by each constable will be 200, and by each medical officer 438. The average yearly remuneration which I propose to give to each constable is £5, whereas the amount which each medical officer would receive, calculated at the rate of 6d. as his fee upon each entry, would be £10 19s. Now £10 19s. a year or about 7d. per day, is hardly enough to induce a medical man of education and position to inform himself of and register every birth and death occurring in a district covering on an average forty square miles. His daily avocations take him away from home for a great part of his time, and he would be obliged to have a deputy. Why, it is a well-known fact that the Poor Law Commissioners have stated that they think the 1s. fee which a medical officer receives for each case of vaccination is hardly sufficient to induce him to do the duty efficiently. If that sum is not enough for a congenial duty, how can we expect him for 6d, to attend to a matter scarcely within the immediate scope of his profession? And if the person wishing to have the registration effected were required to go to the registrar's house for that purpose, the system would operate very oppressively in Ireland. In fact, it would not work well unless the officer went to the house of the family where the birth or death had occurred. Again, a matter of the first importance is how you can best preserve the registers from injury? No doubt they would be more secure against fire or other accidents if placed in the custody of the officers of constabulary than if kept in the private residences of medical men, who are often absent, and cannot prevent the risks arising from the carelessness of others. Moreover, the constabulary are now and have for a series of years been employed in the collection of agricultural statistics, and have acted for three decennial periods as census enumerators. They are distributed over 1,570 different localities, they know almost every family, and hardly a birth or a death could happen in any house that would escape their notice. Indeed, the constabulary in Ireland is, I think, the most remarkably efficient force that exists in the United Kingdom. It is cheaper than any other force, and I know it is very popular. It has done immense service to the country, and I believe it would be a boon to the men to receive an additional £5 a year each for undertaking the registry—a duty which, I have no doubt, they would perform admirably, and with every consideration and delicacy towards the persons with whom they might be brought into contact. I have had a return made out to show the comparative cost of pay and clothing for the rural police in Great Britain and for the Irish constabulary respectively. It is as follows:— Strength of the rural police of Great Britain, 13,437; cost, £788,800. Strength of the Irish constabulary, 12,124; cost, £430,084. Annual cost per man in Great Britain, £58 14s. Id.; in Ireland, £35 9s. 6d. The London metropolitan police (6,047 men, pay and clothing, £354,821), cost on an average per man £58 13s. 6d.; the Dublin police (1,082 men, pay and clothing £53,419), average per man £49 7s. 5d. These facts, I think, prove that, of the various schemes proposed, the plan of employing the constabulary as superintendent registrars and registrars is the one most likely to be satisfactory and beneficial to Ireland. I may mention that we propose to require, as is done in Scotland, that the medical attendant of the deceased person shall transmit his certificate within seven days from the death. I should also observe that there is nothing in the Bill which will in any way interfere with the register of baptisms and burials as now by law established, or with the right of the officiating ministers to receive the fees now usually paid them upon baptisms and burials. The next question is, what will be the cost of this scheme? Because in Ireland we do not like to be burdened where we may avoid it. I have therefore prepared a statement, giving a comparison between the three respective plans of my noble Friend the Member for Cockermouth, of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the Duchy, and that which I am now describing to the House; and I am happy to say that the plan which I am proposing is not only the most efficient, but has the immense advantage of being extremely economical. I propose that the superintendent registrars should receive 2d. for every entry in certified copies of registers of births and deaths, and that every registrar should receive 6d. for every entry of birth or death. It is calculated that in Ireland there are about 200,000 births and 133,000 deaths annually. Reckoning these at 6d. for each entry, you have a total sum of £8,325, which, divided among 1,500 constables acting as registrars, gives about £5 11s. to each, or 4d. per day. The fee of 2d. on each entry would yield a total sum of £2,775 more. The proposal of my right hon. Friend was, that the medical officer acting as registrar should receive 1s., whereas I give the constabulary registrar 6d. My right hon. Friend proposed to obtain that 1s. from the poor rates—that is to say, one-half would have fallen upon the landlord and the other half upon the occupier. I propose to put upon the county cess—which I believe presses only upon the occupier—the whole 6d., or exactly the same amount as the moiety which my right hon. Friend's plan would have thrown upon the occupier. The comparative cost of the three schemes, then, stands thus:—The total annual charge under the plan of the noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth would have been £17,525; that under the plan of my right hon. Friend, £16,650; whereas the scheme which I have the honour to propose will cost the country only £11,099. Thanking the House for the kindness with which they have listened to my observations, I have now only to ask them to allow this Bill to be laid upon the table; and I am quite sure that if they should agree to this measure, it will tend to the moral and social improvement of the country, will remove the endless difficulties which have existed for many years past, and will be an act of justice to Ireland, doing nothing more than to place her on the same footing in this matter as England and Scotland now stand in virtue of recent legislation.

Moved, That leave be given to bring in a Bill "for the Registration of Births and Deaths in Ireland."


said, that, as a Member of the Select Committee to which the question had been referred, he could not but express his regret that the right hon. Gentleman had not paid more attention to the evidence given before that Committee, and to the Report which dealt specifically with the Registration of Marriages. The conclusion at which they arrived was precisely the reverse of that embodied in the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced. They had condemned the employment of the constabulary, and they expressed a hope that an inefficient system would not be established merely because it might be more economical than another system. There was one disadvantage attending the Chief Secretary's proposal, which he was not surprised the right hon. Gentleman did not perceive—it was that he was throwing the government of Ireland into the hands of the constabulary. The right hon. Gentleman had shown an inclination of that kind already; he had given new powers and inconsistent duties to the constabulary. Such proceedings were not at all to the taste of the Irish people, and perhaps some of the unpopularity which the right hon. Gentleman I unfortunately gained in the course of his recent tour was owing to the circumstance of his having been accompanied by the head of the Irish constabulary. In Ireland that body was vulgarly known by the name of "Peelers;" and it was not surprising that the right hon. Gentleman wished to emulate the proceedings of his distinguished father, by making as much of them as possible. But the constabulary in Ireland had to do many things which were distasteful to the people: their legitimate duties they performed well; their novel and supplementary duties very badly. For this they could not be blamed. It was the fault of the Government. If, then, the right hon. Gentleman were to intrust this new and most important duty—a duty, too, of imperial interest—to a body of men who were already unpopular and overloaded with a variety of other business, he would find it most inefficiently discharged. He could not but think that medical officers—educated men, acquainted with the duties to be discharged—were preferable to officers who would have to be taught their functions before they could ever attempt to fulfil them. Another objection which he felt to the measure was, that it did not embrace the registration of marriages as well as of births and deaths. In this respect, also, he preferred the measure of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.


said, he was also a Member of the Committee which had passed resolutions on this subject. According to his recollection, the Committee had made no report of the kind stated by the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy). He could only attribute the statement of the hon. Member to the fact that he hail but rarely attended the Committee, and knew but little of its proceedings. The argument of the hon. Member, therefore, went for nothing, as it was founded upon error. For himself, he felt bound to say that the statement made by the right hon. Baronet appeared, upon the whole, most satisfactory, and he considered important reasons had been given why the police might be safely employed in carrying out the work of registration of births and deaths, and why they would do it efficiently. There was no reason to fear that it would entail any unpopularity upon them. He was in Ireland when the police were employed in taking the Census, and was able to bear favourable testimony to the manner in which they had performed that duty, although at first it was feared that they might be objectionable agents. The right hon. Baronet had also proved satisfactorily that registration could be much more inexpensively conducted by the police than by any other system, and that was an important circumstance. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the distances to be traversed would render it impossible for the medical officers satisfactorily to attend to the registry without neglecting their other duties, while the clergy were fully occupied in their more important work. He was therefore, upon the whole, satisfied with the proposed measure, and thought it might be made, with some few Amendments, extremely useful and beneficial to Ireland.


said, he approved of the period of the Session and of the evening on which the Bill was introduced, but in other respects he saw little to recommend it. The hon. Member for the King's County had been corrected as to the Report of the Committee. Perhaps he (Mr. Vincent Scully) should also be set right as to his impression on the subject. But as he had moved for the Select Committee, and presided at its sittings, which, he regretted to say, were not very frequently attended by the bon. Member (Mr. Hennessy), he might be permitted to say he understood the conclusion of the Committee to be that marriages ought to be registered through the clergy of the respective denominations; but as to births and deaths, the Committee were unable to make any satisfactory report, and the matter was adjourned for further consideration. In his view, the constabulary were the worst body that could be selected for the purpose. He did not wonder that the right hon. Baronet should feel an hereditary attachment to the "Peelers" of Ireland, but he thought that any one who would take the trouble to read the evidence given before the Committee, especially that of Mr. H. Brownrigg, would come to the conclusion that that body should not be allowed to register the births. Any one could register the deaths. The main difficulty the Committee had to deal with was how best to get a proper registration of births, and especially of the illegitimate births, of which there were from 20,000 to 30,000 in the course of the year. He thought that to intrust the inquiry into that subject to a number of perhaps juvenile policemen would be neither conducive to the peace of families, nor to the good of the men themselves. At least, he thought the proposal would be revolting to the House, as it was to his own feelings. He would infinitely prefer in place of the present Bill the measure introduced by the late Secretary for Ireland, who proposed that this registration should be effected through the Boards of Guardians. His own opinion was, however, that the best persons you could employ to register the births and deaths were those who now married and baptized—namely, the clergy of the different denominations.


said, he could not but compliment the right hon. Baronet upon the very clear and distinct explanation he had given of the provisions of the Bill; but, at the same time, he must express the great disappointment he had felt upon finding that it dealt with births and deaths only, and not with marriages. A large proportion of the time of the Committee last year was occupied in considering how the registration of marriages should be effected, and there could be no question about the desirability of introducing a system which should include these three classes. With regard to the machinery for registering births and deaths, the choice seemed to lie between the constabulary and the medical men. But he did not think the latter plan would work, as the medical men were already too much engaged in duties of a far more important character—attending the sick poor. He thought no more convenient mode could be adopted than that suggested by the Bill, but it was open to constitutional objections of a serious character. If power was given to the police to enter every house for the purpose of making the necessary inquiries, it was impossible to prevent their becoming acquainted with other matters than the mere subject-matter of their inquiries; and as they were always the principal agents in the detection and witnesses in the prevention of crime, the knowledge they obtained under the cover of the law would frequently be used by them in the evidence they gave, and that alone would not only lessen the value of their evidence, but render them still more unpopular than they were at present. He therefore hoped the scheme would be reconsidered. The proposal to pay for the labour so performed out of the county cess or the poor rate was one that should be well considered, for it would tend to make the Poor Law very unpopular. A similar objection, though not perhaps so strongly, would apply to the use of the county cess for such a purpose. They were already overcharged; and the best fund, in his opinion, upon which to throw the charge would be the Consolidated Fund.


said, he also wished to compliment the right hon. Gentleman for the lucid statement in which he had introduced the Bill. He would also congratulate the House, and especially the Irish Members, that from the period of the Session at which the Bill had been introduced, they had a prospect of obtaining some useful legislation on a question of much importance. He accepted the measure as an instalment, and though he would have liked to see the registration of marriages included in it, he was not dissapointed that the right hon. Baronet had not attempted hastily to deal with so difficult a subject. He thought the clergymen of all denominations should have been intrusted with the work of registration rather than the police; but that was a detail into which he would not then enter.


said, he thought that Ireland would never be put on an equality with England in this matter until it had a measure for the registration of marriages, as well of births and deaths. No measure would be satisfactory that did not include such a registration. There were difficulties in the way of a registration of marriages, but they might be got over by cordial cooperation with the clergy. The late Sir Robert Peel had generally three courses before him. The right hon. Gentleman had six, and he must say that of the six he had chosen the worst. He did not mean to say that the right hon. Gentleman did not desire to select the best, but, unfortunately, he adopted the worst. Nothing could be more objectionable or more offensive to the people of Ireland, and especially to the poorer classes, than to employ the constabulary for working the measure. He did not think there was any use in persevering with a measure of that kind. The proper parties to register births and deaths were the clergy of all denominations. Next to them the medical officers were the hest, and it appeared to him to be a gross act of injustice to that excellent and ill paid class of men to pass them over on that occasion. In effect the selection of the police in preference to them amounted to a censure upon them. He did not believe the measure as it stood would be at all acceptable to the people of Ireland.


said, be also was of opinion that the measure should he accompanied by a registration of marriages. As regarded the succession to property, a registration of births and deaths without a registration of marriages would be useless. The only other use of a registration of births and deaths was as a means of numbering the people and collecting statistics. But if that was the object in view, the expense should not be thrown on the county cess, but on the Consolidated Fund. The police of Ireland were, be admitted, ill paid, but their pay should be increased in some other way than by employing them in registering births and deaths in Ireland. He would advise the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill, and to introduce a Bill for the registration of births, deaths, and marriages.


said, that the police of Ireland had now little to do, and he thought they might usefully be employed in the way proposed by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, He did not think the employment of the constabulary would be so objectionable to the people of Ireland. He would not pledge himself to support all the details of the Bill; but he could not withhold from the right hon. Baronet the expression of his thanks for the early attention he had given to Irish legislation.


, in reply, said, he could assure hon. Members that he did not intend to cast any slight upon the medical officers. His opinion simply was, that they could not discharge the duties so efficiently and so economically as the police. Indeed, from the immense area they had to go over, he doubted if the medical officers could do the work at all. As to the Irish constabulary, he was not wedded, personally, to the institution; but he believed it had done a great deal of good to the country. It had discharged its duties with great ability, and with very advantageous results. As to the charge thrown on the county cess, it was proposed that 6d. should be paid out of it for each entry of birth, or death, and 2d. to the Superintendent Registrar's office; but this payment of 2d. would come out of the Consolidated Fund. The charge on the county cess, though it bore entirely on the occupiers, would not entail any greater burden on the cesspayer than if the charge had been made on the poor rate, which was divided between the landlord and tenant. By the poor rate scheme the charge would have been 1s., so divided; and the present plan left only the charge of 6d. on the tenant. He had hoped to have been able to introduce a Bill for the Registration of Marriages with the present measure; but he believed the Government had now arrived at a successful conclusion on the subject, and he trusted during this Session to propose a Bill that would secure the entire assent and approval of the clergy of all denominations in Ireland. The subject could be better dealt with by separate Bills.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Sir ROBERT PEEL and Mr. CLIVE.

Bill presented, and read 1o.