HC Deb 29 March 1882 vol 268 cc258-71

Order for Second Heading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, explained that he should wish it to be referred to the Select Committee appointed on the previous evening to inquire into the mortuary fees. His Bill was not framed in the interest of any one class, either of Churchmen or Nonconformists; but was meant to promote the interests of the whole community by regulating, equalizing, and reducing those burial charges which, in many cases, were of a very onerous character. It would deal not only with the fees for interment in old parish churchyards, but also with fees for interment in public cemeteries. The Bill would affect the question of burial charges and the question of fees for monumental inscriptions. It, however, did not seek to deprive the clergy of their control over inscriptions, or to interfere with the rights of existing incumbents. It might be described as a fair corollary to the Burials Bill; and in it it was proposed that no fee should be exacted except for services actually rendered. When the clergyman's time was taken up it should be paid for; but where no service was rendered, though the church and churchyard should remain in the hands of the clergyman, he should not be allowed to obtain fees for matters that cost him personally nothing. Life interests would be reserved. Notification of the charges to be made should be put up in a suitable place where all persons applying for interments could see what they had to pay. Very often fees were exacted according to the supposed circumstances of the applicant. The status of non-parishioners was not to be altered by the Bill. After what he had said on the previous night, I he would not unnecessarily occupy the time of the House. He hoped that no opposition would be shown to the Bill, and that it would be read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Brinton.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months, said the Bill was objectionable, because it was, in fact, a disturbance of a settlement arrived at some two years ago, and was a Bill which might be called a Bill for the partial disendowment of the Church of England. The Burials Act was passed in opposition to the feelings of a great number of Gentlemen on that side of the House; but the decision of the House having been arrived at, he thought they might have been allowed some respite before the question was brought before Parliament again. The effect of the measure would be that certain pecuniary rights would be taken away from the clergy of the Church of England, who were still the guardians of the freehold of the churchyards, and that their control over the churchyards would be done away with. The hon. Member who had moved the second reading tried to gild the pill which he asked the House to swallow by providing that the measure should not affect the position of existing incumbents. This, however, did not in the least diminish the force of the fact that the Bill was a disendowing Bill. It would come into operation whenever a vacancy should occur in any benefice, and would, therefore, ultimately diminish the incomes of the clergymen of the Church of England by interfering with the present practice in connection with fees. He thought the 2nd section of the Bill was very objectionable. It proposed to enact that the fee for reading the Church of England Burial Service, applicable to cases in which the corpse was taken into the church, should be 2s. 6d.; but that it should only be 1s. 6d. in cases in which the corpse was not taken to the church. Surely there seemed to be contemplated in that distinction a system of first and second class burials. It seemed a questionable kind of arrangement that a Service in the church should be dispensed with because a poor parishioner could not afford a slightly higher fee. There was this further objection—that such a provi- sion would legalize "lawlessness" on the part of the clergy, for, by the directions of the Book of Common Prayer, the body of every person over whom the Burial Service was to be read was supposed to be taken into Church. Nothing could be more inconvenient to the incumbent of a parish than that a churchyard anthority should have the power to fix for him a time for free burials; and he did not know what right people had to say that a clergyman should bury without the customary fee. Clause 6 appeared to give liberty to any persons to erect tablets, gravestones, monuments, or railings at their own will; and he had never known so sweeping a proposition made with so little ostentation. It was a matter affecting æsthetic considerations for churchyards, which had too often been neglected, and were now being turned into gardens and places of beauty. It would now be the more remarkable if gravestones and monuments were allowed to be erected without control. It would be a novelty in a churchyard to set up a board stating the fees, as required by Clause 7. Clause 9 introduced the odium theologicum, by providing that there should be no restriction to the free selection of a grave on account of the religious or other opinions of the deceased person. Had such a restriction ever been made? He never heard of Liberals being put in one part of a churchyard and Conservatives in another, or Dissenters in one part of a churchyard and Churchmen in another. It was one thing to appoint a Committee to inquire, as the House did last evening; but it was another thing to affirm the principle of a Bill by giving it a second reading, and to interfere in an uncalled-for way with existing arrangements as to churchyards.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, it was inconsistent to appoint a Committee of Inquiry, and then to attempt to legislate before that inquiry had been opened. The Bill had been described as a corollary to the Burials Act; but it seemed to him to go a great deal further than that Act. And, within two Sessions of the passing of that Act to remove grievances which some deemed imaginary, it was very early to bring in another Bill not dealing with difficulties of conscience, but touching the endowments of the Church If it were anything at all the Bill was a Disendowment Bill, for although it preserved existing rights, it nevertheless cut off fees in future, which were an essential part of the clergyman's income where the endowment was small. There was no analogy between burial fees and baptismal fees, because the latter were payable in respect of a Sacrament of the Church of England, and, therefore, might be conscientiously objected to by Nonconformists. This was piecemeal disendowment. The question of the disendowment of the Church of England should be dealt with openly, and by means of a comprehensive scheme to be brought forward on the responsibility of the Government. Seeing that the whole subject of ecclesiastical fees had been referred to a Select Committee, he thought that the hon. Member should be content with the discussion that had taken place, and should withdraw his Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. John Talbot.)

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


remarked, that, after what had taken place in regard to the extension of public rights in these ecclesiastical matters, nothing could be clearer than this—that Parliament had made up its mind that no class of people in this country should be debarred of their civil rights on the ground of any ecclesiastical fancy or caprice. Although it might be admitted that in most cases clergymen were reasonable and considerate towards the poorer portion of the population, yet, unfortunately, there were many notorious cases in which clergymen had acted in a most inconsiderate manner, and, he would venture to say, in a wholly un-Christian spirit towards their parishioners, in order to exhibit that petty spirit of objection on ecclesiastical grounds which that House had so generally regarded as reprehensible. All the Bill did was to complete the work of the measure of his right hon. and learned Friend the Judge Advocate General (Mr. Osborne Morgan) of two years ago. Beyond question the tendency of public opinion in this country in regard to the Established Church was that the people's rights must be asserted and vindicated; and it was too much to ask that in all the parishes of the country the parishioners should rest merely upon the goodwill of the clergyman. He was a public servant and State officer—[Mr.WARTON: No!]—and nothing was more obvious than that public servants were subject to public and defined regulations. Therefore the clergyman, whatever had been his position in the State in the past, must take his account, with the certainty that Parliament would not hesitate to define his true and legal position, so that his assumed privileges might not interfere with the rights of the public. He pointed out that, unless the Bill were read a second time, it could not be referred to the Select Committee on Ecclesiastical and Mortuary Fees which within the last 24 hours had been agreed to by the House. If it were then shown that there were objectionable features in the Bill, the House would by no means be committed to its main proposals.


must acknowledge that he could not regard the question before the House as a very large question. It was simply this—should they read the Bill a second time and refer it to the Select Committee already appointed, or allow the matter to rest upon the Committee only? On the whole, he was disposed to agree with his hon. Friend who objected to the second reading of the Bill. He thought that hon. Members opposite should be content to wait until the Committee appointed to consider the question of Ecclesiastical Fees had made their Report before proceeding further in this direction. It was a most unusual course for any Party in that House to attempt to carry out their views at once by Resolution and by a Bill. He was not altogether sorry that a settlement of a vexed question had been arrived at by means of the Act of 1880; but he objected to the whole question being re-opened by a Bill like the present before two years had elapsed since the passing of that measure. There was a third reason why the Bill should not be read a second time, and that was that in reading it a second time the House committed itself to its principle. In a few years another Bill, a "corollary" of that Bill, might be brought forward, and the House told that in reading the Bill of 1882 a second time it had assented to the principle embodied in that future Bill. Besides, that Bill went beyond the scope of the Resolution agreed to on the previous night. The Select Committee then agreed to was— To inquire into the Law which authorises the demanding of Mortuary Fees, and into the Ecclesiastical Fees levied by Ministers of Religion upon the occasion of Burials and the erection of Monuments in Cemeteries and Parish Churchyards; and to report to the House whether any legislation is desirable with a view to their regulation or reduction. The Bill went into other questions than those into which the Select Committee was to inquire. It went into the question of the time of burial in the most awkward and difficult manner; and if he was to criticize the Bill, he should say that the clause relating to the time of burial was a very unfortunate, if not impracticable, clause. He thought the wisest course to adopt was to remain by the Committee which had already been appointed, and to put the Bill on one side, as he thought much good might come of the inquiry by the Committee. Before sitting down he would like to refer to two points. First, he objected to Clauses 6 and 9, which did away, if he read them correctly, with all the power of the authorities who had to deal with churchyards in respect to what monuments should be put in churchyards, where they should be placed, and what space they should occupy. Under those clauses someone who had no connection whatever with the parish—excepting parishioners' rights, which he fully acknowledged—might go in and say—" Please let me have three-quarters of the churchyard." He thought that must have been an oversight on the part of the draftsman of the Bill. Whoever the churchyard belonged to—whether the clergyman, or parishioners, or anyone else—they must have some authority; and the clause, in its present form, would do away with all authority, and did not substitute a new authority. His second point was rather a peculiar one. He had noticed for some years that Bills which were suggested for consideration on Wednesday afternoons always did one of two things—they either desired to take away from somebody something that belonged to them, in order to hand it to someone else, or they proposed to lay additional burdens upon someone. After a fashion, it might be argued that this Bill indirectly did both. It was proposed to take away the fees very largely, and churchyards required to be supported. They had already taken away the church rates; so that if they took away the fees, one of two things must happen—either the churchyards must be entirely supported by the Church people for the benefit of others, or they must fall into disuse, and they must have parish cemeteries. But they could not create parish cemeteries without expense to the ratepayers; and if they were moving in that direction, then he would go further, and say that a great deal was to be said in favour of closing the churchyards and having parish cemeteries. But the great difficulty about it was the expense; and he would warn the House not to do that without knowing what they were about, and seeing where they were going to. Let them understand that in closing the churchyards more or less they had the sooner or later to go to the ratepayers. It might be perfectly right; but do not let them do it without distinctly saying and knowing that such a change was proposed.


said, he was more disposed to agree with the earlier than the later remarks of his hon. Friend who had just spoken. His hon. Friend treated the matter at first as a small matter; but in his hands it soon became a burning question. He (Mr. Osborne Morgan) would call the attention of the House to the Resolution appointing the special Committee to which he assented on the previous evening, the words of which were that the Committee was to inquire whether any legislation was desirable, with a view to the regulation or reduction of ecclesiastical and mortuary fees. As a matter of fact, this Bill both regulated and reduced them. The ground on which his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Alexander Gordon) proposed to do so, and on which he, on the part of the Government, agreed to the proposition, was the extreme uncertainty and the absolute want of uniformity which existed in regard to this question of mortuary and burial fees. Burial fees were authorized neither by the Common Law nor by the Canon Law. The clergyman must rest his payment upon the custom of the particular parish, and the result was that they had different fees for every parish, and different fees in some cases in the same parish. The Burials Acts intro- duced a second system, and an Act passed about three years ago another system, so that they had got confusion worse confounded. With regard to the Burials Amendment Act, 1880, he thought the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Beresford Hope) would agree with him in saying that there was never an Act of Parliament which had so completely falsified the predictions made about it at the time it was passed. He believed that the admirable result of its working was due in a great measure to the excellent spirit in which it had been received by the clergy of the Church of England. But that excellent spirit had not been universally shown. When the amount of fees depended upon custom, and there was no fixed law, there were cases in which the clergyman charged whatever he liked or whatever the parishioners could pay. There had been cases since the Burials Act in which the clergyman had demanded one fee for the burial according to the Service of the Church of England, and another fee if the burial took place under the Amendment Act of 1880. That was what had prompted many persons to give their support to the present Bill. With this explanation, he came to the Bill itself; and it seemed to him that it did not, except in one respect, go beyond the Resolution passed for the appointment of a special Committee. This Bill both regulated and reduced the fees; but it did not take them away altogether. From his own experience the effect would be, in some cases, so far from reducing the incomes of the clergy, to very considerably increase them. There was no such thing as a burial fee which could be enforced in most parts of Wales. The custom there was to make an offering. There was one clause in the Bill which certainly did travel beyond the limits of the Resolution passed the previous evening, and that was the 9th clause. That clause had reference to the kind of religious service to be held at burials. But a provision of that kind had become absolutely necessary. His hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. J. G. Talbot) had said that he never heard of a ease where a clergyman was influenced in his conduct by the religious opinions of the deceased or his relatives. But everyone knew of a recent case in which the clergyman re- fused to allow a Dissenter to be buried by the side of his deceased wife, who had been a Churchwoman, simply because he had been a Dissenter. With regard to this Bill, he wished to point out that it could not be referred to a Select Committee unless it was read a second time. The reasonable thing was to read the Bill a second time, and then allow it to go before the Select Committee which had charge of the subject.


felt obliged to refer to the good-humoured manner in which his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Osborne Morgan) had referred to the operation of the Act of 1880. He was not to be drawn out into expressing an opinion as to the failure or success of that Act. But assuming that all the prophecies about the Act had failed—which, however, was only a supposition—he had always contended, and would contend, that it was the pertinacious and unswerving resistance to that Act which took away its fangs. If the opponents of that measure had allowed themselves to have been won over by the dulcet notes of his right hon. and learned Friend, the Church would at the present time have been in a highly disturbed state. He had seen many curious situations in that House; but never a more curious one than had that day presented itself. The night before a Select Committee on the question had been agreed upon without prejudice to future action, and within 24 hours a Bill was brought on for a second reading which proposed to solve the question in a particular way, making particular and detailed provisions in respect of fees and other matters. Of all the corrupt practices in respect of legislation which had come into use of late years in that House, he thought the practice on that occasion was the most corrupt. Nothing could be more indefensible than the growing practice of bringing the second reading of a Bill into the category of things indifferent, and thus encouraging crude attempts at legislation by private Members. It was an extraordinary thing that the name of the Mover of the Resolution was the second name on the back of the Bill, while the Seconder of the Resolution was the same person who moved the second reading of the Bill, so that they reminded him of a firm which should be known in town as Dodson and Fogg, and at Liverpool as Fogg and Dodson. The Bill would make a clean sweep of the right of the parishioner to interment in the parish churchyard, because it would introduce uniform fees for all, which would destroy the special rights of the parishioner. [Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN: The Bill does not touch the right of burial.] His right hon. and learned Friend could hardly have read the Bill when he contended that it made a difference between a funeral conducted by a clergyman and one by any other person, interring one at 2s. 6d., and the other at 1s. What it said was that the fee for the full service—including bringing the body into church—was to be 2s. 6d.; and that for the mutilated service only in the churchyard—a bad legacy of an age of indifference—was to be 1s. 6d. He could not too strongly protest against the encouragement given to the latter corruption. As to the provision for doing away with the clergyman's fees on monuments, it was the exacting of high fees that had operated as a check upon the introduction into churchyards of unsightly monuments; and if that check were removed they would have an increase of offensive constructions and inscriptions. Everything that could fairly be asked had been conceded by the appointment of the Committee; and he, therefore, trusted the House would not assent to the second reading.


said, no reason at all had been shown why the Bill should not be sent to the Select Committee. The House had determined that the subject deserved inquiry; that was an expression of opinion that there was a grievance, and it would assist the Committee to have before it the method proposed for redressing the grievance. It was quite in accordance with Parliamentary practice to read a Bill a second time for the purpose of referring it to a Select Committee, and this was substantially what would be done on the subject of the Law of Distress; a Committee had been appointed, and there would be referred to it two Bills, one proposing abolition and another submitting an alternative scheme. There was no ground for the notion that they prejudiced a case by sending to a Committee a scheme for dealing with a practical grievance. He would say nothing of the merits of the Bill; but would leave the Committee to judge of them: The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Beresford Hope) said that the reason why the Burials Act had not done harm was because it had been resisted so long. No doubt it did take a long time to remove the alarm of the right hon. Gentleman and those whom he represented. After declaring for 10 or 12 years that the Church would be destroyed, the thing was done, and the Church had not been destroyed at all. They had to be treated like horses of uncertain disposition and temper, which felt great alarm at the first sight of a strange object; but which, having been frequently taken up to it, and having by degrees found that it was not mischievous, entirely overcame their first alarm, and became as good tempered as the right hon. Gentleman always was.


contended that the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary were irreconcilable with each other. It was undoubtedly in accordance with Parliamentary practice to read a Bill a second time for the purpose of referring it to a Committee. But that was precisely what had not been done in the ease cited by the right hon. Gentleman. A Committee had been appointed on the Law of Distress. The House had two Bills before it—one had not been read a second time, and was never likely to reach that stage; the other had been read a second time, but was not referred to the Committee. He thought that the House had great reason to complain of the conduct of the Government in this matter. Most sincerely and cordially he wished to recognize the conciliatory and able manner in which the Judge Advocate General (Mr. Osborne Morgan) conducted the Burials Act in its passage through the House; but he also claimed credit for the loyal way in which the clergy of the Church of England had accepted it. With every disposition on the part of the Nonconformist papers to make up grievances there was not one case in 1,000—not 15 in all England and Wales—where any real ground of complaint against the conduct of clergymen with reference to this Act could be shown. After a Committee had been appointed last night without objection on that side of the House, it was not fair to come down that day and insist upon the second reading of this Bill. Everything that could with fairness be asked had been attained by the appointment of a Committee, and this Bill could only be necessary as an instalment—a first step in what had been called a burning question—the disendowment of the Church of England. He could not conceive a more offensive term by which to designate a clergyman than that used by an hon. Member below the Gangway (Mr. Illingworth)—namely, a "State official." The clergy were in no sense "State officials." They did not derive their order from the State; they were neither appointed by nor were they paid by the State. "When they heard language of that sort used in favour of the Bill, coupled with the fact that those who supported it had already obtained all they could fairly desire, he considered that pressing the Bill to a second reading was nothing more than simple tyranny and insult to the Church of England.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman (Sir John Mowbray) was singularly unfortunate in maintaining that the clergy were not State officials, when they had seen within a week reports in the newspapers of a clergyman in Derbyshire who had been compelled, by a peremptory mandamus, to register the burial of a Nonconformist in his parish after having tried every means in his power to defeat the law imposed upon him as a State official. The clergyman was distinctly a State official; therefore, liable to the most severe penalties if he made false entries in his registers, and as long as the Church of England remained an Established Church he would remain an official of the State. There had been several discoveries made of mistakes in this Bill which had no foundation, and among them was pointed out the case of hideous monuments. Now, there was nothing in the Bill for permitting any monuments. All that was done in the Bill was the abolition of the right to receive a fee for the erection of a monument. The legal course was to obtain a faculty for the erection of a monument. The clergyman himself had no right to grant permission for the erection of a monument; he might, by custom, have power to receive a certain fee. The Ordinary could grant a faculty in the teeth of any opposition. He would put it to the House whether it was more likely that under the Bill there would be more chance of having the churchyards disfigured with large, sprawling, vulgar monuments than there was now? At present 99 out of 100 of the monuments were erected without any faculty at all. It was done by an agreement with the clergyman; and the more liberal the donation the more likely was the clergyman to acquiesce in the erection of the monument. It was necessary, as this Bill proposed, that there should be some check upon the discretion of the clergyman in allotting places for burials. When they were told that there were no grievances it was remarkable that there should be two such cases as that in Derbyshire, and the case of the incumbent at Helmsley, who not only refused to bury a Nonconformist by the side of his wife in consecrated ground, but went so far as to force the mourners with the body to enter by a side gate, because, he said, the feelings of the Church of England people would be outraged by the body of a Dissenter passing over the consecrated ground. But there were, no doubt, many other cases of oppression and submission which had not come to light; because the Dissenters, being of comparatively humble station, were not in a position to quarrel with the parson and the squire. It was necessary, therefore, to have some protection in those cases. The Burials Act recognized the right of every parishioner to be buried in his own churchyard; and this Bill was consequent upon it, and it would be necessary to vest the management of the churchyard in impartial hands. It was quite true that a great many of the clergy had honourably acquiesced in the new state of things, yet there had been no measure the opposition to which was more distinctly ecclesiastical than the Burials Act. If they wanted to get rid of the bickerings of parochial jealousy these matters should be taken out of the control of the clergy, who had imported so much bad feeling into their opposition.


reminded the hon. Gentleman that the Burials Act was first passed in the House of Lords by a majority of the occupants of the Episcopal Bench. If the House of Commons in 1880 had expected that the Burials Act would be followed by such a "corollary" as this it would not have given its assent to it. In being invited as a matter of Parliamentary precedent to consent to the second reading of this harmless little Bill, they were asked to consent to a larger measure of disendowment than its advocates seemed to realize. The Home Secretary said they ought to read the Bill a second time because it was the Parliamentary custom to do so; but this was one of the instances which proved that there were cases in which even a Parliamentary custom might have inconveniences. If a Select Committee was to examine the Bill hon. Members who supported it would have an ample opportunity of proposing it as a draft Report; and if the Committee accepted it verbatim et literatim that Report would come to the House, and the House could give to the principle a consent which had not been obtained for it in the dark. He used that expression advisedly; because, as he remarked last night, the speeches which had been made only dealt with one side of the subject, and there was a strong probability that material facts on the other side would be elicited by the inquiry. He therefore opposed the second reading.


said, that no doubt the clergy were State officials; though it was, perhaps, an offensive way of speaking of their position. In the main, they were like the ministers of any other denomination—a religious body—and accidentally they fulfilled certain functions cast upon them by the State. But what they had to consider was this Bill, and he maintained that the Committee appointed on Tuesday night had the amplest powers to consider the best mode of regulating burial fees. He thought many of the clauses of the Bill went in an entirely wrong direction. For instance, he thought no provision should be made whereby 2s. 6d. could be paid for a first-class funeral with a full service, and 1s. 6d. for a second-class funeral with a mutilated service. The Bill, being full of demerits, on what ground should it be read a second time and sent to the Committee, whom it must bias in a wrong sense?

It being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.

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