HL Deb 31 July 1851 vol 118 cc1774-80

said, that in the course of last Session a Bill had passed the Legislature for the purpose of regulating metropolitan interments; the measure was deemed of such importance, that it was specially referred to by Her Majesty in the Speech from the Throne at the close of the Session; but as yet the Act had remained practically in abeyance, and he begged to put a question to his noble Friend (the Earl of Shaftesbury) respecting the delays which had occurred in putting this Act into operation. He was far from wishing to reproach his noble Friend, for he felt that the fault was not his. Fault, however, there must be somewhere; and he (Lord Monteagle) was, at all events, anxious to know whether the delay he complained of was likely to be of long continuance? It appeared from the late census that the increase in the population had been 405,000, so that its augmentation in ten years was greater than the total population either of St. Peters-burgh or Vienna, Berlin or Madrid, each the capital of great and independent States. The burials in London were now about 50,000 in a year; but notwithstanding the congratulation which Her Majesty had addressed to the House at the close of last Session, the previous labours of Parliament had yet produced no results. What the state of things at present were, had been sufficiently deseribed in the Report upon which the Interments' Act was founded, and in which it was stated that the noxious effluvia arising from St. Margaret's churchyard, near which he stood, were so powerful, that fresh meat in the neighbourhood had been tainted within a single hour. Other districts were even worse. He should therefore be glad to know what steps had been taken by the Board of Health?


said, that no one could feel more deeply than he did the regret expressed by his noble Friend as to the delay which had taken place in bringing the Act of last Session into full operation; and the more so, because he could assure his noble Friend that the statement he had made from the Report as to St. Margaret's churchyard was by no means exaggerated, and that that state of things not only prevailed in that locality, but in many other localities in this vast and increasing metropolis. Every day's experience confirmed the Board of Health more and more of the wisdom and practical utility of the Act to which his noble Friend had referred; and he was glad his noble Friend had put his question, for the Board had been censured in another place, and charged with neglect of which they were wholly innocent. For the purpose of showing that to be the case, he would state the progress the Board had made with reference to the Act in question. The first meeting of the Board under the Act took place the very day the Act passed, and on the 8th of August the Board issued advertisements applying for tenders of land for the purpose of the formation of cemeteries. The Act required that before they could enter into any contract or negotiation for the purchase of land, six weeks' notice should be given of their intention to do so; and the Board had thought proper to extend that time to two months, in order that every available opportunity should be given for the offer of sites. It was likewise thought necessary to inquire into the results of experience in other countries; and a deputation of the Board proceeded to Paris, and were, during their stay there, in continual communication with the authorities who had command of interments there, and examined into the mode in which the cemeteries of that city were conducted. On their return to London, they immediately applied to the metropolitan cemetery companies for details which they thought necessary for a fair valuation of their grounds; but as the companies refused to give those details, they were compelled, with much loss of time, to make their own valuations of those cemeteries. In the meantime inquiries were proceeded with as to regulations to divide the metropolis into certain divisions for the purposes of the Act, and for other preliminary arrangements rendered requisite by its provisions. Those preliminary inquiries being completed, the Board on the 23rd of November submitted to the Treasury a document, in which they set forth the means of bringing the Act into speedy operation. In the meantime inquiries were proceeding to get at the amount of compensation which might become payable to the clergy and parish authorities, under the 33rd, 34th, and 35th sections of the Act. These inquiries were now complete and ready for adjudication. Thus a plan was submitted to the Treasury by the Board on the 23rd of November last, and all subsequent consideration of that plan had only served to confirm the Board of its practicability and beneficial character. That plan was submitted on the 23rd of November, and contained a demand for permission to purchase all the cemeteries at once. Much delay intervened, and the Board received no reply until January 22, 1851. Then a correspondence arose, and on the 20th of March the Board received permission to proceed according to their proposition of the 23rd of November, coupled with a recommendation that, although they had the power to purchase all, they should, in fact, take them separately. Notice was then immediately given to two cemeteries, and, as was foreseen, they chose, as the Act gave them power, the longer procedure of arbitration. Thus three more months had elapsed, and the awards in these first cases had not yet been given. The Board, meanwhile, proceeded to survey and make valuations of ground for a new cemetery near Erith, and proceeded, as rapidly as the nature of the business allowed. They requested from the Treasury authority to purchase on the 28th of April, and received permission on the 10th of May. On the 13th of May they applied to the Treasury for leave to contract a loan from the Guardian Insurance Office, and obtained permission; but it was not till the 18th of June that they received from the Guardian Office a final answer and refusal, that, office stating that they declined to lend money to a body whose existence was limited to five years. The Board communicated the result to the Treasury immediately, and received an acknowledgment on the 24th of June. On the 9th of June they demanded permission of the Treasury to negotiate a loan with the Royal Exchange Assurance Office, but received no answer until the 24th of June. On the 2nd of July they urged, as oftentimes before, the expediency of assistance by exchange bills. On the 3rd of July they sent to the Treasury a copy of a letter from the Royal Exchange, doubting the goodness of the securities, and received a reply on the 18th of July. On the 10th they received a final answer from the Royal Exchange, refusing the loan on the same grounds, and instantly communicated the same to the Treasury. That was the sum of their proceedings. The delay was not theirs—not a moment had been wasted; the value and practicability of the Act had not been tested, for the Board was stopped in the outset by the preliminary difficulties which arose, and which had been foreseen by those who had made the first inquiry into the subject. The Commissioners who made the first report recommended that the entire subject should be committed to a separate Commission, with permanent existence, and full control over all funerals. Those recommendations were altered by the Government, the first by throwing the task upon the Board of Health, a body which had no wish to undertake it, and which had a limited existence; and the second by imposing restrictions which hampered the efforts of the Board when they came to raise money with which to commence their proceedings. These were the provisions placed in the Bill by the Government alone in direct opposition to the recommendation of the Commission; and yet the Board of Health was charged with having caused all the delay which had taken place by their neglect. He had never been more astonished in his life than to hear, as he had heard that day (said to have been uttered by a Member of the Government), that the scheme of the Board of Health was a bad scheme, when, in fact, it was a scheme of the Government's own concoction. Never in any way had the Government said that before, at least to him. The Board communicated to the Treasury the difficulties the instant they knew them; the one relating to the transitory character of the Board was stated on the 18th of June; the second, the objection raised by the Royal Exchange Assurance Company, on the 3rd of July. They had not taken a single step without the previous sanction of the Treasury; and had not all those former delays occurred, the objections to the securities would have been discovered, and stated at a much earlier period of the Session. For himself, he cared nothing as to what might be said in reference to the part he had taken in the administration of this matter; but, whether ably conducted or otherwise, he had spared neither time nor money. But he must say, in defence of his two colleagues, Mr. Chadwick and Dr. Southwood Smith, that more diligent, upright, and intelligent men he had never known. He had never known men more deeply zealous for the welfare of the community; but attacks had been made on them, and they had not been defended by those who could have spoken in their behalf. He did feel for them that which he did not feel for himself; but he maintained that in justice to himself, to his Colleagues, to the Board, and to the public, their Lordships ought to have on the table of that House full and authentic copies of—he would not say all the correspondence, but—the Minutes of the Board.


said, he did not rise to enter into the merits of the question before their Lordships, because he was not conversant with the different negotiations and transactions that had taken place between the Board of Health and the Treasury; but as to any expression that had fallen from any one of his Colleagues in some other place, and to which his noble Friend referred, he hoped his noble Friend was under some misapprehension in the account he had heard; because he could assure his noble Friend that the Government generally were most anxious for the success of the measure in question, to which they themselves had been parties; and he could state his own individual deep regret that circumstances had hitherto prevented it from making a more rapid progress. He need not acquaint his noble Friend, that there had been circumstances which had affected the conduct of public business in the other House of Parliament, and which had affected the introduction of measures to remove the difficulties to which his noble Friend had referred; but he believed that a Bill for removing those difficulties was in actual progress through the other House, though he feared his noble Friend would not think it was calculated to remove all of them. He knew that the Board of Health had many obnoxious duties to perform. It had to point out defects, to call attention to the laches and misconduct of persons, and to grapple with many existing interests, and therefore it was not unlikely that it would meet with considerable obloquy; but it had incurred that obloquy in the conscientious and straightforward discharge of its duty; and no persons were more zealously devoted to the management of the cause with which they were intrusted, or more laborious and indefatigable in the discharge of the functions assigned to them, than the several members of which that Board was composed.


thought the Government were to blame for not defending the Board of Health when attacked. Whilst the Government took credit to themselves for their exertions, it was somewhat curious that subordinate Members of the Administration should have occupied themselves in throwing obstructions in the way of this measure. He did not accuse the Members of the Government in their Lordships' House. He believed they were zealous in the cause. But he had good reason to believe that other Members of the Government had taken opportunities, not only not to promote the measure, but throw obstructions in the way. The Minutes of the Board, and the correspondence, ought to be laid on the table to show who were in fault.


thought his noble Friend had gone a step beyond the subject of dis- cussion, which had so unexpectedly been brought forward that evening, in passing a severe censure on certain Members of the Government. He did not know to whom his noble Friend alluded; but serious charges of that sort ought not to he brought forward without due notice and full information being afforded to the House. He could anticipate no objection to the production of the Minutes of the Board of Health to which his noble Friend opposite had referred; but it was highly probable that when those Minutes were produced, other papers would be required in order that the case might be fully understood. No one was more thoroughly persuaded than himself of the good intentions, zeal, and ability of his noble Friend opposite, and those who acted with him; hut, on the other hand, he would ask whether in their zeal to accomplish a great end they might not have a little too much neglected the minor advantage of effecting some immediate and partial improvement? That, however, was a question upon which he was not able to form a correct opinion, but it might be open to some little doubt.


stated, that the discussion could hardly be said to be unexpected, for a week before he had informed his noble Friend of his intention to put a question to him on the subject. After the explanation, however, which his noble Friend had given, he must acquit his noble Friend of any delay or neglect.

Subject at an end.

House adjourned till To-morrow.