Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda

Memorandum by the National Association of Memorial Masons (CEM 42)


  1.  The National Association of Memorial Masons (NAMM), which was founded in 1907, is the trade association for memorial masons in the UK. We estimate that we represent about one third of the memorial masonry businesses meeting our entry criteria. We also have some 28 burial authorities in corporate associate membership.

  2.  NAMM wishes to submit representatives to the Committee on the following topics:

    —  The condition of existing cemeteries.

    —  Aspects of the management and provision of cemetery service.

    —  The funding of cemeteries.


  3.  NAMM's mission is "To further the memorial masonry industry and safeguard the interests of the bereaved through the promotion of high standards, wide choice and increased understanding in all matters relating to natural stone memorials.

  To give assistance and support to member companies and to promote their interests".

  To this end NAMM:

    —  operates a "Recommended Code of Working Practice", which is accepted by a rapidly increasing number of burial authorities as the minimum standard to which memorials should be fixed.

    —  develops and tests methods of fixing memorials.

    —  operates Codes of Ethics and Business Practice to which all members are expected to adhere.

    —  operates a "conciliation and arbitration service" in the event of customer/mason disputes.

    —  assists burial authorities in the reviewing/redrafting of their cemetery regulations.

    —  runs "training days" for burial authorities in how to assess the stability of previously erected memorials.

    —  provides technical and other advice to burial authorities and other relevant parties when requested.

    —  is setting up, via the BSI, a British Standard on Memorial Stability (Note: this is in its final stages within the BSI and should be published as a standard within the first half of 2001).

    —  is working to set up a national register of accredited memorial masons.

    —  co-sponsors the Cemetery of the Year Awards.

    —  publishes an advisory leaflet for the memorial-buying public.

    —  offers any other appropriate assistance it can to any party involved with natural stone memorials.


  4.  Cemeteries are important places. They are part of our heritage in addition to being places in which to bury our dead, they should also be:

    —  comforting and safe for the bereaved. Research has shown that they have a very valuable part to play in helping the bereaved come to terms with the loss of a loved one. It has also shown that memorials often provide a focal point first for their grief and later for remembrance and tributes.

    —  a fitting backdrop to the social history they inevitably contain.

    —  pleasant and properly managed open spaces.

    —  safe habitats for many of Britain's flora and fauna.


  5.  NAMM considers the following to be some of the problems which need addressing:

    (i)  Graves and memorials may not always be properly maintained by the family of the interred and can fall into disrepair.

    (ii)  Poor ground maintenance.

    (iii)  Poor design.

    (iv)  Unnecessary and/or ill-advised regulations.

    (v)  A frequent lack of co-ordination.

    (vi)  Insecurely erected memorials.

    (vii)  Vandalism and other misuse.

    (viii)  A lack of respect by society in general and the local community in particular. (Note: This is not helped by our culture in which anything connected with death is still, to a great extent, taboo).


  6.  Graves should be "sold" on a renewable lease basis as has long been the accepted practice in other European countries. This would help to overcome the problems of memorials falling into disrepair.

  It is recognised that this idea would need to be very tactfully "sold" to the public. However, it should not be an insurmountable problem. The recycling of graves is also necessary if parts of the country are not to run out of space for new burials.

  7.  Cemeteries should be able to charge families of the interred a small annual ground maintenance fee. The income from this, and all other income directly in respect of cemeteries, should be used for cemetery management and maintenance, it should not be put into the general funds of the local authority.

  8.  Good ground maintenance is extremely important for both the appearance of the cemetery and the stability of memorials. Cost cutting in this area should not result in any lowering of standards.

  The overuse of weed killer around memorials can result in bare areas of earth which, apart from being unsightly can lead to dangerous ground erosion, particularly on sloping ground. This can undermine the stability of the memorials.

  9.  The impact of poor cemetery design may go much further than merely affecting the cemetery's appearance. For example, insufficient planting whilst also making the cemetery look bleak, can lead to ground erosion.

  A cemetery layout which requires memorials to be erected on the dug ground of a grave will inevitably result in potential memorial instability.

  10.  Memorial instability is currently an extremely important issue. NAMM is working hard to assist local authorities in assessing the risks of memorial instability and in the testing of memorial fixings designed to minimise or eliminate any potential risks. It also offers local authorities help in reviewing/rewriting their cemetery regulations. (Note: As a result of extensive tests NAMM has produced a Recommended Code of Working Practice which a rapidly increasing number of burial authorities now cite as the minimum standard to which memorials must be fixed).

  However, ultimately it is the local authority who must determine cemetery regulations and, more importantly, police them. There are an increasing number of cases where cemetery regulations are quite clearly being breached yet a number of local authorities do not seem to have the will to enforce them. This can often seem unjust to both the public and to memorial masons who abide by those regulations.

  11.  Vandalism, misuse and a general lack of respect for cemeteries are symptomatic of the problems facing society in general. Whilst extra security is obviously one way of tackling the problem, it is costly and unlikely to change attitudes. NAMM is of the opinion that, in the long run, and in addition to extra security, actions such as the following could be of real long term benefit:

    —  improving the way cemeteries look (generally the better places look the less the likelihood of vandalism and other such misuse occurring).

    —  actively encouraging young people to understand the interest and importance of cemeteries. Many cemeteries make excellent classrooms for the study of a multitude of subjects.

    —  actively encouraging interest groups to use them.

    —  actively encouraging "open days" which are designed so as to attract all sectors of society (ie not just those who already have a direct interest in the cemetery itself).


  12.  NAMM accepts that in order to make and maintain improvements in cemeteries, money is required. However, it also believes that because local authorities already have complete control over the charges made for the cemetery services, unrestrained by any sort of competition, they already have at their disposal sufficient areas in which they can raise finance—for example the sale/lease of graves, the levying of fees for the erection of memorial and subsequent work carried out on those memorials, burial and cremation fees. If all the income from these, along with the potential income accruing from grave/ground maintenance fees and the recycling of graves were used to fund the ongoing costs of cemeteries, sufficient monies would be available.

  13.  NAMM does not believe that the sale of memorials by local authorities is permissible necessary or to be desired.

  Indeed, NAMM has recently made submissions to the DETR in relation to the local authority led IBCA proposals that regulations should be made under s.150 Local Government and Housing Act 1989 to allow burial authorities to sell memorials to the general public at cemeteries and crematoria. In order to formulate its response the Association organised a number of regional meetings open to all memorial masons, whether or not they were members, in order to acquire a truly representative and informed response. Those meetings were held in East Anglia, London, the Midlands, the North East/North West, Scotland, the South East, the South West and Wales. The Association has drawn on the results of these meetings in formulating its submission where relevant.

  14.  Over recent years local authorities, when acting either as burial or cremation authorities have increasingly extended their activities into the traditional activities of the memorial mason in the supply and sale of memorabilia to the general public. One justification offered by the local authorities is that this revenue assists in funding cemeteries. We do not understand how this can be the case since any revenue received will go as part of the Council's revenue to its general fund, cemetery revenue is not hypothecated to the burial authority. In any event, the Association strongly opposes this unfair trade.

  15.  The trade is unfair for two reasons. First, because a publicly funded local authority has an advantage in economic terms over the small business represented by the local firms of memorial masons who have only their turnover on which they can rely. Secondly, because the local authority enjoys an unfair advantage over the memorial mason in that the public generally comes first to the local authority either to arrange for the grave plot or the cremation in question, or to the funeral and/or to visit the grave. The local authority then exploits that access to the public to offer its services as a supplier of memorials to the disadvantage of the members of the Association. There are a number of crematoria that now sell memorials for cremated remains on an exclusive basis. The public are not permitted to purchase them from the private memorial mason. There are also some cemeteries that sell certain memorials, such as memorials on the children's section, in a similar fashion. This not only flies in the face of consumer choice, it also cuts into the already hard-pressed margins of the local memorial masons and can threaten their survival.

  16.  Ther is no need for local authorities to engage in this trade in order to provide services the public would not otherwise enjoy. The trade is highly competitive and extremely price sensitive.

  17.  NAMM has been advised that this trade by local authorities is not lawful. No power to supply or sell gravestones or other memorabilia to the public is granted to burial authorities by the relevant legislation. The Association has taken the advice of leading and junior counsel on the issue on more than one occasion.

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