§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In so doing, I would like to say that this matter has, I am afraid, a very long history. The Act of Parliament which set up the Welsh Commissioners was passed as long ago as 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the last great war, and since then there has been two interruptions by great wars, one or two legal complications, and a great deal of disagreement between the various parties concerned in the solution of the problem, with the result that the disposal of the burial grounds which were involved in the Act of Disestablishment has not yet been settled. I hope I am going to have the honour and distinction of being the first Home Secretary, who has been able successfully to advise Parliament as to the solution of the problem. Indeed, the Bill aims at bringing to a final issue and settlement this difficult and prolonged matter on a basis which I have very fully discussed unofficially with Welsh Members of Parliament, with Welsh local authorities, and with the Representative Body, and I believe that we have reached an amicable settlement which will be acceptable to all the persons and parties concerned.
The Bill vests in the Representative Body of the Church in Wales the burial grounds which are at present vested in the Welsh Commissioners, and those burial grounds which are now vested in local authorities which, by agreement however, they may subsequently if they so wish transfer to the Representative Body if there is also agreement on the part of the Representative Body. To achieve this, the Bill amends the Welsh Church Act of 1914 which required the Welsh Commissioners to transfer to different authorities the different categories 516 of burial grounds which that Act vested in them.
The degree to which the Act of 1914 has been given effect may be stated in this way. There are a certain number of burial grounds which were private benefactions. These are properties given to the Church since the Act of Uniformity of 1662 and they go, under the Act of 1914, to the Representative Body. They number over 200 and most of them have actually transferred to the Representative Body already. It is often, however, impossible to delimit which part of a burial ground is, in fact, a private benefaction and some of these, therefore, still remain vested in the Welsh Commissioners. Under this Bill they will go to the Representative Body as was required by the Act of 1914, and we shall tidy up these delimited areas and enable the land to be dealt with as a whole. Then there is a further class of burial grounds—the closed burial grounds. These were closed before 31st March, 1920, which was the date of the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales They numbered 170 and, as required by the Act of 1914, they have been transferred on request by the Welsh Commissioners to the Representative Body.
Finally, there are the remaining burial grounds, which constitute the greater number, These, sometimes called the "ancient burial grounds," had under the Act of 1914 to be transferred to the local burial authority or, if there was no local burial authority, then to the borough or urban district council or to the parish council. In effect, the transferability was in most cases to the parish council. Some 150 ancient burial grounds have been so transferred since the legislation has been in operation, but there are about 700 of them which are still vested in the Welsh Commissioners. They are only so vested for the reason that only some 15 per cent. of the smaller local authorities agreed to accept the transfer. Under the Welsh Church Act of 1919, no body of persons was bound to accept the transfer of property from the Welsh Commissioners until they were so required by the Secretary of State but it was the case that successive Home Secretaries—and I think they were right—with over 80 per cent. of the parish councils refusing to accept the transfer of burial grounds, did not feel they could exercise this power of direction. I think, in those circumstances, 517 that they could not very well do other than stand aloof.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
Is it not a fact that these burial grounds which could not be transferred, although vested in the Commissioners, are still actually under the control of the incumbents?
§ Mr. Morrison
I cannot be sure, but I think probably my hon. Friend is right. The present Bill transfers to the Representative - Body those ancient burial grounds which have, so far, not been accepted by the parish councils or any other local authority. The House may ask why the parish councils and other authorities were unwilling to receive these burial grounds. Quite frankly, it was not here a matter of religious controversy; it was a matter of hard cash and of material considerations, and I can understand the difficulty in which these small parish councils, with very negligible rateable value, found themselves. In the first place, many of the burial grounds were full, and thus they would have been obliged to take them over—they ought at any rate to have put them in order and to have maintained them—but at the same time they would have received no revenue for burials because no further burials could take place. Consequently the parish council was faced with taking over a liability with no revenue attaching to it and with a rateable value which was negligible; so they came to the conclusion that financially they could not stand it, and I should think that that is readily understandable. Then, in other cases, many of the councils thought it out of harmony with parish opinion to divide up a burial ground and transfer the ancient part, round the church itself, to the local authority. Here we get the beginnings of an affection and a sentimental regard for the church and its grounds as a whole superimposing itself on potential religious controversy. If I may say so, I think it is all to the good that even people who were not of the religious faith of the Disestablished Church, should, nevertheless, have developed an affection and a desire that the thing should be dealt with as a whole and that the amenities of the place should be maintained.
There is one case of a parish with a population of 135—what a penny rate produced there I do not know; it might 518 have produced 2d, but it must have been very small—who told the Home Office that their refusal—I think this is rather nice—wasmore than anything else an expression of a sentiment which, though a sentiment, is the strongest force in the parish, making for unanimity of opinion and unity of action.I think that this is interesting because many people have the impression that the Welsh are a schismatic, quarrelsome lot of people, but it is quite clear from the history of this matter, as it has developed, that the sentiment of the corporate well-being of the parish has superimposed itself on the elements of controversy which might otherwise have existed. The resolution of this parish council refusing to take a burial ground, for the reasons indicated, had actually been moved by a leading Nonconformist of the parish and it represented, so we were told,a revulsion of feeling against dissociating their historic churchyard from their historic church,and that feeling was quite irrespective of religious denomination, where, quite likely, the majority of the parish was of a denomination other than that of the church. This simple and sincere reply of a small Welsh parish council, which was, I think, typical of some 85 per cent. of Welsh parishes, reveals some of the history and background of the subject of the present Bill and the presence, in these villages, of the different types of religion—episcopal and non-conformist—in a land where religion pervades and inspires life as strongly as anywhere. The Welsh poet, Ceiriog, has in "Alun Mabon" a couplet which, in English, runs:Psalms and hymns the Cymro hears In the music of the spheres.
§ Mr. Morrison
I would not expect my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles) to understand what that means, but if he spent a few week-ends doing propaganda in Wales he would begin to pick up the spirit of that great country. There is a common interest and love for the old village church and its graveyard where lie famous Welshmen of both creeds—bards, warriors, scholars, and preachers. These churches and burial grounds are to be found in picturesque and romantic settings—on hilltops, in valleys and in the woodlands of rural Wales. This was expressed even in the prosaic 519 surveys of the late Land Valuation Department. In the course of a report they said:The church and graveyard occupy a small patch of land on a seagirt rock on the west coast of Anglesey, protected only by a retaining wall from the surrounding ocean.Even in the official language of that Department we get a picture of the beauty of the setting of one of these churches, and its burial ground, in Anglesey. No less has the austerity and four-square simplicity of the Nonconformist chapels, old and new, caught the artist's imagination—in particular that of one quite modern English painter, who married a Welsh girl.
I hope the House will forgive me for this digression, but I have a very high regard and affection for Wales and its people, and it does give something of the physical and religious background of the endeavours which have been made, over 25 years, to resolve the problem of transferring burial grounds. Actually, a Bill was introduced by one Government but it had a mixed and stormy reception, from which I can only conclude that, either at that time folks were not as reasonable as they are now, or that the Home Secretary of the day did not make adequate representations before he faced the Parliamentary music—which I hope I have done. It is unnecessary to recall the many conferences, circular letters and consultations with Welsh opinion which have taken place, though with disappointing results, up to the outbreak of the present war. An idea which commended itself, especially to me—and I commend it to my hon. Friends from Wales—was that some of the quite considerable funds arising from Disestablishment might be used to set up a joint body of the interests concerned to restore the burial grounds in harmony with their surroundings. I wanted to set up such a joint body for the whole of Wales, not for the purpose of permanently managing these burial grounds, but for the purpose of doing the initial lay-out and renovation of the burial grounds. They exist in a wide variety of places, and are surrounded by a wide variety of landscapes, and I have no doubt that some are surrounded by no landscape at all because they are in industrial areas. I wanted, if I could get agreement, to have a collective body for Wales to do this job in order that each 520 burial ground should fit into the landscape or surroundings of the neighbourhood.
I have great respect for municipal engineers, including district -council engineers and the engineers of parish councils, if there are any, but an engineer is not necessarily a good man at laying out burial grounds and gardens. There is a little bit too much of the four-square and the iron railings, and that is all there is to it. I would have liked the University to co-operate in this matter—my hon. Friend the Member for the University of Wales (Professor Gruffydd) is himself a poet, but I have not been able to find any of his poetry which bears upon this matter—and a first-class landscape architect employed to see through the initial lay-out. If one goes up the Rhondda Valley, one finds areas which, particularly, in the period of depression were out of tune, in their lay-out and buildings, with all that might have been of the beauty of that valley. As I say, I would have liked agreement about this matter, but there was no adequate response from the local authorities, and the University did not want to put money into it. I do not want much, but I wanted a bit, and, above all, their influence, and if it should yet be possible for the initial lay-out to be done in that way, I would be glad, and I would facilitate it in any way I could.
There have been recent consultations on the urgent need to effect a settlement before the dissolution of the Welsh Commission. I am anxious that that Commission, which has existed since 1914, should wind up their labours at an early date. I hope that that may be possible about the end of this year, but I have hoped that before, and I may be disappointed. I think hon. Members will agree that the Chairman of that Commission, Sir Arthur Griffith Boscawen, who held office for a long time, and who has how retired, has done a good piece of work, and that we should put on record our gratitude to him for what he has done. Discussions were resumed in these circumstances during the last few months with the various interested parties, and I am advised that Welsh public opinion is now favourable to a well-considered scheme of transferring the burial grounds to the Representative Body, which has long desired to receive them. The scheme, as embodied in the Bill, proposes 521 transfer on two conditions, which are absolutely vital and were insisted upon by hon. Members from Wales whom I consulted, and the local authorities, and which were at once agreed to by the Representative Body. The Archbishop of Wales was also most helpful in that matter. The first condition was that there should be no discrimination in the arrangements for the burial of Nonconformists. They must receive complete equality of treatment, or whatever the right word may be.
§ Mr. Morrison
I nearly said, "opportunity." It is a word which my hon. Friend and I would use, but it did not seem quite right in this connection. The second condition is that responsibility for maintenance in accordance with local amenities is to be placed firmly on the Representative Body. And the Representative Body have firmly accepted the responsibility for that, including the responsibility for finance, which I think indicates that they have accepted both conditions and that the Representative Body is acting in a broad and good, public spirited way. The county councils have all passed resolutions in favour.
If I may summarise the Clauses of the Bill, the first Clause transfers en bloc all burial grounds which now vest in the Welsh Commissioners so as to vest them in the Representative Body on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State, subject to the right of persons who were incumbents at the time of the passing of the 1914 Act to have the grounds vested in them during the period of their incumbency. Under Clause 2, dealing with the transferred burial ground, provision is made, where a burial ground has since the Act of 1914 already been received by a local authority, or will be received on the termination of an existing incumbency, for the Representative Body to agree with the local authority concerned for the transfer of the ground to the Representative Body. Sub-section (2) provides that certain provisions of the Welsh Church Act, 1914, as to the administration of the grounds after they had been transferred to the local authorities shall cease when the grounds vest in the Church.
Clause 3 deals with the maintenance of burial grounds, and an obligation under 522 this Clause is placed on the Representative Body to maintain in decent order the burial grounds which will be transferred to them under the provisions of the Bill, and any existing liability which there may be in other persons to maintain these grounds is consequently extinguished by Sub-section (2). It is provided that the Representative Body shall perform this duty in such manner as to preserve public amenities. Clause 4 deals with the rights of burial, and it is specifically provided that there shall be no discrimination in the matter of burial between members of the Church in Wales and other persons, that is, of course, subject to any trusts, etc., attaching to these grounds—for example, one applying to a family vault and the provision of the Burial Law Amendment Act, 1880, which regulates burials which are other than according to the rites of the Church of England, are not to apply except to secure that the procedure for the registration of burials is unaffected. Rules may be made by the Representative Body, subject to approval by the Home Secretary, on such matters as the giving of notice of burial.
That is the outline of the Bill which, I submit, gives effect in a short, clear and simple manner to the agreement that has been reached between the parties concerned and myself. Welshmen are reported to say that the chief products of Wales areflannel to clothe, cheese to feed and sermons to take one to Heaven.This Bill is, perhaps, not unfancifully akin to "a sermon to take one to Heaven," since it is designed to settle the old controversy of those last resting-places where, more than anywhere, perpetual peace should reign. A Welsh Church Bill inevitably recalls the intense and almost inspired interest which my Noble Friend Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor took in these matters. It is some commendation of the present Bill that before his serious illness, which causes the nation and all of us here such anxiety—we all wish him well and a recovery—he expressed general approval of its terms. On the back of the Bill is the name of his son, our colleague, the Minister of Fuel and Power, indicating his support of the Bill. One can hear Lloyd George saying of this Bill, in the words of the old Psalmist, that at long lastMy foot standeth in an even place: in the congregations will I bless the Lord.523 That is the case for the Bill. It has been a long and troublesome story. I should like to thank very much hon. Members from Wales, who have given me great help and much good advice on this matter. What I have said about the desirability of this job being done with a sense of beauty and full amenity I know commends itself to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Davies), who has been most helpful in many ways in the preparation of the Bill, and I am grateful to him and to all the Welsh Members of Parliament, to the local authorities and to the Representative Body, for their co-operation. I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading and, when it is on the Statute Book, we may say that, although it sometimes takes time, the British are capable in the end of solving the most difficult problems.
§ 11.31 a.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I tender my most sincere congratulations to the Home Secretary on being able to introduce what all Welsh Members hope will be a non-controversial Bill, for to-day all parties in Wales assent—all Nonconformist bodies, whether Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists or Congregationalists, and, of course, the Church of Wales. This, I hope, is the closing chapter in a long and often bitter controversy. The rancour began over churchyards and it closes over churchyards. The Bill provides sufficient safeguards to satisfy every one of us, and we are confident that the Representative Body of the Church will carry out its great trust with tact and understanding, with tolerance and with good will. The old antagonisms, I am glad to say, are dead, or nearly dead, we all hope never to be revived. The abolition of the privilege, which was fortified not by the people but by the State, has led to a better understanding, a better feeling and a sense of Christian brotherhood which, I hope, will be fostered and will continue. I do not look forward to uniformity but I look forward and can see unison where each Christian church and chapel will be fulfilling its part in the great Christian choir for the betterment of Wales, for the happiness of the Welsh people, with true and sincere charity towards all, united together, each following the same path and method for one common purpose, to 524 combat evil in whatever form it may appear.
I have only one regret. Property was taken away from the Church when it was disendowed. I think it was rightly taken away. It was taken away on the ground that it belonged to the Welsh nation, and not to a Church which then only represented a section of that nation. For the same reason the churchyards were taken away and offered to the local authority. Unfortunately, though their dead had been buried there, they refused to undertake this responsibility. The churchyards are now to be returned to the Church, and the Church is to be "trustee," not merely for churchmen, but for all the Welsh people. The Church is to undertake to maintain them, in the words of the Bill, "in decent order," not only for themselves, but for all, of whatever religious body. This will certainly be costly. The Church itself has not much money, the incumbents are not too well paid, and the costs will indeed be heavy. They have, however, taken on this burden willingly, cheerfully, I might almost say recklessly, as a sacred duty. In the meantime, for over 30 years these churchyards in many places, I might almost say in most places, have been sadly neglected.
Our land is beautiful; our villages are ugly. The chapels of our people, maintained and pastored out of their pennies, are not all beautiful, but the old churches in many instances are lovely. They harmonise with the land; they have been built out of native stone and roofed with native slates. Mellow with age, they recall the calm and peace of the countryside, and the old traditions that we wish so much to cherish. Churchyards are part of the churches. To the Church people themselves, they are consecrated ground, but to all they are consecrated by the fact that our forefathers, from time immemorial, lay buried there: Churchmen and Nonconformists, side by side, under the shadow of the yew trees and in the shelter of the walls of the old parish church. Now, many of these sacred graves are made hideous by neglect; there are broken walls, the headstones lie awry, there are brambles, nettles, thistles and long, rank grass, giving all a derelict appearance.
There is a vast sum of money still in the hands of the Welsh Church Commissioners, waiting to be distributed to the 525 universities and to the county councils of Wales. The Home Secretary has done his best, and my colleagues and I have tried to persuade them to set aside a part of the sum to be given, as he has said, to a temporary body of trustees, who would utilise the funds in their hands in order to restore these churchyards to decency. We had hoped that they would employ a first-class landscape gardener and a first-class architect, and gradually make these sacred grounds into havens of rest and sanctuaries of peace and comfort, for those of us whose loved ones lie buried there. We all have put this to them, but, unfortunately, they were adamant and they refused. They refused even to give one penny towards bringing those churchyards back into a proper state of decency. I consider their attitude mean, mercenary, shabby and, would almost use the word, contemptible. Beautiful buildings in beautiful surroundings fill a want in the minds and souls of men and women who might otherwise be leading a drab life and I wish the decision of the universities had been otherwise. However, the Church has taken upon itself this great duty and has undertaken to shoulder this national burden itself. As a Nonconformist of Nonconformist parentage, I can only wish those responsible well in their great and sacred duty. To end, as I began, I would congratulate the Home Secretary on his producing this Bill, which, I hope, will bring peace and comfort to Wales.
§ 11.40 a.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
May I express my thanks and the thanks of my colleagues to the Home Secretary for the manner and the spirit in which he has introduced this Bill? I would particularly like to congratulate him upon the care which he exercised in the pronunciation of our very beautiful Welsh names. One complaint that I have had to make since I have been in this House is that while hon. Members have always taken great care to give a correct pronunciation to French names, they do not take the same care in pronouncing the Welsh names. Why it should be so I do not know. The Welsh names may be a little more difficult, but they are much more beautiful. I have heard the name of the constituency I have the honour to represent in this House called by many sorts of sounds. Therefore, I wish to congratulate the Home Secretary upon saying Cieriog 526 and "Alun Mahon" in the true Welsh fashion and one of these days we will make him a member of the Gorsedd.
This is an echo of a very old and bitter controversy. One of my earliest recollections is being taken by my father to a great demonstration in my native village, at which the case for the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church in Wales was put with great vigour, and received with tremendous enthusiasm and applause—it is difficult to recall it now —by Mr. Lloyd George as he then was. May I say that I, and my colleagues and for that matter everybody in this House, will join in the tributes paid by the Home Secretary to him, and that we all wish him well?
I would like to support the plea that has even now been made by the Home Secretary and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) to the local authorities in Wales and to the University. The local authorities have had a very difficult time. They have had to carry a tremendous burden during 25 years of depression. Their resources have been taxed, their people heavily burdened and sometimes one can understand when they hesitate to take on any kind of obligation which they need not undertake. They might, perhaps, look upon this as a sum of money which could be used for purposes much better, in their eyes, than the purposes indicated. I have a very great respect for the work that has been done by the authorities in Glamorgan, Carmarthen and Montgomery. I am sure that all will recognise the amazing work they have done during these past 25 years and throughout the period of depression. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the local authorities in Wales for the way in which they have sustained the people during these terrible years. For that reason I hesitate to say a single word which might upset these local authorities, but I believe that, in this instance, they have shown a lack of imagination. Here, a gesture would, indeed, have been in tune with the spirit of the people and would have redounded to their credit.
The University has less excuse than the local authorities. Indeed, I deplore the fact that one of our Welsh national institutions has, in this matter, shown a spirit which, I am certain, is deplored by the Welsh people themselves. I can only 527 hope that both the local authorities and the University will reconsider the matter. We all want to see these churchyards, which are a part of our tradition and are sacred grounds hallowed by the memories of centuries, made more beautiful. I would hate to think that the church of Llan Saint-Elli, which gives my town its name, could not be maintained and beautified in memory of the very great Welshmen and Welsh women of the past. Llan I may say is the Welsh name for "sacred ground" or "God's acre." I thank the Home Secretary and hope the House will give the Bill a unanimous Second Reading. I hope that the Representative Body will be able to maintain these churchyards, to improve them and to see that they are made worthy of the nation in which they are located.
§ 11.44 a.m.
§ Mr. Richards (Wrexham)
I should like, with my colleagues, to congratulate the Home Secretary on the consummation of a very difficult task which has been going on for many years and has caused more bitterness and acrimony than any political controversy in which the Welsh nation has ever been engaged. During the last 100 years nothing has so touched the Welsh nation as the struggle for Disestablishment, and to-day we are witnessing the coping stone being put on that structure by the Home Secretary. This is not the first time that the Home Secretary has taken upon himself to do a measure of justice to Wales, and to try and solve a problem for Wales. If he continues in this role, I can see the claim for a Welsh Secretary of State receding very rapidly.
I have said that during the last 100 years no controversy has aroused such bitter feeling as the controversy-concerning Disestablishment. If we go further back, to the Reformation, for example, that was accepted quietly in Wales on the plea, I presume, that the King could do no wrong, and particularly a Welsh King; but my own private opinion is that the Welsh people just went on their way being faithful in many remote places to the old religion. There was, however, no controversy like that which was roused by Disestablishment. It is interesting to inquire why it should have caused all this trouble. The fact of the matter is that Wales at this time was just becoming conscious of its 528 own national existence. It was recovering something of the history of its past, and when the religious revival at the end of the 18th century came a new life was coursing through the veins of the people. Disestablishment was an expression, in the political field, of this new outlook. The country had, by this time, become predominantly Nonconformist, and it was claiming the same rights in law and the same privileges as had hitherto been reserved for the Anglican Church in Wales.
One is glad to realise that, as the Home Secretary has pointed out, the political climate in Wales, on this matter particularly, has considerably changed during the last. 20 to 25 years, and it is interesting that in the roll of destiny it should have been reserved for a Socialist Home Secretary, one who described himself in my hearing the other night as being more Leftist than almost anybody whom he knew, to complete a task undertaken many years ago. I would remind the House, as the Home Secretary did, that our thoughts as Welshmen naturally revert to the great statesman who, unfortunately, is laid up in his home in distant Criccieth. I am sure we all regret the fact that he is not here to-day to give his blessing to this Bill, which achieves what he had long intended to do. The Bill removes a serious grievance, and it is interesting to remember that it was Earl Lloyd-George who first made this question a live political issue. It is interesting, too, to recall that it was this question that launched him on his career as a politician, a career which eventually landed him in the great position he held during the years 1914–18. The Disestablishment of the Welsh Church has been, I think, to its advantage. It is no longer an alien Church uneasily poised on the shoulders of an unwilling people. It is a Church which has a very long tradition, because there was a Celtic Church, which was very prominent in Wales and the Celtic countries generally, long before the rest of the country had been Christianised. It is because this Welsh Church is now recovering something of the great dignity and the fine traditions which it and the Church of the Middle Ages had, that it is again gaining the adherence of a great many Welsh people.
I congratulate the Home Secretary, particularly on his courage in giving back these churchyards to a representative 529 body in Wales. We do not want to get into the position in which we were formerly, when an individual could angrily refuse burial to a Nonconformist person. We have sufficient faith, judging by the Clauses of the Bill, that the Representative Body will do what is just in this matter. I admire the spirit in which they have taken over this great responsibility. I regret, with other hon. Members, that in this matter the University and the county councils have not shared the triumph we are witnessing to-day, in getting rid of a bitter controversy that has divided our people for the last 50 or 60 years. I am looking foward to a new era in the history of both the Church and Nonconformity in Wales, and I am sure that this Bill is a step in the right direction. With the great affection the Church has always had for these sacred places, I hope they will have the vision to beautify them, and make them something of which we can really be proud. I wish the Bill a speedy passage to the Statute Book, and I thank the Home Secretary very sincerely.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
There has been such admiration for this Bill that I will try to avoid any bitter controversy. The Home Secretary has brought the Bill to the House in a reverent manner. Nevertheless, there are certain things embodied in it which I fear. The Bill puts our ancient churchyards in Wales in the hands of a Representative Body. It sets up a central authority which will make rules and Regulations to govern the set-out and lay-out of burial grounds. Clerks and other officials, perhaps a landscape surveyor, will help in this matter. In other words, we have the danger that the beautiful burial grounds in Wales will, if I may coin a horrid word, be "cemeterised." We shall establish a cemetery authority, and the tendency will be to destroy the beauty of the burial grounds and make them like the cemeteries we so often see, most uncomfortable places, outside our little towns. Parish councils have not accepted the powers which were vested in them, although their chairmen have often been Nonconformists, because, no doubt, they have had such reverence for the local churchyards. The Home Secretary has said that these burial grounds want renovation. They possibly want some tidying up here and there. Under the Bill they are to conform to the 530 amenities of the locality. The Representative Body might, in the future, take a very curious view of the amenities of the locality. I remember many of those ancient burial grounds in Wales, particularly in the Wye and the Usk Valleys, which were spiritual amenities in themselves. Their unkempt condition helped to make them so.
The Home Secretary has already drawn a picture of some of these ancient places. Perhaps I, too, may be permitted for one moment to present a picture of some of those which I have in mind. I picture the little village church built on a grassy mound, each stone laid by the loving care of many generations of men. I picture the ancient burial ground situated amongst sweet meadows, with a stream not far away, hedges unkempt and choked with sweet briar, gravestones half buried in the ground aslant, the inscriptions indecipherable, grass scythed perhaps twice a yearwhere heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap.Surely this was an amenity, a spiritual amenity. We must see to it that this Representative Body, the central planning power, does not change it. Did not the wayfarer stop and reflect upon the transitory nature of his earthly life and was he not reminded that our lives are but a stage in our eternity? Passing through it at night, with fear of the mystery of death in his heart, he may nevertheless experience awe in the unseen presence of the Master of all. Surely that, too, is an amenity for the spirit.
Let us see that we do nothing, that this Representative Body does nothing, to destroy this beauty, and bring these ancient churchyards down to the level of the amenities of the villages of future years, with their chromium-plated lampposts, their curbed asphalted paths, their miserable parks laid out in Germanic precision, their green iron seats where folk sit cheek by jowl and look not even at the flowers but upon the ground where the cheeky sparrow is almost afraid to come.
I would pass to another point in the Bill and I do so with great diffidence. I know that the Representative Body will now allow, perhaps rightly so, people not of the Anglican community to perform the last rites in the churchyard, with one condition only, and that is that they shall not 531 interfere with services in the church or with the clergy or congregation attending the church. But it is not the incumbent who will be able to fix the times when these ceremonies will be performed, but the Representative Body or their clerks. He may not even be consulted in the matter, and he may find that there is undue interference with the administration of his church.
Who has not passed a country churchyard—arrested in his way—and when perhaps hearing the last offices of the Church has not been moved by the solemnity, mysticism, grandeur and beauty of the committal? Who has not paused then to consider the sordidness of human affairs and the vanity of human wishes? Nonconformists, Roman Catholics and many others will perform their ceremonies in these ancient Welsh churchyards with due reverence, but under this Bill any peculiar sect can utter its miserable and fantastic ritual under the shadow of the village church, when the wayfarer will no longer be arrested and impressed or be impelled to dwell on greater things—we may even hear mystical ceremonies from the Buchmanites.
So then let us be careful what we do in these matters. We pass Church Measures easily enough in this House. We give the bishops more and more power, and bit by bit we are establishing a hierarchy contrary to the whole spirit of the ancient Church. Let us be careful that by Bills such as these we do not, in due course, destroy the great traditions of our country.
§ 12.1 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security (Miss Wilkinson)
Very little has been left to which I have to reply. I can reassure the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. Russell Thomas) who, I think carried his objection to planning to a rather extreme point when he said he preferred profusion of weeds to order and beauty. Whether the weeds be actual or mental, that confusion is usually found in the minds of the anti-planners. I can assure him that the object of the Bill in this respect is not to destroy beautiful burial grounds, which are in a state of wild beauty, but to deal with burial grounds that are not beautiful now. The hon. Gentleman claims to be a Welshman. It is hardly appropriate 532 for me to introduce any word of controversy into this peaceful, not to say ceremonial, atmosphere, but I would remind him that the most backward people on earth are those who take the greatest care of their burial grounds.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I am referring to people who have made piety in respect of their ancestors a much greater virtue than is apparently the case in some of the Welsh villages. An English Home Secretary is trying to do what he can; he has to plead, for he can do very little more in this Debate, and it is noticeable that the criticism of Welsh local authorities came, not from him but from the Welsh Members. Members have spoken from Central, South and North Wales. I would like to thank those hon. Members for their kind words to my right hon. Friend and to the Home Office, whose officials have worked very hard on this matter. There is no doubt that they have uttered weighty criticism, both of the local authorities and the university for not making a gesture so that these ancient burial grounds might enjoy some small part of the ample funds that are available. But, after all, we do not give up any sinners. Far be it from me as a Nonconformist to do that.
§ Miss Wilkinson
There are some things that even a Nonconformist cannot overlook. Perhaps this Debate may have done good by giving publicity to a matter that has been left dormant for a long time. Negotiations have naturally gone on quietly among the interested bodies, and the public has known very little about them, but the controversy has been taken out of the matter. I have no doubt that the Welsh papers will print, in extenso, the speeches of the Welsh Members, and I hope that will recall to the Welsh people their duty in this matter. No one has ever made an appeal on grounds of sentiment to Wales in vain, and I am sure that as a result of this little Debate, there will be many stirrings of conscience among the various denominations in Wales, which may result in a feeling that something should be done. If there is any such move on the part of the local authorities and the 533 University, no one will be more anxious than my right hon. Friend to welcome it. But if there is such a feeling abroad, the sooner it finds tangible expression the better. This matter must be got out of the way. The Church in Wales is accepting a very substantial burden, and it would be a very good thing if the local authorities and the University were able to come forward now and say that they were willing that some of this money should be made available.
Of course, the real problem is not only one of money, but one of getting a good job done. Here, I want to say I had sympathy with the hon. Member for Southampton when he said that what is wanted is not something rigid, superimposed from the centre. The very idea behind my right hon. Friend's speech was that there should be a beautiful plan, and that each local plan should fit in with the amenities of the countryside. The trouble about many villages in Wales is that there is not a place where people can sit down, or where old people can meet, without going into the fields, which are not far away, but which are private property. How much better if they could come together in a beautiful garden, where they felt they were surrounded with the spirits of their ancestors. Having made this little plea, I thank the House for the kind reception which they have given to the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House.—[Mr. Pym.]
§ Committee upon Tuesday next.