HL Deb 13 July 1868 vol 193 cc1093-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, he would briefly explain its provisions and those of the present law. The latter depended upon an Act carried by Mr., afterwards Lord, Plunket, and it provided that, in the event of the burial of a person not a member of the Established Church in one of its graveyards, his relatives might ask permission of the clergyman to have the service read by a priest or Dissenting minister, and if the clergyman refused such permission he should give his reasons in writing to the applicants, and send a copy to the Bishop of the diocese, who should send it to the Lord Lieutenant. The author of the Bill said that his intention was that it should be regarded as a mandate, and that while he thought it possible that some wrong-headed clergyman might refuse his permission, he believed the Act would be found a remedy for the evils complained of. Unfortunately that had not been found to be the case; there had been several instances of refusal; and they were not confined to Roman Catholics, but had occurred in several instances to Presbyterians and Wesleyans. He was told that the feeling of the Presbyterians and of the Wesleyans in relation to the necessity for a Bill like the present was even stronger than that of the Roman Catholics. The Bill was short and simple, and provided that, instead of permission being asked, the clergyman should have no right to refuse the request, when made, for a priest or minister to read the burial service. Many of the Irish population were now buried without any service being read at their graves—buried like dogs, as Lord Plunket said in 1824. Yet the feeling in Ireland in regard to the sanctity of burial was greater than it was in most countries, and to outrage this feeling could have anything but a conciliatory effect upon the people. In the greater part of Ireland there were no separate graveyards for those who did not belong to the Established Church, and therefore a large part of the population were buried in the churchyard without having a service read over them. The priests of the Roman Catholic Church had a natural dislike to asking the clergyman for permission to read the Roman Catholic service; and Presbyterians and Wesleyans, although they did not share that dislike, had preferred requests which had unfortunately been refused. This was a state of things which it was desirable to put an end to, and he therefore hoped their Lordships would assent to the second reading of the Bill. The Primate of Ireland had given notice of a Motion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee; and he could not help regarding that Motion as an attempt to get rid of the Bill, which was resorted to under some apprehension as to the result of direct opposition, seeing that it proposed to relieve not only Roman Catholics but Protestant Dissenters. The Bill was so short and simple that any Amendments could easily be discussed in Committee of the Whole House; and he should therefore feel it to be his duty to oppose the Motion for referring it to a Select Committee

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.

Then it was moved, That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


said, he felt it to be his duty to move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. He did this, not to oppose the principle of the Bill, but in the hope that its deficiencies might be supplied, and that some Amendments might be made in parts of the Bill that were objectionable. The subject was a large and extensive one; it involved arrangements as to the burial in the same churchyard of persons of four or five different religions. This was a matter of very considerable delicacy, too much so to be dealt with in a single clause. The noble Earl had stated the present law correctly, with one exception; he had forgotten to say that the clergyman, when applied to for his consent, must give it in writing, and state the time for the burial. On the face of it the object was to prevent the interruption of divine service. The churchyard was the freehold of the incumbent, whose position was fully recognized in Lord Plunket's Bill; but this Bill treated him as a nullity, a defect he hoped to remedy in the Select Committee. The fixing of the hour gave mutual notice of the time of the funeral, but the Bill provided for no such arrangement, and the consequence might be the simultaneous arrival at the churchyard of two or more funerals of persons of different religious persuasions, and the clergyman might have to wait in his own churchyard until lengthy addresses had been delivered by those previously in possession. It was not necessary that the clergyman should be entirely disregarded in this way. The absence of any provision fixing the time was a practical inconvenience, for those constituting a funeral cortége could not know that they would clash with another, and a funeral party from a remote part of a parish might have to wait at the churchyard for an hour, on a wet day, owing to the omission of a desirable arrangement. Under the proposed arrangement there would be nothing but confusion and collisions. Then, it should be borne in mind that the sexton had care of the churchyard, but there was no provision in the Bill that he should receive notice of intended funerals, and the consequence would frequently be that when the sexton was not present with the key the churchyard would be broken into. At present the sexton took no fees, and was only entitled to a small salary, which was settled by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; but if he had additional labours imposed upon him he ought in fairness to receive additional remuneration. Then, again, the clergyman's jurisdiction over the tombs and monuments ought to be maintained, and it would be the duty of the Select Committee to take into consideration the circumstance that in Ireland there were eight different kinds of churchyards. For instance, there were the public and poorhouse burial grounds, Roman Catholic cemeteries, places of sepulture surrounding Dissenting chapels, those around the old monasteries, those on sites where Protestant churches formerly stood, and in which both Roman Catholics and Protestants had the right of sepulture; burial-grounds surrounding existing Protestant churches, and burial grounds near churches recently erected. With regard to the last, he might remark that since the Union a great number of churches had been built in Ireland. Indeed, he believed that no fewer than 550 had been erected since 1806. These were, for the most part, surrounded by small churchyards which were only suited for the interment of the Protestants in the district, and which would soon be overcrowded if the right to be interred there were claimed by the Roman Catholics. In his opinion, these burial grounds ought to continue to be appropriated to the uses for which they were originally intended. There would, indeed, be no objection to allow Dissenters to be interred there, but if Roman Catholics were admitted overcrowding would be the inevitable result. There was a strong reason why this Bill should not be passed at the present time. It was pretty generally understood that an attempt would be made next year to disestablish and disendow the Established Church in Ireland, and to reduce it to the position of a sect. Well, if that were done, it was only fair that the Church should enjoy the benefit of its new position. If, as was possible, the Bill did not pass this Session, it might be brought forward again next year; with the addition of such safeguards as would render it acceptable to the members of the Church in Ireland.

An Amendment moved to leave out from ("Bill") to the end of the Motion, and insert ("be referred to a Select Committee.")—(The Archbishop of Armagh.)


said, that although the most rev. Prelate had declared his assent to the principle of the Bill, he had, in fact, argued against the only principle it contained, and at the end of his speech had stated explicitly that the measure ought not to be passed. As to the various Amendments suggested by the most rev. Prelate, there was not one of them which required in the slightest degree the intervention of a Select Committee. Every one of the proposed Amendments might be satisfactorily dealt with, and in a very short space of time, in Committee of the Whole House. The most rev. Prelate had spoken of different classes of churchyards in Ireland; but, as the present Bill had reference to one class only, the objection had no force. As to the objection raised with respect to certain churchyards of very limited size, be wished to point out that the Bill in no way affected the right of burial, but simply provided that in churchyards where, by the present law, Catholics and Dissenters had a right to be buried, the burial services might be read by the clergymen of their respective denominations. On the whole, he thought their Lordships would come to the conclusion that the most rev. Prelate had not advanced sufficient reasons for the appointment of a Select Committee.


said, he thought the present was a very unfit time for bringing forward a measure of this kind, which would, in all probability lead to unseemly collisions in churchyards.


said, he could not see that there was the slightest ground for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, and he hoped the most rev. Prelate would not press his Motion.


said, he could not concur with his noble Friend (Lord Lyttelton) that no case had been made out for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, but at the same time he felt that the adoption of such a course at this late period of the Session would have the appearance of an attempt to burke the Bill. He was sure, however, that that was not the object of the most rev. Prelate. The Bill, it must be admitted, was very faulty in its details, and he, for one, should be extremely sorry to support it in its present shape. Greater safeguards ought, for instance, to be provided in order to prevent those collisions which he was afraid were more likely to occur in the sister country than in England. This was a part of the subject which his noble Friend who had charge of the Bill (the Earl of Kimberley) did not appear to have sufficiently considered. Under all the circumstances, perhaps the best course would be for the most rev. Prelate to give his attention to the matter during the next two or three days, and at a future stage of the Bill to bring forward such Amendments as he might deem necessary. The House would be quite competent to decide upon those Amendments, and also upon any which his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Kimberley) might think fit to bring forward.


said, he wished to express his readiness to confer in the most friendly spirit with the most rev. Prelate on the subject of any Amendments which he might deem it necessary to move.


said, he would adopt the suggestion of his noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal.

Amendment (by Leave of the House) withdrawn: Then the original Motion was agreed to: and Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.