HC Deb 15 April 1863 vol 170 cc139-67

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he rose to move the second reading of the Burials Bill. The subject had been already so amply discussed that he would not detain the House with many remarks. In 1861, he introduced a Bill, which was founded on an Act that had worked very successfully in Ireland, but which went somewhat further than its prototype. In deference to the wish of many hon. Members, he asked leave to withdraw that measure. He was not permitted to do so, but the division showed that a large section of the House approved the principle of the Bill. Last year he introduced another Bill, in exact accordance with Lord Plunkett's Irish Act. It was the general feeling of the House that that Bill should be referred to a Select Committee; and, wishing to give every possible consideration to the subject, he did not object. A Committee was appointed, composed of the Members for the Universities, and other Gentlemen in whom the House reposed confidence, and the Bill received at their hands a most careful revision. The Committee did not conclude its labours until the Session was far advanced, and the matter was therefore deferred until the next year. The Bill which he asked the House to read a second time was precisely the same as that which came from the hands of the Select Committee. The more the question was examined, the more apparent it would be that there was a real, substantial grievance, and that it could be easily remedied. It must not be supposed, that because there were scarcely any petitions in favour of the Bill, it did not meet with public approbation. He had expressly advised that no petitions should be got up, because he desired that the measure should be brought under the calm consideration of the House, without any appearance of agitation. He had introduced the Bill of last year on his own responsibility, and the Bill was not the Bill of any committee or society whatever. He had already stated a variety of authenticated cases, showing that grievances existed, and that there was a necessity for some measure of the kind. The Bill, as it came from the Committee, was so simple in its character, so guarded with provisions of various kinds, that he could not conceive that any real tangible objection could be taken to it. There was nothing in the provisions of the Bill which could possibly have an injurious effect on the Church of England. On the contrary, he believed that the more liberality that was evinced—the more consideration that was shown for the conscientious feelings of those outside the Establishment—who, on the grounds of Christian brotherhood, had a just claim on the consideration of those within—the more would that Church flourish, and the stronger hold would it have on the feelings of the community. A great many statements had been made that there were ulterior designs in the measure—it had been hinted that the present attempt to get access to the churchyards was only a prelude to an attempt to get possession of the churches; but he disclaimed all ulterior designs of that nature. All he wanted was to procure for Dissenters permission to have burial service performed in churchyards. It had been said that English Dissenters should be content to be as the Presbyterians of Scotland, who conducted all the religious exercises connected with burial before going to the churchyard. That was really an argument in favour of the Bill. Members of the Church of England were Dissenters in Scotland, but there was not a churchyard in Scotland where a clergyman of the Church of England might not go and perform the burial service, and the privilege was often availed of, as many hon. Members for Scotland could testify. Why should the Dissenters in England be placed in a different position from that which members of the Church of England occupied in Scotland? It was a matter which involved not so much a question of principle as a question of sentiment. If people had strong feelings in regard to the mode of burial, it certainly inflicted a most grievous wound at a time when it was exceedingly painful to excite the feelings, by refusing the mode of burial which was desired. With regard to the services which might be performed under the Bill, the Committee had guarded its provisions most carefully; indeed, far more so than any real necessity could justify. The clergyman must know who was to perform the service, what the ritual was to be; and if there was no ritual, the Bill limited the service to reading the Scriptures and prayer. The chief objection to his proposal on the part of Churchmen related, he believed, to the question of infant baptism; but surely it could not be argued that those who held, with Milton and Bunyan, the necessity of personal faith in Christ on the part of the person baptized, should be excluded from the privileges of a Christian community. The same spirit which led to the incarceration of John Bunyan in Bedford Gaol was practically the same as that which denied Dissenters admission to the graveyards of the Established Church. In introducing the Bill he had no desire to promote discord, but to advance Christian unity, and he believed sincerely that the Bill, so far from weakening, would tend to strengthen the Church of England. He would again remind the House that the measure before them was not the Bill which be had introduced last year, but the Bill which came from the Select Committee—a Committee which embraced many Members distinguished for their zealous attachment to the Church of England, and for the Bill the Committee, and not himself, must be considered entirely responsible. He therefore asked the House to give the measure their calm consideration, and to do justice to a large denomination of Christian brethren who were as good citizens as themselves, as loyal to their Queen, and as willing in every respect to serve their country.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time."


said, the hon. Member who had introduced the measure had not given any very distinct view cither of the grievance of which he complained or of the remedy which he proposed to apply. He quite concurred in the hon. Gentleman's sentiments on the subject of Christian unity and harmony; but, as to the assertion that the Bill came from the Select Committee, he had to remind the House that the most important provision in the Bill was passed only by a single vote. There was therefore nothing like unanimity in the Report of the Committee, The grievance complained of was simply this, that in the rubric prefixed to the Burial Service it was forbidden to read the service over any persons who were unbaptized, excommunicated, or had laid violent hands on themselves. That rubric did not exclude from the use of the Burial Service the great bulk of the Dissenters, who, with no objection on the part of the clergy or their own friends, were buried with the same service as members of the Church of England. But there was one Dissenting body which, for reasons that he did not intend to impugn, was in the habit of deferring Christian baptism till a later period of life than that at which it was administered by the Church of England and by the majority of the Dissenting sects. The result was, that when Baptist children died, they were thought to fall within the scope of the rubric. He was not disposed to deny that there was a certain amount of vexation caused to certain persons, but in the working of all laws there would be inconvenience to some persons. The real questions for consideration were, whether the grievance was sufficiently large to justify the interference of Parliament, and also whether the proposed remedy would not produce more evil than it was intended to remove. The grievance was confined to the sect of Baptists, distributed chiefly in the southern and western parts of England, and to be found mainly in populous places. They were a numerous but not the most numerous sect of Dissenters, and even among them it was restricted to such children as died before arriving at the years of discretion. There was another very important limitation to the area of the grievance. Under recent legislation a large number of cemeteries had been established throughout the kingdom in which there was unconsecrated ground, and where it was consequently open to a Baptist or any other Dissenting minister to read whatever service he pleased. These cemeteries numbered already more than 400; they were always to be found in the neighbourhood of the most populous places, and he did not believe there was any place of any consideration whatever within reach of which one of these cemeteries was not to be found, It was only, therefore, in remote and sequestered districts that the grievance really existed. But there was a still further limitation to the area of the grievance. The clergy of the Church did not generally apply to the rubric the rigorous meaning of which the Baptists complained. It was true that the rubric, on the face of it, seemed to apply to unbaptized children; but no legal decision had ever been taken on the point. There was something, however, to enable one to form a judgment—namely, the legal interpretation put upon the other portions of the rubric. Not only unbaptized children, but persons who died by their own bands, were excluded by the rubric from the performance of the Burial Service. Yet courts had decided that the words "laid violent hands on themselves" were not to bear the rigorous meaning which at first sight might be put upon them, and that the element of conscious and deliberate intention to commit suicide was necessary to make a person a proper subject-matter for the restrictive operation of the rubric. Applying the spirit of that interpretation to the words "unbaptized person," it became extremely doubtful whether it was right, as a matter of law, to extend the meaning of the term to children who had died unbaptized. For that reason those clergymen who declined to ask any questions when a child was brought to be buried appeared to act, not only in a humane and kindly spirit, but also in harmony with the policy and meaning of the law. The grievance, then, was really microscopic. It applied only to Baptists; among them, only to children dying before reaching the years of discretion; among them, only to those dying in remote and sequestered places; among them, only to such as happened to die in the parish of a clergyman who took a rigorous view of the rubric.

But, if the grievance was small, the proposed remedy was large and dangerous. He had been told that a similar measure had been working successfully in Ireland for forty years; but the House would remember that the circumstances of Ireland with respect to religious differences were very peculiar. The Irish Act had borne no evil fruits, because three bodies—the Presbyterians, the Established Church, and the Roman Catholics—practically exhausted the religious differences of the Irish people. It so happened with respect to the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians that the question of a service in the churchyard did not really arise. Those bodies were in the habit of conducting whatever services their religion imposed upon them in their own chapels or houses, and therefore whatever danger might be dreaded from the principle of the Bill clearly could not arise in the case of two sects to whom it so imperfectly applied. In England, on the contrary, all Dissenters were in the habit of having services in the churchyard; and consequently, if the Bill became law, it would come into operation in almost every parish in the kingdom.

His first objection to the measure was that it was of an alternative description. The broader and more decisive Bill of two years ago was, to his mind, infinitely to be preferred. It was then simply proposed that Baptist ministers should be allowed to read their services in the churchyards of the Established Church. That was an open, manly, straightforward proposition. If alterations were to be made in the law, it was Parliament which ought to make them, and not the ministers of religion. The clergy were not the persons upon whom should be cast a responsibility bringing with it such a vast amount of odium as that of deciding whether the feelings of the relations of the dead should or should not be gratified. If the Members of both Houses of Parliament wished that the Baptist service should be performed in churchyards, let an Act be framed for the purpose; but he implored them, whatever they did, not to take a course which would embroil with their flocks those the whole efficiency of whose office depended upon their maintaining a spirit of peace and harmony with those among whom they lived. He proposed to consider the Bill in both of its alternatives.

The Bill provided that a Dissenting minister should require the incumbent of a parish cither to allow him to read a service in the churchyard, or else to report his reasons for refusing to do so to the bishop of the diocese, and through him to the Secretary of State. Obviously, the object was to frighten the clergyman into submission. It was calculated that a certain number of incumbents would be found weak-minded enough to fear the publicity threatened by the Bill, and, rather than have their letters sent to the Secretary of State and inserted in a blue-book, ready to make a concession which otherwise they would not make, allowing the Dissenting minister to read his service in the churchyard. What would be the result, if that species of terrorism were successful in frightening the clergy into compliance? Some time ago he moved for a Return of the number of parishes in which new churchyards had been purchased by voluntary subscription or presented by free gift within the last thirty years. There were 10,749 parishes in England. The dioceses of Lincoln and Exeter, which had made no Return, contained 1,311, leaving 9,438 for the rest of the kingdom. It appeared that in 1,639, or more than one-sixth of the whole, new churchyards had been provided by private munificence within the last thirty years. Of course, if he had gone further back, he would have obtained a much larger Return; but the fact just mentioned should of itself, if there were no other argument, make the House pause before consenting to the Bill. Persons attached to the Church had, of their own free will, given plots of land in which the services of the Church were to be performed. They had not given them in order that the services of Dissenters, whether Baptists, or Quakers, or Ranters, or Jumpers, should be performed. He wished to speak with all respect of those who differed from the Established Church, but they were intensely antagonistic to the Church, and those who loved the Church and desired to extend her influence, could not be willing to increase the power or the opportunities of her enemies. What the House was asked by the Bill to do was to take the property which, within the last thirty years, had been given for the service of the Church of England and hand it over to antagonistic sects. Parliament had of late years played strange tricks with private property, but nothing of the kind had ever been proposed before. They had not hesitated to alienate property left by donors or testators, but in those cases whole centuries had elapsed, and he did not believe it had ever been proposed to take property given to one religious denomination and hand it over to its opponents within the life-time of the donors. That was as plain and simple an act of spoliation as if they were to take the churchyards and convert them into theatres or dancing rooms. [Cries of Oh!] He did not mean, of course, to compare Dissenting burial grounds to theatres or dancing rooms; all he desired to say was, that the proposed use of the churchyards was as little in accordance with the wishes of the original donors as if they were devoted to some thing wholly alien to the spirit of religion. A benevolent American gentleman had re- cently placed at the disposal of trustees a munificent gift for the benefit of the working classes. If the £100,000 intended by Mr. Peabody for the poor were to be given to the Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London, the trustees would not further depart from the wishes of the donor than the hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury proposed to do in the case of churchyards provided by private benevolence.

His next objection to the Bill was good with respect to the whole of the parishes in England. The hon. Baronet had disclaimed any intention to force his way through the churchyard into the church. He had no doubt that the hon. Baronet meant what he said; but could he answer for the Liberation Society, which supported his Bill? The object of the Liberation Society had been frankly explained in its publications. Service was to be performed in a churchyard over the body of a Dissenter. The weather, as it was apt to be in England, was bad. Rain began to fall before the service was finished. The mourners desired to get into the church. What was the clergyman to do? He could not well keep them out in the rain; but, if not, there they were in the church. There was, in truth, no difference in principle between the church and the churchyard. The entire inclosure was set apart for the performance of religious worship in connection with the Established Church; and if an antagonistic body were admitted to any portion of it, they might as well be admitted to the whole. He did not believe, however, that the clergy would be frightened by the threat of publicity, nor did he think the Bill would have the slightest effect in opening the churchyards to Baptist ministers. He was persuaded, on the contrary, that the bold and audacious declaration contained in the Bill of the designs of the Dissenters on the Established Church would make the clergy more than ever jealous of the rights of the Church.

It was therefore necessary that the House should look at the other alternative implied in the Bill. A clergyman who refused to permit a Baptist minister to rend his service in the churchyard must give his reasons to the bishop. As became a clergyman in communication with his spiritual superior, he would, no doubt, be frank and open, stating fully what his objections were. One could imagine what, in some cases, those objections would be. Sometimes they would be objections to the character of the Dissenting minister who desired to perform the service; at other times they would be objections to the character of the deceased. Occasionally, they would be general objections to the sect to which the Dissenting minister belonged; but most frequently, perhaps, they would be grounded upon a knowledge of the ulterior objects which such demands were made to enforce. We should have the clergyman revealing to his bishop his experience of the agitation of the Liberation Society in his own parish. The bishop would forward them to the Secretary of State, who would put them into a blue-book, and thus we should have collected every Session, for the benefit of both Houses, the opinions of the clergy of the Church upon the Liberation Society and the Baptist ministers expressed in the plainest and frankest language. When they considered that these blue-books would be published to all the world, that their racy passages would be transferred to the columns of the Liberator and the Nonconformist, and that their contents in a still more garbled form would gradually find their way into the local newspapers, he asked then, whether the Bill, which was to introduce so much peace, harmony, and unity, would really have that effect in most of the parishes in England? He could not conceive any proposal more dangerous to the peace and harmony of parishes than that the clergy of the Church, and the various Dissenting ministers, should enter together into the Palace of Truth and make a frank declaration of their opinion of each other. There could be no doubt, that if the clergy had the option of refusing, refuse they would, and therefore it might be asked what advantage the supporters of the Bill expected to gain. That question might be answered in one word; they expected to gain agitation—agitation, their chief instrument for the furtherance of their schemes. They had only lately declared that agitation was that which most injured State-Churchism; and if the Bill were passed, it would give them an established "raw" in every parish, with the means of working it according to their own discretion. Was the House, then, going to assist them in their plans? If things were left alone, the probability was that the grievance, minute as it was, would diminish still further. If, on the other hand, they passed the Bill, they would not only not effect their object, but they would create much greater discord than could possibly arise under the existing state of the law and practice. In almost every case the demand for admission into the churchyard would be refused, and about the corpse of nearly every Dissenter would he raised a bitter and violent contest. There would, likewise, be a great increase in the number of those religious questions which already, unhappily, occupied so prominent a place in their debates. He, and those who agreed with him, desired to maintain peace and harmony; the Bill would throw a torch of discord into every parish. They desired to increase the reverence for the dead; the Bill would make the corpse of every Dissenter the cause of a fierce and angry controversy. Upon those grounds, for the sake not merely of the Established Church, but of the peace of parishes, of the successful ministration of religion, and of respect to the dead—he earnestly trusted the House would adopt the Amendment of which be had given notice, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he was afraid the Bill would not be passed in its then form, and yet he thought it was a simple measure of justice to Dissenters. The evil was not so small as the noble Lord had represented, for it existed in almost every rural parish. He believed there were few country parishes in which Dissenters, though called upon to pay church rates, had any ground in which they could bury their dead. As shown by the provisions of the Bill, they were exceedingly moderate in their demands; not asking admission into the Church, but merely requesting that their ministers might be permitted to perform a few simple rites over their dead. Not only was the power of fixing the time given to the incumbent, but he might even demand to see every word of the proposed service. The real objection on the part of the Church to the Bill was, he apprehended, that the clergy did not want a burial service to be performed in the parish churchyards by any person who had not undergone episcopal ordination. He submitted that that objection, though perfectly good where the deceased belonged to the Established Church, did not apply where the corpse was that of a Dissenter. If the House would read the Bill a second time, he thought it would have the effect of promoting good feeling between Churchmen and Dissenters, enabling them with greater success than hitherto to resist attacks upon their common religion. He therefore trusted that the House would shrink from such an act of injustice as to assent to the noble Lord's Amendment.


said, he rose to thank the noble Lord near him (Lord Robert Cecil) for the able and temperate exposition he had given of the objections to the principle of the Bill. It was well known that he (Mr. Newdegate) was most anxious to meet the feelings of the Dissenters, and to establish a real union—a Catholicity of feeling amongst the Protestant Christians of this country. It was because he was anxious upon that point that he wished to say that he doubted whether the measure under discussion would promote that object. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Henley) said, it was a hardship that the Dissenters in country parishes should be required to pay church rates for the maintenance of churchyards, whilst they were virtually excluded from the use of them. He (Mr. Newdegate) denied that they were so excluded. It was because church rates were levied for church purposes that he had introduced a Bill into the House to give exemption from all personal liability in respect to the payment of church rates. If his (Mr. Newdegate's) measure should pass into a law, Dissenters would have no further ground of complaint on that head; but even now, in respect to burials, if they used, as it was well known they did use, the churchyards, they had no reason to complain. The hon. Member for Finsbury proposed, by the present measure, that the churchyards, which were part and parcel of the church itself, should be used henceforward for other than church purposes; he meant for ceremonies and services at burials other than those prescribed by the Rubric of the Church of England. Now, that was a proposition which, in his (Mr. Newdegate's) opinion, fully justified the assertion of his noble Friend—that the Bill would, in effect, amount to an alienation of the property of the Church. He further objected to the Bill because it would substitute a wide and discretionary—or, in other words, an arbitrary and despotic—power to be vested in the clergy, instead of functions prescribed by settled law. As far as it was possible for a Church with a definite creed and organization to be tolerant, the Church of England was most tolerant; but the present Bill sought to invade that toleration in a most mischievous manner. There was a confusion in some persons' minds between liberalism and toleration. The churchyard was vested in the rector, as trustee for the parishioners, for the purposes of Christian interment according to the rites of the Church of England, and by law the rector was compelled to act in a spirit of toleration. There must be unsound members in all religious denominations, and he, for one, objected to any measure which would give power to an unsound rector to play tricks with the property of the Church, by permitting no one knew what alien ceremonies to be performed in the churchyard. In cemetery Bills separation was made between the consecrated and unconsecrated portion of the burial ground; under the Bill the churchyards would become common graveyards, with no provision whatever for decency of interments, or police regulations such as exist for the cemeteries. The Bill proposed to impose upon the clergy of the Church of England the duty of deciding what services other than those of their own Church were suitable to be performed in a churchyard. No class of men were more unfitted for the discharge of that function by their training, their convictions, and even their oaths, than the clergy of the Establishment, because they would not only naturally prefer the burial service of the Church, but they were bound to reject all others. Yet they were to have thrust upon them the invidious and offensive power and necessity of acting as arbitrators amongst all the different inventions which might be brought forward by any number of sects, and would be held up to public execration if they did not discriminate between them exactly to some people's satisfaction. Considering the measure as subversive of the just rights of the Established Church, and intolerant towards the clergy, he could not assent to its second reading.


Sir, whatever differences of opinion may prevail on this subject, I think two admissions at least will generally be made. The one is that there is very great difficulty inherent in the question itself; and the other is that it is a matter with respect to which, whether we look to Churchmen or Dissenters, or in fact to the whole body of the community, the feelings that gather around it are of the most tender, most susceptible, and, I will venture to say, most sacred character. That being so, I think the tone of this debate has already shown—and, I trust, will continue to show—that we all regard it as a subject on which we should speak with care and reserve, as also with great deference and respect for the opinions of those who may differ from us. Another admission made by previous speakers, and which I believe will be made generally, is that the spirit of the hon. Baronet who introduced it was eminently a spirit of conciliation, evincing on his part a desire to arrive, if possible, at a solution that would be generally satisfactory. That is a point of which, as the Bill of last year was not then fully discussed in the House, the Members of the Select Committee had the best opportunity for judging; but I think that nobody who sat on that Committee will be inclined to deny that the author of the Bill, as Chairman of the Committee, did everything compatible with his own views, in order to meet the views of others, or that in every syllable which fell from him he was most careful to avoid giving them offence. But all these are preliminary considerations which do not touch the knot of the matter before us. We are asked whether we will give a second reading to this Bill. I had the honour of serving on the Committee of last year, and I think it material to recall what took place in this House when the Bill was referred. The Bill was not only referred to a Select Committee, but it was so referred by a unanimous consent arrived at before the second reading. There was no opposition to, and no debate, upon the second reading, and the reason why the Bill was not discussed was because it had been ascertained that there was a general feeling on both sides that this difficult question should be sent upstairs, where, by friendly conversation among candid and impartial men, there might be some hope of its solution. I am far from saying that the course of proceeding adopted last year absolutely binds us this year, or even that it binds any individual of the Select Committee; but I must say, that, as a Member of the Committee, I should feel the greatest doubt and hesitation in refusing my hon. Friend, on this occasion, the second reading of his Bill. I admit that the measure as it stands is open to ex- ception in some of its important provisions. In the Select Committee last year, I found myself precluded from giving my assent in the final vote for its second clause; and in regard to that clause there is a point which I have not yet heard noticed in this debate, but which I feel to be one of very great difficulty—namely, its bearing upon the preservation of the public peace, because the susceptibility of the public mind on a matter of this kind is such that the simple judgment of the clergyman is, I think, an inadequate guard for the public peace, over which he is not appointed to preside, and for which he is in no sense responsible; and I confess I should not be without serious apprehension for its preservation after the adoption of the provisions of that clause as it stands. But that is not the question now before us. The question I take to be this:—Whether there is matter in this Bill which would admit of useful legislation; whether there is a hope of arriving at a further understanding and agreement from the discussion of the measure in detail; and lastly, whether a Dissenter has primâ facie a case for objecting to the law as it exists, and asking that it be amended. The statement of my noble Friend behind use (Lord Henley) that Dissenters, under the present law, have not access to our churchyards has been objected to by some hon. Gentlemen. Well, in all its breadth, I am not prepared to support that statement, because, as I understand, Dissenters have access to our churchyards subject to two conditions—namely, subject, first of all, perhaps, to the condition of being baptized; and secondly, without doubt, subject to the condition of having the service of the Church of England read over their remains by the appointed minister of the Church of England, whatever their objection either to that service or to the communion of the Church as a whole may be. With regard to the matter of baptism, I do not understand it to be clear law whether the unbaptized have a right to sepulture in the parish churchyard or not. If they have not the right, I cannot deny that it seems to me to be a question worthy of the consideration of the House whether or not the law should be altered in that respect. I speak now simply of sepulture, and not of religious rites, nor do I presume to give a very confident opinion on that point. But the other point, which is subject to no doubt at all, is one on which I venture to express a very confident and very strong opinion that it gives the Dissenter some title to come before this House and ask for an alteration of the law. If he has access to the churchyard, or has access to it subject exclusively and absolutely to the condition of having the service of the Church read over his remains, I confess I do not think that that is a state of the law which is consistent with those principles of civil and religious freedom on which, for a series of years, our legislation has been based. I do not see that there is sufficient reason, or, indeed, any reason at all, why, after having grunted, and most properly granted, to the entire community the power of professing and practising what form of religion they please during life, you should say to themselves or their relations when they are dead, "We will at the last lay our hands upon you, and not permit you to enjoy the privilege of being buried in the churchyard, where, perhaps, the ashes of your ancestors repose, or, at any rate, in the place of which you are parishioners, unless you appear there as members of the Church of England; and, as member of that Church, have her service read over your remains." That appears to me an inconsistency and anomaly in the present state of the law, and is in the nature of a grievance. In saying that, I do not give an individual opinion alone. It is an opinion which my hon. Friend has embodied in his Bill. The first clause gives expression to it by providing that in all cases where a request is made to the clergyman, by the relative having the conduct of the funeral of any person entitled to burial, for permission for the burial to take place without the service, such permission shall be grunted, and some convenient hour appointed for the interment. I have not had an opportunity to-day of referring to the Minutes of the Committee of last year, but I am sure I am quite right in asserting that this clause was adopted with the general—I think I might, perhaps, say with the unanimous—approval of that Committee. If so, I venture to put it to the House that the subject of sepulture without the service is of itself one of sufficient magnitude to justify legislation, even if you can touch no other part of the question; that the provision which stands in the Bill comes to us recommended by the authority of a very impartially constituted Select Committee; and that the having before you a provision of such a kind in such a Bill is a good reason why you should refer the measure to a Committee, even if you think that you must despair of making an arrangement with regard to anything beyond that. In parts of the country where there is a strong feeling, and where large portions of the people are Dissenters, the practice of sepulture without service, I believe, exists, and it is not satisfactory that any practice should exist which is not sanctioned by law. The question, I own, is one full of difficulty, and I am bound to say that I do not know up to what point the Dissenting communities of this country are earnestly and anxiously desirous that the law should be changed. I have not the same means of judging of it as my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto) may possess. Having myself been unable to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the part of the question relating to burial with the service, in the Committee of last year, I think it is still a fair subject for consideration. But whether that be a matter on which we have or have not much hope of a satisfactory solution, I submit that the state of the law with regard to burial without the service is inconsistent with the general principles of our legislation; that it does constitute a grievance on the part of those who are not connected with the Church of England, and forms also a sufficient ground for giving a second reading to this Bill, especially when we bear in mind that the provision I have named received the deliberate, the general, and perhaps I might be correct in saying, the unanimous approval of a carefully constituted Select Committee.


said, he had been no party to referring the Bill of the previous year to a Select Committee, but he was not sorry that it had been so referred, because the result showed that it was impossible to frame the measure in such a shape as would make it acceptable to the members of the Church of England. The Bill was founded on an entirely erroneous feeling, and one which did not formerly exist among the Dissenters; while the grievance now alleged was so slight and immaterial as not to warrant the interference of that House. He maintained, that while the Church of England was left in possession of her churches and churchyards, she was entitled to hold them with the same rights as the Baptists or any other Dissenting denomination held their chapels and graveyards. She was entitled to use them for her own services, and for her own services only, to the exclusion of all others; and she could not admit the services of certain sects of Dissenters and exclude those of others without violating the very principle of religious liberty which had been mistakenly quoted in support of this measure. The Dissenting bodies did not consist of Baptists, Wesleyans, and Independents merely, but of many other sects, some of whose tenets were almost of a ludicrous description, and involved rites which were offensive not only to members of the Established Church, but to every Christian denomination. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer based his support of the second reading of the Bill, not avowedly on its principle, but on its first clause, but he (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) must decline to take the issue on that clause. Indeed, it was a useless and comparatively immaterial provision, because every resident parishioner was entitled to a last resting-place in the churchyard, even although no service was performed. Every dispute about the interment of Dissenters turned, not on simple admission to a resting-place, but on the ceremonies of the Church in connection with burials. In 1811 Sir John Nichol decided that any lay baptism was valid; that any resident parishioner who had received such baptism was entitled to a place in the churchyard. The question never arose except in this way—that a clergyman having refused to perform the last rites of the Church over a person who had undergone lay baptism, Sir John Nichol said he was wrong, and that he had no right to refuse. A great deal of what was called Dissent was not real Dissent. Large numbers of the poorer classes were glad to attend Nonconformist places of worship, but they had no objection to the services of the Established Church, and sought the benefit of her offices on their baptism, marriage, or burial. These people were content that their remains should repose with those of their ancestors under the shadow of the old parish church, and they had no wish to introduce the Dissenting Ministers into the churchyard. But the Dissenting ministers themselves desired to go there, and to perpetuate beyond the grave those differences which should end there. Let not the hon. Baronet opposite, for the sake of an infinitesimal good to the sect to which he belonged, introduce discord between religious bodies, and impose a tyranny upon clergymen of the Established Church to which no Dissenting minister had ever been subjected. The hon. Baronet had said that the operation of the Bill was confined to the churchyard. But that was not correct. The words in the Bill were "performed at the grave." There were many churches about the country not closed against burials, and in the case of a vault belonging to Dissenters, any of the relatives of a deceased member might call on the clergyman to permit interment in the church with the services of the Dissenting body to which they might belong. In short, the Bill would create constant collisions and controversy between clergy and their flocks where such things now seldom occurred; and if a clergyman happened to give offence in the performance of a delicate and invidious duty which ought not to be cast upon him, he would be exposed to public obloquy and attack in all the newspapers of the kingdom. A main objection to the Bill was that its penalties were clearly to be obloquy and abuse. Again, it could never be intended by the House to put upon clergymen of the Church of England a discriminating power with reference to the different religious sects of this country. If they admitted one sect, they were bound to admit another. It was also material to consider in connection with the Bill, that there are among Dissenting communities ministers of various kinds—ministers settled, itinerant, ordained, and other classes; and he wished to know with respect to them how was any clergyman to say which kind of minister should be permitted to perform such and such a service? Moreover, he believed that many sects had no ministers at all, and he should like to know why they should be excluded from the privileges which would be enjoyed by Dissenters under this Bill, because they had not a person who was entitled to the name of a minister. The hon. Baronet said he would confine the service to prayers and hymns, and to readings from the sacred Scripture. He (Mr. Hardy) was sorry to say that he had seen expressions used in hymns and prayers as objectionable as anything that he had ever read or heard in a discourse; and he ventured to tell the hon. Baronet, that if he looked at some published collections of hymns of some of the extreme sects in this country, he would there see such things as would make his hair stand on end, and must horrify any parish in the churchyard of which they were permitted to be sung. He must also protest against the House being asked to take the Bill as an isolated measure, and to accept the hon. Baronet's view as to the effect which the Bill would have in promoting Christian unity. They saw other proposals introduced which were hostile to the Church, and it was impossible to separate one Bill from the others. Why, it might be worth while for the Church of England to keep alive the church rate question, for the mere reason that a much worse question might succeed it; though, of course, they contested it on its merits. If the Church of England was to be trusted with her property, for the sake of England let them trust her with it like men and statesmen. If she was to be a national Church, let them not weaken her by frittering away her rights; but on the other hand, if she failed in her sacred duty, let those rights be wholly taken from her. At that moment the Government were in the other House, through the Lord Chancellor, endeavouring to extend her influence by increasing the value of her livings, but other Members of the Government seemed ready to aid in undermining her by assenting to Bills of tins description. He confessed he felt strongly on the subject. He wished to see Dissenters rest side by side with their brethren of the Church of England in the parish churchyard; but he looked upon the Bill as an invasion without reason or justice of the rights of the Church. It put a strain on the consciences of clergy men the like of which had not been imposed in recent times, and required them to perform duties for which they were not qualified. It attacked the Church through the churchyard. The precedent set up in the case of Ireland was not parallel. There a state of things had grown up by a union of sects in antagonism to the Church of Rome, which was not the case here, and Dissenters there had no "ulterior objects." Books were constantly published attacking the title of the Church of England to her possessions; and they had before them a proposition to take away her churchyards, even those given by private benefactors within the last few years, although there might be a Dissenting burial-ground in the vicinity. The Dissenters now possessed facilities for obtaining burial-places of their own if they desired them, and in many cemeteries, established by legislative authority, there existed unconsecrated as well as consecrated ground, the expense of burials in the former being cheaper than those in the latter. Moreover, the Dissenters had ob- tained from the public rates not only burial-grounds, but chapels for the performance of their funeral services. Why, then, should they object to the Established Church using their endowments for her own rites and ceremonies, when they themselves possessed chapels erected out of public money. He trusted the House would not be led away by what he must call the unfair way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer put the question—a mode of putting it which was more subtle than fair. The right hon. Gentleman called upon the House to vote upon one clause which did not affect the principle of the Bill, and under which the circumstances of any Dissenter would remain as at present, He trusted the House would consider that the Church of England, in her churchyards and churches, was entitled to the exercise of her rights and ceremonies so long as those rights and ceremonies were acceptable; and they were so at present, not only to the great body of the members of the Church of England, but to the great body of the Dissenters themselves.


said, that he had allowed his name to be placed on the back of the Bill, understanding it was the Bill of the Committee shaped by them to meet the views of the opponents of the Bill of last year, and therefore in the hope that it might tend to a settlement of the differences which existed on the subject; but he feared, that looking at the way in which it had been treated in the discussion, there was no chance of such a result. If, however, the House should reject the Bill, he should consider himself at liberty to take a more decided course in the next year. The noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) had stated that the Bill was supported by the Liberation Society. He (Sir Charles Douglas) had no claim to speak on their behalf; but when he found a Bill in which he had an interest opposed on the ground that it was supported by the Liberation Society, and when he had in his possession a statement of facts showing that that society had nothing whatever to do with the Bill as it at present stood, he thought he should not be doing an act of justice if he did not point-blank contradict the noble Lord. In consequence of the alteration that had been made in the Bill, his hon. Friend (Sir Morton Peto) received a letter from the Liberation Society, a copy of which had been put into his hands (some passages of which he read), to the effect that the committee of that society considered the operation of the present measure would be to subject Dissenting ministers to the capriciousness and intolerance of the clergy of the Established Church, which would be more fatal to their influence with their flocks than if they were excluded from the churchyards. In fact, the Liberation Society which was put forward on every occasion as a bugbear, in the present case rather opposed than supported the measure. He was satisfied in his own mind that in supporting the principle of the Bill he was only doing that which would tend ultimately to the advantage of the Church of England.


said, it was his intention to oppose the Bill, and for this reason:—It was alleged by Dissenters that they derived no advantage from church rates; but he thought, that if they were to support the Bill, they would place themselves in a false position, inasmuch as they would then make use of churchyards for which church rates were granted. He wished to say that he was not a member of the Liberation Society, and when asked to subscribe to its funds refused to do so. But he thought it due to that society to say, that so far as he knew, it had nothing whatever to do with the Bill before the House. In fact, he had been informed that many members of that society rather disapproved it.


said, that having been absent through illness, he had been no party to referring the Bill of the previous year to a Select Committee, and be understood many who recommended that course now rather regretted having done so. The fact was, the Bill bad been allowed to pass the second reading on the understanding that certain words and clauses should be introduced which would render it comparatively harmless; but what took place before the Committee proved that could not be done. It was all very well to refer a Bill to a Select Committee with a view to the arrangement of details; but that was a question, not of details, but of principle, which the House must decide for itself. The Bill was, no doubt, couched in very conciliatory language; it proposed that these burials should take place by and with the leave of the clergyman of the parish. But was that the real intention? From the evidence of Dr. Foster, of the Liberation Society, taken before the Lords' Committee on Church Rates, he thought it clear that the promoters of the Bill looked to a participation in the ecclesiastical edifices of the country, of which they complained that Episcopalians were the rent-free tenants; and the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if pushed to its legitimate consequences, gave sanction to those views. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said that he considered it a breach of the principles of civil and religious liberty—an anomaly which amounted to a grievance—that a Dissenter should not have a right by law to have service read over his grave by a minister of his own persuasion.


What I said was, that it was an anomaly amounting to a grievance that a Dissenter should not be permitted to be buried in the churchyard except on condition of the Church service being read over him, whether he wished it or not.


admitted that he might have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman. He repeated, however, that the Bill had been introduced to carry out the view of Dr. Foster and those who agreed with him. Great pains had been taken to show that the Bill did not emanate from the Liberation Society; but they only wanted a much stronger and more coercive measure. They would regard it only as an instalment, and in a few years, if the Bill passed, they would get all they wished. With reference to the first part of the Bill, he might be wrong, but he believed the law was, that every parishioner had a right to interment in the churchyard, and to have the Church service read over him. In three cases only the Church was excused by the canon law from doing this—namely, in the case of unbaptized persons, excommunicated persons, and persons who had laid violent hands on themselves. But by the common law a right to be buried was vested in every parishioner. If, however, any doubt existed as to the state of the law, let a short Act be passed to declare what it was, not to alter the whole law. But the second part of the Bill was the most objectionable, and would virtually disestablish the Church of England. It provided that the officiating minister of every parish, on being applied to to allow burial to a Dissenter, with service might give such permission, if he thought fit; that he should give it or withhold it in writing within forty-eight hours; but that if he withheld it, he should, within a week, transmit the reasons for his refusal to the registrar of the bishop. He would rather have a coercive measure. For could any clergyman perform such office without being loaded with obloquy? Ministers of every Dissenting denomination would by the Bill be put on a par, as regards the burial service, with the Ministers of the Church; and if that were so with respect to burials, why not with respect to other parts of the service? It would be regarded as an anomaly amounting to a grievance that a clergyman of the Church of England should be allowed to read part of the burial service in the Church, and the other portion of it at the grave, while the Dissenter had to read his service altogether in the churchyard; and the argument for placing both on a par in every respect would be irresistible to the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. On former occasions strong objections had been urged—he believed the phrase was the invention of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright)—against "ticketing dissenters;" but by the Bill the relations of a dead man having charge of his funeral would be empowered to ticket a man as a member of a particular denomination whether he would or not. The grievance of rival parties contending over dead bodies was not new in the history of the country, and the Bill would undoubtedly tend to foster such a state of things. Everywhere throughout the country Dissenters had their own burial grounds within accessible distances; the Church did not wish to exclude them from the churchyard or from the service of the Church; he believed the Dissenters generally did not wish themselves to be excluded. He should therefore oppose a Bill which for the sake of an infinitesimal portion of them would introduce into the Church a hundredfold more confusion and grievance than was sought to be remedied.


Sir, I wish to say only a very few words before the House goes to a division. After what has fallen from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am anxious, while I intend to support the second reading of the Bill, to guard myself against being supposed to give any sanction to the second and third clauses of it. The arguments, which have been chiefly directed against these clauses, I must say, are entitled to very great weight. Burials in the churchyard ought to be performed under direct authority of the law, and should not be subject to the discretion of this or that clergyman. It would be most objectionable in practice to have in one parish a clergyman refusing these applications, while the clergyman of an adjoining parish readily allowed them. Looking at the law which has passed regarding interments in all large towns, now that intramural interments have been discontinued and cemeteries established, where, without raising questions of religious difference, all persons may be buried with what rites their friends may consider desirable—I must say I think there is no real grievance sufficient to justify such an alteration of the law as is involved in the second and third clauses of the Bill propose. If such a grievance did exist, it ought to be remedied in a different way. The enactment of the second clause would, I am persuaded, lead to very great religious animosities, and probably to breaches of the public peace, and I should be very reluctant to give it the sanction of my vote. I am quite aware that it was adopted by the hon. Baronet who brought in the Bill from the Irish Act, but it should be remembered that that Act merely legalized a practice which had existed in Ireland from time immemorial. I do not intend to go into details; I only wish to take this opportunity, as, judging from the appearance of the House, I shall not likely have another, of stating that in voting for the second reading of this Bill I do it on the ground indicated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as founded on the first clause, and without giving any sanction to the second or third clauses of the Bill. With regard to the second clause, however, I may say that in the Select Committee it did receive the sanction of the right hon. Gentleman under whom the hon. Member for Leominster served in the Home Office, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer voted against it; and if the Bill be now read a second time, I shall vote against its retention. With regard to the first clause, the subject was fully considered by the Committee, who unanimously approved that clause. Some doubt has been thrown on what the law really is. If what has been stated by the hon. Member for Leominster is correct, it would show that there is no necessity for the first clause. The law is, no doubt, that every baptized person, by whomsoever the rite has been performed, whether by an ecclesiastic or by a layman, is entitled to burial with the rites of the Church of England; but the question is whether the friends of an uubaptized person can insist on his common law right of burial without service, or whether a clergyman of the Church of England is at liberty to refuse to admit that right. A case occurred in London not long ago, in which such a refusal was given, on conscientious grounds no doubt; and that being the case, the Committee being unanimously of opinion that the law in that respect should be altered, I think, on that ground alone, it is reasonable such an alteration should take place.


Sir, I must protest against the principle laid down in this debate that the House cannot offer an opinion upon the second rending of a Bill because in a previous Session it has referred it to a Select Committee. A Bill is referred to a Select Committee generally speaking from mixed motives. In the present instance I do not think the motives were mixed; nor is there any doubt as to the condition under which the Burial Bill was referred to a Select Committee. The condition was, that it should be brought out from that Select Committee in a form which might, in the opinion of the House. solve the difficulties which were involved in the proposed legislation. Therefore, I should say that every hon. Member of the House is free to decide whether in the present instance the Bill does meet the difficulties of the case, and is one of which he can approve. Therefore, the reference of a Bill having a similar object to a Select Commitee last year does not in any way preclude the House from giving its opinion on this Bill in its present form now brought before us for second reading, because we must remember, that although this measure, or a similar measure, was submitted to a Select Committee, the House had not an opportunity of expressing any opinion on the labours of that Select Committee last year. Last year a Clergy Relief Bill was referred to a Select Committee. It was very much modified in Committee, and the-House had an opportunity of giving an opinion upon it afterwards. But if the labours of a Select Committee in a previous Session, with reference to a particular Bill, should debar us from giving an opinion upon that identical or any similar measure when submitted for a second reading, one of our most important privileges would be very much diminished. Therefore, I imagine the House, on reflection, will hardly agree that the argument offered by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the second reading of this Bill, on the plea that a Bill with a similar object had been last year referred to a Select Committee, is at all valid. Nor can I say, though I listened with great attention to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that his other arguments were of a more tenable character. The Bill consists of two principal clauses; the Chancellor of the Exchequer approved of the first clause, which, on the whole, comparatively speaking, must be described as a harmless clause. He approved of one clause, and of one clause only; yet he is for reading the Bill a second time, although be admits that the second clause is one which will probably lead to breaches of the public peace. It seemed to me a singular argument from a Minister of the Crown—that we should sanction the principle of a measure the obvious or probable consequences of which are a breach of the public peace, and that he should ground his qualified approbation of it on a portion of its provisions comparatively of secondary importance. But it appeared to me that the whole argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was based on a fallacy, and a fallacy which I should have thought must have occurred to a mind so logical as that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He argued thus:—That it is a very hard thing for Dissenters to have granted to them certain immunities while they live, but the moment they die, when their bodies are sought to be interred in the churchyard, they are to be subject to conditions. But what are the conditions prescribed when the body of the Dissenter is carried into the churchyard? Are they different from those which the living Dissenter on entering the church must encounter? It is very true, that when the body of the Dissenter is brought into the churchyard, conditions are required; but when the living Dissenter enters into the church, the same conditions are equally required. And what are those conditions? If the Dissenter enters the church, the condition is that he should hear the service; and if the body of the Dissenter is brought to be buried in the churchyard, the condition is that he should be interred according to the service of the Church. Therefore, I think that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is founded on a fallacy, and that there are no conditions applied to the Dissenter dead different from those which he must encounter if living. Then the appeal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the principle of religious liberty was entirely illusory. The principle of religious liberty is not at nil violated by the present state of the law. The principle of religious liberty in this country has secured, happily for every subject of Her Majesty, the enjoyment of all the rites of their religion. They have secured sacred buildings to assemble in, and no one interferes with them. They have a right to consecrated or unconsecrated sepulture, and no one questions their right. But the principle of religious liberty is impugned if you pass a law by which the Dissenters may say to the followers of the Church:—We will invade your sacred places, and will enforce our claims to keep your consecrated ground for the interment of our dead according to our conditions and regulations. If, therefore, the question of religious liberty is at all involved in the consideration of this measure, the violation of the principle of religious liberty is as against the followers of the Church of England, and not against the Dissenters. I am at a loss I must say, to understand on what grounds the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State supports this measure, The Secretary of State disapproves of all the important clauses in the Bill; but he is of opinion that the law should be clear on the subject whether an unbaptized person may be buried or not in the parochial churchyard. Well, if there be doubts on the question, let the Secretary of State introduce a measure on the subject; let the doubts be put an end to. The object is clear; the provisions might be very concise and definite; and no disturbance on that point could possibly arise hereafter if such a Bill were introduced and passed into a law. But to accomplish such a purpose, to obtain such a limited result, is it wise on the part of the Government to sanction a measure which, brought forward even in the modified form in which a Select Committee now exhibits it to the House, is one which we know and which avowedly has ulterior objects of very great moment, and which, even in its present shape, aims at accomplishing results so much more considerable than the Minister himself contemplates? I cannot say that in my opinion there is any doubt as to the course which this House ought to take on this occasion. In my opinion the true character of the Bill was put before the House in the early part of this debate by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil), in a manner so cogent and clear that it would be surplusage almost now to enlarge upon it. I regret very much the support it has received to day. I regret very much the support it has received, above all others, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I remember some words recently uttered in this House on a cognate subject by one of its most distinguished Members. We were told then that the real enemies of the Church were rather to be found within the pale of the Church than without it; and when the right hon. Gentleman spoke this morning, I was painfully reminded that I had heard that truth only a few days ago from the same lips. After the frank and, I will always admit, the honourably frank admissions made by the chief promoters of this Bill, I cannot doubt what is the object. I cannot disconnect it from that systematized attack on the Church of England which, Session after Session, we have had to encounter. I am perfectly ready to do justice to the character and motives of the hon. Baronet who brings this measure before the House. But this question is not to be decided by personal considerations. It is impossible to shut our eyes to the anti-ecclesiastical campaign which is every year commenced. Once we looked forward to these efforts with anxiety. I am glad to say that repeated discussions at least permit us to look forward to them without fear. I hope the House will not hesitate as to the course they will take on this occasion. We at least meet on all these questions a foe that does not conceal its purpose, but honourably announces the object which it has in view. Nor do I deny the considerable strength with which that object may be pressed and prosecuted. It becomes, therefore, those who wish to uphold the present ecclesiastical settlement of this country to exert their utmost energies, and to show their utmost vigilance at this important crisis in the fortunes of the Church of England. We have been told that we are living, as regards that Institution, in dark and stormy times. It may be so; I believe it is so; but for my part I should hold our chance of ultimate security greatly diminished if the light in that pharos were extinguished. May it long guide us, and I am sure that we can do no better deed to-day than at once, by the rejection of this measure, show I that we are prepared to uphold not merely the legal privileges, but what I believe are the strong convictions of the people with regard to the Church.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 96; Noes 221: Majority 125.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.