HC Deb 07 July 1857 vol 146 cc1032-42

Order for Committee read.


said, there was always an inconvenience in discussing the principle of the Bill in Committee, but as this was one of the many Bills, the principle of which was not discussed until that period, he would take that opportunity of saying a few words with reference to it. The measure was intended materially to extend the operations of burial boards, and to place great additional powers of centralization in the hands of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. Its effect would be to suppress the voice of the ratepayers, at the same time that it would entail upon them very great expense. Nominally the Bill emanated from the Secretary of State; but it came before the House somewhat in masquerade. Looking at the previous Acts of the Board of Health, it appeared to him that this was one of the measures of that Board, for its provisions were characterized by the same degree of stringency that had marked those Acts. He was wont to regard with confidence the general departments of the State; but that one department had never, under any of the guises it had assumed—whether as a Commission or as a Board—commanded the respect and confidence of the country; and he thought there were many provisions in the Bill which might well be postponed, especially as there was another Bill before the House, the object of which was to suppress this Board altogether, and constitute a new authority in regard to matters of health. Had they not better wait, therefore, until that new authority was constituted? He was in hopes that if they had not greater talent, they would at least have more forbearance and common sense brought to bear upon the subject. There were many provisions in the Bill which were based upon an utter want of knowledge of facts, and the grievances which were felt throughout the country; and enormous expense would be incurred by the operations of boards of guardians, who might constitute themselves burial boards, and create burial-grounds, build chapels, and in fact involve the ratepayers m a variety of serious expenses. Besides, the 18 & 19 Vict. c. 79, already actually contained provisions for the burial of the poor sent to workhouses, and the enactments in the present Bill would only tend to aggravate the prejudices already existing against the Poor Law; and the reluctance of poor persons who were in distress to enter the union house, by not only separating them from their friends whilst living, but likewise when dead. So, also, with regard to lunatic asylums, he did not see why the provisions in the Act he had referred to would not be sufficient for the visitation of those institutions. In his opinion, also, the Bill carried the principle of centralization much too far. It was not at all well-considered, and authorized the Home Office to interfere in a thousand petty ways, to the great dissatisfaction of the country; indeed, it seemed to him as if the first object of the board was the removal of the supervision of the ratepayers.


said, the hon. Baronet was mistaken in supposing that any new principle with regard to burials was introduced by the Bill. Its object was simply to remedy some defects which long experience had proved to exist, and which had greatly retarded the successful operation of the present laws. The measure had not, as the hon. Baronet appeared to think, emanated from the Board of Health at all, but from that department of the Government which was entrusted with the administration of those laws. It had been compiled after careful consideration of the different representations and suggestions which had been made to the Home Office during the last three or four years, as to the actual practical difficulties experienced in administering these laws, and which, of course, had the best means of forming an opinion as to their defects. A great number of these suggestions and objections the Government did not think of sufficient importance to be the subject of legislation; and it was upon the consideration of a careful selection which had been made of the chief practical difficulties only, that the several clauses had been framed. The real object was, to facilitate and render easy the action of a very important law, which, up to this time, had been extremely successful, considering the obstructions which had impeded its progress. The law certainly was one of a stringent character, and was only excusable on the necessity of the case. It had been assented to, on the whole, with good sense and good feeling, and he believed that the practical effect of it had been greatly to promote and improve the sanitary condition of the country. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the Board of Health, as if this Bill had emanated from that not very popular department. He again assured him, however, that they had had nothing to do with its preparation any more than they had had anything to do with the administration of the Burial Act, which, in fact, was entirely in the hands of the Home Office. Indeed, in no case had the Board of Health been consulted in reference to the provisions of the Bill. It had been found better to avail themselves of existing organizations instead of creating new boards for every new set of circumstances that might arise; and the Bill enabled that to be done, but it was not intended that local boards should have power to tax the ratepayers without their consent. The power of taxation would only be conferred upon them on the representation of a certain proportion of the ratepayers to the Home Secretary, expressing a desire to that effect. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the authority given to boards of guardians to provide new burial-grounds. That clause was founded upon considerations of practical convenience. It had been repeatedly represented to the Home Office that small parishes in the neighbourhood of union workhouses had had their grave-yards inconveniently overcrowded by paupers, and that those burial-grounds had been subjected to the visits of the inspectors, who, finding that they had been prematurely filled, had ordered them to be closed. By this means the parishes had been subjected to the inconvenience and expense of providing new burial-grounds. It was thought, therefore, that in places where large union workhouses were established, the board of guardians should, if they thought fit—and the clause was not compulsory, but entirely permissive—provide a piece of ground for the interment of the inmates of the workhouse. He could assure the hon. Baronet, however, that it was by no means intended by the Bill to do violence to the feelings of the inmates or their friends. The whole principle of the Burial Act was, that the supervision of the Secretary of State should be exercised, and that supervision would not be extended by the Bill further than it went at present. He hoped the House would now go into Committee, as it was most important that the Bill should become law.


said, that what had fallen from the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Massey) had convinced him that important principles were involved in the Bill. He, therefore, wished to know if it was intended that a poor person who had died in a union-house should be buried in the workhouse burial-ground against his consent—at all events, against the consent of his friends. That was a most important point; and he hoped the Home Secretary would clearly explain what was the intention of the Government respecting it, because, if it were so intended, he should oppose the clause to the utmost of his power. The attempt to provide a separate burial-ground for paupers had been tried before, and had failed; and he trusted it would not succeed now. There was nothing which hurt the feelings of the poor more than being prevented from being buried among their kindred. He should be glad to know if the right hon. Gentleman would consent to the introduction of a proviso to the effect that where a wish had been expressed by the deceased person on the subject in his lifetime, or by his friends after his death, he should be buried in his own parish, and not in the workhouse burial-ground.


said, he understood that the law at present enabled boards of guardians to provide burial-grounds for union-houses; he could not, therefore, see the object of inserting such a clause as this in the Bill.


said, that when they got into Committee, he hoped to show the hon. Baronet that the clause alluded to by him was not all of a penal character, but intended to meet those instances in which parish graveyards had been prematurely filled by the burial of the inmates of workhouses, and, in consequence, had been ordered to be closed by the public health inspectors, thereby involving the parish in considerable expense. The object of the clause, therefore, was to enable boards of guardians to establish cemeteries of their own, and which cemeteries were not provided under the existing law applicable to other cemeteries. These would contain a portion of consecrated as well as unconsecrated ground, in order that the burial of the paupers should be conducted there in the same way, and with the same regard for the feelings of the relatives as if it took place in their own parish ground. He would, however, confirm the statement of his hon. Friend (Mr. Masaey) with regard to the object of the Bill—that it was not to give increased powers, but to give greater facilities for the working of Acts already in existence.


contended, that the Bill did involve a new and a very objectionable principle. The first Burial Act was as thoroughly local as could be wished, but as Act after Act passed, the power of the Secretary of State increased and spread over the whole country. The regulations made were not such as he had a right to make, for out of nineteen regulations there were only four for which he had a direct authority. But whilst the Home Office was bringing in this Bill to place all burial-grounds and churchyards under the Secretary of State, the hon. Gentleman's own borough of Salford was getting a Bill passed through the House, which empowered the authorities of that borough to make regulations for themselves. So that all England was to be placed under the regulations of the Home Office with the single exception of Salford. A new principle was involved in the Bill, inasmuch as it enabled the Secretary of State, by his inspectors, to take in hand, with the exception mentioned, every churchyard in England. If regulations were wanted as to the burial of the dead, let the country parishes make them for themselves. Indeed, the country heartily desired that the Government would let it alone in this matter.


The present discussion showed how necessary it was that the Home Secretary should have very broad shoulders, and how difficult it was to please hon. Members on all occasions. He recollected very well, when the country was suffering from pestilence, that hon. Gentlemen were constantly attacking the Secretary for the time being, and asking him why he did not do this, and why he did not do that. In fact, all the malaria passing through the country was attributed to the want of precaution on the part of the Secretary of State; but the moment the pestilence ceased up they jumped, find declared that they were perfectly capable of governing themselves, and begged to be let alone to manage their own affairs. Now, the fault he (Mr. Berkeley) found with the Bill was, that it would not leave sufficient power in the Secretary of State. He hoped, therefore, the House would consent to go into Committee. He objected, however, to a proposed clause, giving power to bury four persons in one grave, which was called pit-burial.


said, that in all cases where the Church was concerned, so long as there was a connection between the Church and the State in this country, so long it world be necessary to have the civil power to appeal to in order to protect the minority in different local districts against the encroachments of ecclesiastical authority. On that ground, and also because he thought that the Home Secretary had very discreetly exercised the powers already vested in him, he should vote for going into Committee on the Bill.


said, that he rose to order, as these observations ought to have been made on the second reading, and now there was no Motion before the House but that of going into Committee. He hoped the Government would carry forward those clauses relating to the sanitary condition of the metropolis. The observations upon details of the Bill should be made in Committee. He trusted, however, that they would not sanction the system of pit-burials.


observed, that he was of opinion that the principle of centralization was attempted to be carried too far by the Bill. It was a serious question whether the feelings of the country with regard to the manner in which burials should be conducted ought to be subjected to the despotic interference of any individual, however high his position in the Government, or however high his personal character might be. He thought, also, they were quite justified in discussing the principle of the Bill, as hon. Members could not be expected to stay in the House until a late hour to be present at the second reading.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3, line 16.

MR. KNIGHT moved, to leave out "upon the petition of not less than one-tenth of the inhabitants," as far as "relief of the poor," line 19, and insert "in case it appear to Her Majesty in Council, upon the petition of the Local Board of Health of any district established under the Public Health Act."


assented to the Amendment.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 also agreed to.

Clause 5 (Boards of Guardians to create workhouse Burial-Grounds).


said, that if, in addition to the separate system in union-houses, there was a separate burial-ground, the only result would be to increase the prejudice and dislike already entertained on the part of the poor to enter those establishments. By a recent Act, the 18 & 19 Vict., c. 79, boards of guardians were empowered to enlarge existing burial-grounds and churchyards, and to agree with the local authorities, and make arrangements by which such burial-grounds should be made proper for the interment of the inmates of workhouses. That power, in his opinion, was quite sufficient for boards of guardians and visiting justices of lunatic asylums to possess. If the clause were enacted, its effect would be to create an enormous expense—in short, there was no knowing to what extent the works might be carried on. Great evil would arise to both ratepayers and paupers; and he should, therefore, move that the clause be struck out.


remarked, that if the clause were retained, he trusted, at all events, that some provision would be inserted in it enabling the friends of the poor person deceased to require the body to be interred in the graveyard of his own parish.


said, he thought that, where a churchyard was overcrowded, a simpler course than that proposed by the clause was to give power to enlarge it. Where that could not be done additional ground should be provided, equally accessible to the rich and the poor. He had a very strong feeling on the subject. He knew no case to which that text of Scripture which said, "the rich and poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all," should be so applicable as in that of churchyards. He wished to know what was the definition of "a pauper" according to this Bill. Was it meant to include those who received outdoor relief, as well as those who were inmates of a workhouse? There certainly could be nothing more monstrous than that a person receiving outdoor relief should, on his death, be subject to be buried in one of these newfangled burial-grounds. It seemed to him (Mr. Walter) that the clause was unnecessary. He felt assured that it would be very hurtful to the feelings of the people of this country.


said, that the clause was not compulsory; but as there was a strong feeling against it, he had no objection to its being struck out.

Clause struck out.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 omitted.

Clauses 8 to 15 inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 16 (Orders in Council may be made for regulating Burial-Grounds, & c.).


objected to the clause, which was the most objectionable one in the Bill. It proposed to make the orders of the Home Secretary more stringent, and entailed 10s. penalty for disobedience. The clause would also fix inspectors all over the country for nil eternity. He should move, in page 6, Clause 16, line 30, to leave out from "it shall be lawful" as far as "seem proper" line 33.


said, the great object of the clause was to give the Secretary of State power to make regulations for burials in cemeteries, so that they might be conducted with some regard to decency. Complaints had been made, for instance, that in the Victoria Cemetery at the east end of the town public decency was outraged by burying a number of persons in one grave.


remarked, that no necessity had been shown for giving this power to the Secretary of State.


thought the clause ought to provide that local bodies should have power to make their own regulations.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he would move, as a proviso, that no more than one body should be buried in any vault or grave in any cemetery or burial-ground within the metropolitan districts, except in a vault or grave purchased for the exclusive use of the family. Amendment proposed, in page 7, line 8, to insert after the words "Burial-Ground," the words "Provided always, That no more than one body shall be buried in any vault or grave, in any cemetery or burial-ground within the Metropolitan District, except in a vault or grave purchased for the exclusive use of a family.


said, he believed in the abstract, that only one body ought to be buried in a grave; but it would operate as a great hardship on the proprietors of many of the existing cemeteries who had private Acts of Parliament to put such a provision in force. It would be better, therefore, to leave the matter in the hands of the Home Secretary.


observed, he should support the Amendment, as he did not see that the existing cemetery companies had so conducted their affairs as to entitle them to any especial consideration on the part of this House.


said, he should oppose the Amendment. The powers vested in the Secretary of State would be quite sufficient for all purposes.


said, that six persons had, up to this time, been placed in a grave without any public inconvenience, and he saw no necessity, therefore, for adopting the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Surrey.


said, the Secretary of State had no power at present over the cemeteries belonging to joint-stock companies, and it had been found that public decency had been grossly abused in several instances. It was stated that large pits were dug and bodies flung in, and scarcely covered with earth until the pit was filled with bodies. The object of the clause was to take away the power of doing this, which had been given to the cemetery companies; but inasmuch as the companies had the power now, he should propose that six bodies might be placed in one grave, provided the grave were opened and closed the same day. He confessed it was not without reluctance that he had agreed to that, but they ought not to drive principles too hard; and, considering the great variety of soils, and the pressure for burial accommodation in several parishes, he thought it might well be left in the hands of the Secretary of State, under the advice of the inspectors, to relax the rule when circumstances justified it. They could not deal with these companies in the same manner as they dealt with other burial-grounds. With regard to the Salford Bill he had nothing to do with it, but he saw the provisions of the Bill last night, and approved of them.


said, if this clause were struck out, he should have no objection to the whole Bill being thrown out. A friend of his saw the bodies of sixty or seventy children thrown into one pit. The proprietors of the companies said they had a vested interest, but he did not think they should be listened to. They had been reaping a rich harvest in consequence of the closing of the other graveyards, and now they wished to keep up a revolting practice which was inimical to the public health, in order that they might continue to make great gains.


said, he had been spoken of as representing the Woking Cemetery. It was true he was a director of that company, and he would say of it that it only permitted one body to be buried in one grave. He thought pit-burials ought not to be allowed. They were alike an outrage to public decency and an injury to public health.


said, he should support the clause as it stood.


suggested that words should be inserted confining the power to cases where there was no burial board.


said, it would be better to decide on the Amendment first, as on that depended the question whether they were to have any power at all.


said, if the clause were confined to those commercial burial companies over which the burial boards had no control, he should have no objection.

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 33; Noes 188: Majority 155.

MR. MASSEY moved the following Amendment to the Clause:— Provided also, That such, regulations shall not prohibit the burial of any number of bodies, not exceeding six, in the same common grave on the same day in any of the Cemeteries mentioned in Schedule (B) of the Act 15 & 16 Vict. c. 85, or in any cemetery established in pursuance of any Act of Parliament, provided that every coffin so buried shall be separated from any other coffin by at least a foot of earth, and be buried at least four feet below the surface of the ground, and provided that such grave shall be filled in on the day of burial and never again opened until the remains of the bodies buried therein shall be completely decayed.


said, he regretted that the Government should have yielded to what he thought was not a very sanitary pressure by introducing the word "six" as the number of bodies which might be interred in the same grave. As the proviso stood originally, it had the word "four." He begged to propose, therefore, that "four" be inserted for "six."

Amendment proposed to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the word "six," and insert the word "four," instead thereof.


admitted that experience showed that the system of burying one body in a grave was the best and most salutary one; but then it must not be forgotten that they had to deal with a number of cemeteries which had private Acts of their own, and were exempt from the Burial Acts.


said, the reason why "six" had been inserted was, that many of the cemetery companies had made contracts with poor-law unions to bury six in one grave, and he did not think that that would be prejudicial to public health.

Question put, "That the word 'six' stand part of the proposed Amendment."

The Committee divided:—Ages 79; Noes 131: Majority 52.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed. Committee report progress; to sit again on Thursday at Twelve o'clock.