§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ MR. ATKINSON (Boston)
Will the persons enumerated have an opportunity of declaring their religion under the head "Protestant," or "Catholic?"
§ Clauses 1 to 4 inclusive, agreed to.515
§ (4.16.) Clause 5.
§ * MR. W. A. MACDONALD (Queen's Co., Ossory)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 11, after "age," to insert "capacity to read and write." I think the Amendment is one of very great importance. If it is necessary to ask the age and sex of the population, I think it is far more necessary and expedient that the state of their education should be ascertained. There is no acquisition more important than the power to read and write, and I do not think it will be said that it can be difficult to obtain the information.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 5, page 2 line 11, after the word "age," to insert the words "capacity to read and write."—(Mr. W. A. Macdonald.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ *(4.18.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE,) Tower Hamlets, St. George's
It might be interesting if we were able to get a Return of those in this country who are unable to read or write.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I will not enter into a dispute with the hon. Member. I am afraid that no person would be willing to return himself as incapable of reading and writing, and as the information would undoubtedly be inaccurate it is not desirable to endeavour to obtain it.
§ *(4.20.) MR. W. A. MACDONALD
I do not think the argument of the right hon Gentleman should have any weight at all. At the present moment you ask for a person's age, and there can be no doubt that many inaccurate Returns are made as to ladies' ages. In many instances false Returns are made, but, nevertheless, the information is asked for. I do not see that there ought to be the least difficulty in getting a satisfactory answer to such a simple question as whether a person can read or write.
§ (4.22.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
The suggestion of the hon. Member is one that is worthy of consideration, and I think there are other inquiries that would be exceedingly useful, in order that we might obtain some 516 idea of the condition of the population. In foreign countries, especially in the colonies and in America, the Census Returns are much fuller than those of this country. It is, therefore, of importance that the Government should see their way to extending the scope of this clause.
§ *(4.25.) MR. RITCHIE
We are quite willing to learn everything' we can from the experience of foreign countries, but I must point out that the methods by which the Returns are checked in foreign countries are such as it would be impossible to adopt here. It is perfectly clear that the Return asked for would be altogether unreliable, and, therefore, it is not desirable to enforce it. As to the age, no Return would be of any value unless the age was given.
§ *(4.27.) MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman opposes the Amendment on the ground that the information, because people would be unwilling to render it, and resent its being asked for, would, when procured, be unreliable and misleading. Now, there are no countries in the world where the people would more strongly resist any attempt to force information from them at the point of the sword than America and the British colonies, and there could be no difficulty experienced here that would not be experienced there. Nevertheless, this information is asked for and is supplied in the United States, and in some colonies, and I submit that in this country it would, if obtained, be of more value and utility than many of the Returns which are actually made.
§ *(4.29.) MR. RITCHIE
The hon. Gentleman must not forget that the whole matter has already been inquired into by a strong Committee; but they did not recommend that this information should be obtained.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ (4.30.) MR. HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
I beg to move, in page 2, line 5, after "age," to insert "nationality of father." The Committee reported in favour of an improvement in the means of ascertaining the number of foreigners here. I think it is exceedingly desirable that we should possess some better data, and the best means of ascertaining the number would be if the nationality of the father were given
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 5, after the word "age," to insert the words "nationality of father."—(Mr. Howard Vincent.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ *(4.31.) MR. RITCHIE
My hon. Friend is mistaken if he thinks that the nationality of the father would be of any real practical value. It will be sufficient to know where the individual is born and whether or not he is a British subject.
§ *(4.32.) MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)
I speak only from memory, but I believe that no one in the Committee but the hon. Member himself was desirous that the nationality of the father should be given. There certainly is nothing in the Report of the Committee to justify the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ (4.34.) BARON DIMSDALE (Herts, Hitchin)
I beg to propose, after the word "age," to insert "and religion." In moving this, I wish to remind hon. Members that this was one of the questions into which the Committee inquired, and on which they took evidence, but as to which they pronounced no definite opinion. I have now endeavoured to raise the question in a way most likely to commend itself to the attention of the Committee. The two Amendments of which I have given notice have been taken bodily from the Irish Census Bill. In these days, when the great question of the day is union or separation, it is not desirable to have different laws for the two countries. I cannot conceive anything which would tend more to the repeal of the Union. Hero it is proposed to have one law for England and another for Ireland. The hon. Member for East Mayo on the Second Reading said that he did not know any Irish Roman Catholic who would not be glad to make a declaration of his religion, and from what I know of Irish Protestants the same remark applies to them. But I know that objection is entertained to the proposal by the Nonconformists, who do not like being what they call ticketed. By a subsequent Amendment I intend to provide that nobody shall be subject to penalties for refusing to state his religious profession. 518 It is very remarkable that the leading Members of Administrations, whether Liberal or Conservative, have always been in favour of this proposal, and they have yielded only in deference to the opinion of Nonconformists. One reason why this census is wanted is on account of the important effect it would have in any discussion on disestablishment. A respected clergyman in my own neighbourhood the other day said the Government had not done much for the Church this Session, for they had not given them a Tithe Bill, nor had they consented to a religious census. It is evident there is a strong feeling among the clergy in favour of this census.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 11, after the word "age," to insert the word"religion."—(Baron Dimsdale.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'religion' be there inserted."
§ (4.42.) MR. H. J. ATKINSON (Boston)
I am not aware where the hon. Member has obtained his information as to the wishes of Nonconformists in this matter. I have sat on Conferences and Committees of Nonconformists for the last 35 years, and I never heard any of them object to being "ticketed." Personally, I have no objection to being ticketed myself, for either my political or my religious opinions. I have good grounds for holding them, and I am quite prepared to stand up and give my reasons for those opinions. I hope my hon. Friend will disabuse his mind altogether of that idea. The Amendment includes one which I was going to move, but I am willing to accept the larger proposal. I hope my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board will be merciful, and give us what we ask; if not, I will appeal to the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian, in whose society I should be most happy to find myself so far as this question is concerned. It is said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian in a certain publication advised how the names of those should be arranged who had gone over from the Church of England to the Church of Rome. They were people of position. I hope the right hon. Gentleman has interest enough in the rank and file to give his support to this proposal. I am aware that it would be a shock to some right hon. 519 Gentlemen opposite to have their opinions on political or religious subjects recorded at stated intervals, because so many changes would have to be registered. I do plead that the number of Roman Catholics and Protestants, at all events, shall be given. As to whether the number of members of the Church of England, and the number of Dissenters and Nonconformists, should also be given I do not very much care; but if the numbers are given hon. Members opposite must clearly understand that there is a difference between a Dissenter and a Nonconformist. It will not do to mix up Dissenters with Nonconformists. I cannot agree with my hon. Friend the Baron that the census should show how many of the people are members of the Church of England and how many are Nonconformists, because by law every man who has no religion belongs to the Church of England. Put it in this way. Suppose that a man dies, declaring himself to be neither a member of the Church of England, nor a Nonconformist, nor a Dissenter, his relatives would call in a Church of England clergyman to bury him, and the man would be treated as a member of the Church of England. I do not desire to know how many people are members of the Church of England, and how many are Wesleyan Methodists. If my hon. Friend's Amendment is defeated I suppose I shall be in order in moving mine?
§ MR. ATKINSON
Then, Sir, I think there is a great want of business arrangement in this House, which is supposed to be a model of Parliamentary conduct. Surely if we cannot succeed in getting the larger demand conceded, we ought not thereby to be precluded from trying to get a smaller concession. I should have thought that common sense would have dictated the adoption of such a course. I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I have supported for 40 years as Chairman, candidate, and Member, to consent to this Amendment or to a modification of it.
§ MR. PICTON
I am sorry I do not appreciate the hon. Member's position. I will say, however, he has taunted his fellow Nonconformists with having a distaste to be ticketed; but there is another difficulty which the hon. Gentleman has not realised. A great many persons do not know how to describe themselves in the matter of religious belief. Personally, I should not know how to fill up the Return, or how to describe myself in this respect; and there are hundreds of thousands in this country who are in a similar position. The hon. Member for the Hitchin Division of Hertfordshire has let the cat out of the bag. The religious census is to be a kind of plébiscite in favour of the Established Church; but this plébiscite is a matter which ought to be decided at the polling booths. As to the principle of equality between England and Ireland, hon. Members ought to remember that the circumstances in the two countries are very different indeed. In Ireland religious differences are clearly marked, and are comparatively few in number. The vast bulk of the population is divided into the three great denominations of Catholics, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. Other classes are exceedingly few. It is, therefore, of considerable importance to know what proportion the Catholic population in Ireland forms of the whole people. On the other hand, it may be said that there are about 365 denominations in this country—one for every day in the year. If the Irish people desire it, by all means let them have a religious census in Ireland, but we do not want one in England.
§ *(4.56.) MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
I hope, in the interests of accuracy, that the President of the Local Government Board will stand by the Bill. The whole question has been carefully considered by a Committee, and the evidence tended to show that in proportion as the number of questions to the householder were multiplied, the chances increased of diminishing the accuracy of the replies received. Quite apart from the merits of questioning people as to their religious views, as we all know, there are sufficient persons not distinctly attached to any religious denomination to destroy the value of any census records on the subject.
§ *(4.58.) MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)
As a member of the Census Committee, let me say it is not accurate to say that the Report of the Committee had any definite bearing on the merits of a religious census.
§ * MR. J. E. ELLIS
I have no wish to convey an erroneous impression. I gather the Report amounts to this, that the Committee did not find themselves in a position to make any recommendation.
§ * MR. WHITMORE
The Committee have not thought it right to weigh the relative merits and demerits from the political point of view of a religious census. From the statistical point of view the Return would be valuable; but when the Committee came to consider the political difficulties which surrounded a Return of this kind, they felt that they were not the proper body to go into those questions. The evidence we had before us strengthened my own opinion in favour of a religious census. It is, undoubtedly, a strong fact that in Ireland there has not been any difficulty encountered in making a Return as to religious belief. Out of the whole population only 3,000 neglected to make the return. In our Colonies this Return is cheerfully made. I confess it seems to me that the balance of argument is in favour of a religious census. The hon. Member for Leicester, whose mind on religious subjects is exceptionally flabby, need make no return of his religious belief. I believe the vast majority of the population would have no difficulty, and would in no way object to making the Return. The main objection to a religious census is that an exaggerated importance may be attached to the figures. It is said that great numbers would return themselves as members of the Church of England when, in reality, they had no very definite opinions. I quite feel the force of that objection, but it is an objection which will apply to nearly all the Returns under the census. No one pretends for a moment that the Return in any one of the columns of the census is absolutely and mathematically correct. The Return is made subject to all the inferences and deductions which an observer of human nature has a right to put upon a Return. Everyone knows the value of a Return of age; no 522 one thinks that it is absolutely accurate, especially in the case of one sex. So, undoubtedly, it would be the case with respect to a religious census. The Return would not be absolutely and mathematically accurate, but it would be a far more trustworthy Return than any we have at present. It would be properly open to criticisms and inferences, but I think it would be an important and interesting addition to our statistical information, and, therefore, I hope the Committee will assent to the Amendment proposed.
§ *(5.2.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire)
The hon. Member for Boston, taunted us with having changed our opinions. I would remind the House that the man who never changes opinions is a fool. [Laughter.] I do not use that word to convey any personal disrespect. It is an old and true saying. I do not know where the hon. Member for Boston got his his knowledge of Nonconformist opinion. I certainly should not have guessed from his Votes whether the hon. Gentleman was a Dissenter or Nonconformist. But, speaking for myself, I have represented a constituency of Nonconformists for something like 22 years, and I can state that a great many Nonconformists look upon a religious census as a means of inviting a man to say he is a member of the Church of England. In the eye of the law I believe we are all members of the Church of England, and the consequence is you would get all the persons whom the late Mr. Miall used to call "absenters" credited to the Church of England. The hon. Member for Chelsea candidly avowed that a religious census would not be at all satisfactory, or represent the real religious opinion of the country with perfect truth. He said that an observer of human nature would be sure to draw his own conclusions, and to make allowances. But I am afraid those who looked at the Returns are not observers of human nature, and they would at once conclude that the members of the Church of England were enormously in excess of the members of other denominations, and they would, therefore, be led to a false conclusion. In Wales there is deep religious feeling, and I am perfectly certain that there the people would have no hesitation in stating their 523 religious faith. But when you come to the "absenters" in England you have a very different state of things. I had hoped that this matter was settled. With regard to the Committee, they certainly came to no conclusion on the point. But I understand from the First Lord of the Treasury that the Government has settled the matter, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will bring some pressure to bear on his supporters to resist this Amendment, which was being quite unexpectedly sprung upon us.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
The right hon. Gentleman must know that the Government are bound to the Bill which they lay before the Committee. At the same time I am bound to confess that, when the right hon. Gentleman appeals to me to control our followers on this particular matter, this is one of those points in respect of which we do not feel at all inclined to put pressure upon our supporters or the friends of the right hon. Gentleman who are with us. The Bill is the Bill of the Government, and to that Bill the Government, of course, will adhere. At the same time, I am bound to say that I think there is a very great deal to be said in favour of the suggestion made by my hon. Friend, and I am not in the least astonished that he has brought forward his proposal. There is great force in the arguments used on this side of the House, and in the arguments used on the other side; at the same time I do not share the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. If the Return proved unsatisfactory, I take it that it would be because of the failure of those who are not members of the Church of England to make the Return they were asked to make. To them would attach the blame if any preponderance of the Church of England were shown. But though there is something to be said in favour of the proposal, it is not one which the Government, under the circumstances of the case, at present are prepared to accept. We should be very sorry indeed if any very sharp differences of opinion were to be raised throughout the country by a demand for such a Return. We should be sorry indeed to raise religious or political feeling in the various com- 524 munities, and the effect of which would be felt in other matters in respect of which we desire to obtain information. We have adopted mainly the recommendations of the Committee with regard to the information to be obtained, and, looking to the sharp differences of opinion which exist, we see that it will be well to adhere to those recommendations, and not ask the House to assent to a religious census.
§ *(5.12.) MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
I intend to vote for the Amendment, for I do not think that this question is at all one to be regarded from a Party or sectarian point of view, and I am sorry those considerations have been so far introduced. No one disputes that if this item were included in the Census Returns it would be of very great statistical advantage. I believe in Canada and the United States the Religious Return is always included, and no serious difficulty has been experienced, in spite of the great number of denominations in those countries. I cannot believe that there is a very large number of people of the opinions of the hon. Member for Leicester, who would return themselves to the enumerators as members of the Church of England. I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that the Welsh people had no objection to the Return, and I believe there would be very little objection in the rest of the country.
(5.13.) MR. CAMPBELL-BANNER-MAN (Stirling, &c.)
I confess I listened with considerable astonishment to the speech of the right hon. Gentlemen the President of the Local Government Board. I remember distinctly the First Lord of the Treasury said that the Census Bill would be precisely the same as on previous occasions. Yet the President of the Local Government Board gets up and encourages his followers to support the Amendment, which he knows will be bitterly opposed on this side of the House. I do not say it is a breach of understanding or of faith, but certainly it is not what we expected from the statements on the part of the Government with regard to this business in particular. I speak for a good many Members on this side of the House when I say that we are not afraid of a religious census because of the result it may bring about. We object to it on principle. I object to 525 being asked of what religion I am. If a religious census is put in practice in other countries, all I can say is, I am glad I do not belong to those other countries. It is on this principle, and not because the result might be deceiving owing to weak people representing themselves as being what they are not, that many on this side of the House are strongly opposed to this Amendment. We have been led to believe that no such proposal would be encouraged by the Government, and according to what fell from the mouth of the First Lord of the Treasury these Bills were to be really the same as those that have been passed on previous occasions. Consequently, I was amazed beyond expression to find that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, practically on the part of the Government, although he said the Government did not support the Amendment, giving a sort of backhanded support to the Amendment.
§ *(5.16.) MR. RITCHIE
I do not think that a single word of what I stated could possibly have suggested the tone the right hon. Gentleman has adopted. I stated most distinctly that the policy of the Government was the policy of the Bill; that the Government intended to adhere to the Bill, and to oppose the Amendment; but it seems to have given the right hon. Gentleman much astonishment, that at the same time I could acknowledge there were some good arguments in favour of the Amendment, and that we did not propose to put that pressure which was suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire upon the supporters of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman said truly that this ought not to be treated as a Party question, and we, having stated our views in regard to the matter and that we adhere to the Bill, propose to leave it to those who generally support the Government to act according to their own views on the subject.
§ *(5.18.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I must remind the Committee of what took place in regard to this Bill yesterday, the result of which was that there was no discussion on the Second Reading of the Scotch Bill. Will the right hon. Gentleman say that that was not the result of the acceptance by the Scotch Members in good faith of the statement that the Bill as it stood was 526 to be adopted by the Government and their supporters? I say, unhesitatingly, that had we supposed that such an Amendment as this, involving a principle on which, as regards Scotland there exists the widest divergencies of opinion, these Bills would not have been allowed to pass the Second Reading as easily as they did. We were, in point of fact, led to understand that this discussion would not arise, and one of the supporters of the Government actually stated that he did not intend to press for and did not know whether a Division would be taken. It certainly is a most unusual tiling to hear a Minister say that, although the Government themselves intend to vote for a Bill, all those who support the Government are at liberty to vote as they wish. If that is the sort of understanding we are to have in regard to public measures let us be told that it is so; but at any rate it is not the sort of understanding we have been accustomed to in this House.
§ (5.20.) MR. M. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I only wish to say a word in reply to what has just fallen from the hon. Gentleman opposite. Are we on this side of the House to be expected invariably to vote for every proposal which comes from the Front Bench, without any regard to the views we ourselves entertain, or to the views our constituents wish to express? This is a question on which, in Scotland, there has been greater division of opinion than on almost any other subject, and I intend to vote according to what I believe to be my conscientious duty. In the discharge of that duty I shall vote for the Amendment of my hon. Friend, and I may add that I think the Government are perfectly right in the course they are taking on this question. I am glad they have left it as an open question, and that they do not regard their supporters as bound to follow them in their action on this Amendment.
(5.21.) MR.S.RENDEL (Montgomeryshire)
We are called on to divide upon this question under somewhat peculiar circumstances, and I think it important that there should be no misapprehension, such as would appear to have been created in the mind of the hon. Member for East Somerset (Mr. Hobhouse) as to the attitude of the Welsh Members. It is quite true that the Welsh people are 527 not at all afraid, and have nothing to fear from the results of a religious census; but, at the same time, it is a great mistake to suppose that they are favourable to this proposal, or at all approve of a religious census. On the contrary, they strongly object to it on principle. But, without delaying the House by going over the obvious arguments from a Welsh point of view, I would point out that the effect of adopting this Amendment would be to create a religious agitation as to the character of the machinery to be employed and to what extent it would affect the influence of the Church. I think, under the circumstances, it would be the most harassing and unwise proposal the House could pass, and I do hope it is clearly understood that coming, as this proposition does, at the last moment of the Session and by surprise, when, to our amazement, we hear from the Government that this is to be left as an open question, the Welsh Members as a body join in a vigorous protest against the Amendment.
§ *(5.23.) SIR R. FOWLER (London)
I feel bound to enter my protest against the assumption of the hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont), that because the Second Reading of this Bill was passed without a Division certain hon. Members on this side of the House have no right to dissent from this portion of the measure. I protest against the dictum of the hon. Gentleman that we are bound to vote against an Amendment the object of which is to carry out the views we have long entertained on this subject. We who are independent supporters of the Government ought not to be called upon to go with them into the Division Lobby when they are taking a course of which we do not approve, although, of course, the thirty gentlemen who are members of the Ministry are bound to vote for the Bill as it stands.
§ (5.24.) SIR H. JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)
I am sure that no one can object to the right hon. Baronet and other supporters of the Government expressing their views on this subject, but, to my mind, the question is of far too much importance to be left to run loose without responsibility on the part of those who introduced the measure. No one objects 528 to an estimate being formed of the religious opinions of the population; what is objected to is an attempt to insist on a man's making public his religious views. ["No, no!"] Hon. Members say "No," but if this Amendment be carried every man will be bound to make this Return. I know that the refusal will not be subject to a penalty, and that, legally, he need not make the Return unless he likes; but if he is asked to give his religious opinion, and he does not choose to do so, he leaves it open to the public to express doubts as to whether he really holds the religious views he professes in his private life, or to say he has no religious views to declare. This Amendment involves a change in our system of dealing with this question in England and Wales, which has never been adopted before, and to which I have always been opposed. It involves an inquisition as to men's religious opinions which ought to be most private, and ought certainly not to be made a matter of public discussion. I would much rather insist on asking a man what are his political opinions, and how he has voted; for it seems to me that from such a declaration many considerations are absent that must necessarily affect the question as to what are a man's religious opinions.
§ (5.26.) VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Lancashire, Darwen)
I am wholly at a loss to understand the indignation of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because he himself was responsible as a Member of the Government which brought in the last Census Bills, one of which contained a provision imposing on Ireland the necessity of making a religious Return. Why did not the right hon. and learned Gentleman exhibit on that occasion all the energy and eloquence which he has evidenced on this? He has spoken of people being compelled to state their religious belief, but he knows there is nothing in this Amendment of my hon. Friend compelling anyone to make a statement on this point. It simply allows the people of this country, if they please, to state the religious opinions they hold, and they may either say what those opinions are, or that they have no religious opinions at all, or to decline to answer the question altogether. The hon. Member for Leicester has stated that he would have a difficulty in making such a Return. 529 I do not think the hon. Member would find that he would have any difficulty, as he need not put any statement in that particular column of the Return; but I am sure the hon. Member does not belong to that class who would be afraid to state what religious views they hold, and I am equally certain that he would not state religious views which he does not entertain.
§ MR. PICTON
My statement was that if I were to refuse to state my religious views I might be put down as a member of the Church of England.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
The hon. Gentleman sits among the Members for Ireland, and probably that may have influenced him in forming so rash a conclusion. Does he not know that after the census is taken no man will be one whit the wiser as to the religious belief of any of his neighbours. I should be inclined to say that Returns such as are asked for by this Amendment would furnish almost the most interesting statistics we could have. There is no reason why we should not follow the example of all our colonies and part of the United Kingdom, namely, Ireland, as well as the advice of many of our fellow subjects in this House—I refer to the Scotch Members. For these reasons I think hon. Members should feel no scruple in voting for the Amendment.
§ (5.30.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I think the noble Lord in his address to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir H. James) forgets at which end of the Bench the right hon. Gentleman sits. The noble Lord, in the language he used to the right hon. Gentleman, was almost as vehement as he would have been if he had been attacking us. But, with the consent of the noble Lord, I will say a word as to the course the Government are taking. We had hoped that we had got into smooth waters, and that we were going to conclude the Session. The Government, on the Second Reading of the Bill, made it distinctly understood yesterday that their policy was to exclude the religious question from this Bill. [Ministerial cries of "No."]"No"? Well, we so understood it. It was in the spirit and upon the faith of that statement that the Second Reading was agreed to. I have never known a Government depart from an under- 530 standing made in this House without being justly condemned and properly punished for it. What is the position of the Government now? At an earlier part of the Session they introduced unnecessarily a liquor question, and now it appears as if they want to introduce a religious question. If they do introduce it there will be no question of Parliament meeting in November, for we shall sit till then. From the observations of the President of the Local Government Board I should say that the Government are playing fast and loose with the House. When the Government say, "We are bound to take one course ourselves, but our followers may do as they like," we know very well what it means. We know that it is an instruction to those who sit behind them, and who are a majority in the House, to defeat them on a point on which they want to be defeated. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord of the Treasury will at once remove the impression produced by the remarks of the President of the Local Government Board by assuring the House that the Government stand by the declaration made yesterday that this is not to be a religious census—a declaration which certainly prevailed up to half an hour ago.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
There is an hon. Gentleman behind the Government who undertakes to say that there was no understanding arrived at.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I quite recognise that. It is quite right that he should; but what I want to know is, what more responsible people than the hon. Member think about the matter. I think we have a right to claim a specific declaration from the Government. We have a right to expect that the Government will abide by what they have said, and that they will use their legitimate influence with their supporters to induce them to reject the Amendment.
§ *(5.35.) THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. H. SMITH,) Strand, Westminster
I have no hesitation 531 in responding to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman. The Government undoubtedly stand by what they have said. They are responsible for the Bill they have presented to the House, and, in their opinion, it is not desirable to introduce into the measure the provision under consideration. All that my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board said was that the Government are not able to exert such pressure upon some of their followers as is necessary to prevent them from voting for the Amendment. Have not the followers of the Government already voted against them in the course of this Session? I wish the House to understand distinctly that the Government have presented this Bill in perfect good faith, believing that, on the whole, it is far better to proceed on the lines settled in the past than to make the census a religious one. Personally, I should have no objection whatever to the introduction of the religious question, but I respect the objections that are entertained against that course by a very large number of my fellow-subjects. I therefore deprecate strongly the attempt to introduce into a measure of this kind a subject which must cause heat, and, to a certain extent, ill-feeling, and certainly a vast amount of misrepresentation. It is a misfortune that this should be the case; a very great misfortune, for the statistics in regard to religion, if they could be obtained, would be very valuable. But if there is a very strong objection on the part of a large number of persons to give this information, I am not one of those who would insist upon its being furnished, nor do I think it would be sound policy to insist on its being given. The Government, therefore, stand by the Bill, and will vote against the Amendment, and I should regret the fact very much indeed if this provision were agreed to I trust I have satisfied the House that the Government have acted in complete good faith, and that they desire that the measure shall pass in its present form.
§ (5.39.) MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)
[Cries of" Divide !"] I take it that hon. Members who cried "Divide" are in favour of the Amendment. I can quite understand their anxiety for a Division. They fancy they have a majority—I do not think so, but they 532 do—and they are anxious to take advantage of the circumstances. The course the Government have adopted has been somewhat curious. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board went out of his way to say that he did not intend to exert any pressure on hon. Gentlemen behind him, and that they might vote as they liked.
§ * MR. RITCHIE
That observation was called forth by a remark of the right hon. member for Denbighshire, who appealed to me to put all the pressure I could upon Members who differed from me with regard to this question, so that they might vote against the Amendment. It was to that that my observation was directed.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
What did the right hon. Gentleman say in response to the appeal of my right hon. Friend, who urged that the Government should put that ordinary pressure on their followers which is usual when a pledge has been given to the Opposition? The right hon. Gentleman said he could not do so. He turned round with a sort of nail-his-ears-to-the-pump look and said, "Do as you like; I will not exercise any pressure." I say that when the Second Reading was passed, it was passed on the distinct understanding that the Government were not going to allow the introduction of this religious question. It is a curious fact that the First Lord of the Treasury has avoided using any words of exhortation to his followers. In fact, he went out of his way to say that, personally, he had no objection to a religious census. What the right hon. Gentleman ought to do is this: he ought' to say that the Government pledged themselves to pass the Bill as it stands, and that if they are thwarted they will drop it. If the right hon. Gentleman were to say, "If this Amendment is forced upon us, we will withdraw the Bill," the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London and other in depen dent Baronets and Members on the opposite side of the House would shrink into their shells at once and follow the Government humbly into the Lobby.
§ *(5.45.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
[Cries of "Divide !"] Hon. Members who object to further discussion have apparently come down to the House to spring this 533 Amendment upon it. Until an hour or less ago we had no idea on this side of the House that a Religious Census Bill was contemplated. We came down to discuss a non-contentious—a Census Bill merely. If the Amendment is passed, the feeling of the country, which is that a man's religious belief is a matter purely for his own conscience and not for the State, will be even more intense than the feeling evoked by the Ministerial Liquor Bill. Hon. Members in this House may not in the least object to state their religious views, but many of the people whom they represent cannot afford to do so. There are tens of thousands of domestic servants in this country, and not a few of them are engaged on the conditions that they go to church and communicate, and in the villages of England what amounts in result to religious persecution prevails to a large extent. I mean that for a labourer to declare himself and his family to be Dissenters or Roman Catholics, would mean giving up all share in coal and blanket funds, and getting the cold shoulder in many ways. This Division List will be scanned everywhere throughout the land, for it will tell the people who the men are who wish to revive the old methods and touchstones of religious bigotry and intolerance. If the Amendment is carried, there are many of us who will exhaust every means at our disposal to prevent the Bill from passing.
(5.47.) MR. BARTLBY (Islington, N.)
As Independent Members have been spoken of, I wish to say that it would be very interesting to have these statistics as to religion, if they could be obtained; but the collection of them would cause too much heart-burning, annoyance, and irritation. I shall, therefore, vote for the Bill in its present form.
§ *(5.47.) MR. H. J. WILSON (York, W.R., Holmfirth)
I desire to enter a protest against the proposed alteration of the measure. I had to leave the House shortly after the Debate commenced, and only heard the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, in reply to some earlier Amendments. In those observations, however, 534 the right hon. Gentleman took his stand on the recommendations of the Select Committee, and did not tell his followers that they could vote as they liked, and I naturally inferred that the Government intended to stand by the Bill. When I returned to the House, however, I found that the right hon. Gentleman had set his followers at liberty in this particular matter. If this Amendment is accepted, it will lead to very great difficulty and inconvenience. The enumerators will find it difficult to carry out their work, especially in cases where they have to instruct the people how to fill up the Returns; and, further, the selection of the enumerators will be a more serious, and perhaps contentious, matter than it need otherwise be. Then I would ask how long or wide is it proposed to make the religion column in the census paper— for there are a good many forms and shades of religious belief in this country, and some people may find it difficult to describe themselves in the ordinary space of a census paper.
§ (5.49.) MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)
It is impossible for anyone to imagine that the object of the proposal is merely to ascertain the religious belief of the people of the country. I contend that the proposal has an ecclesiastical and political object in view. Nobody will be influenced in the slightest degree by figures collected in such a way or be influenced by them in any degree in considering the question of Disestablishment, either in England or Scotland. The feeling of the country on that important question will have to be tested in a very different way—at the polls. I trust the House will not allow any form of religious plebiscite to be taken, and I hope the Government will make it clear to their followers that they do not approve of the Amendment.
§ *(5.50.) MR. RITCHIE
Both the First Lord of the Treasury and I have declared that the Government think it would be most impolitic to introduce this Amendment into the Bill.
§ (5.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 69; Noes 288.—(Div. List, No. 196.)
§ *(6.5.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
I beg to propose to insert, after "day," in line 14,"and whether any such person speaks Welsh only 535 or both Welsh and English." I understand that the Government are prepared to accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, in line 14, after the word "day," to insert the words "and whether any such persons speak Welsh only or both Welsh and English."—(Mr. S. T. Evans.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted"
§ * MR. RITCHIE
I have considered the matter since last night, and as I gather it is the universal wish of the Members for Wales that these words should be inserted, I accept the Amendment.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ *(6.8.) MR. W. A. MACDONALD
I beg to move the insertion, after "lunatic," in line 16, of the words "and if a child, whether he or she, is attending school." I do not wish to press the Amendment strongly; but it does appear to me that if you do not accept this Amendment, you will have no complete classification of the number of children attending school. We can get details as to the number of boys attending the great public schools and you may obtain the number of children attending Board Schools, but there are very many children who attend schools of a different character. Many children attend private adventure schools, where they get a very good education, but there are no means at present of ascertaining the number of these children. I am anxious to know how many children, both boys and girls, attend school, and it appears to me that, unless you adopt this Amendment or some Amendment going in the same direction, you will not obtain what is a most elementary piece of information.
§ Amendment proposed, in Clause 5, page 16, after the word "lunatic," to insert the words "and if a child, whether he or she, is attending school."—(Mr. W. A. Macdonald.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (6.10.) MR. RITCHIE
I quite appreciate the motive that prompts the hon. Gentleman in moving this Amendment, and, if I thought that the householder could be fairly asked 536 under all the circumstances to give such information, I should be glad to do what I could to meet his views. But I am sure he will agree with me that it is extremely probable that what he desires will not be obtained, namely, correct information. There are some classes who will, no doubt, imagine that the information may be used against them for the School Board officers, and, however desirable it is that we should do everything we can to induce people to act according to law and to obey the law, it would be unfortunate if any impression were created in the minds of anybody that we desire to put the pressure of the law upon them.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ (6.12.) MR. WOODALL (Hanley)
I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman if, in dealing with the deaf and dumb and the blind, he has given his attention to the recommendation in the Report of the Royal Commission, which Report was presented to the House a few months ago, and in which the importance of a specific and uniform classification was set forth? May we hope that in the method to be adopted for collecting information, there will be statistics distinguishing, for example, between those who are born blind, deaf, or dumb, and those who have subsequently become thus afflicted?
§ * MR. RITCHIE
My attention has been directed to the Report of the Royal Commission and to that portion of it to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. If we were to obtain the information in an elaborate way, it would add considerably to the size of the Schedule. At the same time, I will undertake that the question shall be carefully looked into, and if there can be any alteration made in the Paper with regard to these persons, I shall be glad to consider it.
§ MR. WOODALL
Will the right hon. Gentleman consider the particular form of the question on the subject? Will he see, for instance, that the different classes of imbeciles are specified?
§ *(6.14.) MR. RITCHIE
The person filling up the Paper is to make a Return whether the persons in the house is afflicted in any of the modes to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded. If we were to subdivide the class in question the 537 Paper might possibly be unwieldy, but I will consider the point.
§ MR. WOODALL
I take it the right hon. Gentleman recognises the importance of the question I have put, and that possibly by some supplementary process he may meet the desire I have expressed.
§ (6.16.) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
I desire to move an Amendment which I have not been able to put on the Paper. This clause provides that every occupier shall fill in the schedule and sign his or her name. I can conceive there may be cases in which the occupier or householder may be unable to read or write, and I have not been able 'to discover within the limits of the Bill that any provision is made for a case of that kind. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether provision is made for such a case by instructing the enumerator to fill in the paper for the occupier, and whether, in that case, the occupier is required to affix his or her mark to the paper so as to authenticate it. I think it is desirable my Amendment should be moved for the purpose of eliciting from the right hon. Gentleman the information I desire.
Amendment proposed, in Clause 5, page 2, line 32, to insert—
If such occupier be unable to read and write, then such schedule shall be filled up by such other person he may appoint to do so, and shall be authenticated by the mark of such occupier."— (Mr. Conybeare.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ * MR. RITCHIE
The Amendment of the hon. Gentleman is really not necessary, because in Clause 6 full power is taken by which, if the schedules appear to be defective or erroneous, or the information is not complete, the enumerators may make them complete. Instructions are printed at the back of the paper to the effect that if householders are unable themselves to fill up the paper properly the enumerators are charged with the duty of filling up the Return.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
Is the enumerator required in that case to make any statement on the paper to the effect that he has filled up the paper on behalf of the occupier?
§ MR. RITCHIE
I have not had time to look into the matter, but I do not think 538 it is one of importance. If the householder is unable, from any cause whatever, to fill up the paper he has a right to call on the enumerator to fill up the paper.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clauses 6 to 17 inclusive agreed to.
§ Clause 18 deferred.
§ Clauses 19 to 23 agreed to.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again to-morrow.