HL Deb 22 June 1882 vol 271 cc13-5

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(The Earl Fortescue.)


said, that, in his opinion, it was unwise to bring in this Bill, as he thought the present law, by which persons guilty of felo de se were buried without religious rights, had a deterrent effect in preventing suicide. No one supposed that the law had a deterrent effect upon those who were already upon the verge of suicide; but it had an effect on public opinion, and prevented persons not yet driven to despair from familiarizing their minds with the idea that suicide was an allowable remedy. He would, therefore, move that the Committee on the Bill should be taken on that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the motion ("this day three months.")—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


said, the scope of the Bill was very small. The barbarous requirement that the interment of felones de se should be made at four cross-roads with a stake driven through their bodies was abolished nearly 60 years ago; but by 4 Geo. IV., c. 62, there remained the prohibition of any religious service. The interment of a felo de se must take place within 24 hours after the finding of the verdict; and, as the law had been interpreted, it must be conducted between the hours of 9 and 12 at night by the police, and not by the members of the family of the deceased. A religious service approved by the Ordinary was conceded by the Burials Act of 1880, and the only practical effect of the present measure would be to enable the relatives to bury the deceased at a more convenient hour than between 9 o'clock and midnight. He did not believe that the present law had any deterrent effect, while it was very painful to relatives to think that, through an act of temporary insanity, their connections had been deprived of Christian burial. He therefore asked the House to remove the last legal vestige of a barbarous mediaeval requirement.


asked their Lordships whether, in their experience, they had ever known an instance where a man or woman had determined to commit the sin of suicide, they had ever been deterred by the reflection that they would be buried by the police in the night without religious rites. All persons of any knowledge on the subject would tell them that it was perfectly ridiculous to suppose that in such a state of mind they would be troubled by the consideration of what would become of their bodies. The public generally were always disposed to attribute such acts to insanity and no other cause; and it might be shown that, though there were, no doubt, cases of felo de se, the majority of self-destroyers approached as nearly as possible the condition of insanity, and was, availing themselves of the notion, the reason why coroners' juries, almost invariably brought in a verdict of temporary insanity. He might mention to their Lordships that in one year there were 6,000 suicidal patients confined in the public and private asylums of England; of these, only 21 succeeded in perpetrating the act of self-destruction; but of those at large no less than 1,600 had committed suicide. From this it must be inferred that care and early treatment were the best preventive against the extension of this evil.


said, he desired to express his entire approval of the measure proposed by his noble Friend. The sole object of the present Bill was to relieve the surviving friends of those unfortunate persons who might take their own lives under circumstances in which a jury might hold the act to be wilful from the additional distress and misery which arose out of the present harsh regulations of the law, and to enable them, if they could derive consolation from the use of religious services, to have the benefit of such consolation. He was wholly unable to conceive on what reason, either of principle or of policy, that consolation could be denied them; and, therefore, he cordially supported the measure of the noble Earl.


said, that the object he had in moving the rejection of the Bill had been partly obtained by the speech which they had heard from the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury), and insuring that the Bill should not pass without some discussion. He begged leave to withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Original motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly.

Bill reported without amendment, and to be read 3a To-morrow.