HC Deb 02 July 1861 vol 164 cc199-210

said, he rose to move an Address for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire into the effect of the several burial and cemetery Acts upon the position of incumbents of parishes and districts. He spoke not merely in the interests of the metropolitan clergy, but also of clergymen in different parts of England, who had been seriously affected by those Acts. Until the year 1850 the fees upon interments constituted a large proportion of the income of parochial clergymen; but, as burials within the City were prevented by the Metropolitan Interments Act, the Legislature, sensible of the great hardships which such an enactment would inflict upon the clergy, gave power to the Board of Health, under the 32nd to the 36th Clauses, to inquire into the effect which its operation would have upon their revenues. The General Board of Health caused an inquiry "to ascertain the facts bearing upon those claims" to be opened, and the clergy were invited to be examined and to state the amount which they had received in fees during the five years previous to the passing of the Act; secondly, their average annual receipts; and lastly, the amount which they claimed as compensation. A very voluminous paper was presented to the House of Lords, in which these claims, affecting 149 parishes, were set forth. In some cases £300, £400, and that of St. Giles in the Fields as much as £750, were claimed by the clergy. But in 1852, the Metropolitan Interments Act was superseded by the Metropolitan Burials Act, and the jurisdiction previously enjoyed by the Board of Health was transferred to the Home Office, and it accordingly rested with them to consider what compensation should be granted, and out of what funds the money could be obtained. Anxiety was then expressed that before the subject of compensation was taken up all city burial-grounds should be finally closed, and accordingly churchyards to the number of 200, or counting the country districts, to the number of about 700, were shut; but from that day to the present not a shilling compensation had been received by the clergy. It might be urged, in reply to the Motion, that there were no funds for the purpose; but, surely, when the Board of Health in 1850 ordered an inquiry into the subject, they must have had some funds in view as applicable to the purpose, or they would never have given clergymen the trouble of attending and proving their claims. In the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords, which met in 1858 to consider the question of the spiritual destitution of the Metropolis, especial reference was made to the subject of the Motion. The Report stated— Burial fees to a great amount, constituting a very large part of the endowment of many incumbents, have been abstracted by the operation of successive Burial Acts. The consequence has been most lamentable; not only has it tended to impoverish many most laborious and deserving clergymen, but also as it has deprived them of the means of procuring help in the discharge of their pastoral functions in their crowded parishes. Reference to the Acts themselves, 13th and 14th of Vict., cap. 52, and 15th and 16th of Vict., cap. 85, shows that both of them alike recognize the incumbent's right, though both of them fail in providing the necessary means of compensation, and in giving due powers to enforce it. Still, the unhappy result of the defective provisions of the statute remains, and a very large part of the incomes of many of the poorest and most laborious of the London clergy has been, contrary to the intention of the Legislature, practically taken from them. It has been the just and honourable course of Parliament to secure compensation to all who have any reasonable claims to it for losses caused by any statute for the public good, and we cannot but express our great regret that no adequate means have as yet been devised of providing a remedy for this very crying evil, by securing that compensation. The question of compensation was always a difficult one, but instances had occurred in which it had been granted on the abolition of the Six Clerks' offices, as well as to proctors, surveyors, and others whose pecuniary interests had been interfered with by the Legislature; he, therefore, thought enough had been done in that direction to justify his application, which was merely for inquiry into the case of these clergymen. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary last year admitted that— Great hardship had been caused by the loss of fees in the way referred to, and if any means could be devised, without making a charge on the funds of the Church, to make up incomes that had been so affected, he would be glad to give it his best consideration."—[3Hansard clx., p. 208.] Under all the circumstances, he hoped the House would not refuse to entertain the appeal which he had made on behalf of that useful, hard-working, and, in too many cases, but scantily remunerated body, the clergy, both of the Metropolis and of the country.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that Her Majesty will be graciously pleased to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the operation and effect of the several Burial and Cemetery Acts in reference to the Incumbents and Ministers of parishes and districts in England and Wales, and to the amount of and mode of compensation, if any, to be provided for the loss of fees or other rights and privileges occasioned to them by the closing of Churchyards and Burial Grounds under the said Acts.


stated that from his personal knowledge he was aware that in several cases considerable hardship had been suffered by the clergy by the withdrawal of the fees they had been in the habit of receiving. Only that day he received a statement from a clergyman respecting a church which he had erected himself, in which it was stated that the burial-ground attached to the church formed for a length of time the principal means by which he was enabled to live and perform his duties as a minister. That was in a district of 10,000 inhabitants, and he had spent £8,000 of his own property in the purchase of the land and the erection of the church. The church cost far more than was anticipated, and the consequence was that there were legal encumbrances upon the church that required the payment of £300 per annum. Only the week before last the clergyman had applied to the Home Secretary for permission to continue burials in the churchyard for two years more, and a petition had been presented from the inhabitants of the district to the same effect. The permission had been accorded, but all the income which the clergyman derived was about £450 per annum; so that if he was deprived of the power of burying in his churchyard his income would be reduced to little more than £150 per annum. Yet if the land were capable of being brought into the market its value would be fully £20,000. Under these circumstances he could not but think that if these Burial Acts were to be enforced it was very desirable that some means should be provided for compensating the clergy for the loss they sustained by giving up the burial fees for the benefit of the public. He had complaints from other clergymen, stating that they had vaults which were not allowed to be used as places of interment, although they were fitted for that purpose. Land not consecrated, or such portions as were not occupied, might be sold. Clergymen complained that vaults under their churches, although not full, and covered over with solid arches, were not allowed to be used as places of interment, the consequence of which was a serious deduction from their income. Future incumbents would, of course, take their livings as they found them; but the present possessors were entitled to compensation for that which they gave up for the public good. At all events, they were entitled to an inquiry into their claims. He did not believe that the number of individuals entitled to compensation was large, and there was church property which might be made available for the purpose.


said, he believed that the case to which the hon. Member (Mr. Brown-Westhead) had referred was that of a Wesleyan minister who had joined the Establishment, and had—if he might use the term without implying any disparagement—speculated in church property. He did not think that a gentleman who found himself in the position of a loser under such circumstances should be permitted to charge his loss upon the funds of the country. The proposition of the noble Lord to extend the inquiry to England and Wales was full of objection, and he wished to know from Mr. Speaker whether it was competent to the noble Lord to alter his Motion without notice. If the words "within the bills of mortality" were reinserted, instead of the words now proposed by the noble Lord, he would make no objection to an inquiry; but he must protest against the funds of the country being fixed with any such compensation as that suggested. He knew cases in which the Dissenters could set up stronger claims to such compensation, but they would not think of doing so. The claim put forward by the noble Lord on behalf of clergymen of the Established Church was an unseemly, an unsightly, and an unworthy one. They asked for compensation for the loss they sustained in the burial of the dead. Their office was to cure souls while living, but the Constitution never invested them with an interest in the burial of the dead. It was really most objectionable to hear the disciples of—he would not use a sacred name—coming forward to claim compensation, not for the cure of souls living, but for the burial of those dead.

Amendment proposed, to leave out form the word "districts," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "within the Bills of Mortality," instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, the hon. Member who had just spoken took every opportunity of reflecting on those who, with himself and other members of the Church of England, held the opinion that the clergy ought to be maintained by legal provision, which was scarcely either fair, or charitable, since they did not attack the voluntary system of the Dissenters, which the hon. Gentleman represented. He had truly observed that the clergy were not clergy of the dead but of the living; but he had omitted to explain what was the real nature of burial fees paid on the occasion of the death of such member of a family, but applied to providing for the religious instruction of the survivors. They were a provision secured by law for the maintenance of the clergy. They were so regarded throughout the debates on the subject in 1850, and the justice of securing them or an equivalent by law was fully recognised. He remembered the exertions made by the right hon. Gentleman, the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was at that time Secretary of State for the Home Department, to induce the House so to consider these fees, and not to consent to their alienation to enable companies to provide burial grounds beyond the limits of the Metropolis. No doubt it was necessary that those burial grounds should be provided; but, at the same time, that right hon. Gentleman would bear him out in saying that it was not the intention of the Legislature to deprive the clergy of so necessary a source of income. He (Mr. Newdegate) remembered being in repeated divisions in support of the right hon. Gentleman; and in all those divisions they were successful, maintaining the law by which burial fees or an equivalent were to be paid to the clergy, and determining that they ought not to be deprived of their maintenance because the burial grounds of parishes might have become over-crowded, and it was necessary that funerals should take place elsewhere. But, unfortunately, there was at that time a sanitary fever in the House; and a small minority of the House availed themselves of it, they imputed to the clergy a desire to keep their crowded churchyards as centres of disease within the Metropolis, and misrepresented the clergy as though thus really culpable; nay, so culpable as to be willing, needlessly, to perpetuate disease within the Metropolis, merely for the sake of maintaining their own incomes. These misrepresentations led to the infection of a gross injustice, for the effect was that, notwithstanding the exertions of the right hon. Gentleman and the determination of the majority of the House, the minority forced a compromise, the effect of which had been to deprive many of the clergy of the means necessary to enable them to employ curates for the spiritual teaching of the parishioners committed to their charge. It was a painful circumstance that though the Legislature had tried to remedy this evil, and although his right hon. Friend, the Member for Cambridge, had in 1852 introduced a Bill to remedy this evil, the remedy had entirely failed. By the Act of 1850, cemeteries were established round London in the hands of companies, in great measure on the credit of the fees, abstracted from the clergy. Of course, these were strictly commercial speculations, and it was the interest of those companies that no other burial grounds should be established. The Act of 1852 did this: it enabled parishes, if they thought fit, to establish at their own expense burial grounds for themselves, the fees for the burials in which should accrue to the clergymen of the parishes. But it must be obvious to the House that it was the interest of cemetery companies to prevent anything of the sort taking place; and the companies, accordingly, by appealing to the economical feelings of vestries, had prevented the Act being brought into operation, so as to enable the clergy to receive the emoluments which the Legislature thought essential to their maintenance and the spiritual instruction of the population. The whole matter had gone completely by default, and he (Mr. Newdegate) hoped, that the Government would do the justice of issuing the Commission, which would suggest means by which the House could repair an injustice it never willingly committed. He knew clergymen of parishes containing 130,000 and 150,000 inhabitants, where there were three churches and three burial grounds closed and where the clergy had been totally deprived of the fees which by Acts of Parliament had been declared legal and rightful sources of income for themselves and their curates. No cause of the increase of spiritual destitution in the Metropolis had been stronger or more lamentable than that caused by rendering it impossible for incumbents to multiply curates according to the increase of population. Those fees were not merely the income on which the clergy fattened in idleness, they were the means by which the services of the Church were brought into operation. The effect of the abstraction of that income from the clergy, from the Church, from the parishioners, was that in the great Metropolis parishes were left almost wholly destitute of that religious instruction, which was as necessary to make a good citizen as to fit him for hereafter. In Birmingham he knew cases of hardship quite as great as in the Metropolis, cases of injustice which the Legislature never intended to permit; and he trusted that, knowing these circumstances—knowing that the clergy were by law shut out from many sources of income which were open and available to ministers of other denominations; considering the enormous competition in those literary pursuits for which the education of the clergy so eminently fitted them; knowing their poverty, seeing the existing spiritual destitution and the impossibility of meeting it, either by the establishment of district churches or by the division of parishes, he hoped the House would excuse him for having strongly urged on the Government that they really would only be acting in furtherance of the intentions of the House of 1850, of the House of 1852, and he trusted of the present House also, if they issued a Commission to ascertain by what means those evils might be remedied.


said, he could assure his hon. Friend (Mr. Hadfield) that he had entirely mistaken the desire of his noble Friend (Viscount Enfield) if he supposed he wished to take this compensation out of the pockets of the people. In Finsbury, for example, estates would fall into the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1866 worth £40,000 per annum. The effect of the deprivation of income from the loss of funeral fees had been greatly to diminish the income of the rector of St. Luke's, Old Street, and many other estimable clergymen; and if a portion of this £40,000 were righteously taken from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to make up the loss of income of these London incumbents, it would be employed not to enrich themselves, but to increase the spiritual provision for their flocks. He had no doubt other funds might be found available for the same purpose in other districts, and he should cheerfully support the Motion of his noble Friend.


said, that the policy of the Burial Acts must be considered as having been deliberately adopted. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire had stated that these Acts were passed in a sanitary fever, and had implied that the decision of the House was surreptitiously obtained; but he must remind the hon. Member that that Legislation was preceded by inquiry and discussion, and that the Burial Acts were not one but a series of Acts, one altering and amending the other. The Legislation on the subject must, therefore, be taken to represent the deliberate opinion of both Houses of Parliament. The effect of those Acts, was, that the Queen, by Order in Council, might close burial grounds, might prohibit interments in churches, and might authorise parishes to appoint Burial Boards. These Boards might, out of the parochial funds, provide burial grounds in lieu of the churchyards thus closed; and with respect to these burial grounds the incumbent was placed in regard to fees and emoluments in precisely the same position in which he stood with respect to the churchyard. These burial grounds consisted in general of a consecrated and unconsecrated portion; and the incumbent certainly had no right to fees for interments in the unconsecrated portion. Owing to that circumstance, no doubt, there had been a very considerable diminution in the emoluments of the incumbents flowing from the source of burial fees. It was probable that many incumbents in London and other large towns had suffered a material diminution in their income. He deplored the circumstance, but it had been inevitable in consequence of the change in the law which the Legislature deliberately made. Several hon. Gentlemen had treated burial fees as part of the endowment of the Church, and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had spoken of them as a fund for the maintenance of the clergy. If that were established some ground might be laid for the Motion under consideration, but he was by no means prepared to admit, but, on the contrary, disputed the doctrine that burial fees could be considered as part of the endowment of the Church, or part of the fund intended for the maintenance of the clergy. He considered burial fees as a re- muneration for a special service. If that service was performed in a parish burial ground the clergyman still received precisely the same fees as before the change of law; but if, owing to altered circumstances, the parish clergyman did not perform the service he did not then receive the fees. If, therefore, the fees were considered as a remuneration for a service, then no claim arose for compensation, nor could the House be called on to agree to a Motion for the issue of a Commission, which proceeded on the assumption that there was a ground for compensation. If the House agreed to the proposition, it would affirm the principle that all incumbents, all ministers of every persuasion (for all congregations would be included possession burial grounds and vaults in churches or chapels), were entitled to compensation, and it would leave the Commission to discover some fund from which compensation could be obtained. His noble Friend had referred to the cases of the Six Clerks and of the proctors compensated under the Probate Act, and seemed to point not indistinctly to the Consolidated Fund as the source from which compensation should come. Now, he was entirely adverse to the principle of making the Consolidated Fund responsible for any supposed claim for compensation arising from that cause; and he trusted that the House would not be disposed to agree to any Motion in which that principle was involved. Well, if that fund was not looked to as a means of furnishing compensation for this class of claims, he supposed that the fund which would be next applied to was that referred to by the hon. Member who last spoke— the fund of the Ecclesiastical Commission. That raised a very difficult question, because it was a suggestion to appropriate to a very limited class of the clergy a fund which the policy of Parliament had appropriated generally to the augmentation of the smallest class of livings; and though there might have been some cases of hardship from the change of law, there were many cases in which there had been no real hardship, and yet compensation would be claimed, if given at all, for both classes of cases. He presumed, too, if such a principle were admitted, that all persons, even Dissenting ministers and congregations, having suffered any loss from this source would be entitled to compensation from the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commission, and that would certainly be an unexampled mode of appro- priating those funds. He could not believe that the House would sanction the principle of charging either the Consolidated Fund or the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commission for this alleged claim for compensation. If both these funds were set aside the only remaining source from which compensation could be given would consist in a charge on the parish rates. If a claim of the kind for the incumbent could be established it seemed to him that the parish rates would constitute the proper source to look to as the means of compensation; but in that case they would encounter the church rate question under another from. Inasmuch as he did not think it right for any Government or for that House to play fast and loose with a question of the sort, and to appoint a Commission to speculate on some possible fund from which compensation might be drawn, while it was known beforehand that there was no fund chargeable for the purpose without serious objections, he felt it his duty, though reluctantly—for he admitted that some cases of hardship existed—to oppose the Motion. If any hon. Gentleman supposed he could devise any means of providing compensation, the proper mode of proceeding would be to submit some distinct proposition to that effect.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had neither denied nor refuted the arguments by which the Motion was supported. The Legislature had interfered summarily with certain vested rights of the clergy, and the noble Lord proposed that the injustice committed should be repaired. That House had always given compensation in cases where by its legislation vested rights had suffered. He should give his cordial support to the Motion.


said, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Whiteside) had said that there was no instance in which wrong had been done by the Legislature without compensation having been given. He would give him one:—The introduction of railroads had materially diminished the funds belonging to the turnpike trusts, and yet no compensation was given in that case. He placed the clergy in the same category as persons who had lent money to turnpike roads, and whose incomes had in consequence been diminished. Therefore, unless a special case was made out on the part of the clergy, he said the House was not called upon to remunerate them for their loss.


said, there were many parishes in England so slenderly provided that the incumbents were necessarily dependent on surplus fees, and, without wishing to give the slightest opinion as to what particular measure ought to be adopted under the circumstances of the case, he could not held thinking that Parliament ought not to refuse the proposal made by the noble Lord opposite, seeing that in the Act of 1850 the principle of compensation had been affirmed, and that that principle had not been carried into effect.


observed that in the borough which he had the honour to represent serveral burial-places belong to Dissenting communities had been closed in the same way as those connected with the Eastablished Church, and with the additional hardship that in the case of the former the grounds had been purchased at the cost, in some instances, of hundreds, and in some of thousands pounds, by persons living at the time when the closing took place. Dissenting communities must, therefore, in all fairness, be held to have a claim for compensation, if the claims of the much richer communities of the Church of England were allowed. He was, however, of opinion that the Motion of the noble Lord was too extensive; that it rested on a wrong principle; and, that being his opinion, he should vote against it.


said, the Act of 1850, no doubt, recognized the principle of compensation, for it provided that when any new burial grounds were purchased by the Board of Health, a fee of 6s. 6d., in addition to the ordinary fees, should be paid upon the burial of every person in the consecrated part of the ground, and should be set apart for the compensation not only of the incumbents, but also of the clerks and sextons, and other persons injuriously affected; but the provision had been rendered nugatory, because, as the place of burial was optional, most persons had preferred the cheaper from of burial in unconsecrated ground, and no compensation fund had been raised. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), repealed the Act of 1850, and re-enacted provisions of different character in the Act of 1852. That Act provided that where parishioners were buried in consecrated ground the clergyman should be entitled to receive the same fees as he would have received if the burial ground of the parish had not been interfered with. There had, he might add, been no failure on the part of he Government or of Parliament to carry out the provisions of the Bill, which he was, nevertheless, ready to admit might have operated hardly, under the circumstances of the case, on many incumbents. Burials were fewer in the substituted than they were in the original grounds, and from that cause certain incumbents might have sustained some loss. He believed, however, that in many cases arrangements had been made by which clergymen had become entitled to fixed annual incomes in lieu of the fees which they formerly received. At the same time, he had no doubt that there were some cases of hardship; but he hoped the House would not adopt the he hoped the House would not adopt the Motion of the noble Lord. That Motion was vague and uncertain in its character, and was calculated to excite indefinite expectations of compensation from a non-existing fund.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, The House divided.

When the Tellers advanced to the Table to annouce the result of the division.


, addressing Mr. Speaker, said he had to report that, though the hon. Member for Dungarvan was in the lobby with the "Ayes," he had not been counted, not having passed through before the tellers left their places.


Was the hon. Member in the lobby intending to vote?


I was, Sir.


Did the hon. Member hear the question put?


I did, Sir, and I intended to vote for the "Ayes."


The name of the hon. Member must be added to the names of those who voted for the Motion.

Ayes 48; Noes 59: Majority, 11.