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Census Bill—Bill 211

Volume 203: debated on Tuesday 26 July 1870

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( Mr. Secretary Bruce, Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen.)


Order for Committee read.

commented upon the trouble and inconvenience which arose from having three separate Census Bills for the different parts of the United Kingdom, and urged upon the Government the desirability of accepting as many Amendments as they could, which would have the tendency of simplifying and consolidating the Bills. His object was to pave the way for a single Census Bill for the whole of the United Kingdom—an object which he hoped would be achieved, when the next Census fell to be taken.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

On Motion, That the Preamble be postponed,

observed that the Census as at present taken, although it cost £180,000, was not worth the paper it was written upon. He had it, on good authority, that there was scarcely any return of occupations in the Census which was not as defective as that of landowners which was mentioned the other night. For instance, in the last Census the number of brewers, including their workmen, was given as 20,300; whereas a Revenue Return, for which he moved this year, gave the number of brewers, exclusive of workmen, as upwards of 33,000. He was surprised that the Registrar General could submit such incorrect statements to the public; but he understood that that officer was the real obstructive to the obtaining of full information. Under the Scotch Census the condition of the dwellings of the poorer classes was set forth, and he thought the Secretary of State should have power to direct that valuable information of that character should be obtained. He also thought that the number of persons attending the various religious establishments on the Census day should be given.

said, it was desirable that the House should have before it the forms which the Secretary of State intended to issue. He objected for several reasons to persons being called upon to register their religious persuasion.

Preamble postponed.

Clauses 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 4 (Householders, schedules to be left at dwelling houses).

, in rising to move, in page 2, line 14, after "condition," insert "religious profession," said, the object of the Amendment was to ascertain tinder the proper authority of the State the relative numbers of the different religious denominations in England. Everyone must admit that the inquiry was one of extreme importance to the State, because its ecclesiastical arrangements could not rest on a secure basis in the absence of such a Census; and to the religious bodies, because it was highly desirable they should know what proportions of the population belonged to their respective denominations. It was by some supposed that to have such a Census was disadvantageous to an Established Church, and in one way perhaps it was so, as recording the number of Dissenters; but the advantages more than counterbalanced the disadvantages, for an Established Church ought to be a national Church, and to fill this character it should be comprehensive, and for that purpose it was of vital consequence to have an accurate knowledge especially of those systems of religion which approximated in numbers to the Established Church—otherwise it could never with safety expand or enlarge its limits. The first attempt to acquire this information for the State was made by William III. In Mr. Buckle's History of Civilization in England mention was made of a fact recorded in the memoirs of that Sovereign — namely, that after William's death there was found in his papers a Return of the number of members of the Established Church and of the number of Dissenters. From that Return it appeared that the Conformists and Nonconformists were in the relative proportions of 22 4–5ths to 1. William III. instituted the inquiry from motives of sound statesmanship; but it was not till 1851 a second attempt was made in the same direction. It was made, however, in quite a different manner, and, as he ventured to think, on an utterly erroneous basis. An inquiry was made not as to how many persons would sign themselves as of this or that religion, but as to the number of persons attending the different places of religious worship on a given Sunday. Now, that was an inquiry with which the State had nothing whatever to do. What the State should really ascertain was the extent of the external allegiance given by individuals to a particular system. It was a matter of indifference to the State whether a particular individual was a regular attendant at any church, or whether he agreed in every particular doctrine or every particular formulary of the Church of which he professed himself a member. What the State wanted to know was whether the individual was prepared to support the national Establishment, and if he were not, how far the Church which he did support approximated to the national Church. The question for the State was—What religion does the individual wish to rank himself under? When the individual answered that question, the State could acquire for itself the information as to the degree of agreement between that religion and the religion of the State. In Ireland the religious Census had been taken under these heads—"Established Church, Presbyterian, Methodist, Independent, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Jews; and, lastly, under the head of 'all other persuasions unspecified.'" In the Census, as finally proposed, there were more minute subdivisions. Under the head "all other persuasions" 14,396 signed themselves as professing various creeds; and under the head "unspecified" the number was 4,163. Were not these statistical facts which the State ought to gather? When such information had been acquired in Ireland, where intense religious controversy prevailed, what difficulty could there be in acquiring it in England also? It had been acquired in America also. And he would ask, why should not such a Census be taken by the English people? It appeared to amuse the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the course which had been adopted in every civilized country should now be demanded for England. The religious Census had been carried out successfully in Ireland and in America. Probably the right hon. Gentleman would say that the Irish were a people remote from the sun, turbulent and barbarous—he believed that was very much the view of his (Dr. Ball's) countrymen to which the right hon. Gentleman inclined—but still Ireland had carried out the Census successfully, and it was only when they came to cultivated, refined, and perfect England that all these difficulties were raised. He was astonished that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should dissent from the proposition to have a religious Census, for if there was any man in the House of whom he (Dr. Ball) would have asserted that he valued science and knowledge of all kinds, pursuing it irrespective of results and consequences, and that he would be disposed to insist upon scientific knowledge as the basis of the process of legislation, it was the right hon. Gentleman himself. If anybody went to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with some proposed ecclesiastical arrangement, he would be the very man to say—"Tell me the elements on which your proposal rests; have you got the figures?" The only objection raised by the Home Secretary to the proposal which he now made was the difficulty in making up the Returns. But how could it be more difficult in England than in Ireland or America? An hon. Member said the other day that if the Returns were made up as he proposed "the Established Church would be credited with the occupants of the gaols and the workhouses." Well, if those occupants so returned themselves, why should not the Established Church be credited with them? In the vast majority of cases the occupants of gaols and workhouses in Ireland returned themselves as belonging to the Roman Catholic community, and that community accordingly was credited with them. It was a most natural thing for persons in such conditions to return themselves as of the religion of the State, for one of the objects of an Established Church was that its ministers should go out into the high-ways and byways and invite all to those who could not obtain it for themselves, to seek and to save those who where bereft of every other aid and succour. No doubt, as had been said, voluntaryism was open to every man; but as Horne Tooke wittily re plied— "Yes, in the same way as the London Tavern is open—to every man that pays for it." But an Established Church extended its ministrations to all, however fallen and poor their condition. Supposing that these persons had no feeling of religion at all, it was open to them to answer as 4,000 persons had done in Ireland, who were returned as belonging to "no specified form of belief?" And if there were in England a large number of persons of no specified form of belief was not that a legitimate subject of inquiry? Would England be greater or wiser by shutting her eyes to facts? If there did exist persons who were half-heathen in their knowledge, and half-heathen in their practice, why was not the truth to be ascertained, so that the responsibility for such a state of things might rest in the proper quarter? Of all evils the greatest was to close our eyes to existing facts which were known to us, and the second was wilfully to refuse the means of acquiring knowledge. In the proposal which he now submitted there was neither a party nor a political object; he was perfectly ignorant of which way the inquiry would tell, for he knew nothing whatever of the statistics of England. But in Ireland the information was obtained, and had led to results which, however disapproved, were of great importance. He did not agree with the measure which was founded upon the information so obtained; but he had never denied that the facts did justify the passing of some measure. England, therefore, ought to take warning, lest by steadily and wilfully shutting her eyes to facts, greater calamities even than those which had happened in Ireland might arise, whereas by seeking timely information she might avoid endless controversies and collisions. The right hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 14, after the word "condition," to insert the words "religious profession."—( Dr. Ball.)

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 77; Noes 90: Majority 13.

moved to insert the words "whether married to a first cousin." It was of great social importance to ascertain the number of consanguineous marriages, and the result on the health of their offspring.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 14, after the word "condition," to insert the words "including whether married to a first cousin."—( Sir John Lubbock.)

said, it was highly desirable that as much information as possible relating to the health and well-being of the community should be deducible from the Census Returns, especially when the facts could be obtained without much additional expense or inconvenience. The subject of con-sanguineous marriages was one both of physiological and social interest. If they were to reason by analogy from plants and from domesticated animals, it seemed clearly made out that physical deterioration was the result of such alliances. Even when they were not deteriorated in structure, it would appear that there was a decrease in fertility, and a tendency to malformations, resulting from a lowering of vital powers. At all events, the evidence pointed in that way, and made scientific men anxious to have data from which conclusions could be drawn in regard to man. If the results of a Census, in which consanguineous relations were described, proved that the progeny were as numerous, and grew up with an equal persistence and vigour as in the case of cross marriages, then an important step would have been gained in removing a prejudice which now existed, and had at all times existed, both among civilized and uncivilized peoples. If, on the other hand, a discussion of the facts elicited showed that there was a physiological degeneration of the progeny of such marriages, then important results for the guidance of the community would have been attained. But, in either case, the information sought for could be acquired with little trouble, and would prove important in its negative or positive result. He trusted, therefore, that the Home Secretary would consent to ask for the information so much desired by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock), whose scientific authority on such subjects was deservedly high.

trusted that the Amendment would not be pressed. He did not see the desirability of holding up families where such mar- riages had taken place to the public, and the children being held up to be anatomised for the benefit of science. He was not satisfied that plants and animals were troubled with the failings which attached to ordinary humanity, and he was averse to the offspring of the marriages in question being held up to the examination of scientific men. Such children would be held up as discreditable.

observed, that this matter had been the subject of very considerable discussion, and there were arguments nearly as strong on one side as on the other. The question appeared to him to be how the proposition would affect the future generation. There was no doubt that if marriages of near relatives were productive of the evil consequences assigned to them such marriages ought to be discouraged. He saw no conclusive objection to the proposed inquiry. The Census would give no names, it would give only results. He had heard that the marriages of near relations had a tendency to increase the number of deaf and dumb children. Then inquire into the truth of the rumour.

invited the Committee to consider what it was really called upon to vote for. Personally he was opposed to the marriage of first cousins, so in what he was saying he had no desire to help such alliances. But the demand for statistics such as the hon. Member for Maidstone (Sir John Lubbock) desired to collect would be overweighted with a prejudice against that class of marriage, and would be felt to be so by those on whom the call was made. On the other hand, there would not be any compulsion to make the return, while, in many instances, the previous relationship of husband and wife might be unknown in their neighbourhood, and the risk of being found out therefore nil. Thus, all the temptation would be in favour of acknowledging the marriage where there was a healthy and sound-minded progeny, and of concealing it where there were unhealthy children or none at all. So, for the very object for which the hon. Baronet desired the return—namely, to test the healthfulness of such alliances—it would be fallacious and worthless.

asked, why the last speaker was averse to these marriages? Why, because he thought they were injurious. A strong opinion prevailed that the marriages of first cousins were injurious. Then let the nation get at the facts. He knew a case of the marriage of first cousins where 12 children resulted, and six of them were in a lunatic asylum. Let then the facts be determined, and let not the subject be got rid of by a sneer.

said, this was a piece of the grossest cruelty ever thought of. He was surprised that his hon. Friend who had just sat down should want this information, because he seemed already to know all about it. On the last vote hon. Gentlemen were so scrupulous as to say that Nonconformists were not to be called upon to say that they were Nonconformists, and now it was proposed to compel first cousins who were married to make a return to that effect. If on this occasion the philosophers were allowed to have their way, he was perfectly satisfied this Census Bill would be one of the greatest misfortunes, for every species of mental torture would, be applied. Did they intend to introduce a Bill to forbid first cousins from marrying? Every year a Bill was brought in to enable a man to marry his deceased wife's sister, and if there were to be legislation about the marriage of first cousins also, the whole time of the House would be taken up in deciding who was to be allowed to marry anybody else.

said, if they were to have this information they must go a good deal further. For the last 25 years the House had discussed the question of the desirability of contracting marriages within certain degrees of affinity. It was now proposed that there should be a Return as to consanguineous marriages. It would be far more valuable for legislative purposes to require that there should be a column for persons who had married their deceased wives' sisters or deceased husbands' brothers. That would be a practical question, whereas this was purely inquisitorial. The only object could be to stigmatize certain marriages to which he personally objected, but upon which he did not think Parliament ought to cast a slur.

said, he thought that it was really important to ascertain whether these marriages were injurious or not.

said, the proposed re turn would be in the highest degree inquisitorial, and, unless pushed further, would be of no advantage whatever. It would be perfectly useless to get an answer as to the number of persons who had married their first cousins, unless it was followed up by further inquiries as to the number, health, and mental condition of their children.

said, that the proposal was defended on physiological grounds; but if that were sufficient ground for inquiry there ought to be another inquiry as to the number of cases in which there were twins. Suppose it was found that there were 10,000 persons who had contracted such marriages, would the public be a bit the wiser on that account?

, though not persuaded that the inquiry would not be advantageous, recommended that the Amendment should not be pressed, as the opinion of the Committee did not appear ripe on the question.

assured the Committee that he had not put the Amendment on the Paper without due consideration, and without consulting persons competent to form an opinion. The statistics alluded to by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Melly) could be obtained from hospitals, lunatic asylums, &c.; but they threw no light on this question, because we did not know the proportion of marriages of first cousins. That proportion was the clue, and would be supplied if the Committee adopted his Amendment. He was glad that almost all who had spoken had expressed an opinion against these marriages. From the expression of feeling on the part of hon. Gentlemen around him he thought it would be better to take the sense of the Committee on the question.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 45; Noes 92: Majority 47.

moved an Amendment, with a view to enable the Home Secretary to reconsider the question of a religious Census, and to ask persons to make a purely voluntary return, if they chose, of their religious persuasion. He sought first to obtain the statistics of the attendance at places of worship on a particular Lord's Day, and next to allow each person who liked to do so to state the denomination to which he belonged.

opposed the Amendment, on the ground that it was substantially the same Amendment that had been already negatived.

said, if it were the same he must support it; but it was so different that he could not do so.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 (Enumerators to take an account of houses, &c, and to distinguish the boundaries of parishes, boroughs, &c").

Amendment proposed,

In page 3, line 17, after the word "division," to insert the words "stating the number of rooms (including the kitchen, if any, as a room) having a window or windows, not being windows with a borrowed light, in each dwelling-house where occupied as a whole, or where let in different stories or apartments, and occupied distinctly by different persons or families."—(Mr. Miller.)

opposed the Amendment, believing that the provision was unnecessary, and that it would add enormously to the expense of this inquiry.

supported the Amendment, which required a Return that was already made in Scotland, and was found to give very useful information.

urged the Home Secretary to accept the Amendment, or the Mover to divide the Committee, on the ground that the information sought would be most valuable in a sanitary point of view.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 57: Majority 1.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday.