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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 103 - 119)




  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 Home Office.
  (Mr Patterson) I am Brian Patterson from the Home Office.
  (Mr Etkind) My name is Mike Etkind from the DETR Air Quality Division.
  (Mr Roberts) I am John Roberts from the DETR Urban Policy Unit.

  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.

Mrs Ellman

  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.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 the cemetery.

  Chairman: John, do you want your supplementary quickly?

Mr Cummings

  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 interest.

  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 along—the 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.

Mrs Ellman

  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, yes"?
  (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—

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