HL Deb 25 June 1877 vol 235 cc181-7

Order of the Day for the further consideration of the Report of Amendments, read.

Moved, "That the said Order be discharged."—(The Lord President.)


My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to express a hope respecting this matter. Those who supported the noble Earl behind me (the Earl of Harrowby) know and feel that no one can have so much opportunity of judging of the opinion of the country on this matter as Her Majesty's Government—especially as they have been addressed by large bodies of persons, as I understand. Everyone who knows what the nature of such a question is and how great the delicacy with which it ought to be treated, will acquiesce, I suppose, in the absolute propriety of not forcing upon any parties a decision which might leave in their minds a rankling and uneasy feeling that their earnest protests in favour of their rights have not been attended to. Therefore, my Lords, fully acquies- cing in the absolute necessity of postponing this measure, as Her Majesty's Government have thought it right to do, I rise principally with the view of expressing a most earnest hope that during the six or nine months which must elapse before this measure can appear again before your Lordships, it will be calmly considered by all those who have to do with this question out-of-doors. We know that there are professional agitators who live and thrive upon questions of this kind; and it is always impossible to prevent an agitation arising on such questions in which the real merits of so difficult and delicate a subject are lost sight of. As regards your Lordships' own House, this matter has been approached by all parties with an earnest and hearty desire to settle a delicate and most unpleasant question; and I cannot but hope and believe that during the months that are before us neither the Clergy nor the Laity—neither the defenders of our ancient institutions on the one hand, nor those who are determined to do their best to obtain more freedom in this matter for our Dissenting brethren—will lose sight of the duty of treating this question in the same calm and temperate way in which it has been treated by your Lordships' House. I may be excused, perhaps, if I state shortly what I believe to be the position of the question as it now stands before the country. Your Lordships' House, which certainly may be taken to represent as well as any other body in the Kingdom the opinions of the Laity of the Church of England, and which certainly is not likely to forget any dangers which may threaten the Established Church, has by a considerable majority recorded its opinion that this question ought to be settled, and settled in a particular direction. I take it that the calm decision of this body must have great weight with all who are interested in this matter. The Clergy are fully entitled to be heard on their side of the question, and it was the endeavour of myself and of my most rev. Brother (the Archbishop of York), in the course of the recent debate, to suggest certain changes in the law which we thought would be acceptable to the Clergy generally, and which I still believe must be embodied in any measure which may be proposed for the final settlement of the burial question in the next Session of Parliament. The two matters to which we venture to draw the attention of the Clergy are these— that a large number of Dissenters are at present incapable of being buried with religious rites by the Clergy of the Church of England, and that they are in most instances desirous of being buried by their own ministers with such religious rites as have been suggested. To meet this difficulty I ventured to propose an Amendment to the Bill, and with the view of meeting another and a different difficulty, my most rev. Brother proposed another Amendment, which it was very difficult to formulate, and which, after two careful considerations of it, your Lordships determined not to accept in the form in which it was proposed. But it is my belief that when this question comes to be settled full consideration must be given to the difficulty which my most rev. Brother has brought under your Lordships' notice; and that it will never do in conceding to our Dissenting brethren some rights which they have not hitherto possessed to leave the Clergy in a disadvantageous position with reference to the indiscriminate burial of all persons, whatever may be their character and whatever may be the circumstances of their death. I am most anxious that the Clergy of the Church of England during the interval which the decision of the Ministry has procured for them should consider this matter in that spirit of kindly Christian charity which is the best ornament of their profession.


said, that the Amendments of the most rev. Prelate and of the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) were quite at variance with each other. He would wish to see leading Dissenters meet Churchmen and agree upon some form of burial service; but the Amendment of the most rev. Prelate was quite indefinite, and looked for approbation by the Bishop perhaps nearly seven days after a service might have been performed. As to the Amendment of the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby), which was brought on a second time— after rejection—in a most unusual manner, under it, a friend or enemy of the deceased, having charge of his funeral, might dispense with any religious service, or introduce any religious service to be performed by a layman in a churchyard. He (Lord Denman) regretted ex- tremely that the vantage ground obtained by this Bill having been read a second time had not helped it forward, and that the same agreement which existed in Scotland and Ireland did not exist in England, and deplored the effect of a difference as to a formality disuniting Parliament at the very time that they ought to show to the world an example of agreement.


said, that while he was sorry the Government had not seen fit to adopt the solution of the difficulty embodied in the recent vote of their Lordships, he concurred with the most rev. Primate in hoping that the matter would be discussed during the Recess in a calm and temperate spirit. The subject ought to engage the attention of Convocation, and he sincerely trusted that Body would do all that lay in their power towards the settlement of this delicate and difficult question by suggesting alterations in the Burial Service, such as had been made by the American Episcopal Church, as would render it easy for the clergy to make use of it, without scandal or scruple, in all cases.


thought the noble Earl's Amendment had failed to provide sufficient security for the protection of the rights of the clergy to their churchyards. He hoped the consideration of the question by the clergy in Convocation, and by the public out-of-doors, would be approached in a calm spirit and with a desire to take such steps as would be best calculated to bring about a satisfactory settlement.


could not refrain from expressing his deep regret that a settlement of this matter should be deferred to another year. The question of burials could not be satisfactorily settled unless means were taken to give perfect liberty of burial in churchyards to members of Dissenting Bodies, and he believed it would be found necessary for this purpose to vest churchyards in a parochial corporation other than the parson. As to relieving the consciences of clergymen, he believed this could not be done by providing alternative services to be used at their discretion, but by some modification of the Burial Service which would enable it to be used without offence over the dead, be they whom they might.


said, he entirely concurred in the wish which had been expressed that the discussion which was perfectly certain to arise on this question during the next six or nine months might be conducted with calmness and moderation; but he did not think that the course which had been taken by the Government was likely to tend very much to that result. Last Session the Government gave a pledge that they would deal with this subject; and this year they brought forward a Bill of which his noble Friend (the Lord President) said, in introducing it, that it only dealt incidentally with the religious question, and that it had been brought in principally on account of an urgent sanitary want. Instead of pressing the measure forward, however, their Lordships had been informed that in the face of a majority of votes in favour of a proposal which would bring about a satisfactory settlement of the question, the Bill was to be withdrawn. No doubt there might be difficulties in the way of any Bill which reached the House of Commons at this period of the Session; but whose fault was that, so far as this Bill was concerned? There had been no measure of urgency before their Lordships, and yet the Burials Bill had been extended over 15 weeks before they had arrived at the Report of Amendment in Committee. Not only so, but they had not even had a repetition of the pledge which was given last year, that the Government would be fully prepared to deal with the subject next Session. He regretted that after the vote of the other evening—a vote which was not of any mere Denominational or Party character—the Government should not have persevered with their measure.


said, the noble Earl (Earl Granville) was under a misapprehension, when he stated that the Government made a pledge last year to deal with what was called the religious difficulty. His impression was that the Government made no such pledge in the absolute sense which the words of his noble Friend were intended to convey. But, while that was the case, and while it was perfectly true that, in introducing the present measure, he laid stress upon the necessity of the Bill in a sanitary point of view, and upon the necessity also of a consolidation of the Burial Acts, the Government had attempted to deal with the religious difficulty by the insertion of clauses which his noble Friend seemed to have entirely forgotten. In this House, however, they had met with an amount of opposition which Her Majesty's Government had not been able successfully to resist. The noble Earl said that this Bill had been 15 weeks before the House, and that there had been great obstruction of Business in the other House of Parliament. The Government were not responsible for what had taken place in regard to the obstruction of Business in the other House of Parliament; but such was the condition of Business in the other House that if this Bill had been sent down there a month ago it would not yet have been brought under consideration. It was not, therefore, correct to cast upon this House the odium of the statement of the noble Earl, which, if it meant anything, meant that the Government had purposely delayed this Bill because they did not want to carry it. He denied the correctness of any such assertion. The Government did honestly endeavour to deal with the question which they had undertaken to bring before Parliament: they had redeemed the pledge which they gave, and had introduced a Bill which they thought and believed would, if carried, have been of advantage to the public. He stated the other night that the Amendment of the noble Earl (the Earl of Harrowby) was so contrary to the scheme of the Government, and would so entirely derange the manner in which the Bill was framed, that they must withdraw the measure; but he also said —and he repeated it to-night—that the question was one of great importance, and that it would receive the careful attention of the Government during the Recess.


admitted that the noble Duke was not open to the observation that he had not taken great pains to pass a Bill in accordance with the views he had expressed. What was complained of was that Her Majesty's Government had not yielded to the decision which had been arrived at by their Lordships' House. They had that evening received some excellent advice from the most rev. Primate as to the course which should be taken by those who took part in the discussion of the question during the Recess. The most rev. Primate had recommended the greatest calmness, the greatest desire to avoid all irritating topics, and the greatest desire to bring to the consideration of the question a sincere wish to remedy not merely the grievance which their Lordships had admitted to exist, but also to protect the interests of the Established Church. What would most conduce to promote such a temper and frame of mind would, he believed, be an acknowledgment that Her Majesty's Government saw the question in the light in which their Lordships viewed it, and were determined to bring it next year to a final and satisfactory conclusion. They had observed that noble Lords opposite had not seemed very anxious to dispute the views which had been advanced in support of the Amendment of the noble Earl. It was true that the noble Duke had spoken strongly in support of his own views; and the the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) had spoken with an amount of caution not always observable in the most powerful and impressive of his speeches, for he stated half-a-dozen times that he was not speaking his own sentiments, but the sentiments of certain memorialists whose views, he thought, ought to be considered by their Lordships. But as to any other Member of the distinguished Bench opposite, he did not know that any one of them had endeavoured to persuade their Lordships to reject that which was the real essence of the Bill. Sanitary questions were no doubt important, but it would perhaps be better to treat them separately from a question of difficulty and delicacy like this. Here was a grievance to be remedied, and the question was, whether it was to be remedied in the manner in which a majority of their Lordships' House had determined in the most significant and decisive manner that it should be remedied. This matter should receive the careful consideration of those who advised the Crown, and who were the trustees of that Church of which the Crown was the head. The welfare of the Church of England was more involved in the amicable and pacific solution of this question than that of any other institution in the country.

Motion agreed to; Order discharged accordingly; and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.