§ Order for Committee read.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
moved that the House go into Committee on this Bill. Their Lordships would remember that the second reading of the Bill had been agreed to on Saturday as a matter of form, but he thought it his duty, at this stage of the measure, to state its objects briefly to their Lordships. The crowded state of the metropolitan burial grounds, and the revolting scenes constantly occurring in them, were so well known that it was unnecessary for him to enter into the subject. The Legislature, in 1850, endeavoured to remedy these evils by a Bill which was then passed into law. That measure had however, proved wholly inoperative. That Act gave power to the Board of Health to carry the whole scheme into operation. It gave most extensive powers to that Board, and among others the power of closing the burial yards of the metropolis, and of compelling the whole of its dead to be interred beyond the walls of the City. But no sooner had the Act passed and the Board of Health came to consider the amount of money necessary to be laid out in the purchase of cemeteries, than it was found that the sum was so large that they were unable to borrow the amount, in consequence of the Act not giving sufficient security for the repayment of the principal and inter- 1349 est. The Board of Health had calculated that there would be 51,000 funerals annually in the cemeteries which they proposed to lay out, and that the revenue arising therefrom would he sufficient to pay the interest of the debt; but it was subsequently found that there was no clause in the Act which compelled the inhabitants of the metropolis to bury their dead in the cemeteries to be created under its provisions. The Act, therefore, was practically a dead letter, and it had become necessary to apply to Parliament for another Act. The present Bill repealed the Act of 1850, and instead of vesting the necessary powers in the Board of Health, it vested them in the hands of one responsible authority, namely, one of the Secretaries of State. It enabled the Queen in Council, on the recommendation of the Secretary of State, to close such burial yards in the metropolis as might be thought necessary on the ground of public health or decency. Any parish so deprived of its burial ground was empowered to borrow money on the security of the poor-rates, for the purpose of providing a cemetery, or a portion of one, for the burial of its dead, precisely in the same way as money was now borrowed for the erection of union workhouses, under the obligation that the principal and interest were to be paid in twenty years. In the meanwhile, however, as burial places would be required for the parishes whose grounds had been closed, the Brompton Cemetery had been purchased by the Crown, for the purpose of relieving parishes so situate, and would be available for all those parishes which did not choose to make use of the cemeteries now in existence, or to borrow money for the purpose of providing a cemetery of their own. That would, in some degree, affect the question of compensation for loss of fees to incumbents. Of course, where a parish had secured its own burial ground, that parish would be at liberty to engage its own clergyman for the burial of the dead, and no doubt the clergyman whom they would employ would be their own incumbent. The case of the Dissenting population was met in this way. A portion of a new burial ground would not be consecrated; and therefore they would be at liberty to have their own ministers to officiate at the burial of their dead. The only valid objection raised to the Bill had been taken on the part of those who being the owners of private burial grounds, conceived that its provisions would operate injuriously and oppres- 1350 sively upon their interests. There were two descriptions of burial grounds within the metropolis. Some of the burial grounds had become charged with dead bodies to such an extent that it had become an object of horror within this city. He could not conceive that the owners of such burial grounds could found any just claim for compensation, seeing that they were already filled with dead to their utmost extent. But there were other parties who might be aggrieved by the Bill—namely, those who had property in burial grounds not fully charged with the dead, and who might, therefore, suffer material loss by this Bill. The Bill, as now drawn, gave no compensation to such parties; but the Government had determined, on the bringing up of the Report, and on the consideration of the question, to introduce such a clause as would meet such cases. The mode in which that would be done, would not be by giving any money compensation, but by excepting from the action of the Bill burial grounds belonging to private individuals, unless specially named by an Order in Council. In that case he apprehended the owner of such a burial ground would have a right to be heard before the order for closing the ground was conclusively made, with a view of showing to what extent he would be injured by such order. The Act only contemplated the shutting up of those burial grounds which were wholly charged with dead, or supposed to be injurious to the public health; and he apprehended the Crown would be enabled to do justice, from time to time, to individual eases.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
said, that, at an earlier part of the evening he had presented a petition from a number of very respectable Protestant Dissenters, who had urged him to propose certain alterations in the Bill, which had been unsuccessfully urged in the other House of Parliament, He informed them that he could not take that course, but he had promised to call the attention of that House and of the Government to their representations. The petitioners stated, that under the present law every person, whether a member of the Church of England or a Dissenter, who had been baptised, had a right at common law to be buried in the churchyard of his own parish. The consequence was, that in many instances there were vaults in churchyards belonging to families, some members of which might be members of the Church of England, while others 1351 were Dissenters, and it was a satisfaction to surviving relatives to know that all the deceased members of a family were buried in the same place. The petitioners had, however, taken up the notion that the new burial grounds to be constituted under the present Bill were to be divided into two portions, the one consisting of consecrated and the other of unconsecrated ground—that in the one part Dissenters might be buried according to their own rites; the other would be reserved for the interment of members of the Church of England; and the petitioners apprehended that, by the adoption of this measure, they would be deprived of the right they now possessed, although Dissenters, of being buried in consecrated ground. It did not appear to him, from a glance at the Bill, that that was the construction to be put upon it; and he had stated that he was certain, if the Bill could bear such a construction, it could not have been intended. He must say, for his own part, that he thought Dissenters might be allowed to be buried according to the rites of their own sects, although in consecrated ground; but he was afraid this Bill did not contain any provision on that subject.
§ The EARL of HARDWICKE
said, that by this Bill Dissenters would be enabled to bury their dead either in the consecrated or the unconsecrated portion of the parish cemetery or burial ground. With regard to the regret which had been expressed by the noble and learned Lord opposite, that the Dissenters should not be allowed to be buried by their own ministers in the consecrated ground, he had only to observe that that question had been decided over and over again, and it was discussed in the House of Commons, who did not agree to a provision for this purpose, because it was thought that it would totally change the character of a portion of the consecration if Dissenting ministers should be allowed to officiate in consecrated ground.
§ House in Committee.
§ Bill reported without Amendment; Amendments made; and Bill to be read 3a To-morrow.