Examination of witnesses (Questions 103
TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2001
CLIFFORD and MR
103. Can I welcome you to the third session
this morning and ask you to identify yourselves for the record?
(Mr Clifford) My name is Robert Clifford from the
(Mr Patterson) I am Brian Patterson from the Home
(Mr Etkind) My name is Mike Etkind from the DETR Air
(Mr Roberts) I am John Roberts from the DETR Urban
104. Do any of you want to say anything by way
of introduction, or are you happy for us to go straight to questions?
(Mr Clifford) We are happy to take questions.
105. Do you accept that there is a national
problem with the condition of cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) We are conscious that we are told there
are problems in some areas. As to how far that is a national problem,
we do not have the data on that. It also begs the question of
how you define what conditions there ought to be in a cemetery
and to what extent there are any shortcomings.
106. Could you give me an indication of what
problems you accept there are in cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) Our main source of information is from
people who write in to say they have concerns about a particular
cemetery. They tend to be about the maintenance of the cemetery,
perhaps the condition of the monuments, the graves, that sort
of thing, the maintenance regime that is maintained. Most of the
individuals perhaps are talking about individual graves and how
far they are maintained; sometimes they are talking pretty generally
about the cemetery as a whole.
107. Does the Department of Environment, Transport
and the Regions have any different view? Do you accept that there
is a problem? What is the scope and scale of that problem?
(Mr Roberts) I think we would take our lead from the
Home Office on this.
108. So are you telling me, then, that the evidence
we have received, which tells us repeatedly that there is a problem
to do with conditions of cemeteries, that there is a problem to
do with the lack of planning for cemeteries, does not exist? Is
that what you are telling us?
(Mr Clifford) I am saying that with a local authority
service that involves so many different local authorities and
levels of local authorities plus the private sector, there is
bound to be uneven provision of services and problems in some
areas. The question is whether there is a problem on a national
basis, which requires national or local government intervention.
109. Does the Government consider that there
is such a problem?
(Mr Clifford) The Government does not believe that
there is sufficient evidence to suggest there is a problem on
that scale at this stage.
110. Have you actually yourself, or anyone in
your Department, gone and had a look at a sample of cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) No. I think it is important to emphasise
that the responsibility for municipal cemeteries lies with the
relevant local authority, and we would look to the local authority
to take decisions about the maintenance regime and the level of
maintenance and service that is provided by that authority.
111. Is that what you say when they write in?
When I write in and say, "I'm very unhappy about the condition
of my local authority cemetery" is that what you say: "It's
not us, guv"?
(Mr Clifford) We tend to refer complaints of that
nature to the local authority which has responsibility for providing
Chairman: John, do you want your supplementary
112. Yes, please. Would you be in a position
to inform the Committee on the degree to which you are receiving
representations on the condition of cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) We receive relatively few amounts of
correspondence from members of the public.
113. What about organisations?
(Mr Clifford) I cannot think of any particular organisation
that has raised that with us. We have had discussions, and we
do have regular discussions, with the representative bodies, of
course; they raise issues with us from time to time, and obviously
they have mentioned to us their concerns in very broad terms,
in relatively recent times.
114. So no doubt you will be taking a great
interest in the published evidence that we have received?
(Mr Clifford) We have read all that with considerable
115. You have read the evidence?
(Mr Clifford) Yes.
116. So does that lead you into any particular
direction and saying that "There is a problem where perhaps
we are not being proactive"?
(Mr Clifford) We think that there is a case for looking
further into the area. We think this inquiry is in fact a useful
and timely exercise, but we are really thinking on the lines that
we were already thinking alongthe lines that there was
a need to look further at these issues to see what the nature
of any problems was, the scale of them, and to consider how that
could be addressed.
117. Could you make it clear to us which Government
Department, if any, takes responsibility for this service? I am
informed by the DETR, by the question I asked a little earlier,
that the lead in this matter is being taken by yourselves at the
Home Office, yet in your answer to my question you say that this
is a matter for local authorities and it is the Department of
the Environment, Transport and the Regions which oversees local
authorities. Is either one of you responsible for the provision
of this service in a national sense, or do you both abrogate any
responsibility for that?
(Mr Clifford) The Home Office is responsible for the
broad legislative framework within which cemeteries and crematoria
are provided. We would accept that if there was a problem in terms
of the conditions of cemeteries, then that is an issue that we
would need to address, but we would need to address it in conjunction
with the DETR, to the extent that the Local Authority Service
would need to look at it in a broader context on the provision
of local authority services more widely.
118. Would you see it as a Home Office responsibility
to initiate any consideration of matters to do with cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) Broadly, yes.
119. Only "Broadly, yes" not "Specifically,
(Mr Clifford) I am conscious, for example, that we
have other initiatives which DETR are taking forward which bear
upon local authority services, and the obvious one