HC Deb 25 July 1851 vol 118 cc1551-8

Order of Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, he could not expect the same concurrence as on the last measure which had been under consideration; but the subject was one of great difficulty, in whatever aspect it was viewed. The proposal he had to make was, he thought, the least objectionable that could be suggested, and would leave Parliament in another Session to deal more satisfactorily with the subject than it could be dealt with in the present. He wished to state the whole difficulty. The House would remember that in consequence of reports which made known the disgraceful state of many burial grounds in this metropolis, an Act of Parliament passed, vesting in the Board of Health the charge of providing interment for persons dying within a certain distance. The House was also in possession of a report from the Board of Health stating their views; and it might be remembered that what they thought indispensable was, that they should be constituted a permanent body, and should have, practically, a monopoly of burials, receiving a fee for every person dying in the metropolitan district. The Act provided only for the temporary duration of the Board, and did not give them the complete power which was considered necessary to insure adequate provision being made for effecting the object in view. Till recently there seemed no reason to doubt that the Board of Health would be able to carry out the intentions of the Act. They thought it necessary that they should be in possession of all the burial grounds in the metropolitan district, and they applied to the Treasury, without whose sanction they could not proceed, for powers to purchase all these cemeteries. The Treasury thought that was going faster than was expedient, and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) refused his permission. But it seemed that the possession of one or two cemeteries would enable them to close the graveyards in the metropolis, and enable those whose graveyards were closed to obtain burying grounds. There appeared to be not the least doubt that the Board of Health would be enabled to obtain from some of the great insurance companies the loan of the sum they might require. Most positive assurances were given by those companies, who expressed their readiness to lend money to the extent of 100,000l. The Board were authorised to engage in negotiations for the purchase of one or two cemeteries; and, finding they could not come to a voluntary agreement with the parties concerned in these, the necessary notices were given with reference to the Brompton and Nun-head cemeteries, and the matter submitted to arbitration. The question as to the sum to be paid was pending before the arbiter, and on his award the transaction would be complete. On the closing of graveyards, in consequence, compensation to churchwardens and others would become due, as well as the interest of the money borrowed for the purchase of the cemeteries. It appeared, however, eventually, that unless the Board of Health could obtain the character of permanence and the monopoly of the burials, they could not give such security as would induce the insurance companies, or other great bodies, to lend the money necessary to carry out the Act of last Session, He very much doubted whether the House of Commons would be inclined to confer those powers; and the question was one of so great importance that it would be neither proper nor fair to make a proposition to that effect at this period of the Session. Under these circumstances, then, what was it possible to do? For in execution of the Act of Parliament the Board proceeded to negotiate for the purchase of these two cemeteries; and unless they had the means at their disposal for paying the sum which might be awarded, great injustice would be done to the cemetery companies with whom negotiations had been held, and the whole Act would be reduced to a dead letter. There might be reasons in another Session for depriving the Board of Health of its executive powers, and reducing its powers to those of a Board of Control, throwing either on the parishes or on districts, or on parties, the charge of providing the means of burial elsewhere. It was utterly impossible, however, to pass an Act of that kind during the present Session. What was the course, then, which met the existing difficulty in the readiest mode? To meet that difficulty, the difficulty of finding the means for paying for these two cemeteries with which negotiations had been commenced (and no future liability, no liability of any kind would be incurred besides that to which the Government were pledged by the proceedings before the arbiter), he must take an outline estimate. The proposal, therefore, which he believed best, was, that the Treasury should be allowed to advance to the Board of Health the means of paying what sum might be awarded for the purchase of the two cemeteries he had mentioned, that no further expense of any kind should be incurred, and that the whole question beyond the purchase of those two cemeteries should be left open to Parliament for decision in another Session. If that course were not followed, there would be no means whatever of excluding burial grounds from the metropolis. He would take a vote for 137,000l., which he believed would be considerably more than would be required; but he must, of course, have the means of paying the award of the arbitrator, whatever that might be.

Motion made, and Question put— That provision be made, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, for the Advance, by way of Loan, of such sum, not exceeding in the whole the sum of 137,000l., as may be necessary for the purposes of the General Board of Health, pursuant to the Act of the thirteenth and fourteenth years of Her present Majesty, chapter 52, The Metropolitan Interments Act, 1850.


thought the inhabitants of the metropolis had reason to complain that legislation affecting their interests was proposed so late in the Session. The Board of Health ought long before to have known that they were not in a condition, under the provisions of the Act of Parliament, to obtain the sums of money they required. There would not be objection to the expenditure of 14,850l. during last year had the public been benefited, but they had no knowledge of any good which had resulted from the proceedings of that irresponsible body. There was so much distrust of the Board of Health in the metropolis, that they would not feel disposed to enable the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer to advance this money to be expended under the management of a body which was irresponsible, and from which no good had been seen to arise. If it was necessary to raise this sum, they had the power to levy a rate of a penny in the pound upon the parishes; but they did not do this because they knew there would be a general outcry against it. He had rather sacrifice a sum of money to the cemetery companies as forfeit, than advance this money to the Board of Health. But they had no evidence to show that these negotiations had gone so far that it would be necessary either to complete them or pay forfeit. He did not impute blame to the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, he believed, had no knowledge of the proceedings. He thought the vote ought to be postponed. There was a Committee sitting upstairs, on a most important subject affecting the metropolis; but, judging from evidence taken before the Committee, as well as from statements in the public journals, it seemed not improbable that they might recommend an amalgamation of such a kind as would place under some control various subjects relating to the metropolis; for instance, interments, water, and sewers.


said, that notwithstanding the energy with which the Metropolitan Cemeteries Act had been pressed through the House, yet the old practices prevailed; and it was not known what the Board had done. The Brompton Cemetery was almost in the metropolis, being only about two miles from Hyde Park Corner, yet the object of the Act was to provide that interments should take place at a distance from the metropolis. The whole plan of the Board of Health appeared crude and irregular; nothing was correctly defined, nothing duly arranged. Something effectual might surely be done this Session. A Bill might be passed to prevent intramural interments after one year. That might be done next week. The parishes would immediately make the requisite arrangements for interments. No explanation had been given as to the incomes of the cemeteries on account of which the advances were sought.


Sir, I beg to call the attention of the Government to 2,000 acres of land at Woking-common, which have been obtained by the above company, whose petition I presented. I am convinced that if they avail themselves of the facilities presented by the company, whose site possessed all the requirements of the Board of Health, and the purchase money for which was only 57,000l., the arrangements for extramural interments would be so cheap as to render the lavish expenditure contemplated by the grant wholly unnecessary.


understood that it was not the intention of the owners to sell the field referred to in the meantime. He should be exceedingly sorry to see the system commenced of the Board of Health taking possession of graveyards, and he trusted no money would be given by the House for such a purpose.


wished to hear some hon. Gentleman point out a practical mode of getting rid of the difficulty. The Committee should bear in mind the possibility of some serious epidemic coming upon them, when it would be necessary, as a matter of safety, to close many of the graveyards. In that case, unless other and convenient burying places were within ordinary reach, the consequences to the poor would be very serious. It might be no inconvenience for the rich, who could afford to go to a great distance, or in the case of paupers buried at the expense of the parish; but what would become of the poorer portions of the community, belonging to neither of these classes? The Metropolitan Interment Act provided, that when any graveyard was closed by an Order in Council, there should be some other cemetery put in possession of the Board. It was clear, therefore, that they could not shut up the present graveyards, whatever might be the evils arising from them, unless that part of the Act was followed out. With regard to the Board of Health, the original proposal was that there should be a new Board constituted for the purpose of carrying the Act into effect. But the Government did not think it right to make such new board, with new machinery, and therefore they proposed that the Board of Health should be intrusted with the execution of the Act. This was agreed to; but previously the House was of opinion that a separate board ought to have been established for that purpose.


said, the noble Lord spoke of the possibility of an epidemic coming upon them, and then asked what the poor would do when interments had to take place at a great distance from towns? But the noble Lord forgot that the Board of Health's graveyards would be more distant than any now in existence. The Bill before the House gave power to buy all the cemeteries in and about London, and to leave the management in the hands of the Board of Health; but he hoped Parliament would hesitate before it granted any such powers. It would be much better to pay the forfeit incurred by not concluding the negotiations, than to vote away this large sum of 137,000l. It was quite ridiculous to leave the working out of a great scheme like this in the hands of the Board of Health, which was composed of the Earl of Shaftesbury, Mr. Chadwick, and Dr. Southwood Smith. Men like these might make very valuable suggestions on sanitary subjects, but it did not follow that they had the qualifications requisite for carrying them out. Enthusiasts on the subject of sanitary reform were not exactly the men best fitted to work out their own suggestions. The noble Lord, therefore, should adopt some mode by which these sanitary schemes would be placed under representative control. There was no end to the expense of boards like the present, and they uniformly led to all kinds of jobbing. He suggested that they should leave matters as they now were, and that next year the Government should come forward with some fitting and comprehensive scheme of management.


said, he had lived forty years in London, and nothing had given him more pain or disgust than the state of the graveyards.


wished to know what advantage they had got from the Bill so hastily passed last Session, when the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer was obliged to come down and ask for 137,000l.? It was quite evident that nobody had any confidence in the management now going on; then, what was the hurry for so much money? What was to prevent the Board of Health renting sufficient ground for interment purposes, should we, unfortunately, be afflicted with cholera, or some other epidemic? He saw no necessity, therefore, for the present advance.


said, if the Act of last year was to be carried out, it was necessary that burying grounds should be provided. If, however, the Committee did not wish to carry out the Act of last Session, then, of course, they would come to the conclusion that additional places of interment were not necessary.


said, there was so great a desire in the metropolis to close the graveyards, that there would be no objection to voting any sum of money to purchase ground, provided a proper system was adopted. No necessity had been shown for purchasing the two cemeteries mentioned by the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he must characterise it as a job. What they wanted was a comprehensive scheme for closing all the graveyards.


said, the hon. Gentleman was ready to vote any sum of money to close the graveyards. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) proposed to buy two ceme- teries in order to carry out that object, and the hon. Gentleman refused the money. If he was enabled to buy a cemetery, he could close all the graveyards; if he did not get a cemetery, he could not close one.


had had communications from his constituents within the last few days, in which they expressed the greatest anxiety lest the measure of last year should be altogether abandoned; and he feared, if the Committee negatived the Motion of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it would appear to the people of the metropolis that the measure was entirely abandoned. He should, therefore, support the proposition of the Government.


understood the only object for which the money was required was to get rid of the difficulty into which the Board of Health had been led.


said, the great difficulty was, how they could shut up any of the graveyards without a vote of this kind. They did not agree to the extent to which the Board of Health had carried their plan, namely, that the whole of the graveyards of the metropolis should be shut up; but, so far as their plan proposed that the graveyards in the crowded parts of the metropolis should be shut up, they agreed with the Board of Health.


would ask if they could not make arrangements with a cemetery company, and then direct the parties in a parish to apply to that cemetery company? If the Chancellor of the Exchequer got the Vote, he should bring in a Bill to apply it, and he might introduce a Clause empowering the Board of Health, with the consent of the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to close any churchyard where it seemed absolutely necessary to do so. He believed this to be an arrant job, and he should be failing in his duty if he did not protest against it.


said, they could not pass a Bill for closing the graveyards without providing compensation.


said, a year ago full power was given to raise money to provide extramural interments, and notwithstanding that, nothing had been done. He thought the best way of getting out of the difficulty would be to move that the Chairman report progress.


said, the hon. Member (Mr. Wakley) had stated that nothing had been done for a year, and therefore to satisfy the people the hon. Member moved that nothing should be done for another year.


said, it was hardly fair for the noble Lord at the head of the Government to taunt him in the early part of the evening with impeding the public business, considering that at that hour (half-past twelve) the House had only got into Committee on the Metropolitan Interment Bill.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 50; Noes 26: Majority 24.


said, he must protest against the Vote as most profligate. This was a Vote from the Consolidated Fund to provide cemeteries for the richest metropolis in the world, whilst every other city was left to provide for itself. There was a talk of a 1d. rate; but nobody believed that that would ever be available. The House of Commons had refused money this Session for charitable institutions in Ireland; and he hoped that this improper application of public funds would not pass unobserved.

The House resumed.

The House adjourned at half after One o'clock.