§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ (3.35) MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not propose to trouble the House with many remarks. If I may judge from the interest taken in the question of the attendance of Registrars at marriages of Nonconformists, the principle embodied in this Bill is ripe for settlement. Already a Bill relating to the attendance of Registrars at the 97 marriages of Nonconformists, introduced by a Conservative Member, has reached the Committee stage, and I apprehend that the only question is, how the object and principle of the measure is to be carried out. The object of this Bill, so far as the question of Registrars is concerned, is identical to that of the Bill to which I have just referred, and, therefore, I think I may. fairly claim approval of my Bill in that respect. I have been reproached or taken to task by some friends of mine for not proceeding in the matter of Registrars upon wholly different lines. It has been suggested to me it would have been better if, instead of permitting marriages in all cases to take place without the presence of a Registrar, I had provided that the attendance of a Registrar should be compulsory at all marriages. The reason why I did not find myself able to proceed upon that line was that I have brought in this measure for the purpose of removing a grievance suffered by a large section of my constituents. An instance has been brought under my notice of a bridal party coming to a chapel in the town of Camborne for the purpose of having the marriage ceremony performed, and being compelled to wait for over an hour while the Registrar was found. I have come to the conclusion that the simplest way of obviating such inconvenience in the future is to dispense with the presence of the Registrar altogether at marriages. I propose that the regulation laid down in respect to the Nonconformist denomination shall apply also to the Church of England, and it is because I am endeavouring to assimilate the law in respect to all denominations that I use so large and general a title to my Bill as the Religious Equality Bill. I think the House will agree with me that it is better in the interests of Christianity and of the different denominations, that all these causes of friction should be swept away, and that we should, where no privileges are infringed, or even where unjust privileges are infringed, endeavour to place different classes of Christians on an equal footing. I hope Members on both sides of the House will, therefore, accept the principle of the Bill. I think the view I have taken will commend itself to those who are more particularly associated with the Church of England, because, although I 98 cannot see the reason for it, I can undoubtedly appreciate the point of view of those who are closely associated with the Church of England respecting the attendance of a civil officer at their religious ceremonies. In the proposal I make I offer relief to all the clergy of the Church of England, and impose no onerous burden on them in any sense. I propose to relieve them from the duty which I should imagine to be a more or less burdensome one of keeping registers in the parish churches. I do not say they shall not keep them, if they think it desirable, but I propose to require that the register shall be kept by duly appointed civil officials, and that the clergy shall be relieved of all liability in connection therewith. The machinery I propose is this: the certificate or licence for marriage having been issued in the first instance by the Registrar, the parties will go to the church or chapel with such a certificate or licence and hand it to the officiating clergyman or minister, who will fill it up according to the properly authorised form. It will be signed by the clergyman or minister, the parties to the marriage, and at least two witnesses, and sent by the clergyman or minister in a registered envelope, free of charge, to the Superintendent Registrar of the district. There are, of course, certain provisions for the prevention of fraud and the prevention of unauthorised marriages, and so on. I do not say the Bill is perfect in these particulars, but they do not affect the principle of the measure. I may say, however, that one provision is that when a certificate or licence has been issued by the Superintendent Registrar it shall not be valid for more than three calendar months. The second part of the Bill relates to the Amendment of the Burial Law, but only one of its provisions embodies any considerable departure from the present law. I take it that the question of the reduction of the notice from 48 hours to 24 hours is one of detail which will not be a matter of religious controversy. The reason for such a provision is that in many years it is very difficult to give so long a notice as 48 hours, and in some cases of disease it may be really a matter of sanitary regulation that the length of notice should be reduced. Sub-section 4 provides for an extended period of the day 99 during which, burials may take place. At present they cannot take place after 3 o'clock. I propose that they shall be allowed to take place up to sunset. As to Sub-section 5, dealing with the question of fees, the Nonconformists feel it to be a great grievance that when they bury their dead they should have to pay the fees, not to their own minister who performs the ceremony, but to the clergyman of the parish church, who has nothing whatever to do with it. I should not object to an Amendment giving the Nonconformist minister half the fees. By Sub-section 6 I have endeavoured to alter the law in favour of Nonconformists in a few small matters, such as permission to have the church bell tolled, and to have the use of planks, &c, and the aid of the officials of the Church in connection with burials. Then there is a provision that if any representative of a deceased person has been buried in the graveyard of a Church, and the representatives of a relative desire that his body should be buried in the same place, this shall be permitted, although he is not resident in the same parish. It may be suggested that non-parishioners have no recognised right to burial in the parish churchyard, and therefore the present law, which permits a clergyman to refuse to allow a Nonconformist minister to take part in the service in such a case, is perfectly reasonable. But a case has occurred in the last few weeks in the City of Truro, which shows what scandal and annoyance may arise from the present provisions of the law. On the 13th of February last a lady was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary's parish, Truro. The custodian of the burial ground is the Rev. Canon Burt, sub-dean of the Cathedral of Truro; and, although the lady was a Wesleyan, Canon Burt refused to allow the Rev. W. H. Thompson, the resident superintendent of the district, to take any part in the service, solely on the ground, as stated in the Press and not contradicted, that the lady at the time of her death was not residing within the limits of the parish to which the graveyard belonged, although she had resided for 40 years within the limits of the parish. Her father had been one of the ministers appointed at Truro when the Wesleyan Chapel of St. Mary's parish was built, 100 and two of her sons are at the present time Wesleyan ministers. A great deal of ill-feeling has been occasioned by this refusal of Canon Burt, who, being a new comer, may perhaps be excused for not understanding the strong feeling which prevails in the district. The irritation has been intensified by the refusal of Canon Burt at a Vestry meeting to allow any reference to be made to the subject, on the flimsy pretext that no notice had been given of the intention to bring it forward. I have only to add, that although this lady whose burial was the occasion of this dispute was not at the time of her death a resident within the boundaries of the parish, her place of residence was within a stone's throw, she having removed from one part of the street to another, which was some 200 or 300 yards beyond the parish boundary. The refusal, therefore, was an arbitrary act, to say the least of it, because this lady was living within the limits of the city. She had not removed to a distant part of the country, but was living close to the parish within which she had lived for 40 years, and in the grave-yard of which parish her nearest and dearest relatives had been buried. I think it will be agreed this was an unnecessary and unfortunate raising of religious prejudices and animosities, and it is desirable that such should not occur under the law of this country. I have no doubt that other Members can bring forward cases illustrating this point, and in justification of such a provision as this I have referred to and contained in Sub-section 3 of Clause 15. This, I propose, with a sincere desire to put an end to such cases of unseemly strife between members of the same religion, though of different denominations. For this purpose I ask to be allowed to move the Second Reading of a Bill, the principle of which I hope that the House on reflection may be disposed to accept.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Conybeare.)
(4.4.) MR. J. G.TALBOT (Oxford University)
I rise to move that the Bill be read, a second time this day six months, and in doing so it is not my intention to trouble the House with an 101 elaborate argument, for I think I can show in a very few words that the provisions of the Bill are not such as the House can possibly accept at the mere?-suggestion of the hon. Member, My primary objection is to the title of the Bill as being altogether misleading, it does not indicate the contents. It is called a Bill for Promoting Religious Equality, a high-sounding title indeed. Religious equality, no doubt, is a subject of grave importance, but it is hardly to be dealt with, I think, by the removal of a grievance under which the hon. Member says Nonconformists suffer in the county he represents. To bring about religious equality in its full sense, of course we must do a great deal more than the hon. Member proposes in his Bill. We must disestablish the Church of England in the first place, and we must provide for an alteration in the law which requires that the Sovereign of this Kingdom shall be a member of the Church. No one from the title would suppose that the Bill is to remove a particular grievance such as the hon. Member has alluded to. If the hon. Member wishes to secure religious equality let him go to the root of the whole matter and bring forward a proposition for disestablishing the Church of England, and see what the House thinks of that. For my part, I doubt if religious equality can ever be secured, but, at any rate, it cannot be accomplished by this Bill. So far as the Bill relates to the marriage grievance and the attendance of Registrars, upon which there is a great deal to be said, that surely is a matter upon which we are hardly entitled to enter here, for there is before the House a Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Atkinson), to which, on the part of the Government, notices of Amendment have been given, notices which exceed the extent of the Bill itself. I only mention this as showing how important the subject is considered by the Government; and if there is a grievance it is desirable should be removed, and if it can be done on fair consideration of all interests, I have not the slightest objection to the removal of that grievance. But this can be done within the four corners of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Lincolnshire, amended as is proposed by the Government. But 102 to suppose that this Bill will accomplish the great object indicated by the title is an entire delusion, and though the country might well be startled on seeing the record of this Wednesday's proceedings, and on being informed that the House of Commons had resolved upon religious equality—because a Bill for that object, introduced by the hon. Member for Camborne, has been read a second time—I think a very little examination will show that the title is delusive. Then, to follow up those objections which begin with the title of the Bill, I find the first clause covers the whole of the churches and chapels in the Kingdom, and the Registrar is to affix a notice on all the buildings where marriages may be solemnised. Now, I do not think we want such notices stuck up on all our ancient churches that people may know that therein marriages may be solemnised.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I do not mean that in recognised places like churches this should be done, but in chapels of ease. I have seen such notices exhibited.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
That disposes of that point. And then I come to Clause 5, which proposes that the legal hour for marriage shall be extended to five o'clock. This is, I think, altogether undesirable. Five o'clock means after daylight during part of the year, and this is a perfectly gratuitous change in the law for which, so far as I know, nobody asks. Then I come to what is perhaps a still more important innovation proposed by the Bill, the reduction of the period of notice of funerals required under the Burials Act. On this I may make the preliminary remark that the Burials Act was the result of much discussion in this House, and the outcome of a long and embittered controversy, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Osborne Morgan) was the hero of that settlement of the question to which my friends and I offered strenuous opposition. But we found ourselves in a minority, and it became the law of the land. I put it to the House now, is it worth while to rake up again the embers of that old controversy? I put it to hon. Members above and below the Gangway, is it worth while from time to time to propose further alterations and irritate the minds 103 of Church people, who had much to bear in that settlement, and have had many grievances, sentimental you may say, to get over? I do not think it is. I think the House will agree with me that the period of notice is not at all too long to allow of the accommodation of arrangements, which are not after all always very convenient. The relations between the clergyman of a parish and Nonconformist ministers are not always of the most friendly character, and it is just possible that Nonconformists, either the minister or the friends of the deceased, taking advantage of the very letter of the law might, under the proposed alteration, give the very minimum of notice and maximum of inconvenience. Again, the proposed alteration in the hours of burial gives so much less time for accommodation of arrangements, and increases the opportunity for friction. In these matters we all desire to avoid, as far as possible, anything that may give rise to religious animosities and friction, and to shorten the period of notice and the interval for making arrangements will increase the possibility of difficulties arising. Then a great objection arises upon the 4th sub-section of Clause 15, which proposes that burials under the principal Act shall be allowed between ten and sunset on any day in the year without exception.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
The hon. Member will not find the words " on any day " in the Bill. The Bill is subject to the principal Act of 1880, which, I think, excludes certain days. My Bill must be read in conjunction with the Burial Laws Amendment Act.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
Of course if there are exceptions my objection does not apply in the same degree—
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I only wish to point out that the hon. Gentleman is reading into the sub-section words that are not in it, and that is hardly fair.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
Well, I may be mistaken, and I will not press the point until I have referred to the Burials Act. At any rate, the hours for funerals are to be extended to sunset, and this I cannot but think is an uncalled for and undesirable alteration of the terms of settlement arrived at when the Burials Act was passed. Another objection arises on the 5th sub-section by which it is proposed that the burial fees shall 104 no longer be paid to the incumbent, but to the person officiating at the burial. This clearly is a departure from the settlement which Parliament in its wisdom arrived at, and which naturally recognises the receipt of fees as part of the income of the incumbent. By the 3rd sub-section of the 15th clause the Bill provides that—Where any relatives of the deceased person have been buried in the graveyard of a particular parish or church, and the person having charge of or being responsible for the burial of the deceased person desires that such person shall be buried in the same place, or where such deceased person has expressed such desire, the burial shall be permitted in such graveyard, notwithstanding that such deceased person was not at the time of decease, or had not been prior thereto resident in the said parish.I am not quite sure how far the consequences of enacting such a provision as this may extend. It might be that the hon. Member himself having expressed a desire to be buried in Westminster Abbey, and one of his remote ancestors having been interred there, his friends might force such a burial upon an unwilling nation. There is no limit of relationship which may extend far back into the days of our Saxon ancestors. Why not, I say, leave these matters to the arrangements of good sense between the parties interested, why attempt to legislate in this manner, pushing matters to an extreme length? The hon. Member has quoted a case with which I am not familiar, and it appears that the objection of the clergyman was not that the deceased was a Nonconformist, but that she was not a parishioner. If the objection had been on the ground of Nonconformity there might be complaint—
§ MR. CONYBEARE
It was desired that the service should be performed by a Wesleyan minister, but the clergyman insisted on performing the service himself, and would not allow a Wesleyan minister to do so on the ground that the deceased was not at the time of death resident in the parish.
§ MR. J. G. TALBOT
Well, the clergyman was perhaps half right and half wrong. He acted, it may be, injudiciously. I take the facts as the hon. Member presents them, and am not disposed to prejudice the question, but I do not think it can be treated altogether as a Nonconformist grievance. On the consideration of some of the matters 105 with which this Bill deals, we have already entered by the Bill of my hon. Friend to which the Attorney General has given notice of serious Amendments. With the Burials Act I think churchmen have gone as far as they should be required to go, and I will be no party to re-opening the settlement arrived at, and raking up the embers of a bitter controversy. The difficulties that may arise may be settled by mutual arrangements, they cannot be satisfactorily removed by any legislation of this kind, and therefore I move the rejection of the 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. Talbot.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word ' now ' stand part of the Question."
§ (4.24.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
The hon. Gentleman has coupled my name with the settlement of the burials question, and as I had the honour of taking charge of the Burials Act Amendment Bill, I may be allowed to say that there has been no such thing as a settlement of the question. We took all we could get, but it was far from being a settlement, and in many respects the result was most unsatisfactory, it merely touched the fringe of the question; and the best proof I can give that we did regard the Act as something short of a settlement is that within four or five years we brought in an amending Bill and have reintroduced it without success in successive Sessions. I am exceedingly sorry that the Bill coming on unexpectedly I was not present to hear the speech of the Attorney General. [Several hon MEMBERS: He has not spoken.] I beg pardon, I have only just come in, and I had an impression the Attorney General had expressed his opinion. The only part of the Bill with which I am particularly concerned is that which deals with the Burials Act. I have a Bill for the amendment of that Act, which deals with the subject in a more comprehensive manner than this Bill. It proposes, for instance, to abolish the distinction between consecrated and un-consecrated ground, so far as consecration operates as a legal instrument. At 106 the same time, there are parts of this Bill which seem to me to be exceeding useful and necessary. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken finds fault with the 3rd sub-section of the 15th clause, but something of the kind I hold to be absolutely necessary. At law the incumbent has the right of allowing or of prohibiting the interment of a non-parishioner in the churchyard. That right, however, was given to him, not in the interest of the Church of England, but in the interest of the parish, so that the parishioners should not be crowded out of their own churchyard by non-parishioners. The Burials Act, does not interfere with this right of the incumbent, but it has been found that in many cases the incumbent exercises this power of excluding non-parishioners as a means of imposing as a condition of interment that the non-parishioner, though a Nonconformist, should be buried with the Church of England service. I am sorry to say there have been many such instances in Welsh parishes, and I gather from the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down that the hon. Member for Camborne cited a case as having occurred in Cornwall. Now, I think, it is only reasonable that there should be some way of preventing an incumbent taking an unfair advantage of a discretion vested in him for a wholly different purpose. As to the melancholy incident referred to in the course of this discussion, I made it the subject of a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and he attempted to justify the action of the incumbent, although he did not justify the refusal to allow the body to be buried without a Church service in the part of the parish churchyard where her husband was buried, which is the real point in the case. That point will be met by the very reasonable provision contained in the Bill. Similarly it is only right that Nonconformists, on paying the burial fees, should have the right to have the bell of the parish church tolled and to have the use of the burial appliances. These are small matters, but they lead to petty insults and ill-feeling. The next section deals with a much more important question, namely, the question of fees for burials in the parish churchyard—and on this subject the Bill is on 107 all fours with a measure I hope to have the honour of asking the House to read a second time this day four weeks. The demand contained in this section seems to me to be obviously fair and just. It is surely right that the fees for performing the burial service should only be paid to the person who performs it. At present Nonconformists have to pay twice over —once to their own minister and also to the incumbent, even though the latter takes no part in the burial service. The incumbent, therefore, is paid for work he does not perform. I should have thought that the easiest way of deciding this matter would have been to lay down the principle that where there was no work there should be no pay. It seems to me that every one of the provisions of the 15th clause, including the alteration in the hours of burial, are reasonable, and follow the lines of the Bill I have introduced. I shall be curious to hear what possible objection can be taken to any one of these provisions. We have heard the objections of the hon. Member for the University of Oxford, who is a sort of official representative of the Church of England, but I should like to hear what objection the Attorney General can take to the Bill. I refrain from dealing with that part of the Bill bearing upon the question of marriages, but as to the other part, after the most careful attention that I have been able to bestow upon it, I must say that it seems to me to be reasonable and just; and if I have any fault to find with it, it is that it does not cover the whole ground which the question occupies.
§ (4.35.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS, Birmingham, E.)
I will follow the example of the right hon. Gentle man who has just sat down, and will confine my observations to Clause 15, going through its various sub-sections seriatim. The first two sub-sections are of minor importance, dealing merely with the notice required to be given of burials under the Burials Act. It is proposed to reduce the notice of burial to 12 hours. I think that that would be too short a notice and might lead to inconvenience, as there might not be adequate time for the incumbent to give due notice in return that the burial in some cases could not take place at the hour fixed. The hour named by the relatives of the deceased 108 might clash with the period fixed for some other service, of which the relatives might know nothing, or might not be in conformity with the rules of the burial ground. Under the Act of 1880, the incumbent is empowered to say that the hour proposed will not do, or that another day or hour must be appointed, and I am bound to say that that seems tome to be a very reasonable provision. The change proposed would, to my mind, be productive of much more inconvenience than benefit. The next change proposed is one which does not appear to have been exhaustively thought out. It is that where any relative of a deceased person has been buried in a churchyard, and the person having charge of the burial desires that the deceased person shall be buried in such churchyard, or the deceased has expressed a wish to that effect, then such burial shall be permitted in the churchyard, though such deceased person has not been a resident of such parish. It is said that this is necessary because an incumbent in a. certain Truro case that was mentioned refused to allow a Wesleyan to be buried in the churchyard, he not being a parishioner, unless upon the condition of the Church of England service being performed. The argument is that the incumbent did not object to the non-parishioner being buried in the parish churchyard, but that he made the fact, that the deceased was a non-parishioner, the ground for insisting that the burial service of the Church of England should be read over the deceased who had been. a Wesleyan.
§ MR. CONYBEARE
I do not wish the facts to be misunderstood. The burial did take place in the churchyard, but Canon Burt refused to allow the-Wesleyan minister to officiate and officiated himself.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
Well, it was. obviously open to the relatives of the deceased not to have submitted to the conditions and to have had the burial somewhere else where the Wesleyan minister could attend. It comes to this, that the right of burial in the churchyard was conceded by the incumbent, but he refused to add to that privilege—-which was one the law did not require to be given, and to which the family of the deceased had no statutory right— the further privilege of having the Wes- 109 leyan service performed. It is not for me to express any opinion as to the good taste or judgment exhibited by the incumbent on that occasion. I do not think I should myself have taken the course followed by him. But if there are cases of this kind—of which I know nothing—the proposed remedy would be far too wide. At present no Church of England non-parishioner has a right to burial in the churchyard. This provision proposes that every Nonconformist non-parishioner shall have such a right, and, therefore, the Bill is not one for bringing about religious equality but religious inequality. [" No."] Well, if it is proposed that every non-parishioner, whatever his religion, shall have the right, surely that is a remedy that is much too large, and one which may be called extravagant and ill judged. The fact that burials in a parish churchyard are confined to parishioners has nothing whatever to do with the question of religion, or religious animosity, or the burial service, but it is founded in public policy. It is necessary to confine these burial places to parishioners, because all the churchyards of the country are rapidly becoming full. The proper remedy, if any were required, would be to take away from the incumbent the right of granting burial in the churchyard to any non-parishioner, for it surely is not desirable to throw the parish churchyard open to all non-parishioners, it may be to the exclusion of the parishioners. The Common Law right of parishioners to have the parish churchyard preserved to them should be maintained. The remedy proposed in the Bill is very much larger than the grievance alleged. The next proposal is one for which one is at loss to find a reason. It is that, instead of hours for burial being fixed as at present from 10 to 6 in summer and from 10 to 3 in winter, the hours should be from 10 to sunset. But the fixed hours are, I think, preferable, as better calculated to secure that the interments shall take place by daylight I think that it is hardly worth while to alter the Act of 1880 for the matter of so trifling a detail, and I confess that I think it undesirable to make sunset the limit. The next sub-section, dealing with the question of fees, is one which excites every kind of passion in the world sub- 110 lunary, and in the spiritual life. I approach the subject with absolute impartiality. Do let us see what is the equity of the case. The freehold of the churchyard is in the incumbent. It is quite true that in the right and true view of the organisation and discipline of the Church of England he is the freeholder in trust for the parishioners, and the Act of 1880, I think very wisely, has recognised that the incumbent holds it in trust for the Dissenting parishioners as well as for those who conform to the Church of England. But that being admitted, it is inconsistent that on the matter of fees hon. Members should turn round on the incumbent and want to deprive him of that which he receives perhaps as much for breaking the soil in the churchyard as for performing the service. This is not the time to go into the question of the Canon Law on this subject; but I think that if the hon. Member for Camborne will devote some of his unrivalled industry to inquiring into the origin of these immemorial burial fees, he will find that what I say is the case. It certainly would seem to me inconsistent to recognise the incumbent's right to the freehold of the soil—in trust, if you like, for the parishioners—and to refuse him his fees for the breaking of the soil. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire says, "No work, no pay."
§ MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
I would point out that this sub-section is founded on the recommendation of the Select Committee which sat for several months to consider the whole question of burial fees.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I have great respect for the opinion of Select Committees, but I was offering to the House my own independent view. The right hon. Gentleman said if there is no work there should be no pay. But the incumbent is willing to do the work; it is the Nonconformist parishioner who declines to let him. With regard to Sub-section 6, which permits the parishioner to have the bell tolled, and to have the use of the parish appliances and officials, I confess that I absolutely approve of it. It seems to me to be the spirit and intention of the Act of 1880 that the Nonconformist parishioner should have the same rights 111 with regard to burial in the churchyard as the conforming parishioner. While, however, I quite agree with this subsection, I do not consider that it alone is enough to save the Bill, and for my own part, I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ (4.53.) MR. S. T. EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
The House has listened with great satisfaction to the speech the right hon. Gentleman has delivered— a speech which I must say, was in strong contrast with that of the right hon. Gentleman who preceded him on that side of the House, who shows himself more of a champion of the Church of England than gentlemen on the front Ministerial Bench. My name is on the back of the Bill, nevertheless I must disclaim responsibility for its title and for the drafting of some of its clauses. 1 object to the title, because even if the Bill passed in its entirety, it would not satisfy our desires as to religious equality. Speaking for myself as a Representative of the Principality, I must say that I think the passing of the second part of the Bill would be regarded by my countrymen as more important than the passing of the first part. I maintain that, while there are grievances on the part of the Nonconformists with regard to marriages, it is absolutely necessary, in the interests of fair play and even decency, that the Act of 1880 with regard to burials should be altered. I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend who was the author of the Act of 1880 (Mr. Osborne Morgan) declare that that Act was not a settlement at all. I was not a Member of the House when the Act was passed, but I remember the time very well, and I can say that we simply regarded the measure as the smallest possible concession that those who championed the Church of England were willing to give to the Nonconformists. The spirit in which the Act has been administered from 1880 down to the present time proves that it is not a settlement of the matter at all. With regard to the details of the present Bill, I do not think that any of the inconveniences will arise which have been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman in connection with the proposal to shorten the time of notice. In my own opinion, it is hard that within 24 hours of the death of a near relation the relatives in their sorrow should have at once to set about getting up a statu- 112 tory notice in strict accordance with the Schedule of the Act of 1880. I think the time asked for should be given. I think the right hon. Gentleman was under a misapprehension as to the intention of Sub-section 3. I agree that the sub-section has not been properly drafted; but what is intended is to make it impossible for an incumbent, relying on the legal right he has of refusing burial at all to a non-parishioner, to insist, in cases where he may be willing that a Nonconformist parishioner should be buried in the churchyard, upon the burial service of the Church of England being read. I think that is the intention of my hon. Friend in the Bill, and I therefore think the subsection will commend itself to the judgment of the House. There may have been reasons in the past, and there may be reasons now, why the trustee of the churchyard should be able to say, " You must not bury a non-parishioner there." Somebody must have the power of limitation. But that is not the case which we put; the case is where the incumbent insists upon the rites of the Church of England. Such cases constantly occur in the Principality. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the Act of 1880 has not been worked in a spirit of conciliation, and that is why those who smart under the administration of it are anxious to amend its provisions. If the Act of 1880 had been carried out in the spirit in which it was framed, it would not be necessary to come to the House at all with the 15th clause of this Bill. But that has not been the case, and it is absolutely necessary that we should endeavour to amend the provisions of the Act of 1880. The next sub-section is that which deals with the extensions of the hours during which a burial can take place in the parish churchyard. I see no reason why the hours should not be extended to sunset. It is said that a burial might be fixed at an hour almost immediately before sunset, which would necessitate the great inconvenience of carrying out the ceremony in the dark. Surely it can hardly be supposed that anybody who has the arrangements of a funeral to make would be actuated by such motives as have been suggested, and in order to gratify his feelings in this respect would adopt such a course as this. I have intimate ac- 113 quaintance with the manner in which funerals are conducted in the Principality, where it is the common practice to have very large funerals. In many cases nearly the whole of the inhabitants of a village will attend the funeral obsequies, and the result is that, especially in the mining localities, it is very difficult to fix the funeral ceremonial before 3 o'clock, because the people do not leave their work before that hour. Surely it is a pity that those who are at work till 4, or half-past, should thereby be prevented from attending a Nonconformist funeral. We have been told that the spirit of the Act of 1888 was that Nonconformists should have the same privileges with regard to burial as belonged to members of the English Church, but in the Church of England funerals are not limited to 3 o'clock in the afternoon. As far as I know, there is no limit to the hour at which Church of England funerals may take place, and I ask, therefore, why should this invidious distinction exist between them and their Nonconformist brethren? With regard to the subsection dealing with fees, the on. Member for the University of Oxford has said that every sub-section he came to appeared to be worse than the previous one, and he seemed to think that this particular sub-section formed the climax of the injustice contained in the measure of my hon. Friend. He said the burial fees were not paid for conducting the service, but for breaking the soil by the incumbent. That may be so, and it may be argued that until we have a large scheme of Disendowment it would not be fair to deprive the incumbent of his fees. But in cases where the grave has been paid for, and constitutes a freehold, why should the incumbent exact burial fees for every new burial? Then comes the case put by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. G. O. Morgan) as to the payment of fees for work which is not performed. On this the Home Secretary says the clergyman is willing to bury anyone if the fees are paid. But surely it is too late in the day to argue that, because he is willing to perform a service which is not desired, and consequently not rendered, he should therefore have the right of exacting fees. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Denbighshire has said that Nonconformists who have the mis- 114 fortune to bury their relatives in the churchyards have to pay double fees, namely, to their own minister and also to the incumbent of the parish. This, however, is not my experience, which has always been that the Nonconformist ministers do not receive fees for their services at the burial of their dead. They are only too glad to perform the ceremony for the friends and relatives without any remuneration; and if this be so, why, I ask, should the Church clergyman insist on payment where no service is rendered at all? In conclusion, I cannot but express a hope that hon. Members on the opposite side of the House will permit the passage of this Bill without raking up the embers of a very bitter controversy. Why it was bitter I do not know, and it is for them to say. We are only trying to obtain a measure of justice which Parliament eventually granted. When we now desire to extend the measure of justice it is not we who desire to fan the embers of bitter intolerance; and if those embers are to be fanned into a flame, it is upon hon. Members on the other side of the House and not upon us that the responsibility must rest.
§ (5.6.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
The hon. Member who has just sat down has told us he will undertake no responsibility either for the title or for the drafting of this Bill. Then I ask, why did he allow his name to be endorsed on the back of the Bill? Religious equality What on earth does it mean? I often think we should be better off if we had Preambles to our Bills, as we used to have. We should then understand the motive ideas of hon. Members who introduce measures to this House. The Preamble to this Bill would, I suppose, be somewhat in this form:—" Whereas all religions ought to be made equal by Act of Parliament, and whereas there is no difference or distinction between the religion of a fire worshipper or a devil worshipper, or a seventh-day Baptist, ? be it enacted, &c." But this Bill, though professedly a Bill to establish religious equality, deals only, in fact, with two religious services, namely, the burial service and the ceremony of marriage. Let us look for a-moment at the way in which the Bill proposes to deal with the Marriage Act, 115 and the kind of machinery it provides. According to this Bill, all a man has to do is to obtain a marriage licence from the Registrar for half-a-crown; that licence is to run for three months, at the end of which time it is to be renewable. There is no limit to the number of licences a man may take out. He may take out half a dozen or more in the names of different women, and keep them in suspense until he has made his selection. During this period of suspense the parties will be, as it were, half married, resting at a half-way house, which is not unlikely to end in something less than marriage in many cases. I have heard of fictitious marriages, and I cannot help thinking that the way in which this Bill proposes to carry out the preliminaries of the sacred condition of marriage might lead to immorality. But let us proceed. Having got the licence the parties go to a registered building. Hon. Members, perhaps, know how a building becomes registered. Thirty people only have to declare that they wish to have a building registered for the solemnisation of marriage, and it is registered. We must remember that there are very few Nonconformist Bodies who have any Central Authority. . Most Nonconformist churches are complete in themselves, and do not submit to government by any Central Body. Those 30 persons who have got a place registered for the solemnisation of marriage have the entire control of that building, and of the forms and ceremonies used within it. Nay, more; they often have complete religious equality among themselves, and each one of the 30 men or women may be lawful ministers and the individuals duly commissioned by this Act to perform the marriage ceremony. Let me, however, take the case a little further. Lot us accompany the bridal party to the registered building. No notice need be given to the minister. But if he happens by chance to be hard by he may ask certain questions, but there is no obligation to answer them. He may know that the lady is under the age of consent, and that the man is already married. He may ask questions, but he has no power to get them answered. He may refuse to perform the service; but any one of the 30 members of the congregation is just as 116 much a lawful minister as he is. He cannot refuse the use of the registered building. The parties may bring their own minister with them, and he may perform the ceremony " according to such form and ceremony as he shall think fit." A person whom the ordinary minister of the Church refused to' marry might flourish this Bill in his face, and have the ceremony conducted according to his own fancy. But even that is not all. Supposing the lawful minister acts in direct contradistinction to everything in this Bill, he is only liable to a fine of £5. So that a rich person might contravene the law, and procure a marriage without any of the conditions and restrictions of this Bill, such as they are, by paying a fine of £5. Is it possible that the House of Commons can read a second time a Bill of this sort? As to the provisions relating to burial, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University pointed out that if any of the relatives of a deceased person had been buried in Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's, and that if the deceased had expressed a wish to be buried there, too, his friends could demand his burial in the Minster or Cathedral. With regard to fees, I notice that they are payable " unless the persons otherwise determine." I cannot conceive of their being paid generally, if people had the means of relieving themselves by merely expressing their wish to be relieved. I cannot help thinking that the hon. Members who brought in this Bill must have had the recent decision of the Lord Chancellor in their minds, and that as separations are made quite easy by that decision, they are determined to make marriages as easy. The whole proposal is so unstatesmanlike that I hope the House of Commons will reject it.
§ (5.23.) MR. J. A. BRIGHT (Birmingham, Central)
I wish to say a word or two against this Bill before it goes to a Division, and I do not wish to be misunderstood in so doing. I have no feeling against religious equality. I am a Nonconformist by descent and from conviction, and I should be glad to see every inequality removed between Dissenters and members of the Church of England. I object to this Bill, because it makes it very probable that the records of marriages will not 117 be safely kept. When it was illegal for marriages to take place except in churches, an arrangement was made on behalf the Society of Friends, by which their Registrar was allowed to be present. The real solution of the question was not that the Registrar should not need to be present at Nonconformist marriages, but that he should be present at all marriages for the purpose of recording them. I believe it is notorious that records of marriages in churches which ought to have been preserved have been lost. By this Bill, instead of the Registrar attending with his book, the minister officiating has to make out four different certificates and send one to the Registrar. Now the minister officiating may be any lawful minister, and we have heard of marriages solemnised by sham ministers. Besides, the certificate might be lost in transit through the post, not to speak of other complications in registration which this Bill would cause. I see that the penalty for failure to register a marriage is £5—a very small penalty for such a gross neglect of duty. It might be worth somebody's while to pay £5 in order to have the traces of a false or real marriage removed. I think that we shall be going in an altogether wrong direction if we pass a Bill like this, which will make the record of Nonconformist marriages in places of worship less permanent and certain than they have hitherto been. I shall therefore, vote against the Second Reading, because I object to anything which will afford a loophole for a loose record of marriages.
§ (5.28.) MR. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)
I observe that the hon. Member whose name is on the back of the Bill repudiates responsibility for its drafting or its name. The Bill of the hon. Member for Camborne is really divisible into two Bills—one dealing with the attendance of the Registrar at Nonconformist marriages and the other with the Burial Laws. With reference to Sub-section 3 of Clause 15, there are certain reasons against it which I have not heard urged. It would throw a burden upon poor parishes. I am acquainted with a small parish about 15 or 16 miles out of London, where they have had the greatest difficulty in preserving the churchyard for the parishioners in consequence of the applications to bury non-parishioners 118 who, however distant from it, may have taken a fancy to be interred there. I can understand some provision being made for those who have resided many years in a parish, and are away at the time of death; but it seems to me a most unfair claim that strangers or non-parishioners should urge the right to be buried in some churchyard to which they have no claim other than the mere expression of a fancy in life that at death they would like to be buried there.
It being half an hour after Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday-next.