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Line 40, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 50, before the word 'European' insert the words 'Environmental Audit Committee or with the'.
Line 52, at the end insert the words:--
'(4A) notwithstanding paragraphs (2) and (4) above, where more than two committees or sub-committees appointed under this order meet concurrently in accordance with paragraph (4)(e) above, the quorum of each such committee or sub-committee shall be two.'--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

(1) this House approves the First Report from the Procedure Committee, Session 2000-01 (HC 47); and
(2) the Resolution of 5th June 1996 on the Language of Parliamentary Proceedings be amended accordingly by inserting, after the word 'Wales,', the words 'and at Westminster in respect of Select Committees'.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

Hon. Members: Object.

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Cemeteries and Crematoriums

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

10.8 pm

Mr. David Amess (Southend, West): We politicians might think that we are immortal, but we are certainly not. In my time as a serving Member of the House, a number of colleagues have died. It was an extraordinary experience to serve on a Committee considering rate-capping legislation whose passage took an extremely long time, as two hon. Members died during our proceedings. Before I became a Member of Parliament, a Minister died at the Dispatch Box. Last year, an hon. Member was killed in a fire. Hon. Members have committed suicide and an hon. Member was assassinated. We are not immortal. Hon. Members, like everyone else, can be certain only of the fact that they will die.

Members of Parliament attend the funerals of friends and relatives all the time. A constituent recently observed that I had become a professional mourner. Perhaps that is because many senior citizens live in the area that I represent, and they are prone to die, especially in winter. For many years, I was an altar server, and I have therefore attended numerous funerals.

Some people can be hard about such matters. Their view is: we die and that is the end of it; what awaits us is a bit scary, but does what happens to the body really matter? I believe that it does. Some people make their own funeral arrangements, but the majority do not. Those who are left behind to dispose of the bodies of their loved ones may suffer trauma and depend on others for good, fair and reasonable advice. Not everyone has relatives, and it is left to the state or the hospital in which they died to make the arrangements.

There is increasing pressure for cremation. We could argue the merits of cremation against those of burial, but an impression is given that there is a shortage of space and that we should consider cremation because we cannot all be buried. I do not want to exaggerate it, but there is a tendency to recommend cremation. I am worried about that. I hope that the people who present options to those who are grieving do so fairly.

I obtained a fascinating document called "Good Funerals", a background paper that was prepared on behalf of the ecumenical Churches group on funeral services at cemeteries and crematoriums. It covers good practice. I do not expect the Minister to be able to respond to all my points, but I should be delighted if he could deal with some, and perhaps write to me. What is the Government's position on the conduct of cremations? I do not want to name crematoriums, but in some, the process is a little hard-hearted. No sooner has one funeral party arrived than the next group of mourners is waiting to come in. The process appears to be conducted in conveyor-belt fashion. Someone presses the button, the organ plays--when there is no organist, a tape of music can be played--a hymn may be sung, the vicar will do his best to say something and suddenly one is outside looking at the flowers and that is the end.

Perhaps many people want that sort of funeral, but I am not convinced. People may be satisfied with it at the time because no one wants to go to funerals. I attended a friend's funeral, which appeared in the news. He was a

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teacher who, sadly, committed suicide. That funeral was traumatic for the huge number of mourners from Lewisham and Newham. Mourning is tough, but funerals should be conducted with the greatest possible dignity. That is why I am worried about the industrial side of the process.

What are the Government's views on the financial support that can be provided? The Government whom I supported introduced grants for such events; we could argue about whether they covered the costs. What is the Government's view on those who have no one to dispose of their body? How does the state deal with their wishes, especially if they are cremated? What happens to their ashes?

The Oddfellows survey of funeral costs in Britain tells us that last year, the average burial cost £2,040 and the average cremation cost £1,250. In the past two years, the cost of burials has gone up by 25 per cent. and the cost of cremations by 12 per cent. That is a lot of money. I know that it has to come from somewhere, and I wonder whether the Government have any views on that matter.

On the disposal of ashes, a person will often come to an arrangement with a cemetery to have ashes interred and to have a rose that they will pay to have maintained for 10 years. Then that person dies, and there is no one to carry on the payments. What happens to those ashes? Are they dug up? Are they used for a further garden? Do the Government have a view on how such circumstances should be dealt with?

Some hon. Members may smile, but when I prepare to meet my maker, I wish to be buried. Possibly the only thing for which I shall be remembered will be my smiling face in 1992--that may have been a horror for some people but for one or two it will perhaps have been my only contribution to national life. I think my Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act 1988 and my Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000 are also worthy of note. It is my own individual choice to be buried, as it is the individual choice of many other people, who have firm views on how a burial should be conducted and, in particular, how a grave should be adorned with a monument. The Minister has been a Member of Parliament as long as I have, and we have all had letters from constituents about the rules and regulations about the size of monuments, the wording on tombstones and whether one can have kerbs. There is also a debate as to how the regulations apply in a churchyard or local authority graveyard. If one is very upset, those are difficult issues with which to deal.

I am delighted that the Select Committee on the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs is undertaking to produce a report on the state of our cemeteries. One of my colleagues said to me recently that they had inadvertently visited my father's grave in West Ham cemetery, and that it was in good order. I certainly pay tribute to the way in which that cemetery is kept. However, I wonder whether the Government intend to give further guidance on the rules and regulations on how people can mark the loss of their loved ones.

In my family, we have had a long argument about kerbstones. In a particular part of the cemetery, there is a plan to remove the kerbstones because it is hoped that the whole area will eventually be grassed over. That is crazy, because it is a very old part of the cemetery and there are some very large monuments either side of the area.

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How on earth is someone going to be able to clip the grass when it eventually grows? I take the view that if people are keeping a grave well, there should be some flexibility in these matters.

In the years that I have spent in the House, I have received a number of complaints from constituents. I am not knocking London Members or London boroughs, but those boroughs tend to have the biggest cemeteries and constituents have turned up in a London cemetery to find that the grave that they wished to visit has disappeared. We can all think of incidents over the years of cemeteries having been sold or not having been properly maintained, and I regret all that. What is the Government's view on that issue?

In a recent case in my constituency, a widow wanted her late husband to be buried in the military part of a cemetery. That was fine--they believed in burials--but she herself could not have been buried there, although she could have been cremated and had her ashes interred in the grave. She did not want that, so her husband was not buried in the military area. That seems crazy.

A constituent recently wrote to me about my local council's charge of £126 for permission to erect a headstone. I understand that other Essex authorities charge between £35 and £65. My constituent said that the authority only charges £95 for permission to erect a garage, and that two site visits are included in that fee. With the ever-increasing cost of a basic funeral, why is VAT on gravestones not zero-rated? I know that funds are limited, and that the situation has always been the same, but might the Government consider that? How much VAT revenue do they receive from that source?

People have asked me whether we might consider the Italian practice of interment in walls. I do not know whether that is a possibility.

Last year, I attended my first green funeral. One of our parish councillors died, and when I heard that she was to be buried in a cardboard box, I thought that it could not be true, but when a large gathering turned up at the funeral, we found that it was indeed so. The funeral was conducted with great dignity. The body was interred and will eventually form part of a woodland, which is something that some people like.

It is most unfortunate that, in my area, there is a rubbish tip right beside the very old Jewish cemetery. That is horrendous planning. One would have thought that someone, somewhere, would have said that that was not a good idea--but there we are, these things happen.

Recently, someone from Devon who does family research wrote to praise my local cemetery in Sutton road. He said how very helpful all the staff and local authority officers were and how they had welcomed him with a smile as he looked up the details of the people whom he was trying to trace.

Since this debate was announced, many people have contacted me about the lack of space and increasing land values. The Treasury is to publish the second consultative document on the security of pre-plan payments. The National Association of Funeral Directors is very interested in that. The funeral directors have pointed out a ramification of the working time directive about which I had no idea: burials may have to be early in the day to escape greater charges, especially between October and March.

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There is disquiet among stonemasons about local authorities selling stones directly. One can see their point.

There are apparently European Union laws trying to ban the burial of embalmed bodies in green sites. The EU directive on embalming chemicals apparently means that since last May there has been a need to register, which costs between £20,000 and £40,000. I am advised that a monopoly could result, as many small companies cannot afford that. The Government rightly say that mercury emissions must be reduced, but the embalmers association tells me--I cannot believe it--that that might lead to mercury dental fillings being removed before cremation. New cremation equipment is more expensive. Difficulties will arise with regard to listed buildings with cremation equipment--about 50 per cent. of these listed buildings have cremation equipment.

I have been told by embalmers and staff at cemeteries and crematoriums that they would welcome more consultation by the Government prior to the issue of guidance notes and ensuing legislation. However, I am sure that the Government do their best to involve people, and there are always two sides to a story.

We all want to give our loved ones a good send-off, and everyone has a different idea of what that is. I am a Catholic; one is brought into the church the night before the funeral and then it is a straightforward matter. I understand that sometimes the liaison between the local vicars and funeral directors is not great, with vicars being told that they have only 20 minutes in which to carry out the service in crematoriums and are allowed only one or two hymns.

On the basis that we will all die and that there will, we hope, be someone to mourn us, I hope that the Government will do all they can to underpin what is already being done to support those who are left behind to mourn the passing of their loved ones.

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