Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 60 - 74)



Mrs Ellman

  60. Would you say that there are adequate support and advice services to give advice to the bereaved when they are in such a vulnerable situation?
  (Dr Hussein) Yes, I think most crematoria have good practices in place to actually write to the bereaved to give them their options about the disposal of cremated remains.

Christine Butler

  61. Can I just ask you, the remains are all the remains and what volume does that represent?
  (Dr Hussein) You have got it about right.

  62. About that?
  (Dr Hussein) If you imagine about eight to ten pounds in weight, that would be your typical amount of calcined remains, cremated remains. Yes, they do get all of the cremated remains.

  63. The disposal would be between eight and ten pounds of ashes?
  (Dr Hussein) That is right, yes.


  64. Spreading the ashes on football grounds and things like that does cause some people some problems, does it not?
  (Dr Hussein) It does, yes, including if they scatter them in their garden, for example, not thinking ahead when they might move. We do not know what is happening with them, there is no research into that.

  65. Is cremation becoming less popular because the service is so often just banged through every half an hour at a crematorium?
  (Dr Hussein) It has stabilised at around 72-74 per cent. In East London it is 78 per cent cremation. It will vary according to location of crematoria and proximity. If people have to travel a long distance then you will tend to find that burial might be higher. It will also depend on charging strategies. In some areas it is actually cheaper to be buried than to be cremated because the parish council charges less than the crematorium, so there are many factors. I think it has stabilised.
  (Dr Walter) A couple of Members have suggested that maybe everybody should be cremated. I think in our current multicultural society that is just not an option. As I said, there are two reasons why people choose burial. One is personal preference and very often if it is a particularly tragic death they want a grave to visit, but the other is religious and cultural reasons, particularly catholics, muslims and a number of jews.

Mrs Dunwoody

  66. Cremation is no longer a bar to catholics, as I understand it.
  (Dr Walter) It is not barred but nevertheless the burial rate is high amongst catholics and the vast majority of muslims want to bury. If one is going to have a plural society, I think one cannot suggest that burial is going to cease to be a right.


  67. There are two issues that worry me. One is that you are really saying it should be more expensive either for cremation or for burial but a lot of my constituents find the existing fee for a funeral, the whole service and everything, causes them quite considerable difficulties. What can you do about that?
  (Dr Walter) If there were a really well worked out system of reuse that was acceptable to the public then, as Dr Hussein said, that is the one thing which will completely change the economics of burial and should bring costs down.
  (Dr Hussein) Absolutely. I maintain that burial should be affordable but if we carry on the way we are it is going to be far from affordable, it is going to continually rise. If we had reuse we could introduce lower periods of rights of burial. We need to change the culture so that people get into either having a burial where they pay small amounts on a regular basis or—

  68. The final question is, Dr Walter, you particularly said that the Government is unwilling to deal with the real issues around cemeteries. Why do you think governments have been unwilling to deal with the real issues around cemeteries?
  (Dr Walter) I am honestly not sure. I am fascinated and puzzled by this. It may be, going back to an earlier question, that Members of Parliament have felt this is a taboo topic, that it is going to be a vote loser, it is a very difficult area.

Mrs Dunwoody

  69. You think it would not be the ideal centre for a manifesto?
  (Dr Walter) I do not think it is the sort of thing that is going to be at the very top of a manifesto obviously, but as I said earlier the—

Mr Blunt

  70. A good use of the Dome, which is the first paragraph of Labour's manifesto.
  (Dr Walter) There is much more open discussion of death, dying and bereavement now than there was 20 or 30 years ago. It seems to me that the time now is here when one can have a sensible debate about policy. It seems to me also that all the elements requiring an enabling change are there. There is the need for change, the process, the techniques of reburial that Dr Hussein described are there, the British public is probably ready for it, and I think it is up to Members of Parliament to grasp this nettle.


  71. The Home Office has got a consultation document out on the whole question—
  (Dr Hussein) Sorry?

  72. I think the Home Office is to issue a consultation document. How important is it that a decision is made quickly and if it is yes or no, on the basis that if it is going to be no then quite a lot of places have got to look for more land for cemeteries? From the Government's point of view it is nice to be able to put the decision off, is it not?
  (Dr Hussein) We have been discussing this issue in great detail since 1993 and there has been no action. We need to stop messing around and get on with it.

Mrs Dunwoody

  73. But your only solution is this one, you have not looked for other solutions and you have not suggested other ways of encouraging the disposal of human bodies.
  (Dr Walter) What other ways have you in mind?

  74. You have virtually said that cremation has got to be ruled out, therefore surely as an association you must have considered what the alternatives are or are you assuming that we can go on forever?
  (Dr Walter) Cremation has been actively promoted in Britain for over 100 years and that active promotion has been continuing throughout that 100 years. If you look at the graph it was going up throughout the middle of the century and then it has tapered off. I am not quite sure what extra propaganda in favour of cremation one could produce.

  Chairman: Perhaps on that note we had better finish this session. Can I thank you both very much indeed.

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