*MR. J. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield) rose to move the Second Reading of the Burials Bill. He said, he was aware that the subject was by no means an attractive one; but two things at least might be said on its behalf. One was, that it was a painfully practical subject; and the other, that it had not been brought before this House for a very considerable period. It was now nearly 20 years since the first of a long series of Burials Bills was introduced, but he was not going to trouble the House with what might be termed the ancient history of the question. It would be sufficient if he took, as a starting point, the passing of the Burial Act of 1880, which marked an entirely new departure in Burial Legislation. It was the result of a bitter struggle, which lasted for 10 Sessions; and, although the Act was passed by the Liberal Government of that day, it was in the hands of his hon. Friend, the Member for East Denbighshire, whose ability and persistency in its previous advocacy made him regret that the chances of the ballot had not committed the present Bill to his charge, rather than to his own. That Act established a principle of great importance, inasmuch as it legalised Non-conformist services in consecrated ground, whether in parochial churchyards or parochial cemetries. By that means it put an end to the many scandals arising from clerical refusals to bury un-baptized persons in the only places of interment in a parish. It was also a Clergy Relief Act, as well as one for the relief of Nonconformists, because it permitted the Established Clergy to conduct a special form of service in cases where the use of the Church of England service in its entirety was prohibited. It also permitted them to officiate in the unconsecrated parts of cemeteries, and in unconsecrated chapels, though it did not, at the same time, similarly permit Nonconformists to have the use of consecrated mortuary chapels. He should have to refer later on to the practical working of this Act of 1880; but the point to which
he now called attention was, that it was both an incomplete and an inconsistent measure. Its great defect was that, while it practically put an end to the distinction between consecrated and un-consecrated ground, it did not at the same time also repeal those provisions of previous Burial Acts, which compelled Burial Boards to divide cemeteries into consecrated and unconsecrated parts and to erect a chapel in each. It, therefore, kept up unnecessary and invidious distinctions, gave Burial Boards vexatious, because needless, trouble, and did not put a stop to the waste of public money caused by the erection of chapels which, in many cases, were superfluous. The Act also left untouched the whole question of burial fees, which, as he should show, were even more unjust now than they were prior to the passing of the Act. All that was pointed out to the Government of that day, and it was distinctly intimated that the measure would be accepted as an instalment only of the Legislation needed, and not as a final and completely satisfactory measure. The Government admitted its deficiencies, and, by way of a solatium to disappointed Nonconformists, intimated through the Lord Chancellor, Lord Selborne, that they would, at no distant day, review all the existing burial statutes with a view to their revision. The no distant day had not, however, arrived at the end of some 14 years, and it was because of that long-deferred hope that the present Bill was submitted to the judgment of the House. He ought, however, to state that both in 1885 and 1886 the Liberal Government of that time brought in a measure resembling the present Bill, but were unable to make any substantial progress with it; and, although a Bill had been brought in in every succeeding Session since, this was the first time that an opportunity had been secured for pressing the subject on the attention of Parliament. The necessity for an alteration of the law had become increasingly urgent during the last few years, and was growing year by year. One reason, was, that many of the ancient churchyards no longer contained room for the burial of the dead, and, as a consequence, they were being closed by Orders in Council; so that new burial-places had to be provided. Another reason was to be found
in the passing of the Local Government Act of last year. That Act included the Burial Acts among the "Adoptive Acts," which might be adopted by the Parish Councils. As a consequence, new public bodies would now have to encounter all the perplexities and difficulties arising out of those Acts, and if he was not much mistaken they would submit to the anomalies and injustice which they involved with a great deal less patience than the old Burial Boards. If nothing else moved them, they would be impelled by their financial necessities to protest against the wastefulness of the present system; and they would insist that the cost of burials should not be needlessly increased by the erection of unnecessary buildings and the payment of fees for which no service was rendered in return. He had spoken of the future; but a sufficiently strong case for this Bill could be made out by a reference to what had already happened, and was happening almost every week, as a result of opposition to the existing law. There were numerous parishes in which the Burials Question had taken the place of the Anti-Church-Rate Agitation of past times, in the wrangling and the bitterness which it had caused. Burial Board elections turned upon the question: "Shall the required cemetery be consecrated or not; or shall there be one mortuary chapel or two; or shall the parish be burdened, not only with the cost of the cemetery, but with heavy and unearned clerical fees?" Several Burial Boards, sustained by the opinion and the votes of the inhabitants, had firmly refused to comply with the provisions of the law which required them to apply to the Bishop for consecration. But this strange thing had happened, that even a Liberal Home Secretary had felt it to be his duty to apply to the Courts of Law for a mandamus to compel refractory Burial Boards to ask the Bishop of the diocese to perform a religious act, to the legal consequences of which they strongly objected. He need not suggest that this must be most repugnant to the feelings of the right hon. Gentleman now Home Secretary, because he had himself publicly declared that it was peculiarly distasteful to him to take such a question into a Court of Law, and that it was a most invidious position in which
to place an officer of the Executive Government. He hoped that the House would not regard this as a mere contest between Nonconformists and Churchmen. If time permitted he could quote the opinions of well-known Churchmen, both clerical and lay, who had expressed precisely the same objections to the existing cemetery system as had been taken by Nonconformists during these painful burial contests. He must, however, refer to the opinions and to the action of some of the Bishops, who had frankly admitted that the passing of the Act of 1880 had effected a change which had modified their previous views, and rendered it necessary to abandon old obligations and restrictions. In a Debate on the Act of 1880, the late Archbishop Tait spoke of a cemetery with two chapels as—
a proclamation to the whole world of the differences between the Church and Dissenters, and he should not regret if the instances of that proclamation were not multiplied.
He had also previously suggested that a chapel might be placed for the use of all parties contiguous to, but not upon, consecrated ground. The present Bishop of London, while Bishop of Exeter, referring to the probability of further alterations in the burial laws, said—
It would be necessary in providing for the future to do away with the distinction between consecrated and unconsecrated ground. It would not be possible in future to compel the erection in cemeteries of separate chapels for the services of the Church of England. Nor could he say it would he desirable. The very existence of the two chapels in a cemetery was a scandal and a reproach.
The late Bishop Fraser, in consecrating a cemetery at Accrington, said—
There is only one thing that gives me pain, and that is when I look round the cemetery and see three chapels standing there, which are so many witnesses that Christian people are not all of one mind; that the distinctions which part them in life are, unhappily, continued after death.
On another occasion, at Royton, the same Bishop said—
I do hope the day will come when Churchmen, Nonconformists and Roman Catholics may at last agree to use the same building set apart for the holy purpose of reading a service over the dead.
The late Bishop of Ely, in 1879, equally deprecated the erection of two chapels,
and at another conference, expressed the opinion that—
in our future cemeteries there should be no division of ground into consecrated and unconsecrated, but that, the whole cemetery having been legally secured in perpetuity for burial purposes, the Church should be content to adopt the principle that the grave, in whatsoever part it may be dug, is sufficiently consecrated by the words of prayer said beside it.
After the Act of 1880 had been passed, the same Bishop made this important statement:—
If no part of a public cemetery can henceforth be set apart, consecration has no longer any effect. I might add that a bishop has no locus standi for assuming to dedicate by a Church ceremonial what is to be no more for the use of Church people than for Nonconformists, who do not desire, even if they do not dislike, such consecration. An episcopal act solemnly affecting to set apart half a cemetery does but embarrass an otherwise clear position. Viewed in one way it seems to me a fiction—professing to set apart for special uses what can no longer be set apart. Viewed in another way it is an intrusion of Church offices into ground which belongs not to the Church alone, but equally to Nonconformists.
The Bishop of Ely had the courage of his convictions, for, having come to the conclusion that consecration had become a fictitious ceremony, he refused to consecrate any more cemeteries in his diocese. The Bishop of Ely was not the only Bishop who had acted this courageous and consistent part, for the late Archbishop Magee, when Bishop of Peterborough, refused to consecrate several cemeteries. The late Bishop of Lincoln did the same, and, as nobody thought of mandamusing the Bishops, those cemeteries remained unconsecrated to this day. Other Bishops had been willing to conduct a dedication service, instead of a consecration service of the ordinary kind. The present Bishop of St. Albans did so in the case of the cemetery provided at St. Albans, under what was known as Marten's Act, saying, as he did so, that he regarded the ceremony as a peaceful solution of that which was disturbing many minds. The late Bishop of Carlisle also expressed approval of the action of his brother Bishop of St. Albans, and the Bishop of Ripon was willing to follow his example where there was agreement on the subject in the
locality. He was aware that the present Archbishop of Canterbury had lately written—
I never consent to what is called dedication; it is a mere deception, leading people to suppose that the burial-ground is duly consecrated.''
So that what three of his prelatical brethren regarded as a fitting and Christian proceeding, the Primate stigmatised as "mere deception.'' He had given the opinions of five Bishops of the Church, because he felt sure that they would have weight with Churchmen in this House, and he should be both surprised and disappointed if, when Bishops led the way in the direction of liberality and good sense, the laity of the Church refused to follow their episcopal leaders. The Bishops to whom he had referred had confined their objections to two points—the division of burial-grounds into consecrated and unconsecrated parts, and the erection of two chapels where one would suffice; but they had said nothing in condemnation of the fees which were now exacted for the benefit of the clergy and other Church officials. That was a matter of considerable practical importance, and one to which it was necessary to call the special attention of the House. The theory on which the Burial Acts appeared to have been constructed was, that the parochial cemetery took the place of the churchyard, and, therefore, the same fees which had been payable to the incumbent, the clerk, and the sexton, in connection with burials in the churchyard, were made payable to those functionaries in the consecrated parts of cemeteries now. If those fees were limited to the mere performance of burial services, they would not be seriously objected to; but fees were also payable on the purchase of graves, on the construction of vaults, on the erection of tombstones and railings; and these fees varied from a few shillings to many pounds. A fortnight ago a deputation from the Town Councils of Worcester and Newport, am from other public bodies, waited on the Home Secretary, to protest against the continuance of what they regarded as unjust and vexatious exactions. It was not a Liberationist, or even a Liberal demonstration, for, among the Members of Parliament present were some who sat on the opposite side of the House. The
complaint of that, deputation would be found in a memorial which, some time ago, was forwarded to the Home Secretary by the Town Council of Worcester, and which had been supported by some other public bodies also. In that memorial, they said:—
Your memorialists especially point out the injustice thus occasioned to the rateyayers, who are not only taxed for the support of the cemeteries, but also have to pay an extra tax, in addition to the purchase-money payable to the Burial Board, to the minister for land which he has not helped to acquire…… Your memorialists submit that no justification can be found for continuing the right to receive the fees to which objection is taken in perpetuity by incumbents and ministers who have never received, or been entitled to receive, any fees in respect of burials in the churchyards of their parishes.
Those were only general statements; but a few figures would show that in some cases these fees constituted a serious burden on the ratepayers. Thus the Hampstead vestry complained that the vicar had, during ten years, received on an average above £700 a year from fees in the consecrated part of the cemetery; and, whereas he had received about £9,000, the net loss to the ratepayers on the cemetery had been about £15,000. In the cemetery of Weston-super-Mare it appeared that out of £11,563 received for interments, nearly half had gone to the church officials. But perhaps the most striking-facts were contained in a Parliamentary Return which was presented in 1893. It was a Return of fees received by the London clergy in connection with the metropolitan cemeteries in the five years ending September 30th, 1892. During that time the inhabitants of the City of London had to pay £2,632; of Islington, £2,038; of Lambeth, £1,496; of Paddington, £2,889. Brompton Cemetery yielded to the clergy the large sum of £8,092; and for only 717 interments in the metropolitan cemeteries the clergy had received no less than about £27,000, or about £5,400 a year. And for those payments, be it remembered, they rendered no service whatever. It might be said that, whatever ground of objection Churchmen might have to these payments, they did not affect Nonconformists, because they were confined to the consecrated ground. But under the Act of 1880, Nonconformists were now
buried in consecrated as well as unconsecrated ground, and though they had the services of their own minister, the fee for the service went to the minister who did nothing in return. The injustice of the system did not even end at that point; for several Burial Boards had been in the habit of exacting in the unconsecrated parts of their cemeteries exactly the same fees as were payable to the clergy in the consecrated parts. Last week he addressed a question to the Home Secretary as to four Burial Boards, which had, in that way, flagrantly violated one of the provisions of the Burial Acts, and previous to that he called his attention to the similarly illegal tables of fees of other boards, and he was constantly receiving information of the like kind from other places. The House would hardly believe that, in a few instances, Burial Boards had been in the habit of paying, or, at least, offering, to Dissenting ministers the same fees for grave spaces, for tombstones and such like, as are paid to the Established clergy; their object no doubt being to make burials in unconsecrated ground as expensive as those in consecrated ground, and thereby to prevent a preference being given to the unconsecrated ground. Whatever the motive, he did not hesitate to denounce such exactions as a plundering of the public by the public's own servants; and though the Home Office had interfered to stop these exactions where they had been discovered, it was time that Parliament put an end to a specially odious form of taxation for the benefit of ministers of religion. A Select Committee of this House was appointed in 1882 to inquire into the whole subject of ecclesiastical and mortuary fees, and after collecting a large amount of valuable evidence, offered the following recommendations:—(1) that mortuary fees should be abolished; saving existing rights; (2) that fees should be paid only for service actually rendered; (3) that other ecclesiastical fees should be abolished; and (4) that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should make up the deficiency in clerical incomes caused by the adoption of such recommendations. He was not proposing changes so extensive as those; for the present Bill did not touch the fees levied in churchyards, but was limited to cemeteries. It was
divided into two main parts; the first part dealing only with cemeteries, and the second relating to Nonconformist burials in churchyards. The chief provisions of the Bill, which amended the general law, were to be found in the second, third and fourth clauses. No attempt was made to prohibit the consecration of cemeteries; but the obligation on Burial Boards to obtain consecration was abolished, and they were not to be permitted to distinguish in any way consecrated from unconsecrated ground. Instead, therefore, of allowing only partial consecration, as at present, the Bill would allow of the consecration of the whole of a cemetery by the Church of England, or any other religious body which was willing to defray the expense of consecration. The same principle applied also to the cemetery chapels. This liberty, however, was coupled with an important condition, which might be said to contain the vital principle of the Bill. Consecration was not to confer any right or privilege, or impose any disability, obligation, or liability which would not have attached to such burial ground if the same had remained unconsecrated. Any chapel also, whether consecrated or not, would be available for all persons officiating in the cemetery. By the adoption of this simple but efficacious principle, consecration would become a purely religious ceremony, which would not be followed by objectionable distinctions and restrictions. The religious susceptibilities of churchmen would be consulted, while all parties would be placed on an equal footing in the burial ground for which all had helped to pay, and in which they had a common interest. Another important effect would be to give greater freedom to burial authorities in the laying out of cemeteries and the erection of chapels, while a cause of bitter contention would cease to exist. There was one other provision of the Bill to which he must call attention, because it related to the question of fees, which, as he had said, was the subject of loud complaint. The 9th Clause saved the existing right of the present incumbents to fees in the case of all existing cemeteries, but no similar fees would be paid in the case of future cemeteries, and the fees now paid would cease with the deaths or resignation of the present occupants of
office. It might possibly be objected that, although the rights of existing incumbents were preserved, the Church would ultimately suffer loss by the abolition of the clerical fees. To that objection he would reply by asking two questions: Was it fitting that the clergy should to any extent be remunerated by means of a species of death duties—by what were practically taxes levied in connection with the interment of the dead? And would the Established Church be strengthened by indisolubly associating the rite of consecration with exactions which a large portion of the community—Churchmen as well as Dissenters—consider to be peculiarly offensive and unjust? If any hon. Members opposite should think he was proposing a daring innovation, the very novelty of which should be fatal to its success, let him remind them, and remind the House, of a striking event which occurred in the year 1879—the year before his right hon. Friend succeeded in passing his measure. In that year three Conservative Members brought in the Public Health Act 1875, Amendment (Interments) Bill—a measure which had since been popularly known by the shorter title of "Marten's Act," That Bill was supported by the entire Conservative Party; was passed by the House of Lords, and was even assented to by the Bench of Bishops. It was true that it was a very cumbrous and ill-drawn Act; since it merely tacked together the 345 Clauses of the Public Health Act of 1846 and the Cemeteries Clauses Act of 1847, and made them applicable to cemeteries and to public authorities. But what did the Act do? It gave to Sanitary Authorities almost all the liberty which he was now claiming for Burial Boards. It did indeed provide that, if there be consecrated ground in a cemetery, a chapel shall be built upon it, and a chaplain must be appointed; but then it left it wholly to the local authority to decide whether there shall be any consecration or not. The Act also completely altered the status of the parochial clergy; inasmuch as it gave them no authority whatever, and no claim to any fees whatever. In fact, under Marten's Act, the parochial incumbent disappeared from the scene as completely as though he were disestablished. No wonder that parochial authorities
who had discovered the virtues of that Act, had in recent years provided cemeteries under it, instead of what are known as the Burials Acts. Perhaps the most striking fact of recent occurrence was that the Town Council of Oxford had just provided three cemeteries for that city, and not one of them had been consecrated, nor could the Corporation be compelled to have them consecrated. He was aware there were Churchmen in Oxford who regarded this as a grievance; but it was the only course open to the Oxford Town Council to protect the citizens from unjust exactions, and, if Oxford Churchmen would have their grievance redressed, they should support this Bill. He had made this reference to Marten's Act because it answered by anticipation some of the objections which might be offered to the present Bill. Objectors would have to show why the same liberty which it had given to Sanitary Authorities should not be given to Parish Councils or Burial Boards, and also why the inhabitants of all parishes should not have the protection which some parishes already possessed under that Act. The second part of the Bill proposed certain Amendments in the Burial Act of 1880, and this was the most painful part of the case which he had to submit to the House. It would not have been forgotten that, during the agitation which preceded the adoption of that Act, it was confidently predicted that, if any other services than those of the Church of England were permitted in churchyards, the most distressing consequences would follow. They were told that there would be scenes of "foul obscenity" and "ribald atheism"—He was quoting phrases used at the time—and pictures were drawn of Mormon and Shaker and infidel funerals. Even Mr. Matthew Arnold, who was by no means an hysterical person, thought that it was extremely likely that the Act would "vulgarise the English people." He need not say that not one of those portentous prophecies had been fulfilled. The Act had now been in operation for 14 years, and he could not recall a single case in which the liberty granted by the Act had been abused by those for whose benefit it was passed. There had, indeed, been some very painful incidents arising out of the operation of the Act, but they had, he
was obliged to say, been caused by clergymen and other parochial officials, who had never been reconciled to the passing of the Act, and had, therefore, done their best and their worst, either to render it inoperative, or to make its operation as disagreeable as possible to the relatives of deceased persons. The result had been that in some parishes the Act had become a dead letter, because the inhabitants had been afraid to exercise the right which it had given them, and then the fewness of Dissenting burials was pointed to, to prove the fewness of Dissenters, or that there was no necessity for passing such an Act. He admitted that a few of the clergy had acted simply under a misapprehension of the actual provisions of the law; either in regard to the required notice, or to the limits of their own powers; and that had been especially the case in regard to the burial of non-parishioners. But the actions of a much larger number could not be excused on any such ground. He could occupy the greater part of that sitting in describing in detail cases which would, he ventured to think, excite both the astonishment and the indignation of the House. He would, however, refrain from doing so, and for this reason. He was honestly desirous of avoiding, as far as possible, the introduction of irritating matter into that day's discussion, and especially he wished to avoid entering into personal controversies. He should, therefore, only describe in general terms the action of those clergymen who had refused loyally to accept the decision of the Legislature; but, if necessary, he could give full particulars to substantiate his statements. In some instances, frivolous or ill-founded objections had been taken to the notices of Nonconformist burials; or the letter of the law had been insisted upon, while its spirit had been disregarded. Very frequently there had been refusals to allow burials in family graves unless the incumbent were allowed to officiate, and that, notwithstanding that payment had been made for such graves. In other cases, the remains of deceased persons had been relegated to some obscure corner of the churchyard, where suicides and disreputable persons were interred; and in one well-known case the grave was dug from north to south instead of from east to west, as usual, and was distinguished from
other graves by black posts. Sometimes the payment of fees had been insisted upon before the opening of the grave; or the sexton had refused to fill the grave except on the same condition; both requirements being distinctly illegal. Then the burial of non-parishioners had been refused, unless the parties would forego a Nonconformist burial service. There had also been illegal demands of extra fees, and in one case the incumbent refused to register a Nonconformist burial until compelled to do so by the threat of legal proceedings. Welsh Nonconformists had had a special cause of complaint, arising out of the fact that the clergy had arbitrarily, and of course illegally, endeavoured to exact a fixed fee in lieu of the ancient voluntary offerings at the graveside. The refusal to toll the bell at Nonconformist burials had been very common, though sometimes it had been tolled in consideration of the payment of an extra fee. In a few cases—but a few, he was glad to say—there had been a churlish refusal to allow the use of the parish bier, ropes and planks, and other facilities belonging to the parish. He wished he could stop here, but he had yet to advert to a class of cases of a still worse character. In addition to the petty annoyances which he had thus briefly described, there had been several cases of positive obstruction, or of the most offensive displays of clerical intolerance. Sometimes burial parties had been threatened with a prosecution for brawling, for so harmless a proceeding as the singing of a hymn, or the singing had been peremptorily stopped. Churchyard gates had been locked against funeral parties, which have had to enter by some back way, or specially-provided gate, and even through holes in the churchyard palings, or a gap in the hedge; or else the gates had not been opened until after unreasonable delay. There had even been cases in which clergymen had forced themselves upon the parties, and insisted on officiating. In one instance, both the clergyman and the Nonconformist minister read the service against each other, and in another, the clergyman read the service after that of the Nonconformist had concluded. Where the clergy had not proceeded to such lengths as these, there had been vehement and offensive protests against Nonconformist services
in the churchyard; one clergyman actually preaching on the subject on the following Sunday, when he took for his text the passage, "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass"! He passed by the misconduct of parish clerks and sextons in some cases, as they had simply followed the bad example of their superiors; but he must state that in one case the sexton had the indecency to commence filling the grave while the Nonconformist service was proceeding. He did not say all that might be said upon occurrences so painful and so reprehensible, but he ventured to assert that there was no one in that House, either on that side or the other, who would defend such proceedings, and who would not agree with the poet who had said—
Not friends alone such obsequies deplore:
They make mankind the mourners!
It was not for him to read lectures to the Established clergy, but he might remind them of the weighty utterance of that eminent ecclesiastical Judge, Sir John Nicholl, in a case of refusing to bury the unbaptised:—
It is by a lenient and liberal interpretation of the laws of disability and exclusion, and not by a captious and vexatious application of them, that the true interests and the true dignity of the Church Establishment are best maintained.
He would, in addition, only remind the House that the grievances complained of wounded the feelings of men and of women just when, because of affliction, they were least able to resent injustice or to obtain redress. And for that reason he asked that House to protect those who, from the very necessity of the case, were unable to protect themselves. It was for that purpose that the present Bill proposed, as the second part, certain Amendments in the law of 1880. It did so by shortening the time of notice of a Nonconformist burial service; by extending the hours during which such burials might take place, and by permitting burials on Sundays, Good Friday and Christmas Day. It also authorised the incumbent to dispense with the notice, and in certain cases allowed of burial without the legal notice. It removed all doubt in the case of non-parishioners, by enacting that the provisions of the Act should be applicable as in other cases. Then there was a clause of much greater
importance, Clause 13, which embodied the fundamental principle of that part of the Measure. It was as follows:—
13.—(1) In the case of burials under the said Act  it shall not be lawful for the incumbent of any parish to subject to any disadvantage the relatives of deceased persons, by refusing permission to bury in available graves in which relatives of the deceased are interred; or by setting apart particular portions of such churchyard for such burials; or by distinguishing in any way from other graves the graves of persons buried in accordance with the provisions of the said Act. (2) It shall not be lawful in the case of burials to prevent the use of the gateways, entries, or paths commonly used in the case of other burials, and any attempt to prevent such use shall be deemed to be an obstruction under the said Act. (3) It shall not be lawful in the case of burials to refuse, or prevent, the tolling of the bell, or the use of any bier, planks, or other appliances commonly used at burials, and the sexton and gravedigger shall discharge such duties as are obligatory on them in the case of other burials.
He did not profess to believe that even that clause would render altogether impossible the recurrence of such incidents as those to which he had referred; but it would be an affirmation by the Legislature of the principle on which the Act of 1880 was based; while it would enable the Courts of Law to restrain to some extent clergymen and other parochial officials from resorting to unworthy expedients, which they could now adopt with absolute impunity. He had to thank the House for its patient listening to a statement which, as he said at the outset, could have no attractions, and which must have caused pain to some of those whom he had addressed. He had endeavoured to state, as clearly and as dispassionately as he could, the circumstances which rendered such a measure as this absolutely necessary, in the interest of social peace, and, he would add, of religion also. He did not ask the House to pass this Bill as part of a plan of campaign against the Church Establishment, but as a practical measure, dealing with a painful and practical evil. Although he had been fighting the battle of religious equality all through his public life, he had always deplored the necessity for fighting it at the graveside and over the coffins of the dead. Episcopalians and Nonconformists would, no doubt, always have their differences during life; but there was surely no need, or excuse, for perpetuating and accentuating them in death. They might
rightly struggle with each other on the platform and in the Press, at the polling-booth and in Parliament; but there was one spot on earth where contention and bitterness should have no place—that spot which they all agreed to designate as "The field and acre of our God!" He begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, he was glad to hear that this Bill did not form part of the plan of campaign against the Church, but had the hon. Member not assured them on that point they would hardly have thought it. When the hon. Member was examined before the Committee, he stated that he was connected with a Society known as the Liberation Society, and that he took a special interest in the question of burials. He thought, therefore, that members of the Church of England ought to look closely into a Bill brought in under such auspices. He could not help wishing that this Bill had been brought in on the lines of the speech addressed to the House by the right hon. Fentleman (Sir G. O. Morgan) on the introduction of the Bill of 1880. Then the right hon. Gentleman said that he rose to move the Second Reading of a Bill which he sincerely trusted would close one of the most painful controversies that had ever harassed the mind of that House. He should be sorry to introduce into the discussion of a Bill of this kind anything which savoured of Party spirit or acrimony, but having read the clauses of the Bill it appeared to him that it did not pay due regard to the feelings and the desires of members of the Church of England; and it was on that account that he opposed it. Before dealing with the subject, however, he wished to allude to the first clause, which had not been referred to by the hon. Gentleman. As he understood, its object was to give all burial authorities a power of compulsory purchase for the purpose of erecting new burial-grounds. The hon. Member referred to what was called Marten's Act, but it could only be put in force by the sanitary authorities on grounds of sanitary necessity; and he was glad to hear that the Act had been made operative in certain cases. But he did not understand that there had been any attempt to exercise compulsory 486 powers of purchase, and he thought it might be questioned whether that Act did confer compulsory powers, and the question he wished, to put to the promoters of this Bill was—Is there any necessity to give burial boards this unlimited compulsory power? It was a compulsory power which might be used to the great disadvantage of persons residing in particular districts, particularly in the country. A cemetery was not always an agreeable addition to a suburban or rural district, and he urged that it was not desirable to introduce this principle of compulsion except on necessity shown (and no attempt had been made to establish this necessity), or, secondly, except under the strict control of that Department of the Government which was specially associated with burials—namely, the Home Office. The House ought to be put in possession of the opinions of the Home Office on a subject of this kind; and he regretted to note the absence, probably through illness, of the representatives of that Department on the Treasury Bench.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT, Derby)
I am perfectly prepared to state the opinion of the Home Office and of the Government on this Bill.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
proceeded to point out that Clause 2 dealt with the question of distinguishing and marking the boundaries of consecrated and unconsecrated portions of the burial-ground. In his judgment the result of the passing of this clause would be that no one would really know whether those who were buried in a cemetery were buried in consecrated or unconsecrated ground. He did not oppose this clause so much on the ground that it affected the rights of the clergy, as that it was an interference with the rights of the laity of the Church. He appealed to the House whether it was not true to say that a large majority of the people of the country would resent the idea of being compelled to take the bodies of relatives and friends into unconsecrated ground; and, in their interest, he objected to such a provision, especially as the law on the subject at present was really very considerate to the needs and wishes of those who wished to have burial-grounds common. If there was that intense desire on the part of Nonconformists to be buried in 487 unconsecrated ground, though in close proximity to members of the Church in consecrated ground, the present law was fair and reasonable in its attempt to meet their wishes, if any regard was to be paid to the feelings of those who desired to be buried in consecrated ground. Clause 3 also dealt with the subject of consecration, and by the first provision enacted that "it shall not be lawful for a Burial Authority to pay any fees in respect of consecration." In his opinion the curt refusal to allow fees was a hardship which those who desired that some portion of the burial-ground should be consecrated might justly complain of, as he understood these fees were simply payments to enable a proper record to be kept and preserved of the consecration, so that hereafter there should be no dispute as to what had been done. If that were so, he failed to see the necessity of the prohibition of such fees. The second part of the clause was of a sweeping character, providing, as it did, that consecration should confer no right or privilege which would not be attached to such burial-ground if it had remained unconsecrated. The position of consecrated burial-grounds under the present law was a fair and reasonable one, and unless they were prepared to go a step in the direction of Disestablishment, they had a right to ask that the rights and privileges which were accorded the Church in respect of consecrated portions of burial-grounds should remain. The hon. Member who had brought forward the Bill had stated that its object was to promote peace and good will. He would like to ask how that object was likely to be promoted by the provisions of Clause 4. The hon. Member admitted the existence of religious differences with reference to the subject of burials, and yet Clause 4 proposed that one building only should be used for every kind of burial. No doubt they must all agree with the late Bishop Fraser that, if possible, these differences should be so far modified that one system of burial should obtain, but they had not arrived at that time yet. There was no disguising the fact that such differences did exist, and he believed it was impossible to obliterate them by the provision of a single building which was to be used for every form of religion, and not limited even to the Christian Religion. Until the day came 488 when there was a greater approximation between the religious views of different bodies of Christians, it was surely far better to leave it to Burial Boards to provide separate chapels for the conduct of funerals. Clause 5 provided that the decision of the Bishop should not be required to the plan of any building, or to the fitness of any tomb or monumental inscription in any public burial-ground. The power which, under the present law, was vested in the Bishop had not been shown to have been harshly or improperly exercised in any single instance, and could only be exercised in the interests of peace and goodwill. Clause 6 was entirely too vague, for, whilst it made it lawful for a Burial Authority to appoint a Chaplain, it contained no provision whatever as to his qualifications or stipend. The present law seemed to work without difficulty, and he failed to see the advantage of making the law uncertain. By Clause 8 an important change was proposed to be effected. As the law stood at present, the Incumbent might either perform the Burial Service himself, or delegate the duty to his Curate, or to some other duly-qualified person. The clause seemed to mean that the person having charge of the funeral of any person belonging to any parish, might require the Incumbent personally to leave all his other duties, to go down to Woking or some distant place, and there perform the Funeral Service, and that in the absence of this formality he was not to been titled to perform any service at, or otherwise interfere in respect of, such funeral, however much the family might desire his presence. He submitted to the House that, if this was intended to be a personal duty on the part of the Incumbent, excluding him from the privilege of finding someone else to perform the duty, it was an undue restriction upon the rights of living parishioners to the service of their Incumbent. He did not see how (unless this Bill was to be a step in the direction of Disestablishment) it could be proposed to curtail the rights and duties of the clergy, and the privileges of the laity to have the funeral service performed, by the arbitrary requirement of the formality of a requisition. With regard to Part II. of the Bill, surely the modern habits rather tended to limit the hours during which funerals took place, and he thought 489 sufficient consideration had not been given to the reasons for restricting the right of burial in churchyards on Sundays and the either excepted days. Did the hon. Member who introduced the Bill think it seemly that, during the hours of Divine worship in the church on Sundays, Good Fridays, or Christmas Days, a Nonconformist funeral should be going on in the churchyard? Provision should at least be made for limiting the hours for funerals, whether Church of England or Nonconformist, so as not to clash with those of Divine service on these days. He was not there to defend the manner in which some clergymen in different parts of the country had or had not endeavoured to give effect to the law. In certain cases the law had not been carried out with a good grace but with a bad grace, and no doubt unnecessary obstacles had been interposed. But what Bill would ever prevent cases of friction where people were not included to show good will. He asserted that the cases of difficulty were comparatively few, and in most parts of the country the Act was administered without friction. There were certainly not sufficient cases to necessitate resort to a change in the law. He did not know whether there was a direct obligation to allow the use of the bier. He should have thought the use of such things followed as a matter of course from the right of burial in the churchyard. He believed it was the duty of the sexton—whether Nonconformist or Church of England rites were performed—to make proper provision for the burial. Then came the question of tolling the bell. He was told that there were not many cases in which the tolling of the bell had been refused. The right hon. Member for Denbighshire, when he introduced the Burials Bill in 1880, did not consider that a matter of importance at all to Nonconformists. If that were so—if Non-conformists did not care very much for the tolling of the church bell—why was it necessary to provide for it under this Bill? He now came to Clause 14, about which the hon. Member who introduced the Bill said nothing, but which was a very important clause to members of the Church of England. It prohibited any public corporate body—either aggregate or sole, including thereby the rector or 490 incumbent of the parish—to sell, grant, or otherwise appropriate any glebe as an addition to the churchyard for the exclusive use of members of the Church of England. It was not many years since the House passed an Act to give facilities for the sale of glebe, and why should this restriction as to the sale of glebe be imposed on the clergy? If people in the parish desired that a small portion of graveyard should be allotted to members of the Church of England, and they could find a piece of glebe land suitable for the purpose, why should they be prevented from having it? The privilege of a burial-ground for their own exclusive use was granted to other religious bodies—such as Jews and Roman Catholics—and why not to members of the Church of England. That being the case, he asked the House to pause before it passed this most important clause of the Bill, in support of which no reason had been given to the House. Regarding the question of burial fees, he believed he was correct in saying that their regulation was under the jurisdiction of the Home Office. If the Home Office authorities considered an alteration of the law was necessary, it would only be right that they should listen to any arguments in that direction that the proper authority should place before them. But that was a very different thing from saying that they would sanction all sorts of restrictions at the instance of an hon. Member whose experience and interest in the matter none disputed, but who had not the means that the Home Office would have of knowing what would be just and fair in the matter of these fees. If a change in the law were required, it ought to come from the authority which had the control and regulation of these matters. He thought he was justified in asking the House not to read the Bill a second time, and he accordingly did so.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Rochester)
said, that the Members on that side of the House had net reason to complain of the tone and temper of the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill; but yet the Bill illustrated in a marked degree the attitude of hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House in respect to the treatment of questions which concerned the religious laws and the practices which hitherto fellow-citizens had been 491 allowed to enjoy without disturbance. The Bill was not intended to meet any necessities which had arisen since the passing of the Act of 1880, but it was rather a step in the development of a policy which was to be applied in the Bill of which the Chief Secretary for Ireland was in charge, and apparently was to be extended to all the measures of a Liberal Government. The practice of the Liberal Party was to pass a measure, declaring that it was to be final, and to obtain assent to it on that ground, and then, a few years after, to come to Parliament and say that the measure was not final, that the question must be re-opened, and that credit was due to them for having left it untouched for 15 years. It was not for him to protest against a policy of that kind; but the adoption of it entitled him to say that when a Liberal measure was presented to them they must look at it not merely in reference to what it contained, but also as a link in a long chain of Legislation, and as a step which might lead to consequences far more objectionable than the Bill itself. He seconded the rejection of the Bill because no necessity had been shown for passing it. The hon. Member spoke of a few occasions on which there had been difficulties at the funerals of Nonconformists, and attributed it to the conduct of country clergymen. As a body he respected them, but there might be among them those who were not always wise or just; but he attributed many of the difficulties which had arisen less to the fear of odium on the part of Nonconformists than to the desire of Dissenters to be buried according to the practice of the Church of England. As a matter of fact, in many of the cases that had been adduced, as was pointed out by the hon. Member himself, the conduct of the clergy was illegal, and you could not, by further Legislation, prevent men from acting illegally. The obvious remedy was to appeal to the tribunals. The speech of the Mover went to show that the main object of the Bill was to destroy, as far as possible, any distinction which might exist between consecrated and unconsecrated ground. He denied that this House had any right to attempt to deprive any citizens of the comfort they might derive from the fact that their friends had been, or that they would 492 be, buried in consecrated ground. He understood that the reason for the passing of the Act of 1880 was that, under the law as it then existed, there were difficulties of such great magnitude, conditions so onerous, in regard to the burial of Nonconformists, that they amounted to a denial of justice. He desired to apply the same test to this Bill—for example, to Clause 2, which prevented a distinction being made between consecrated and unconsecrated ground. The effect of the clause would be that no one would know whether he was likely to be buried in consecrated or unconsecrated ground. If the clause were not passed Nonconformists would suffer no hardship, because it was clear that they could be buried in the consecrated portion of burial-grounds if their friends desired it. He heard some hon. Members saying that no one could be the worse for being buried in unconsecrated ground. But a large number of people did desire to be buried in consecrated ground, and, surely, that was a legitimate desire. Why should an obstacle be put in their way? The clause was unnecessary and bad. The fourth clause proposed to enact that any building which had been consecrated might be used for any service whatsoever. Was any kind of ceremony, religious or irreligious, to be performed in a consecrated edifice? Why should they injure the religious susceptibilities of Churchmen by giving their sanction to a proposal of this kind? If this clause were passed, a man who had no religious opinions at all would be able to declaim eulogies on his dead friends from the altars of the Church. Surely hon. Members opposite could not intend that it should be possible to use for infidel or atheistic purposes chapels which had been consecrated with the greatest solemnity. Clause 5, which had been described as simple and innocuous, would abolish the present power of control in respect of tombs in churchyards. But there must be some control, unless it was intended to permit any kind of inscription upon a tomb. [An hon. MEMBER: "Let the Burial Board have control."] The local authority would hardly be the best judge of the suitability of an inscription for a sacred place; but, as a matter of fact, no controlling power of the kind was given to the Local Authority by this Bill. Clause 11 would give Nonconformists 493 the right to insist that a funeral should Take place on a Sunday, or on Good Friday, or on Christmas Day. Why was that proposed? Would Nonconformists suffer any injustice if they were not permitted to bury members of their congregations on those particular days—days, be it remembered, on which almost continuous services were performed in our churches? What injustice could be caused by the postponement of a funeral for one day? Section 13 would take away the control of the Incumbent over the management of the graveyard of his church. If the clause passed he would no longer be able to determine where the graves were to be. The civil right to burial of Nonconformists did not include the right to be buried in any part of a churchyard which they might select. A sub-section related to the question of tolling the bell. The right to toll the bell was excluded specifically from the Act of 1880. There was a Division upon the question, and the Government tellers told against the insertion of a provision of this kind. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Denbighsbire said on that occasion that the Burials Bill dealt with churchyards and, therefore, in his opinion, conferred no right as to tolling of the bell. The fact was, that this was a case of development from the churchyard into the church. The intention, no doubt, was that at a future time Nonconformist services should be held in the churches. But he warned hon. Members opposite that they would not be able to stop there in this process of development. If they were going to throw the churches open for use by the Nonconformist bodies they would be asked to throw them open to the Unitarian bodies, and finally they would be asked to permit not only services of an orderly and Christian character in the churchyards, but also the declamations of infidels. Under Clause 14, a public body was restrained from conveying a glebe or other public land for the purpose of providing a burying-ground. What was the necessity for a provision of that kind? After all, though hon. Members opposite would not agree with the Church of England, there were a large number of people who did. These liked to be buried in consecrated as distinguished from other ground, and why should not the Rating Authorities be 494 allowed to meet the wishes of a large number of ratepayers in that way? Where did it hurt Nonconformists, or injure anything Nonconformists held dear, that a particular piece of land should be allotted for purposes which were demanded by a large number, probably the majority, of the ratepayers? Clause 16 said that the expression "public burying-ground" included any ground added to a churchyard by a Burial Authority after the commencement of this Act. So that if a Burial Authority found a churchyard full, they could not enlarge it without the particular piece of land added being made subject to all the disqualifications of this measure. That appeared to be a great hardship. In a large town, when a churchyard got too full, it ought to be perfectly possible for the public authority to join with a particular denomination in enlarging it, and there ought to be no disability attaching to the particular ground. For all these reasons, he submitted, the Bill proceeded on totally wrong lines. If the hon. Member had come to the House and said there was any injustice in connection with the fees, any difficulties which interfered with the civil rights of burial of Nonconformists, or about holding their services in public burial grounds, the House would carefully have considered the case, but he wanted to abolish the distinction between what was consecrated and what was not. A great many of our fellow subjects, however, believed in consecration and liked it, and so long as no injustice was inflicted upon Nonconformists, Legislators ought to be prepared, as far as in them lay, to provide that which their fellow citizens demanded, and which they had every right to have.
§ MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth),
said, the noble Lord, who had always been anxious, however much or little he failed in the endeavour, to understand the views of Nonconformists, asked what limit was to be placed upon the process of legislative evolution? He was afraid there was no limit to legislative finality in this country, except the common sense of the majority of the people expressed at the polling booths. He could, however, conceive nothing more derogatory to religious progress than 495 parcelling out our cemeteries or burial grounds into a series of spiritual allotments. The noble Lord said he had heard or read somewhere of Nonconformists who expressed a most acute anxiety to be buried with the rites of the Established Church. It was possible such people might exist. He knew that in the constituency the late Attorney General represented, some people were buried with the rites of the Established Church, and some of them were his Nonconformist supporters, but it was not because they wished to be so buried. He held in his hand a letter from one of those rare individuals, a dissenting Tory Minister, who, writing from Sandown, testified that in the Isle of Wight—it required no little courage to secure for Methodists churchyard rites;and further that—the people were afraid to displace the Vicar, for in the few cases where burial had taken place in accordance with the Act of 1880, he had manifested his spleen by using all the powers which the Law allowed.Most people who had confidence in the common sense of the people would never fear that if this Bill was passed, altars, if they existed in consecrated burial places, would be used for the purposes described by the noble Lord. The day was far distant when the awful pictures held up for their alarm by the noble Lord would be realised. If anyone would go to the large cemeteries round London, such as Kensal Green, or Abney Park, both of which, he understood, were in the hands of limited companies, and, therefore, perhaps not kept under such rigid control as a local authority would exercise, he would see that the imaginative fears of the noble Lord had no foundation whatever, so far as the inscriptions or the style of monument was concerned. There was nothing to offend the religious taste of the most fastidious people. He thought the views expressed by the hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill, and who had a large proportion of Roman Catholics in his constituency, would not be found to be in harmony with those of the authorities of that religious community. Roman Catholics were as anxious as other sections of Nonconformists for the Amendments of the Law contained in this Bill. The Wesleyans, the Methodists, the Independents, 496 the Presbyterians, had all, through their Parliamentary Committees and governing bodies, petitioned this House over and over again to amend the Burial Laws, and this not from any desire at all to pull down the Church of England. To a large extent, the Conservative Party itself had, in previous years, freely and frankly admitted the necessity of some such amendment of the Law. Reference had been made to Marten's Act. The Corporation of the City of Oxford, which contained, he presumed, a very large proportion of Churchmen, had adopted that Act in preference to the Burials Act. And why? Not because they objected to consecration, for no Nonconformist objected to consecration as a religious ceremony. He quite understood the desire of large bodies of people, including many Nonconformists, to be buried in land dedicated, by some religious ceremony, to the reception of the dead. He did not believe in consecration to the same extent and by the same method as the noble Lord; but he fully recognised the importance and justice of providing burial-grounds in consecrated land for Church-people and other people who might wish to be interred in such grounds. What Nonconformists objected to was not consecration as a religious ceremony, but the pecuniary conditions and the legal surroundings which followed the ecclesiastical ceremony of consecration. They did not think it was reasonable to expect the local authorities to raise such sums of money as £10,000 or £15,000 by rates from the local community, in order to provide cemeteries, and that a large percentage of revenues arising from the expenditure of that money should go into the pockets of the local clergy who did not do one stroke of work for the fees which they received. That really was the objection which local corporations had to the ceremony of consecration. The noble Lord objected that there would be no line of demarcation between the consecrated portion and the unconsecrated portion. But, surely, if the ceremony of consecration took place, there would be some method, such as by a map or a plan, for informing the person who would perform the ceremony of the portion that was to be consecrated. He thought a division of the land by means of boundaries, gates and posts would only 497 perpetuate those feelings of animosity which the noble Lord expressed his desire to see disappear. The Tory Party, or rather some Members of it, had shown, by the support given to Marten's Act, some desire to remove the grievances of the Nonconformists in this matter. Three years ago, a Public Health (Interments) Amendment Bill, having for its object the removal of some of the difficuities which the present measure aimed at removing, was brought in by a Conservative Member and backed entirely by Members of the same Party. And Mr. Ritchie, who was President of the Local Government Board in the late Conservative Government, addressing a deputation on the subject, expressed the belief that the law should be amended; that it was not desirable, in the interests of the peace arid good order of localities, that there should be those conflicting religious matters disturbing the local boards; and that it would be greatly to the advantage of the good government of the local districts, if those serious difficulties in the way of the working of the Burials Act were removed. His hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, said that local communities had had to struggle hard with the Home Office to resist the duty which the late Home Secretary and the present Home Secretary felt they were bound to discharge under the existing law. He could conceive nothing more objectionable to a Party in Office than to have to put into force a law which was repugnant to their feelings. But though Dissenters had often occasion in local districts to complain of the operation of the law under Marten's Act, as administered by the Local Government Board, and under the Burials Act as controlled by the Home Office, they recognised that it was the duty of the Departments to administer the existing law. It had been said that instances of clerical intolerance were few. He was sorry to say that, on the contrary, they were extremely many, and he did not see any likelihood of their becoming fewer in the future. The views of Nonconformity on matters of religious doctrine, ritual and discipline, were becoming more widely divergent from the views of the Church of England every day, and there was also a wider separation between Nonconformists and Churchpeople on political and social questions, so that it 498 was improbable that the Burials Law, as it existed, would be worked with even the measure of toleration with which it had been worked in the past. He had in his hand a letter from a clergyman named Morgan, who lived at Mochdre, in Montgomeryshire, in reference to the case of a lady, a non-parishioner, whose friends desired their relative to be buried with her deceased husband in the churchyard. The Vicar wrote that a non-parishioner had no right to have a grave opened under the Act of 1880, and that in this case he would only open the grave on two conditions—first, the payment of 20s., which was three times the ordinary payment, and second, that no other burial service but the service of the Church of England would be allowed. There was a curious condition imposed by a clergyman in Devonshire recently, who refused to have anything to do with the burial of a local Dissenter, because the undertaker happened to be a Wesleyan.If that man is permitted to come into the Church, I will not perform the service—he said. The parties gave him notice, under the Act of 1880, to conduct the service with a Dissenting Minister, and thereupon he retorted by refusing to allow the burial to take place in the grave previously selected and previously approved by him; and the interment had to take place in a part of the churchyard called the "Strangers' Hill," to which Nonconformists were relegated. At Caldecote, in the county of Monmouth, a Vicar refused to allow a son to bury his Dissenting mother with his Dissenting father in a grave near the Church door, unless the service of the Church of England were allowed; and the son, who desired to have the Wesleyan service read over his mother by the resident Methodist Minister, was obliged to take his mother to be buried, five or six miles away, in Newport cemetery. Many Vicars charged a fee for tolling the bell for a Nonconformist funeral, and there were numerous cases in which a bier had been refused. In one case, which occurred near Stroud, the Vicar positively offered to pay the expense of the burial of a Roman Catholic in another cemetery, as he objected to a Roman Catholic in the churchyard; and when this was refused, the coffin had to be laid on two chairs in 499 the churchyard, because the Vicar would not allow the bier to be used. It might be said that all those things were illegal, and that they could be prevented in a court of law. Even were that true, how could those poor people go to the expense of bringing the cases into a court of law? There were also many doubtful points under the Act of 1880, which Nonconformists reasonably and legitimately desired should be cleared up. For instance, Clause 14 of the Bill provided that any private land purchased for churchyard purposes, should be subject to the conditions of the Act of 1880, as amended by the present Bill if it were passed. The object of the clause was to meet a rather common case of attempted evasion of the condition of the Act of 1880, by the purchase of a piece of land adjacent to the churchyard, vesting it in trustees, and declaring that it was Church property, in which people could only be buried with the rites of the English Church. If Churchmen liked to select a piece of land and to be buried there by special rites, this was a free country, and as long as they observed sanitary regulations, they might be buried there to their hearts' contents. But his objection was to colourable evasions of the Act of 1880. He would mention a case, which came to his notice a few years ago, in order to show why it was asked that the length of notice should be shortened from 48 hours to 24. The case occurred at Kiln-down in Kent, in connection with the death of the son of a Wesleyan labourer. The Wesleyan Minister walked a distance of ten miles to conduct the child's funeral; but the funeral party were stopped at the churchyard gates by the Curate, who said that the funeral could not take place because only 46 hours' notice instead of 48 had been given. This was on a Thursday; a new notice had to be drawn up, and, as Sunday was a dies non, the funeral could not take place till Monday. The Rector was away in the first instance, but when he returned he discovered another informality—namely, that the second notice had not been signed by the same person as the first. The funeral party was again met at the churchyard gate by the Rector and the Curate, and a long protest was read by the latter. 500 As the case had come to his knowledge, he had written a private letter to the Rector saying that if the funeral were interfered with a second time he should apply to the courts of law for an Injunction to restrain the interference with the funeral. In consequence of that letter the child was allowed to be buried on the Monday by the Wesleyan Minister. It had been stated in the House recently that Dissenters did not understand the sentiment and imagination with which Churchmen surrounded their graveyards. In years to come would there be no sentiment and imagination in the minds of the children who attended this funeral with respect to the Established Church? There was nothing more derogatory to the dignity of the Church than these unseemly scenes, and nothing more calculated to bring the Church into contempt. Such action was not isolated, but of frequent occurrence among the local clergy. On that ground, as an English Nonconformist, he thanked the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and hoped it would receive the support of the Government.
§ MR. J. W. SIDEBOTHAM (Cheshire, Hyde)
said, that he had for several Sessions a Bill on this subject in his charge. If he had not re-introduced the Bill this Session it was not because his opinions had changed, but because he had been unsuccessful in the ballot. The present Bill, however, contained some proposals which were most mischievous and irritating, and which no Churchman could support. The first part dealt almost exclusively with cemeteries provided by the local authorities; and in this connection no one would deny that some Legislation was needed. He was connected with three separate districts in the north, and in each of them during the last six years the cemetery question had been a burning question. It was the prominent question in all local elections, and in one district at least it was the only question. In each place the local authority had provided a cemetery, and had refused application for a portion to be consecrated. In the Hyde Town Council the question was constantly giving rise to acrimonious debates; and this condition of things would certainly increase, because every year the churchyards were becoming 501 more crowded, and the possibility of enlarging them, except in country places, was becoming infinitesimal. In the north the local authority usually provided the cemetery under the Public Health Interment Act of 1875, known as Marten's Act. Under that Act the question of consecration or non-consecration was left absolutely to the discretion of the local authority; and in the majority of cases they refused to permit consecration. The ground of refusal was almost always the same. The objection was not to consecration per se, but to the rights and privileges which consecration carried with it. Under the present law, if a portion of a cemetery were consecrated, that portion became for all practical purposes an extension of the parish churchyard. The Bishop could require the local authority to appoint a chaplain, to whom they had to pay such salary as the Bishop approved. The chaplain kept the register, and his consent was necessary to the appointment of some of the minor officials. Then the local authority was compelled to build within the consecrated portion a chapel on plans approved by the Bishop, and the Bishop had a right of veto over every monumental inscription in the consecrated portion. Further, the burial fees could be claimed by the incumbent, whether he was present or not; and the consecration fees had to be paid by the local authority. He could understand the feelings—though he thought they were exaggerated—of those who said that the instantaneous effect of consecration was to remove all popular control from the consecrated portion, and to make it the property of the Bishop. These grievances were recognised as legitimate grievances by many Church-people. At Wakefield a very strong Committee was appointed by the Bishop of the diocese to consider the question of the consecration of the burial-ground. This Committee reported that the consecrated portion of any new burial-ground carried with it the right to the incumbent which was vested in him with regard to the churchyard; and that it was objected, in consequence, that the 502 new burial-ground provided by the rates might become a new endowment for the incumbent. The Committee were of opinion that such an objection as that ought to be satisfied, as it was not difficult to make arrangements, and they recommended that legal security should be given, if possible, by insertion of some clause in the deed of consecration. With regard to the cost of consecration, and the provision of chapels, the Committee pointed out that difficulties might arise, but sufficient latitude was given under the Act for such difficulties to be met by concession or arrangement. So that this strong Committee suggested that consecration fees should be paid voluntarily by Churchmen, and that the difficulty as to chapels could be met by arrangement. He would take one other instance: the Church of England clergy had presented a memorial to the Hythe County Council within the last three weeks, signed by all the Churchpeople and clergy in Hythe. That memorial stated that the only point of difference which existed was the retention of the fee for interment by the Church of England clergy, and that to remedy this all the clergy of the borough had unanimously agreed not to receive the fee when the funeral service was not conducted by them. That was to say, that under the law these clergy were entitled to receive certain fees, but they had unanimously agreed to set aside the law and to make no claim to these fees. As regarded the appointment of a chaplain, the proposal had been made that it should be merely a nominal one, with a stipend of only a pound a year. He contended that all these concessions proved conclusively that the privileges which existed were not wanted, nor even valued, by those who possessed them; and that there was no reason why they should be removed by law. In a circular which had been issued by the Liberation Society it had been stated that the Bill would free Nonconformists from endless exactions. He was sorry to see such a statement as that, because it tended to make the Bill a Party measure; but it was the greatest mistake in the world 503 to suppose that Churchmen were not as much interested in the settlement of this question as Nonconformists. The present state of things was that the churchyards were full, or almost full, while the Local Authority provided a cemetery but refused to consecrate any portion of it. A cruel injustice was thus done to the Churchman who had to pay his share towards the purchase and maintenance of the cemetery, while he was practically precluded from using it. They wanted consecrated ground, but they did not wish to deprive the Local Authority of its legitimate rights. He, for one, would be quite content to leave the absolute control of such consecrated ground to the Local Authority. He had no fear that they would abuse their trust by allowing indecent or blasphemous inscriptions on any of the monuments, or any violation of the sanctity of the place. He believed a better plan was that adopted by the Roman Catholic Church, whose priest consecrated the individual grave at the time of interment; but, failing that, he was prepared to support a reasonable alteration of the present law. Clause 2 provided that a certain portion of the ground might be consecrated, but would not allow any means of identifying that portion. He thought that to make that proposal was to trifle with the question. Was the hon. Member aware that it had been held that a pathway was a sufficient line of demarcation between consecrated and unconsecrated ground? Would he refuse to allow even a pathway to distinguish the consecrated area? No Bishop would ever dream of consecrating any portion of ground the position of which was unknown. He urged that cemetery chapels built for the Church of England, and consecrated for their service, should not be thrown open to any other bodies, and suggested that the Local Authority should have power to build three chapels if desired. There were some portions of the Bill of which he approved, and some to which he 504 very strongly objected; after considerable hesitation he had concluded to give his support to the Bill, while reserving to himself entire liberty of action in Committee, as he thought that in Committee it would be possible to remove the most objectionable features of the Bill.
§ *SIR G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
said, it was exactly 25 years ago since he had first brought this question before the House of Commons, and it took ten years to carry into law that most moderate instalment of justice, the Act of 1880. So moderate was that Act that Lord Selborne, whom no one could accuse of hostility to the Church, consented to take charge of it in the House of Lords. The Act of 1880 and the present Bill dealt with different matters—the Act dealt principally with churchyards, but this Bill related mainly to cemeteries. It was true that when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill of 1880 he expressed the hope that that Measure would close a painful and distressing controversy, but he had been disappointed. Still, not one of the terribly gloomy predictions which were made at the time as the consequence of the passing of the Act had been fulfilled. True, there had been many scandals, but none of them had come from Nonconformists. He was willing to admit that the great majority of the clergy had accepted the Act of 1880 frankly and loyally, but there was this defect in it—it left the churchyard in the absolute control and power of the Incumbent, who, therefore, had the power to decide where a parishioner should be buried in the churchyard, and whether a non-parishioner should be buried there at all. But that power was not given to the Incumbent for the benefit of the Church and Churchmen only; it was given for the benefit of the whole parish. Incumbents, however, had over and over again, especially in Wales, asserted the right of refusing burials in the churchyards 505 to non-parishioners unless the service of the Church of England were used. This, he contended, was a distinct fraud on the Act, and it had caused much pain and inconvenience. It was intended, therefore, by the 12th Section of the Bill to prevent the recurrence of that injustice. The question of the cemeteries was now far more important than that of the churchyards, for, while the latter were everywhere being closed, cemeteries were constantly increasing in number. Under Marten's Act of 1845, it was not obligatory on burial authorities to consecrate any portion of cemetery, but, on the other hand, the 21st and victoria, s. 12, made it imperative on them, not only to consecrate a portion of the cemetery, but also to build a chapel on the consecrated ground. This had been productive of the greatest possible inconvenience and hardship to parishes. The cemeteries were provided and supported out of the rates, and over and over again various Burial Boards had endeavoured to find some way of avoiding the hardship. The noble Lord the Member for Rochester had asked why they should object to consecration. The answer of the Nonconformists was, that they had not the slightest objection to it as a religious ceremony. There was no reason why, under the present Bill, if it passed into law, any part, two-thirds, or even the whole, of a cemetery should not be consecrated. But what Nonconformists objected to was, that consecration should carry with it the legal consequences it did at present. On this point he might cite the opinions of many eminent Churchmen, including one Archhishop and five Bishops, who all deprecated in the strongest terms the perpetuation of this division in God's Acre between consecrated and unconsecrated ground. He believed the question would have been solved long since but for the one matter of fees. On this point there was an immense body of evidence collected by the Select Committee, which sat some 506 years since on the question, and examined 33 witness. Witnesses after Witness spoke to the great hardship indicted on Nonconformists by the payment of double fees. The substance of that evidence, as stated in the report of the Committee, was that—As regards burial fees proper, there exists the greatest possible divergence of practice in various parts of the country, consequent upon the fact that (excepting in a few cases where they have been made the subject of statutory enactment) this payment is governed entirely by the custom of each individual parish. In many parishes (including nearly the whole diocese of Salisbury) no fee at all is payable for the simple interment of a parishioner in the parochial churchyard or cemetery. In other places, as in a large part of North Wales, no fixed fee is paid in such a case, and the clergyman is remunerated for performing the service by the voluntary offerings of the persons present at the funerals. In cases where the custom is to charge a fixed fee for the burial of a parishioner, that fee varies from a few pence to several shillings; but the charge rises rapidly where the right to a brick grave or enclosed space is sought to be purchased; and instances are not infrequent in which five guineas, and even more, are claimed for such a privilege in the case of the burial of a non-parishioner in the parish churchyard. In that case the Incumbent is practically at liberty to demand any fee he likes, inasmuch as he is not under any legal obligation to permit the burial to take place at all.The Committee went on to say that, whilst on the one hand unpleasantness arose if a clergyman refused to permit an interment to take place until his fee was paid, on the other hand, if he allowed the funeral to take place without claiming his fee, it was doubtful whether he would be able to recover it. From the point of view of either clergyman or parishioners, it was impossible to conceive a state of things more unsatisfactory than that; and, accordingly, the Committee, by a majority, recommended that burial fees should be abolished or uniformly reduced to very small sums. One thing on which they were agreed was, that no fees should he paid at all if the service were not performed by the Incumbent. These were the principles applied in the Bill, but not carried to their full extent, while care was taken to preserve the rights of existing Incumbents. Nearly all the objections that had been raised to the Bill referred to details which would 507 be properly considered in Committee. Then what was there really to object to in the Bill? The Committee stated that the loss in fees to the clergy would be exceedingly small. Putting the question of fees aside, could anyone desire that the distinction between consecrated and unconsecrated ground should be maintained? Could the keeping up of these "spiritual allotments," as they had been called, be for the benefit of the Church? The late Dean of Chester, Dr. Howson, speaking in the Convocation of York on July 6, 1880, and referring to cemetery divisions, said:—Duplicate chapels were conspicuous everywhere about the country. Travellers from the Continent of Europe, and especially from America, were struck with them, and asked what was the reason; and the answer was: 'It is the principle of the English—a principle that, even in death, we are to be visibly divided.' Our children were brought up in the sight of those duplicate chapels, and when they asked what was the meaning of these circumstances their answer was: 'It is the existing principle of the English that even the wounds which have been felt during lifetime cannot be healed in death.' A gentleman once said to him: 'These divided cemetery chapels are the very purification of Dissent.' If we wanted to weaken the Church of England and strengthen Nonconformity, he should say: 'Perpetuate this system of burial chapels and divided cemeteries.'He believed the Dean was right. Speaking from experience, he could say that nothing had done more, especially in Wales, to weaken the Church, and to hasten and strengthen the demand for Disestablishment, than the attitude adopted by certain of the clergy upon this burials question; for surely God's Acre and the open grave were the very worst battle-ground that could be chosen by the defenders of the Church. In the words of Dean Howson, therefore, he would say: "If you want to weaken the Church, and strengthen Nonconformity, reject this Bill."
§ MR. H. MATTHEWS (Birmingham, E.)
said, that he was quite free from the passionate feelings that had animated speakers on both sides of the House. He was not a member of the Church of England, nor of one of those Dissenting bodies that had taken part in the controversy 508 on the burials question; and he desired to view the Bill in a very dry light indeed. When hon. Members opposite spoke of scandals under the Act of 1880 his sympathies were with them. When the Act was passed he conceived it to be the duty of the clergy of the Church of England loyally and liberally to give effect to its provisions, and he hoped that petty annoyances and squabbles were about to be entirely avoided. But it was the very smallest part of the Bill, as he viewed it, that was directed to the prevention of such scandals. A great deal had been made of the case of the non-parishioner, but he must protest against that case being made a grievance, because the claim to bury a non-parishioner was a distinct wrong to the parish, and it did not make any difference whether he was a Churchman or a Dissenter. The question of the non-parishioner ought to be put aside altogether. The clause relating to a non-parishioner was one of the most objectionable clauses foisted into the Bill; and rather than pass it he would prefer to prohibit the burial of a non-parishioner in a parochial burial-ground or a churchyard.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
said, if he slept there one night he was a parishioner. He must express the strongest objection to the proposal that any burial authority might take land compulsorily for the purposes of a burial-ground. The Bill went beyond all former Burial and Cemetery Acts, which did not give compulsory powers; and, while the Bill incorporated a single clause of the Public Health Act, which gave compulsory powers to sanitary authorities, it did not incorporate the clauses which imposed a variety of limitations and restrictions. It was true that Marten's Act gave compulsory powers to sanitary authorities; but it incorporated all the clauses of the Public Health Act. He remembered the vehement feelings, 509 quite unconnected with any question of Church of Dissent, which used to be aroused by the attempt to form a cemetery anywhere, and how localities rose up in arms against such proposals. To give such compulsory power to a Cemetery Company would be an unwise piece of Legislation, and likely to raise a large storm of opposition in the localities where it was sought to apply those powers. The succeeding clauses formed the most amusing attack on the Church of England he had ever seen. The members of that Church liked to be buried in consecrated ground by a chaplain of their own body, and as the burial service of their Church prescribed. However much the hon. Member and his friends might commiserate with that state of mind they must admit it was a perfectly legitimate one to be in. But the hon. Member had produced a set of clauses which would make it impossible to consecrate cemeteries, and, accordingly, no member of the Church could be buried in it without a great shock being given to the members nomination. It had been portion of the ground secrated, say a third; but a part could not be marked out for that purpose, and he ventured to inform the House that there could be no such thing as the consecration of an undefined part of a cemetery. There must be a defined space in order to consecrate at all. The ground so consecrated, however, the Bill proposed to throw open for the burial of all kinds of persons, and, although the Rubrics of the Church of England prohibited certain classes being buried in its cemeteries, yet this Bill was to make all interments compulsory. The Bill also provided that no consecration fees were to be claimed, and no fees in fact beyond what were paid elsewhere were to be paid for a burial in the consecrated part of the cemetery. Perhaps it did not become him to speak of such a matter, but he could not help thinking that the Church of England 510 would have exercised much wisdom if it had settled that question in Convocation. But, whatever feeling they might have with regard to the question of fees, that was hardly the place to deal with them. It was a purely domestic question resting between the members of the Church of England and her clergy. Then, again, there was the matter of the chapels already consecrated which had been built but of the funds of the Church for the burial services of her members; but he would not say much about the gross and flagrant proposal of the Bill that she should no longer have the use of them. What did the Bill propose in that respect? That they should be open to Mahomedans and Pagans and whosoever might be taken there. In fact, it turned; the chapels into common buildings available for all classes of persons, which he thought an extremely unjust and improper course. Then there was a minor point which provided that in the consecrated part of the burial-ground the Bishop was to have no voice over the monumental inscriptions. What grievance could Dissenters possibly have in the fact that a Bishop should have some control over the monumental inscriptions over those who in life had looked upon him as their spiritual head? The clause regarding paupers would repeal two Acts of Parliament, which were well considered at the time of their passing, and was to him inconceivable and unintelligible. Then there was Clause 8. He did not know whether the hon. Member was aware what that clause would do, but if the House would look into it they would see that it gave to Nonconformists, in a new burial-ground, acquired exclusively by some particular parish, power to exclude the vicar or rector as the case might be, and conduct their own service without any condition whatsoever. The first part of the Bill, therefore, would lead to a series of difficulties, which were intended to outrage the feelings of members of the Church of England, by depriving them of the possibility of funeral rites in these 511 new cemeteries in accordance with their religious convictions. He had never been able to understand whence these passionate feelings against the Church had arisen. The members of that Church to which he belonged had for 300 years to conduct their burials in the churchyards of the Church of England, one of whose ministers always read the service. But, although those churches were parted by differences of doctrine and ritual as wide as any of those between the Church and the Dissenters, yet, so far as he was aware, the body to which he belonged never thought the prayers of a minister in religion would injure them. Of course they were now conducting their own funeral services, but he had never been able to understand the extraordinary passion which was raised in the Dissenting breast by the prayers of a Church of England minister. Then again with regard to the second part of the Bill, only a small part of it applied to the real grievances of the Dissenting body, and shortening the hours of notice would in no way have the effect of getting rid of matters such as had been complained of by the hon. Member for the Louth Division. With regard to the reluctance exhibited by some of the clergy of the Church of England to cordially obey the Burials Act of 1880, so far as his experience went, such cases were extremely few. During the six years he had been at the Home Office he did not remember more than three or four cases in which serious complaint was made of these most indecent hindrances thrown in the way of a funeral conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1880. His belief was, that these cases were becoming rarer and rarer every day; but, still, some little indulgence might be shown towards those few clergy of the Church of England who—from narrow convictions perhaps, but from convictions which were perfectly sincere—resisted these new-fashioned funerals, in which some foreign religious service was introduced into the freehold of the Vicar. It was a piece of intolerable tyranny to insist that a clergyman of the Church of England should not be allowed, with the consent of his Bishop, to devote a portion of his glebe to burying members of the Church in a parish which had an overcrowded churchyard. The Bill did not attack 512 any Roman Catholic or Wesleyan burial-ground, but only Church of England burial-grounds. For these reasons, and because the hon. Member had not thrown out any hint of a desire to modify these points, he intended to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I cordially concur in what my right hon. Friend the Member for Denbighshire has said; and am astonished that friends of the Church of England should choose, as the battlefield upon which to fight the question of Establishment and Endowment, the open grave. I think it is a very unwise piece strategy, and I think it is a course which will not commend itself to the judgment of right-thinking people in the country. The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down practically admits all the grievances against which the Bill is directed. He spoke of his own experience at the Home Office. My experience of five years there was different from his. In my recollection there was, from the passing of the Act of 1880, a constant effort to defeat the intention of Parliament. This came before me in instances which, not wishing to shock the feelings of the House, I will not recite; but they were instances which I deeply deplored. It has been said by Members opposite that we were promised that the Act of 1880 should be final Legislation on this subject. It would have been final Legislation if the clergy of the Church of England had accepted the decision of Parliament in good faith. The right hon. Gentleman opposite objects first of all to the compulsory powers in the first clause. We had this same question raised, and, unhappily, resisted upon sectarian grounds, when Dissenters were not able to obtain sites for chapels. That Bill passed through the House of Commons, and it was altered in the House of Lords. [Opposition Cries of "No."]
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then I have been misinformed; it is, however, a grievance of exactly the same character.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
The right. hon. Gentleman is quite in error. We did not resist the Bill. It passed through this House by arrangement.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
If the noble Lord says so, I will not question it for a moment; but I will go back to the question of compulsory powers. The right hon. Gentleman has raised the question of consecration. No one contends for a moment that members of the Church of England should not have the right of burial in consecrated ground if they desire it; but the right hon. Gentleman raises the question of the absolute necessity of a provision to have consecrated ground. He knows perfectly well the whole history of this question at the Home Office, and that the Home Office has been called upon to insist upon a division of consecrated ground in the cemeteries taken by Burial Boards; and he knows that the Home Office has been utterly unable to enforce such conditions, and have been advised by their legal advisers on the subject.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The right hon. Gentleman is referring to the law under which the previous consent of the Home Office must be obtained before new ground can be opened. It is quite true that the refusal is one which can only be given on sanitary grounds; but the moment they have got their cemetery, the Burial Boards are bound to consecrate part of it. I myself obtained a mandamus in the case of two or three Burial Boards, which immediately dissolved.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The Home Office cannot enforce the condition, and, consequently, if the Home Office persists, the Burial Boards elude the Home Office. But what the right hon. Gentleman lays down as a profound principle in reference to the separation of the consecrated from the unconsecrated land falls to the ground altogether. There is another matter which has been touched rather gingerly by hon. Gentlemen opposite, and which I observed the right hon. Gentleman especially shirked—that was the question of fees. The right hon. Gentleman said nothing about them; but there is the question not only of Establishment, but the question of Endowment; and the question of fees is considered quite as material a part of this business as consecration—probably much more so. What is the situation with reference to the question of fees? There was a Committee on 514 Ecclesiastical and Mortuary Fees in 1882, and that Committee reported:—Your Committee recommend that if ecclesiastical burial fees, as distinct from secular charges for the burial of parishioners within prescribed hours, are retained at all, Legislation for their regulation should be based on the principle that they are only to be retained in cases where a burial service of the Church of England is actually read over the corpse to be buried, or on behalf of the Incumbent demanding the fee.That is the just principle which is incorporated in this Bill in favour of abolition. Again, the Committee state that—there is the almost universal practice in the diocese of Salisbury, and the recommendation of the Bishop and Synod of Salisbury, that there should be no ecclesiastical fee for the burial of a parishioner in a common grave. There is also the practice of many parishes in various parts of the country where parishioners are buried free of any ecclesiastical fee; and it should be remembered that by the early canons of the Church, which have not been rescinded, the clergy are forbidden to take any money payment for burial.The spirit that dictated those early canons does not seem now to prevail. The view of the Church on that subject is not the same as it was in those days. I have heard of a deputation which recently went to the Home Office. One of the Members present was a gentleman from Hampstead, and he stated the case of Hampstead with reference to fees in the cemetery there, which was built out of the public money of the ratepayers. He says:—The cemetery was opened in 1876, owing to the impossibility of the parish churchyard accommodating any more burials. The amount of loans raised was £26,500, and the calls on the rates since have amounted to £16,200 for the purposes of these Burial Acts. The number of interments in the consecrated ground since the opening have been 6,500, and the amount in fees received by the Incumbent has been £10,500, making the average fee which the Incumbent has received on each interment in consecrated ground 32s.; and, curiously enough, it is just over 30s. that the rates have been called upon on an average for every interment at that cemetery; and thus in the case of Hampstead the result is arrived at that, although Church rates have been abolished, yet they have practically reappeared in another form, since, for every 30s. that the ratepayers have been called upon to raise for the purpose of their cemetery, an equal amount has gone into the pocket of the Vicar.This, therefore, is a very material question. It was a deputation, besides, not of Dissenters alone, but of persons who, 515 I observe, were introduced by Mr. G. H. Allsopp, M.P., who cannot be regarded as a party to the sectarian view of the question with respect to fees being charged upon ground provided out of public money. The question of the exact right of property that the Incumbent had in the churchyard is another aspect of the subject; it is a property subject to the common right of the parishioners to be buried there; but when new land is purchased at the expense of the public, to contend that the Incumbent should be allowed to use land so provided out of public money for the purpose of increasing his own emoluments is, I think, a very questionable proposition indeed. They are not fees levied on the land of the Church, because that ground is the freehold of the parish, the freehold of the local community; yet there is a portion of that freehold which is employed for the purpose of increasing the emoluments of the Incumbent in the manner referred to in that representation of the deputation. I do not think that the noble Lord opposite said anything with reference to fees, yet the Bill deals with that question in a manner which is perfectly just and right. Having regard to the Report of the Committee of 1882, which I have quoted, which was composed of a number of names who were not hostile to the Church—names like those of Sir Edmund Lechmere, Mr. Stanley Leighton, Sir H. Fletcher, and other well-known men, who were ardent supporters of the claims of the Church, I think the House will pause long time before it refuses a Second Reading to a Bill, which has for its object the redress of a grievance of this kind. It has been said that if they do not want to pay these fees the Nonconformists need not be buried in consecrated ground. But supposing that a person has become a Nonconformist, and that his relatives have been members of the Church of England, he naturally wishes to be buried by the side of his friends and nearest relatives. What is the consequence? His representatives are to be charged those fees in order to bury this man among his own family, simply because the ground happens to be consecrated in which his family were buried; and the clergyman of the Church of England, who does not perform the service, is to receive a fee for 516 that burial. No right-minded man can fail to see that it would be an act of gross injustice to reject a Bill which proposes to redress a grievance of that character; indeed it would be a most unwise and improper act. I take, again, the case of chapels. What is this chapel to which hon. Gentlemen claim such an exclusive right? Whose money was it with which they were built? On what principle do you maintain that you have a right to build a church out of the rates and to appropriate it to the service of some particular community? A doctrine of this kind would not be accepted for a moment. Then we come to the other clauses, some portions of which the right hon. Gentleman admitted were necessary. But those clauses were necessary to prevent odious acts, he would not say of tyranny, but those methods which have been resorted and it is the duty of Parliament to provide against the exercise of those acts, almost spiteful in their character. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the action of the Nonconformists with reference to the Church of England; but there were also acts on the part of certain clergymen relating to the Nonconformists. The right hon. Gentleman admits and deplores acts of this character; but he does not deny that there are portions of the clauses which are directed to prevent in future these acts from being committed. He says:—Oh! but you will never be able to prevent those acts of intolerant persecution in matters of this kind.Well, we must try, and we must express the opinion of Parliament that actions of this kind are being condemned. It is because this Bill does, in fact, provide remedies against those acts, against extortion in the matter of fees, that, subject to discussion in Committee, and subject to whatever modifications may be thought proper to introduce in a Bill of this character, we shall certainly give on behalf of the Government a most hearty support to its Second Reading.
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, that the right hon. Gentleman had not spoken one word as to several important matters which had been raised in the Debate as objections to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman began by stating that, according to his experience at the Home Office, attempts were constantly 517 being made by the clergy to evade the Act of 1880. The right hon. Gentleman left the Home Office in 1885; but he did not know of a single occasion during the right hon. Gentleman's stay at the Home Office, or since, when he had publicly declared, till to-day, that there was a necessity for further Legislation in regard to the Burials Act. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had entirely overlooked the objections to the Bill as far as it dealt with consecration. It was not a question of machinery or of getting over difficulties which occurred at the Home Office. Although in some cases the Burial Boards had been dissolved, they had generally found successors who were willing to obey the law.
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER
said, that he did not remember a case in his official life of the Bishop refusing to consecrate. The objection to the Bill was not that an amendment of the law in regard to consecration should be proposed; was not that there should be any extra freedom of use of the unconsecrated portion,—the objection was, that by this Bill, even where there had been a consecration before the Act, all restrictions and disabilities were to be removed; and that, in fact, the consecrated ground was to become unconsecrated for the purpose of burials. Neither the Mover of the Second Reading nor any other Member had suggested a shadow of grievance such as would call for Parliament taking a step which must be regarded by all Churchmen as a monstrous aggression, and as removing from consecrated ground all its sanctity.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
The object of the Bill is not to remove the religious consecration. It is only to remove the exaction of fees and the interposition of obstacles to the burial of other people in consecrated ground.
§ SIR R. E. WEBSTER
said, that he was referring to what was said by the promoters of the Bill, and to what the provisions of the Bill contained. If the right hon. Gentleman would read the Bill he would see that no effect could be given to its clauses without removing all restrictions as to burials in consecrated ground. The right hon. Gentleman had had a close and intimate connection with the Church of England, and 518 did he suggest that the clergymen of that Church would regard with equanimity the reading of some service totally unconnected with the religious views of the Church in consecrated ground? Such provisions as those in the Bill ought not to be introduced except some grievance could be proved which it was impossible to remedy in any other way. As to the question of fees, it was a very singular thing that there was very little in the Bill about it. The right hon. Gentleman spoke as if the main object of the Bill were to get rid of these fees. He himself doubted very much whether the language of Clause 8 would effect what the right hon. Gentleman believed it would effect; but he noticed the Memorandum at the head of the Bill, which stated that all the existing rights of incumbents in regard to fees had been reserved. No one who had listened to the Debate could doubt that the question of fees was a very small portion of what the promoters of the Bill aimed at. The main object was shown by the first seven clauses, dealing with the removal of certain requirements now applicable to consecrated ground. On what ground was the Bishop to be deprived of the power of preventing in consecrated ground the inscriptions of epitaphs opposed to the religious sentiment of the Church of England? Another provision was that in a consecrated chapel any service could be conducted. The right hon. Gentleman had not been sufficiently instructed as to what the Bill really meant. It was idle to suggest that the promoters simply desired to get rid of fees; for as to the way of levying those fees perhaps some Churchmen might desire to see a change as much as any Dissenter. Singularly little had been said, from the Nonconformist point of view, as to these fees; and he should like to know what, exactly, the grievance was, and to see a remedy proposed on broad and general lines, without being mixed up with other questions. There were one or two other points in the Bill which required explanation on the part of Her Majesty's Government. By the first clause of the Bill compulsory powers were given to the Burial Boards for purchasing burial-grounds. He doubted whether such a change in the law ought ever to be initiated without the consent 519 and even the control of the responsible Government of the day. It was really a Home Office clause. All the existing provisions with regard to the closing of burial-grounds and the acquisition of new sites were under the supervision of the Home Office; and a sweeping measure which set aside all the objections of so many people ought to be more carefully considered. The House ought to know on what ground the Government approved this part of the Bill, which effected quite as important a change in the law as any of the minor provisions to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had called attention. Nowadays he should have thought that a change in those Acts, which required that a pauper should receive Christian burial in consecrated ground, would receive some consideration. Why should that provision be set aside? The pauper was not present to speak for himself. The House ought to be careful in interfering with the rights of Christian burial, which the poor valued very highly. There was much more sentiment and feeling on the subject among the poor than might be supposed by those who had not come closely into contact with them. What case had been made out for imposing at the will of Nonconformists privileges which were not considered necessary at the time of the passing of the Act of 1880? What case had been made out for shortening the hours, or for compulsory burial on Good Friday, Christmas Day, and Sunday? On those points no substantial grievance had been felt in any part of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill brought nothing before the House to show that a grievance had been felt in this respect. But the right hon. Member for Denbighshire seemed to suggest that there had been in Wales more cases of attempted interference with burials under the Act of 1880 than in other parts of the United Kingdom. That was strangely inconsistent with the answer he gave the other night when he interrupted to show that there had been very little necessity for the Act of 1880 in Wales, because there were so many Nonconformist bodies there who had their own places of burial. At any rate, it was a matter which many on the Conservative side of the House considered 520 was to a large extent settled in 1880. It had, they believed, worked satisfactorily for a period of nearly 15 years. He did not deny that there had been cases which would call for slight alteration of the law if considered sufficiently important to merit the interference of Parliament. It was all very well to conceal under mild expressions and polite manners feelings of antagonism to the Church. When he heard the hon. Member who introduced the Bill say it was not introduced with any feeling of antagonism to the Church, that it was no part of any scheme of the Liberation Society, or connected with the Disestablishment of the Church, he himself thought it very strange, if the Bill was no part of the programme, that they should find such clauses as they had found in it. No one could read these clauses without feeling that they were framed by those who desired to wound and injure the Church of England, to get further rights and privileges to which the previous condition of the law, and previous experience of the law gave them no claim; and he trusted that, if the House should see fit to read this Bill a second time, it would be so amended in Committee that it would only deal with the particular grievances that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought fit to take notice of, and that there would be removed from it those aggressive clauses which this Debate had brought out in strong relief, and to which Churchmen were entitled to take exception.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 224; Noes 113.—(Division list No. 20.)
§ Bill read 2°.
§ MR. J. CARVELL WILLIAMS moved that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law.
§ Objection being taken, the Motion was deferred until To-morrow.