THE EARL OF SANDWICH
begged to call the attention of the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll) to a question to which he had referred on a previous evening respecting the closing of the burial-grounds at Huntingdon, and to the inconvenience which had consequently been experienced by the proprietors of vaults within its precincts, who were denied access thereto. The question was one which affected the whole country, and would until it was settled be a source of continual discussion and anxiety to the parties having vaults. By the fourth clause of the Burials Act the Secretary 90 of State was authorised to send down an inspector for the purpose of ascertaining the expediency of reopening vaults in any particular place, when an application was made for the purpose; and he was desirous to know why the Secretary of State had not complied with the application in the particular case to which he had referred? He hoped the answer of the noble Duke would prove satisfactory, not alone to the persons in Huntingdon, hut to all parties throughout the kingdom who might feel aggrieved by the operation of the Act.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, he regretted that on the previous occasion he had not been able to answer the question put to him by the noble Earl; and he thought that now he should best answer it by making a short statement of what the law upon the subject really was. It was this: on the report of an inspector duly sent down by the Home Secretary, due notice having been given to all parties interested that his report had been sent to the Home Secretary, and that it contained a recommendation that it would be for the benefit of the public health to close any specified churchyard, it was in the power of the Privy Council, on the motion of the Home Secretary, to close any burial-ground either wholly or in part. The Act further gave to the Home Secretary a discretionary power to reopen a burial-ground wholly or in part; but that was not an arbitrary power in the hands of the Home Secretary; it could only be exercised on the Home Secretary being reasonably satisfied that the reopening would not be injurious to the public health, and it would be his duty to have some reasonable ground for thinking, before sanctioning the reopening, that all danger to the public health had passed away. With respect to the particular case of the burial-ground at Huntingdon, it had been closed, not in part, but wholly—including the vaults—after the inspector had reported to the Home Secretary that it would be injurious to the public health that burials should continue in that ground or in those vaults. Of course it was the duty of the Home Secretary not again to open those vaults unless he had some reasonable ground for believing that the danger no longer existed. The application in this case had been made, not for a general reopening of the vaults, but in the case of a particular individual who had died. Now it was quite impossible that between the death of the 91 individual and the time fixed for the interment, the Home Secretary could have the means of satisfying himself whether it was proper that the application should be granted or not. He believed that certain persons had waited on Sir G. Grey, and that on his statement as to the impossibility of the case, they were, upon the whole, satisfied. But whether they were so or not, their Lordships would be satisfied that the Home Secretary must exercise a reasonable discretion in the matter. The noble Earl's question was in effect, whether in all cases where the Home Secretary had sent down inspectors, and upon their report had closed any churchyard, he would upon application send down fresh inspectors to examine into the matter. Now, no such general rule could be laid down—it must depend altogether upon local circumstances. If the decision were recent, it would be unreasonable that the public should be put to the expense of sending down another inspector. In other circumstances, it might be thought reasonable to have a fresh inspection. This was all the answer he could give the noble Earl.
THE EARL OF SANDWICH
said, his complaint was that an inspection had been wholly refused by the Home Secretary, when the application was made. There ought to be some general rule on the subject.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
was glad his noble Friend had called the attention of the House to the subject, because the Government before long would be called upon to look into it, in consequence of the general feeling throughout the country that great distress was inflicted upon families, particularly in country towns. He was not in the slightest degree a sentimentalist on the subject of interments, as some were; still he could not avoid noticing to their Lordships the strong opinion entertained throughout the country as to the manner in which the Burial Act was carried out. He thought the persons appointed to carry out its provisions had dealt with it too hurriedly, and had carried it into operation without sufficient delay. He did not speak of London, where a necessity existed for the speedy closing of burial-grounds; he spoke of country churchyards; and, with respect to them, there was scarcely an instance in which there was any positive necessity to close them 92 immediately. The practice had been, that when the inspector or commissioner reported respecting churchyards and vaults, without any time whatever being allowed, especially in the case of vaults, they were closed in a few hours, and the first notice the families had that their vaults would be closed to them, and that they could no longer be laid by the side of their dead relations, was a notification that an Order in Council had closed these vaults. Should the noble Duke doubt this statement, he would cite the particular case of Christ-church, in his own neighbourhood. They had there a very large church, scarcely inferior in size to some of their cathedrals, but which contained the vaults of only three families. Well, notice had been given to close these vaults instantly, while the churchyard, very properly, was not closed for two years. The vaults under a dissenting chapel had been closed; and he had been written to a few days ago, by a person in very great distress, stating that a lady was expecting to die every moment, that her husband was buried in a vault, that the vault was closed, and that she could not without the permission of the Secretary of State be laid in the same vault with her husband. Application had been made to the Home Office three weeks ago that permission should be given for the purpose, but no answer whatever was received. He was aware that at that time Sir George Grey was acting as Home Secretary and Colonial Secretary, and possibly the matter would not attract the attention of the head of the department; but although the Secretary himself could not be expected to look into such matters, his subordinates ought to have done so, and it was very distressing to the parties to find that no notice was taken of their application. He would suggest to the Government, that in carrying out this Act, in no case whatever should the vaults be closed without twelve months notice to the parties interested.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, that if persons were not aware of the intention to close the vaults, it was their own fault, because means were adopted by the Home Office to make them aware of the fact.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
begged to remark that the three families, whose cases had come under his consideration, had no notice whatever that the churchyards would be closed, and knew nothing of the fact until they were closed. He 93 should like to know what was the channel of communication by which they were apprised of the intention to close.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
believed the Act of Parliament directed that the report of the inspector, and the recommendation of the Home Secretary, should be published and advertised in the district. Objections to closing ought to be made before issuing the Order in Council; after that, it became difficult for the Home Secretary to interfere.
THE BISHOP OF LONDON
said, he quite agreed with the noble Earl, that the Act had been altogether carried out with too much haste, and that great public inconvenience had arisen from the operation of the Act; and he would, for the third time, call the attention of their Lordships to the great grievance that was inflicted on the metropolis by the precipitate closing of burial-grounds. He should feel it to be his duty to bring the question in a formal manner before their Lordships, and he should be able to make a statement corroborative of that made by him on a former occasion. He would be able to show that the evil of which he then complained still existed, and was increasing. Until the Government took measures to compel parishes to provide cemeteries, they were in many cases bound to order the reopening of the existing burial-grounds, because the mischief thereby created would not be so great as the evil at present experienced.
§ LORD PORTMAN
thought it was not quite fair to the parties interested to take a very strict view of the Act; and he would suggest that the Secretary of State should allow the inspectors to examine the vaults and burial-places of the neighbourhood in which he happened to be, so that no delay should take place when the vaults were required for interment, and parties should be spared the pain of having to overcome difficulties in obtaining access to family vaults at the moment, perhaps, when the body was prepared for interment.