HC Deb 03 May 1886 vol 305 cc251-63

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, with a single exception, it was the same as the Bill he introduced last year, which never reached a second reading in consequence of the resignation of the Government. It was drawn on the lines of the Bill which was introduced in 1884 by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Richard), the second reading of which was carried by a substantial majority, so that the principle of the Bill had been affirmed by the House of Commons. The Burials Act of 1880 had completely falsified the predictions of its opponents. It was said when the Act was under discussion that outrages would be committed in churchyards by those for whose benefit the measure was passed; but though six years had now elapsed, and thousands of burials had taken place under it, no such scandals as were predicted could be charged against Nonconformists, and the burials which had taken place under the Act had been as orderly and solemn as those of members of the Church of England. Scandals, indeed, there had been; but those who were responsible for them were clergymen of the Church of England. He freely admitted that the great majority of the clergy had accepted the inevitable with a good grace, and had obeyed the law. There had, however, been exceptions, and the spirit of the law, if not the letter, had occasionally been violated. This Bill dealt almost exclusively with the law of public cemeteries, which the Bill of 1880, as originally drawn, did not touch. With regard to those cemeteries the law was this. Unlike parish churchyards, the cemeteries had in general been purchased with the money of the ratepayers, and were vested in Burial Boards. These Boards were required to divide the ground into consecrated and unconsecrated parts, and to erect a chapel on the consecrated portion, which, as the law originally stood, was reserved exclusively for Church of England Services. It occurred to Lord Selborne, who had charge of the measure of 1880 in the House of Lords, and to himself (Mr. Osborne Morgan), that it might be well to deal with cemeteries as well as with churchyards; and accordingly clauses were inserted in it, legalizing the performance in the unconsecrated part, or in any chapel erected therein, of the Church of England Service, while the Nonconformist minister was allowed to offer up prayers in the consecrated portion of the cemetery, but only by the grave side. This somewhat one-sided settlement of the problem has not been a very happy one. The division of a cemetery into consecrated and unconsecrated parts, and sometimes into a third part exclusively appropriated to Roman Catholics, was, it must be admitted, not in accordance with the spirit of the times, and it was regarded by Nonconformists and Churchmen alike as a scandal and an outrage. It was this anomaly that the Bill sought to remove. Several Prelates of the Church of England had in their charges expressed approval of this course. The way in which the Bill proposed to effect its object was to permit consecration of the whole or any part of the cemetery, or of any number of graves, by the Bishops of the Church of England, or of any other denomination. While the Bill permitted consecration as a religious rite it deprived it of any legal operation, so that in future it would be quite unnecessary to provide separate burying places for different denominations. The clause would be retrospective in its operation as well as prospective, and in that it differed from the Bill of last year. The Bill would also get rid of the necessity of having in every cemetery a Church of England chapel. Some objection, he understood, had been raised to the Bill on behalf of Roman Catholics. All he could say was that if any Amendment not antagonistic to the principle of the Bill could be suggested to meet that objection he would give it his most careful attention. He hoped the principle of the Bill, supported as it was by the high authorities to whom he referred, would be sanctioned by the House. He moved the second reading of the Bill.

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

SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S.W., Newton)

Mr. Speaker, I am not going to say very much about this Bill; but I do not quite like the way it is recommended by the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Osborne Morgan). The right hon. and learned Gentleman says it is to be passed in order to save the Church of England, or, rather, to help the Church of England. [Mr. OSBORNE MORGAN: To protect.] But we know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to destroy the Church. ["Oh!"] lean only judge by his speeches to his constituents which I have read. It is of no use for him to say this Bill is brought in in the interest of the Church of England, when to-morrow he may be found telling his constituents he wishes the Church of England to be disestablished and disendowed. I, therefore, repudiate any argument of that kind coming from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sorry that at the commencement of his observations the right hon. and learned Gentleman alluded to the isolated instances of questionable action on the part of certain Church people which had been brought before the House. I have listened Session after Session to the questions which have been asked, and I have been gratified more than once by hearing the Secretary of State for the Home Department say he has inquired into the case, and found that there is no truth in the allegation, so far as the clergyman is concerned. The right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Osborne Morgan) would find, if he inquired from his own Colleagues, that there was no truth in the charges made. I admit that, taken as a whole, the Act has been thoroughly well accepted by the clergymen of the Church of England, and I only want to make one or two remarks about this particular Bill. I think there are certain inconsistencies in the Bill. I see that by the 1st clause there is to be no distinguishing mark between the consecrated and the unconsecrated parts of the burial ground. I do not see the object of that. If a part of the ground is to be consecrated, it is just as well everybody should know which part is consecrated and which is not. The words of the clause are— The burial authority having jurisdiction over such burial ground shall not permit any division to be made, or other means to be taken, of marking the boundaries of or distinguishing the consecrated and unconsecrated parts of such ground. I really cannot see the use of such a provision, especially when by Clause 3 it is expressly stated that part of the ground may be consecrated. If part of the ground is to be consecrated, it surely is to the advantage of everybody that the part consecrated, whether according to the rites of the Church of England or of the Church of Rome, or of any other Religious Body, should be marked out. Therefore, I hope that in Committee, if we get there, that part of the 1st clause may be struck out, or materially modified. I presume that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman really means to say is that the whole of the ground, whether consecrated or unconsecrated, is to be one and the same parochial ground, and any parishioner may be buried in any part of it. I have no doubt he will alter the words. Now, when we come to Clause 3, we find it is provided that any part of the ground may be consecrated according to the rules of the Church of England, or of any other Church or denomination, but "with the consent of the burial authority." I presume it is not meant to say by those words that the burial authority shall have the power to say that no part of the ground shall be consecrated at all. As the clause now stands, that would clearly be the effect of it. No doubt, what the right hon. and learned Gentleman means is this—that the Church of England, or the Church of Rome, or any other denomination, shall have the right to consecrate some part of the ground. Of course, the burial authority ought to have the power of regulating, in some shape or form, where the consecrated part ought to be; but I do not think the burial authority ought to have the power to withhold their consent to Church people, or to Roman Catholics, to have any part of the ground consecrated. I should like to know whether that is so or not, because it makes a considerable difference. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will see it is an important point. Now we come to the question of buildings. The law of cemeteries at the present time is that there must be a Church of England chapel. The right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to do away with this chapel, and to provide that— The burial authority may, if they think it necessary, provide a building for the performance of burial services on the occasion of funerals in any public burial ground provided by such authority. I am no more in love with the three or four chapels in cemeteries than the right hon. and learned Gentleman is. I think it makes one very uncomfortable to see them. All that is wanted in a cemetery is a covered place, under which a certain service may take place. I think it is very much better that the religious service should take place, as in the case of Roman Catholic interments, in the Roman Catholic church, and that then all that would be required at the cemetery would be a covered place to shelter the mourners from the weather. Now it is to rest entirely with the burial authority to say whether there shall be any covered place at all in the ground. Some alteration in this respect is clearly necessary. I come to Clause 8, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded. By the 12th section of the Burials Act of 1880, liberty to use the Burial Service of the Church of England in unconsecrated ground is given to the clergy of the Church of England—that is to say, if part of a cemetery was unconsecrated, and a clergyman of the Church of England chose to perform the Burial Service in such ground, he should not be subject to any ecclesiastical or civil penalty for so doing; but this Bill goes a great deal further than that, because by the 8th section it provides that— When the burial of any person belonging to any parish comprised in a burial district for which a public burial ground has been provided either before or after the commencement of this Act takes place in such public burial ground, the incumbent of such parish shall, if required so to do in writing by the person having the conduct of the burial of such person, be under the same obligation to perform the funeral service over such person as he would be under if such person were buried in the churchyard of the parish. Now, there you are imposing an actual duty upon the clergy of the Church of England which they are not bound to perform at the present time. You may say, if you like, that if there is a part of the burial ground consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England, and a clergyman is required to bury in that particular part, he shall be compelled to do so. To that I have no objection; but to say that a clergyman shall be compelled to bury in unconsecrated ground when it is against his conscientious convictions, although relieved of ecclesiastical penalties, is to go a great deal further than I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to go. I trust that in this respect, also, some alteration will be made. Then we come to the question of fees. I am not going to argue with the right hon. and learned Gentleman upon the question. It seems to me that, although you preserve what are called existing rights, you are, step by step and little by little, taking away the property of the clergy, who, in the long run, must lose. Now, Sir, if this Burials Bill passes, we must bury for ever this Burials Question. I trust that if the Bill passes with the alterations which, I think, are absolutely necessary, we shall not hear of the question any more; that it will not be made a stepping-stone to advance some other attack upon the Church of England. There is one matter which I am afraid the right hon. and learned Gentleman has still left unprovided for; it was provided for in the Bill which was brought forward by Lord Beaconsfield's Government many years ago, and it was most unfortunate the provision did not pass into law. By the law of England at the present time, although a person has a right to be buried, there is no legal liability upon any body or bodies of persons to provide a burial ground. That was the starting-point of the Bill which Lord Beaconsfield's Government brought forward. I do not think it is generally known, but I undoubtedly it is the case, that there is no law to compel any parish or anyone to provide a burial ground, however much it is wanted. It is quite true that the law compels you to provide a Burial Board, or, rather, invites you to provide a Burial Board; but there is no law which compels that body of persons, or any Sanitary Authority, or anyone else, to provide a burial ground. When I was Secretary of State for the Home Department, one or two cases happened in which the parish churchyard had been closed, and then it was discovered that there was no power to compel anyone to provide another burial place. I know one place where there was no ground in which a person had a right to be buried, and we had a great deal of trouble in getting over the point. I am sorry that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has undertaken to deal with the Burial Question, he has not dealt with it in all its bearings. There remains this great blot on the law of England—that the duty is imposed upon no one of providing a burial ground. Surely such a blot ought to be removed without any delay. Perhaps I may be allowed to go back to one of the earlier clauses of the Bill in order to ask a question which I forgot to put at the commencement of my remarks. I see the Burial Authority is not to be bound to put up any buildings for the performance of the burial services if it thinks they are not necessary. I suppose that if buildings were erected, they would be intended for general use; and what I desire to ask is whether the different religious bodies may put up buildings if they choose? At the present time, although you are bound to have a Church of England chapel in a cemetery, you can have other chapels as well, and they may be charged upon the rates. What I want to know is whether private persons maybe allowed to put up buildings at their own expense, because, if they are not to be so permitted, you will make a very great change in the law? Some of the cemeteries may be in out-of-the-way places, so far as some of the inhabitants are concerned; and if people are to be deprived of the privilege of putting up, at their own expense, chapels which may be necessary for their own religious services, I maintain you impose a disability upon religious bodies which I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to see imposed.


After the remarks which my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Assheton Cross) has made, I do not propose to occupy very much time by any observations of mine. I may say, at the outset, that I do not intend to press the Motion of which I have given Notice, but will content myself by assisting my right hon. Friend to obtain in Committee the alterations which he has just described to the House. I quite agree with my right hon. Friend that the provision that there shall be no boundary mark between the consecrated and unconsecrated parts of the ground may lead to very serious hardship. I may illustrate what I mean by mentioning what is the practice in some cases. In Scotland, for instance, there are burial grounds which are unconsecrated, or parts of which are unconsecrated. It often happens that an Episcopalian, desiring to be buried there, acquires the right to some portion of the ground as a family grave, and before or after a burial takes place a form of consecration is gone through. Graves of this kind frequently have a boundary rail round them; and I take it this Bill would go so far as to even prohibit the consecration of a family grave, because it happens to have a boundary round it. If a Burial Board wants to have a burial ground which is partly consecrated and partly unconsecrated, I cannot see why there should be any objection to having such boundaries as would distinguish the consecrated from the unconsecrated parts. We hear from time to time about the feelings of Nonconformists on the subject, and I do not say that these feelings ought not to be respected. But Churchmen have a very strong feeling that their relations should be buried in consecrated ground, and I do not see why we should be left, as we may be left by this Bill, in a state of uncertainty as to whether the portion of ground allotted to the burial of our dead is consecrated or unconsecrated. I therefore hope that in Committee the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Osborne Morgan) will allow such Amendments of this clause as will give more freedom of action, especially when that freedom of action is controlled by that which is the legal authority—namely, the Burial Board. To the retrospective character of two or three of the clauses I strongly object. Clause 3, which my right hon. Friend (Sir R. Assheton Cross) has dealt with, states at the end— Provided always, that the consecration of such burial ground or part thereof, whether the same has taken place before or after the commencement of this Act shall not (save as by this Act provided) confer any right, or impose any disability. I do not know why existing burial grounds should not remain under existing Burial Acts. It may be very well to make different regulations for new burial grounds; but I am unable to see any just reason for this retrospective action with reference to existing burial grounds, especially when, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, the existing Act has, on the whole, worked satisfactorily and well in respect to the present burial grounds. Again, the clause dealing with buildings is retrospective in its provisions. There are many burial grounds in which there is a chapel for Church people, another chapel for Roman Catholics, and a third chapel for such Nonconformists as require services. Each of these chapels is, I suppose, fitted and furnished to suit the services of the particular denomination to which it is assigned, and I do not see why, where these buildings already exist, you should do away with them. I hope, therefore, that we may strike out the retrospective words, especially as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that they were not in the original draft of the Bill. In regard to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said as to Clause 8, it appears to me that you may be putting a very onerous and difficult duty on the clergyman of the parish, because you might be calling him away from some very important duty in connection with his own church, to perform the burial service in a cemetery where there is already a chaplain to perform. I think that these are conditions which certainly do require consideration; but, as I said, I do not propose to oppose the second reading of the Bill, although I hope that due consideration will be given to these points in Committee.

MR. PICTON (Leicester)

Previous Acts, doubtless, have done much towards conciliation in this matter; but there are felt to be some imperfections which this Bill is intended to do away with, and I would point out that, if the objections of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) are accepted by the Government, they will do very much to mar the good effect of the Bill. Take, for instance, the very first point which he raises. He thinks it would be wrong to provide that there should be no division between the consecrated and unconsecrated ground. Now, Sir, I do not wish to say a single word of disrespect of the views hon. Gentlemen opposite may hold in regard to the value of being buried in consecrated ground. I can quite understand that view, if I do not agree with it; but the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson), as well as the right hon. Gentleman, will agree that the consecration is intended to soothe and gratify the feelings or sentiments of the religious communion who value it. Surely they do not wish to set up an obvious and ostentatious distinction and outward sign between the members of their communion and other Christians. Surely that cannot be a gratification to Christian feeling. They desire that their relations and themselves, when they come to die, shall be buried in consecrated ground. Well, this Bill will not prevent them being so buried. All the Bill says is, that there shall not any longer be such an outward mark between the burial places of the different Christians as now prevail in most of our cemeteries. With regard to the 3rd clause, I should certainly myself agree that it is very undesirable that any Burial Authority should have the power to prevent all consecration. But I do not read the clause in that sense. It appears to me that what is provided is, that the consent of the Burial Authority is required for the consecration of a particular portion of the ground which it is desired to consecrate. In regard to the 8th clause, against which considerable opposition has been raised also, I cannot personally see the force of the objections. I find that it merely requires the parson of the parish to perform a service in unconsecrated ground, when called upon to do so by law. Well, this is a public burial ground, and I consider that the public clergyman ought to be called upon to perform the service. But it is said he might be called upon to do so against his conscience; but I have never heard that a clergyman should have any conscience in such a case of necessity. If a clergymen accompanies an expedition to some foreign country and one of the party dies, he has no conscientious objection to reading the burial service over the deceased when interred in uncon-secrated ground. Well, if the law imposes such a necessity in England, I cannot see what objection a clergyman could raise. I think that the tone of the discussion which has taken place shows how far the bigotry which formerly existed on the subject has been done away with, and what a vast improvement in public feeling has taken place. I only hope that the measure will be passed, and accepted as a finishing stroke to the great work of conciliation which has been going on for years.

MR. BERESFORD HOPE (Cambridge University)

In considering the very smooth speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) I own I cannot clear my mind of a great many things which have been done and said during the last year or so. We all of us know that a heavier attack has been made during the autumn upon the Church of England than has been attempted for many years past. That being the case, all of those who wish well to the Church, all who wish to save the Church and shield it from any further depredation, must look a little more specially—must examine a little more closely—than they would otherwise have done at these ingenious offers for the benefit of the Church, by taking away successive privileges of the Church, which certain candid friends of the Church are always willing to offer. I own, therefore, that I could not accept my right hon. and learned Friend's gift without considering it all round. He seemed to think that sufficient reason for this legislation could be found in the fact, announced with much solemnity, that six years have elapsed since the last Act dealing with this subject was passed; and so, because this enormous period of six years has gone by, the Church is again to be harassed, and the Burial Question, which we thought we had seen the last of, and which the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself admits we have tried to make the best of, will, because six years only have elapsed, again be raised in its entirety about our ears. You may say that the question which this Bill raises is a small one; but if it is a small one, the grievance with which it deals must be small, and so it constitutes an unnecessary interference and produces an uneasy feeling which prevents the possibility of our being satisfied with anything as a final settlement. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last took exception to a wall being placed between the consecrated and the unconsecrated ground, and did not seem to understand what it meant, and he was even more disturbed at the double chapels. Well, the answer is that the arrangement which does not content him is a record of the facts of the case, without necessarily bringing in feelings in any way. It shows which is the consecrated and which is the unconsecrated ground. With regard to the chapels in cemeteries, as well as elsewhere, they are practical buildings for performing practical rites. The rites connected with burial in the Church of England are one thing, and the rites of burial out of the Church of England are another, and that is the reason why it is expedient that there should be different buildings differently arranged for each. I am not going to enlarge on that fact, nor to defend the frame of mind which sees value in it; but I am simply dealing with the statement as conclusive evidence that the existence of two chapels in no way indicates religious hatred. No doubt, this Bill will be accepted by the House; but I say, and I say it very strongly, that it is an altogether unnecessary interference. It does no good that I can see, and it is calculated to raise an unpleasant feeling on the part of those who have most loyally, and at the cost of their own feelings, made the best of the Act of 1880. That being so, I must protest against its introduction.


I was glad to hear from the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Osborne Morgan) that he would be glad to consider any proposal or Amendment which may be brought forward in the Roman Catholic interest at the Committee stage, and it is on that understanding that we will not oppose its second reading. It is clear, that if the Bill were to pass in its present form, the Catholics of England and Scotland would suffer, perhaps, in a way which the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not appreciate, but still in a way which we should consider very injurious. I hope, therefore, that Amendments will be introduced in Committee.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday 24th May.