Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by The Cremation Society of Great Britain (CEM 99)

  1.  During the twentieth century, burial legislation was given less attention than cremation legislation and we therefore welcome the Select Committee's decision to examine cemeteries and the provision for burial.

  2.  The Cremation Society, a registered charity founded in 1874, is the pioneer of cremation in Great Britain. It has been successful in its endeavours to the extent that cremation is by far the most preferred method of disposing of the dead, with approximately 70 per cent of all funerals resulting in cremation. Since the first cremation in 1885, a total of approximately 17.5 million (1999) cremations have been carried out.

  3.  The Society believes that the re-organisation of burial arrangements could have detrimental effects on cremation facilities. Nevertheless, we believe in the availability of choice for the general public when contemplating funeral arrangements and therefore believe that the option for burial should remain. It was on this very foundation of choice that led to the success of the cremation movement and the acceptance of the practice of cremation by the vast majority of the public.

  4.  The Society continues to vigorously promote cremation. From its inception it has done so on the basis that the practice offers bereaved families a more practical, convenient, simpler and less expensive option for the disposal of the dead than burial. At the same time, there are the additional beneficial aspects of public health and hygiene together with the undoubted improvements in the quality of life for those communities benefiting from open spaces arising out of the land saved by crematoria as opposed to cemetery developments.

  5.  Approximately 193 of the 242 crematoria operating in Great Britain are owned or operated by local authorities. Over the last hundred years, cremation has provided these with huge savings in the provision of land and a profitable way of discharging their obligations under successive Cremation Acts when compared with the subsidies required for cemeteries. Most Christian groups have adopted cremation as a fitting and respectful form of funeral. Cremation also provides those ethnic groups such as Sikhs and Hindus with the traditional rituals that they require.

  6.  In 1989 in his paper entitled "Managing Cemeteries and Crematoria in a competitive environment", presented at the Cremation Society Conference, Mr P McGuirk, Secretary of the Audit Commission estimated that perhaps 6,000 acres of land had been saved through the practice of cremation, which equated to an area the size of the City of Bath or ten times the City of London. At that time the total number of cremations carried out since the first cremation was approximately 12.5 million.

  7.  Great Britain is not unique in having to review and rationalise its provision for the disposal of the dead. The benefits that cremation brings, both to bereaved families, local authorities and communities, especially in those countries where the emphasis was previously on burial, are now being recognised. This has manifested itself in the provision and increase of cremation facilities in the European Community and various countries throughout the world.

  8.  Any Inquiry into the provision of cemeteries must include an analysis of local authority funding for such facilities, their provision and long-term maintenance. This must also extend to the costs of closed cemeteries and those churchyards taken over from parish churches. We understand that "Good Value" surveys on burials and cemeteries undertaken by an increasing number of local authorities contain evidence to suggest that, unlike the past, profits from crematoria are not generally used to subsidise cemetery undertakings. Furthermore, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that local authorities take reduced—cost options when making cemetery decisions without consulting bereaved families. Consulting funeral directors alone is not sufficient.

  9.  We note that the Committee will be looking at funding from National Lottery distributing bodies in the context of the funding and economic viability of cemeteries. Successive governments have encouraged cremation authorities to become self-financing in order to eliminate subsidies. Over the past decade the cremation movement has successfully addressed this problem, whilst at the same time having to fund capital expenditure amounting to between £125-£150 million in order to meet the requirements of new environmental legislation. There is an on-going obligation to meet further capital expenditure as and when upgrading is required as a result of changes in legislation. When they occur these costs will be borne by cremation authorities and ultimately rate payers, and are likely to amount to very substantial sums.

  10.  In the light of the present situation the likelihood of loss-making cemeteries, representing by far the minority choice as a mode of disposing of the dead, receiving funding from National Lottery sources is inequitable. Such an eventuality would be likely to have serious financial repercussions for cremation authorities throughout the country bringing into question their financial viability and future. We therefore hope the Committee will bear this in mind when looking at this particular aspect of possible funding.

  11.  The Inquiry should address such matters as service times, hours of openings and the possibilities for the use of cemeteries for funerals on Saturdays and Sundays. Their closure on these days deny the public both choice and the opportunity of a good attendance by mourners at a time they are most likely to be free.

  12.  The issue of choice for bereaved families, and indeed for those preparing for their own deaths, is particularly important in inner-city boroughs particularly London and other larger cities. Inner London boroughs have few years left for burial space (see LAPC Report 1997) and did not either invest in crematoria or encourage the use of existing excess capacity. This inevitably reduced the public's choice between modes of disposal.

  13.  This also penalises families in inner cities especially, because the continuation of differential fees for burial and cremation means that people who are buried/cremated outside their boroughs of residence have to pay extra. We believe this system contains inequalities and should be re-examined.

  14.  We sympathise with the Select Committee's concern for the part cemeteries can play in urban regeneration. In this respect, any opportunity for the re-opening of closed city churchyards, especially for the disposal and memorialisation of cremated remains, would help these places re-adopt their original function in ways that would provide safe and accessible places for people to remember their dead.

  15.  From its beginning, the Society has worked to promote the part cremation can play in the reform and improvement of funeral arrangements for bereaved people and has supported a number of initiatives on this including the Dead Citizens Charter.

  We very much hope that the above comments and observations are of help to the Committee and we are of course ready to offer any further assistance should it be required.

R N Arber


January 2001

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