HC Deb 09 February 1863 vol 169 cc204-15

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the Registration of Births and Deaths in Ireland, said, Sir, although there can be no question of the value and importance of a national system of registration, there is such a variety of interests involved in this question that I feel it is desirable I should make a few remarks. It is undoubtedly a great deficiency that in a country like Ireland, having a population amounting to nearly six millions, there should be no systematic collection of the statistics of human life. As a scientific record, a system of registration would be of immense utility in many respects. It would be very beneficial, for instance, in promoting sanitary reforms. In Ireland there is at present a great want of information as to any increase of sickness or disease, especially in populous towns or in remote country places. If correct data could be obtained as to the health of the people, measures would be more promptly and effectually taken to mitigate the intensity of disease or circumscribe its limits. This is a subject which has excited considerable interest in Ireland. In December last a resolution declaring the necessity for and the probable benefits of a system of registration was carried on the motion of the President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland at a meeting in Limerick. I have also had the honour of receiving deputations who urged the importance of legislation on the matter. I received deputations from the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal Medical Council, the Statistical Society, and the Social Science Association. I asked them to put their views in writing, in order that the Government, in framing a Bill, might meet their wishes as far as possible. They complied with my request, and in the document which they forwarded to me they expressed the hope that the dispensary districts would be adopted, and the registration of births and deaths be made compulsory. It is not necessary to say that the measure which I am now seeking to introduce is not in any way affected by political considerations. All classes will be benefited by its adoption in Ireland, not as a mere registration of births and deaths, but as a plan for bringing annually before the public, as in England and Scotland, the causes affecting the health of the community. Ireland is almost the only civilized country in the world where no such system of civil registration of births and deaths exists. We frequently hear of great losses incurred by poor persons from their inability to prove their heirship or connection with rich parties dying intestate in the colonies or in foreign countries. It is, therefore, a matter of the first importance that we should pass a measure for obviating those difficulties. The English Act was passed in 1836. It caused a good deal of agitation at the time, but it has worked admirably. The passing of the Scotch Act was even more strongly opposed, and it was not until 1854, after an agitation of twenty years, that the opposition was overcome. The Scotch Act is au improvement upon the English one. I have carefully compared, in conjunction with Registrar General Donnelly and Registrar General Dundas, the Scotch and English systems, and there can he no doubt that the Scotch system is far superior to the one in force in England. Allow me to mention the differences which exist between the two Acts. In a Report published by Registrar General Graham it is stated that the English system should be compulsory instead of permissive; that the number of informants qualified to sign the register is too limited; that more time should be allowed for registration; and that medical men should be compelled to state the cause of death. All these points, in which, according to Mr. Graham, the English system is defective, have been included in the Scotch Act. The Scotch system of registration is compulsory; the number of informants qualified to sign the register is greater than in England; informants are compelled to attend personally and state the particulars to be recorded; the time for gratuitous registration of births is three months instead of forty-two days, as in England; and medical practitioners are required to send in a written certificate of the cause of death. When preparing the Bill which I am about to introduce, it became my duty to consider whether I should not embrace in it those provisions of the Scotch Act which were not to be found in the English one, which, nevertheless, have worked well in Scotland, and which Registrar General Graham thinks ought now to be adopted in England. To show the superiority of the Scotch system, I may mention that it has been ascertained, upon a six years' average of the registration of births, that the average gives in Scotland a proportion of 347 in every 10,000 of the population per annum, being rather a higher average than that of England, which is only 343 in every 10,000 of the population. I need not say that the principal points to be considered in the construction of such a Bill are the machinery, the size of the districts, and the expense to be entailed. I have thought, that if upon those three points I could meet the views of Irish Members generally, I might be able to pass a Bill during the present Session. Last year I proposed a plan which had been originally submitted by the noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas). Its object was to make the constabulary the registrars and superintendent registrars. If that plan had been adopted, the districts would have coincided with the areas in which the constabulary act. I think, however, the noble Lord the Member for Cockermouth will agree with me that, whatever might be the plan adopted, the general feeling in this House was not in favour of using the constabulary for that purpose. I have considered the matter carefully during the recess, and my firm conviction now is that it would be impossible, with the concurrence of this House or of the country, to work a system of registration by the action of the constabulary. The constabulary are fully occupied with the duties which they now perform, and which, I am hound to say they discharge most efficiently; and I think it would be injudicious to burden them with the work which would devolve upon them as registrars and superintendent registrars. In the Bill which I have now the honour to propose, therefore, I have adopted a system in conformity with that in operation in England—that is to say, I have adopted what I may call the Pool-Law system, so that the areas or districts will be the areas of the unions, the dispensing medical officers of the unions will he the registrars, and the clerks of the unions will be the superintendent registrars. I believe that is the scheme which, on the whole, will meet with the greatest amount of support from the Irish Members, and I believe it is the scheme which is likely to work best for the social and sanitary improvement of the people of Ireland. The Poor Law districts are well known, whereas considerable inconvenience would have resulted in that respect from the employment of the constabulary. We have, therefore, followed the Poor Law system, and I think the districts will be found very suitable for the purposes of the registration. In Scotland there is a great disparity between the extent of the areas. I am informed by Registrar General Dundas, from whom I have received valuable assistance in this matter, that in Scotland, while some of the registration districts contain 30,000, 40,000 and even 50,000 inhabitants, others contain not more than 400 or 500. There are 1,000 districts altogether in that country, but the great variation in their extent, coupled with the compulsory principle of registration, works rather prejudicially for the interests of the poor. The area of Scotland and Ireland as hon. Members know, is very nearly the same; but in Ireland we propose to have the system much better arranged. The districts will be very much of one size, the average population of each being 7,400. Besides 163 unions we have 718 dispensary districts with 777 dispensary medical officers—thus forming an admirable machinery ready to our hand. These dispensary medical officers are superior to the village doctors in England; many of them have professional connections extending over large tracts of country, and I believe they will be able to furnish most valuable returns. We next come to the question of expense. The deputations I had the honour to receive at Dublin from the College of Surgeons, the Statistical Society, and the Social Science Association, all recommended that the remuneration of the registrars should be defrayed from the local rates, but that the superintendent registrars should be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. I gave the best attention I could to these suggestions, and the proposal I have now to make is, that the registrars should be paid, as in England, out of the rates, but that the superintendent registrars should receive their fees out of the Consolidated Fund. Considering the advantage that will be derived by all classes from this measure, the total burden that will be thrown upon the public will be comparatively very trifling—namely, £16,000 a year, or just upon five-sixteenths of a penny in the pound on the whole rateable valuation of Ireland. We propose, then, to pay the registrars 1s. for each entry, and the superintendent registrars 2d. The stationery and boxes will be supplied by the Government as in England and Scotland. There will be no other outlay attending the scheme except the salary of the Registrar General, which we propose to increase to £1,000 a year, in consideration of the additional duties to be devolved upon him. This subject has already been before Parliament two or three times. The Registrar General of England formerly received £1,000 a year, and now receives £1,200; but it must be recollected that he has charge of three times the population of Ireland, and has three times the amount of registration to attend to. In Ireland 130 union-houses out of the whole number, namely 163, are built upon a uniform plan, and consequently the office of the clerk of the union, who will be the superintendent registrar, will be very convenient for this purpose. Moreover, the union houses are generally in a central situation, and thus every facility will be afforded for the registration. After the most careful consideration of the subject, I think that no better plan than this can be devised. It brings us in Ireland into harmony with the system pursued in England, and also, to a great extent, into conformity with the system adopted in Scotland. We require by this Bill the compulsory attendance of the parties. This is absolutely necessary; and Registrar General Graham says the want of it is one of the chief blots in the English system. The only other point on which I need trespass on the time of the House is a very important one, namely, the medical certificates. We wish to make our scheme as complete as possible, in order to obtain not a mere registration of births and deaths, but a scientific record of vital statistics, and with that view we have introduced into our Bill a provision which we think will meet the approval of the medical officers. We have not desired, as is done in Scotland, to make it binding on them penally to give the return. From the opportunities I have had of conversing with the President of the Royal College of Surgeons, and judging also from other sources of information, I believe that the medical officers generally will be prepared to co-operate with the State, and to furnish it with the requisite particulars as to the deaths of persons whom they may have attended professionally with greater readiness if it is left to them to do it freely, instead of its being made compulsory on them by the insertion of a penal clause. I have nothing further to add, except that I shall be glad to reply, as far as I am able, to any remarks which hon. Gentlemen may offer on the measure, a brief outline of the main features and provisions of which I have now given. The Bill has been conceived in a most liberal and impartial spirit, with a desire as much as possible to conciliate all classes of the community; and as I feel quite certain that by its adoption a great work of national improvement will he promoted, I hope that it will not only receive the favourable consideration of this House, but that the present Session will not close without seeing it passed into law. I beg, therefore, now to move for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, be was glad that his right hon. Friend had thus early in the Session called the attention of the House to that important subject. It was really a disgrace to the country that any portion of the United Kingdom should be left for so many years without an efficient system of registration of births, deaths, and he would add, of marriages. With the exception of Turkey, he believed his hon. Friend was justified in saying that Ireland was the only country in Europe without such a system. At the same time, he could not congratulate his right hon. Friend upon the result of the experience he had gained during the recess, as to the means by which he proposed to supply the desideratum. He was afraid that his hon. Friend had got into the hands of the doctors, and his opinion was that there were few men who were much better for that. Of all the methods which had been proposed for obtaining these very important statistics that which called in the aid of the doctors was perhaps the worst. [Mr. BRADY: Oh!] His hon. Friend had a professional sympathy, but he (Lord Naas) had none, and therefore he repeated that they were about the very worst machinery that could be used. It appeared by his right hon. Friend's Bill that it was proposed to limit the choice of boards of guardians to the dispensary doctors, who were to have a primâ facie right to these appointments, wholly irrespective of their qualifications, their leisure, place of residence, or any other consideration. That, to his mind, was a very grave objection to the Bill. Now, that was not the case in England; for although it was perfectly true that in England a great number of medical men held the appointments, yet the choice of the appointing bodies was not limited, and, in point of fact, it was found that some of the most efficient registrars in this country were not medical men, nor in any way connected with the medical profession. Then, again, many of the medical men in Ireland were in very large practice, and their time very valuable. By the Bill they made the registration of the birth or death compulsory upon the person, who would have to go many miles to give the information to the registrar, and in nine cases out of ten the person would find the registrar away from home. That was an inevitable result, and therefore it was that he contended that the doctor in Ireland, from his high position, his large practice, and the demands upon his time, was of all others the most unsuitable man for the post. The duties were such that they could be performed quite as well by a clerk as by the highest surgeon, and therefore he thought the imposing of them upon medical men was a great mistake. Then, with regard to the size of the dispensary districts. The size of them was very great indeed; and if they made the registration compulsory, they would find great inconvenience and hardship the consequence, causing people to travel, perhaps fifteen or twenty miles, to register the birth or death of a particular member of their family. Such were a few of the objections he had to urge against the Bill. He thought it would be much better to leave it to the discretion of boards of guardians to appoint such parties as they might think fit. There was one important omission in the Bill, which he much regretted. It made no provision for the accurate registration of marriages, a matter so materially bound up with the question of property. Indeed, with regard to that subject, the register of the marriage was of primary importance, as determining the right of succession, legitimacy, and other questions upon which the possession of property turned. An admirable scheme of marriage registration had been laid before the Committee, which there was every reason to believe would receive the assent of a large majority of the community. He knew the question was a very delicate one; but it was perfectly possible to avoid the main difficulty by showing that the registration was in no way connected with the law of marriage. He still hoped his right hon. Friend would be induced to devote his attention to this part of the question. There was ample information at his disposal, as all the leaders of the different political and religious parties in Ireland had publicly expressed their opinions on the question, and his right hon. Friend had nothing to do but to take those opinions and adopt the best plan recommended by them. He did not mean to offer any serious opposition to this measure, but he reserved to himself the power, if he should think fit, not only to offer amendments as regarded the registration of births and deaths, but also to extend its provisions to the registration of marriages in Ireland.


said, it was a disgrace to the nineteenth century that any portion of the kingdom should be without a proper registration of births, deaths, and marriages. He regarded an efficient system of registration of births and deaths as most important, not only in a statistical and social, but also in a moral point of view. But to make it effective there must be a proper staff; and, apart from his professional predilections, he maintained that medical men were of all classes the best qualified to act as registrars. In England butchers and bakers were appointed registrars, who, in copying the cause of death from the medical certificate, were often totally at a loss, being ignorant of the professional meaning of the terms employed. It was true, no doubt, that dispensary doctors in Ireland were in full employment, but there was on that very account no difficulty in handing to them the particulars for registration, as they were almost always engaged in the houses where either deaths or births took place. He saw no necessity, however, for the appointment of superintendent registrars, as the medical men who were to act as registrars were better educated and a superior class of men in many respects to the clerks of the unions whom it was proposed to place over them. He therefore would suggest that that provision of the Bill should be withdrawn. Upon the whole, however, he thanked the right hon. Baronet for having introduced the Bill, which, after some alterations had been introduced, would, no doubt, be likely to produce a beneficial result.


said, he congratulated the right hon. Baronet in getting out of the hands of Sir Henry Browning and the police of Ireland. He was amazed when Sir Henry Browning stated in the Committee that in order to make the Bill popular it should be placed in the hands of the police, and that any village constable could make an entry of a birth, death, or marriage as well as a clergyman of any religious denomination in Ireland. He was glad that the right hon. Baronet had given up so unpopular a scheme as that, because nothing could be more unpopular than to commit these duties to the Irish constabulary. He thought the doctors were the right men to whom they should be intrusted, and he was glad the right hon. Baronet had saved the Bill from what would have endangered it in that House, or, if passed, would have destroyed its working in Ireland. The alleged difficulty of getting dispensing doctors who had lucrative practices to act as registrars for a trifling remuneration could be met, if it existed, by giving the board of guardians power in such cases to appoint some other persons to act as registrars. Some observations had been made respecting the clerks to the boards of guardians, but from his experience he believed those gentlemen were well qualified to collect the statistics in the manner prescribed by the Bill.


said, he was also glad that the right hon. Baronet had avoided the introduction of the police in the Bill. He should, however, find it his duty to oppose it, for reasons which he believed were largely shared in by the community in Ireland. The measure would entail upon the people of Ireland an expense of £16,000 a year at a time when all complained of being overtaxed for local purposes, and they naturally desired to know what return they would get. Social science might find some advantage in the statistics, but he believed the Bill would be of no real value unless it incorporated a provision for registering marriages. The right hon. Baronet said the Bill would be of great advantage in enabling persons to establish heirships, but what would be the use of proving a birth or death unless they also proved the marriage? He believed the timidity to introduce such a system arose from the unwillingness to repeal the penal enactment against Catholic priests who celebrated mixed marriages. If the right hon. Baronet would make up his mind to repeal that enactment, so opposed to the spirit of the present time, and would introduce a system of registration of marriages, he would entitle himself to the gratitude of the great bulk of the people of that country.


said, he must express his surprise, after so long a time had elapsed since the subject was first under discussion, that the right hon. Baronet had not thought proper to bring in a Bill relating to marriages as well as births and deaths. The Committee appointed by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor which sat two years ago, and was composed of men of every creed and denomination, came to an almost unanimous resolution that there ought to be registration of marriages in Ireland, and that such a registration might be easily effected by the clergy of different denominations, who should receive a small fee, and send the registers to a chief office in Dublin. From the spirit manifested before that Committee, he did not anticipate there would be any difficulty in getting rid of the obnoxious Act of the 19th Geo. II., and of establishing a perfect system of registration for marriages as well as births and deaths. He thought that bugbear Act might be swept away with perfect safety to the Protestant religion, and without producing bad feeling on the part of any other denomination, if the subject were dealt with in a comprehensive spirit. In his opinion the Government had done wisely in dropping the plan of employing the constabulary, against which there were many grave and constitutional objections, but he hoped a wide discretion would be left to the Government or the boards of guardians, as a precaution against the possible inefficiency of the doctors in carrying out the provisions of the Bill, because it was not to be forgotten that doctors were not necessarily present at all deaths, and were only present at a proportionate number of births. As to the clerks of unions acting as superintendent registrars, they had no time to spare for duties extraneous to their office, and he doubted the propriety of giving them the appointment. He did not understand whether the registrars were to be paid out of the poor rate or county rate.


The superintendent registrars will be paid out of the Consolidated Fund, and the registrars out of the poor rate.


said, it would be a greater boon to Ireland if the whole ex- pense were borne by the Consolidated Fund. He did not think it was the part of a wise statesman to increase the local burdens in that country at a time when those burdens were too heavy for a large portion of the ratepayers, and when a very large amount of distress existed amongst the small tillage farmers of Ireland.


said, in his opinion the right hon. Baronet had acted wisely in bringing in a Bill for the registration of births and deaths, and omitting marriages. The reason was obvious. Births and deaths were matters of fact, but questions of marriages involved other subjects of a far more difficult and delicate character, especially in a country like Ireland, where there were different religious denominations who celebrated marriages in a different way and on a different principle. In accordance with the highest authority among Roman Catholics in Ireland, he could state that the present marriage law was satisfactory to the largest portion of the population, and he would advise the Government not to get into hot water by interfering with it. On principle, the law as to mixed marriages was undesirable, because it was a penal law and produced no good effects, but he did not think that the grievance was at all felt in Ireland. No doubt marriages ought to be registered, and he was far from saying that a Bill for the purpose could not be concocted, but it ought to be dealt with as a separate question, and perfectly distinct from the registration of births and deaths. He was very glad, therefore, that it was not included in the Bill; and if the subject were referred to a Committee, he should be happy to give all the assistance which it was in his power to afford towards producing a satisfactory measure.


said, he agreed with the hon. Baronet (Sir George Bowyer) that it would be most difficult to deal with the marriage question in the same Bill that related to births and deaths. As regarded the charge upon the counties, it would only be five-sixteenths of a penny in the pound, and the total valuation of Ireland being £12,400,000, the charge imposed by the Bill would be a little more than £16,000. The charge, he thought, was too small to be the subject of serious objection ou the part of the Irish Members.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the Registration of Births and Deaths in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Sir ROBERT PEEL, Sir GEORGE GREY, and Mr. CARDWELL.

Bill presented, and read 1o. [Bill 9.]