HL Deb 04 August 1851 vol 118 cc1843-8

The EARL of CARLISLE, moved that the Bill be now read 2a.


was desirous of expressing his regret that more effectual powers had not boon given to the General Board of Health. More harm than good would be done unless full power was given to the Board to purchase existing burial grounds, to compensate existing interests, and to establish a great comprehensive system, under which the sepulture of persons dying in this vast metropolis should be conducted with economy, decency, and a proper and due regard for human health and life. Hitherto the clergy had been compelled to be the unwilling executants of an indecent practice, because there had been no means provided for extramural interments. The question of compensation, also, was one that was not touched upon. He (the Bishop of London) knew it was the fashion of the times to taunt the clergy with unceasing attention to their own pecuniary interests. Now, the clergy were in many instances entirely dependent upon the burial fees; and in removing an existing evil, which had grown up by no fault of theirs, he was sure their Lordships would not wish to deprive those excellent and laborious men of any considerable portion of the small pittance which they received as a remuneration for their labours. In consequence of the impediments which had been thrown in the way of those operations which the Board of Health were anxious to commence, he understood that a great commercial speculation was now on foot, and he certainly saw no obstacle to prevent the establishment of a great necropolis, as it was called, at such a distance from London as to be beyond the limits of the jurisdiction of the Board of Health: that would but concentrate and aggravate the evil, and no compensation would be provided for those who were thus deprived of a great portion of their incomes. However, that, he thought, was a minor evil, compared with those which must arise from the establishment of a great commercial necropolis. He desired to thank the Members of the Board of Health for their exertions, and for the readiness with which they had listened to the representations of himself and his clergy; and he had also an especial wish to take that opportunity of thanking most cordially the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Shaftesbury), in his own name, and in that of the ministers of religion over whom he was called upon to preside, for the great services he had rendered in the great cause of sanitary and social reform. Every succeeding year had tended to confirm him in the opinion which he had long ago expressed, that they might build churches, and found schools, and carry into effect all those numerous devices for which the charity of this great Christian country was eminently conspicuous; yet they would do little good (in the large towns, at least), unless they could remove a great portion of those physical evils which sunk the labouring classes of this country to the lowest depth of degradation, and which prevented the access of those who would bring them the light and consolation of the gospel. He, therefore, begged to thank the noble Earl for the interest he had taken in that subject, and the benefit which had resulted from his exertions.


assured the right rev. Prelate that he heartily concurred with him in the tribute which he had paid to the noble Earl opposite for his efforts in the case of sanitary reform. He also concurred with him in regretting that a measure had not been earlier adopted upon this matter of interments. He had a strong opinion of his own, also, that the point of the remuneration of the clergy was one which most undoubtedly ought not to be overlooked. He requested their Lordships, however, to retain their opinion until the papers which had been moved for by the noble Earl on the cross-benches (the Earl of Harrow by)—the Minutes of the Board of Health relating to the Metropolitan Interment Act, since August, 1850—should be laid upon the table of the House, when he should be prepared to defend the course which the Government had taken on this question.


begged to express the high sense which he felt of the disinterested generosity with which the metropolitan clergy had entertained the proposals made by the Board of Health; and he might say that in no one instance had any obstacle been offered on their part to the sanitary remedies which had been suggested. It was proposed by the present Bill that a sum of money should be advanced to the Board, for the purchase of one or two cemeteries, and to close a certain number of graveyards. He begged their Lordships to observe, however, that the moment a graveyard was closed, the question of compensation would arise, and not merely of compensation to the clergyman, but to the churchwardens, the fees due to whom amounted to nearly two-thirds of the whole amount charged on burial. These fees could only be covered by corresponding charges made by the Board of Health upon interments within the ground which they had purchased, and consequently it would be well worth the while of the cemetery companies to make very low charges for burials, so that the whole mass of interments would fall into their hands. The noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies said the other night that the Board of Health had carried out the great objects which they had in view, at a sacrifice of the minor object of closing some of the worst graveyards in London, and opening new places of interment. That object, however, had not been overlooked by the Board; but it was clear that if they had but one or two cemeteries, they could not enter into competition with the cemetery companies. The Board were resolved never to admit the unhealthy and disgusting practice of what was called "pit-burial," but to commit only one corpse to one grave. But the effect of this Bill would be to drive all the poor burials into the hands of the established cemetery companies; and a measure better calculated to increase the value of their shares could not be devised. One of the objects most steadily kept in view by the Board was to diminish the cost of burials; but under this Bill no provision whatever was made for that purpose, and he felt no doubt that, in very many instances, the cost of interment would be greatly increased. He would now refer to another topic, on which, however, he would be very brief. He would put the case of a man saying, in another place, that he supposed the Board of Health would come to the Government next year for half a million of money. He would imagine also a high public functionary replying that the important question for him and for the public was not whether they would ask for it, but whether they would get it. Was that the manner, he would ask their Lordships, in which a Gentleman should speak of a public Board, when he knew that the Board of Health had not only not demanded money, but had told him that they would not ask for it? When those minutes were produced, which the noble Earl the Secretary of State had promised should be forthcoming, they would show that the fact was as he had represented it, and therefore he considered that very hard measure had been given to them. The Board of Health was constituted in 1849, and in 1850, contrary to the advice which they tendered to the Government, and very much against their own inclinations, they were invested with jurisdiction over interments. Was there anything agreeable, he would ask their Lordships, in sitting till seven, or eight, or nine at night, collecting evidence on this subject of the most horrible and disgusting kind? Was it nothing to examine the receptacles of corruption, and to obtain by personal inquiries of the most painful nature, a full knowledge of the evils which were to be abated, in order that an effectual remedy might be applied to them? Was it not clear that every species of opposition and misrepresentation must be encountered on the part of undertakers, cemetery companies, and ratepayers? The Board of Health expected all this; but they thought that the Government, knowing their position, and having imposed on them a duty which they did not seek, but rather had declined, would give them an honest and conscientious support, when they fell into a difficulty which was not occasioned by any fault of their own. As long as he could do so he would serve his country; but he must say that while men were acting in a public capacity, they had a right to expect that the Government of the country would, if they could not be counted amongst their supporters, at least not be ranked amongst the number of their enemies.


said, that he would not enter into the consideration of discussions which had taken place in the other House of Parliament, out of regard to the rules which regulated the debates in their Lordships' House; but of one thing he was morally certain, and that was, that no intentional disrespect could have been offered to the noble Earl or his Colleagues. Come what might, he, at least, could never be insensible to the benefits which they had conferred on the public health. The Government had all along felt that, great as were the difficulties of passing this measure, the difficulty of working it would be still greater. Under such circumstances, public feeling, once very strong in favour of such a measure, had gradually cooled down. Nevertheless, such were the inherent advantages of the measure, that he was confident it would be got fairly under weigh, and the benefits which had been anticipated from it would be realised.


considered that the effect of this Bill would be to set up the Board of Health as a trading company, exposed to disadvantages to which the cemetery companies were not subjected. The noble Earl had not removed any of the objections made to the Bill, and unless he did so he thought that the impression among their Lordships would be that it would be better to leave the Bill alone.


said, that the Government thought it would be practicable for the Board of Health to purchase two cemeteries, and close some of the worst graveyards in London, which without the Bill they could not do. He would not conceal from their Lordships that the Bill did not meet all the objections which had been urged against it; but still he must leave upon them the responsibility of its rejection.


hoped that his noble Friend would not divide the House against the Bill; but he must repeat his conviction that it was quite impossible the Board of Health could stand a competition with the cemeteries. The money proposed to be advanced was insufficient, and if the Board closed graveyards, and made use of it, they would have to come to Parliament next year for a much larger sum.

On Question, Resolved in the Affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly.

House adjourned till To-morrow.