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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 140 - 159)



  140. Could I delicately point out that because cemeteries are filling and a lot are already full, for the very reasons behind this inquiry, that suggests that it would be a good idea to have this data. Could I ask DETR perhaps, what information do you have on the extent of the safety risk caused by dangerous headstones? We have had one or two high-profile cases and one where someone was killed, have we not?
  (Mr Roberts) Yes, I am conscious that there have been, I think, three fatalities over the last ten years. That is primarily a matter which the HSE take forward, because they have the enforcement role in respect of most cemeteries, and I believe that the industry have issued guidance on safety aspects of headstones and monuments.

  141. The industry? I am sorry, this sounds a bit of a cop-out term to me. Who is issuing this? Is it from Government, from HSE, the owners of a cemetery or a churchyard, or what?
  (Mr Roberts) I think the HSE regulations imply duties across the board, not just on cemetery owners but on employers, to ensure safety.


  142. Given your responsibility for HSE, do you know how often they actually inspect cemeteries and test?
  (Mr Roberts) I do not know, but I can arrange for that information to be provided.

Christine Butler

  143. Do they? Do you know that they do inspect cemeteries? I do not mean the council works department and so on who do that, but do you know if they do? For instance, they inspect school playing fields and make sure that the goalposts are soundly rooted and could not possibly fall over, but not that. Could we have a note?
  (Mr Roberts) I will arrange for the HSE to let you have some information.

  144. Could I return now to the Home Office. Do you accept that there is a need for a review of the current legislation relating to burial?
  (Mr Clifford) We have to recognise that current legislation on burial is over 150 years old in some instances, and obviously things have moved on, things have changed, and there could well be a benefit from reviewing the burial legislation.

  145. How do you see it going? In other words, to make your answer a little easier, where are the main pressures coming from? What is generating the pressure, in your opinion, for a review?
  (Mr Clifford) The main pressure (if that is the right term) for review has come from the burial authorities or the burial industry, if you like. They have come to us and have said they have concerns about the future arrangements for cemeteries. This would imply changes. If the proposals that are being made were accepted, then that in itself would require changes to burial legislation.

  146. Reuse? Is that the main thing?
  (Mr Clifford) That, I think, is the primary one. It will always be desirable to do some tidying up, and there are a small number of anomalies that may need tidying up, but the primary issue here, I think, is whether or not reuse is something that needs to be addressed in such a way that new legislation is required.

  147. Do you think that that and some of the other issues which are pressing suggest a review of primary legislation?
  (Mr Clifford) I think the first thing to address is what are the problems, what are the potential solutions, and I think that from that would flow the case for changes to primary legislation.


  148. On cremation certificates, have you had to do something fairly quickly on cremation certificates? Can that be done under the existing regulations, or will that also in the end need primary legislation?
  (Mr Clifford) We are obviously talking about a different issue here, because we are talking about information systems, we are talking about the processing and organisation of information. It depends exactly on the kind of change required.

  149. I was just looking really to see whether we are looking at a substantial piece of legislation, or are we talking about just trying to alter some of the regulations?
  (Mr Clifford) I would guess that the cremation information is a really rather different issue here. What we are talking about here is about burial and cremation rather than a certification process. They are two different things. If you are going for major changes, then you are really looking for new primary legislation, I think.

Christine Butler

  150. Do you think there is an ambiguity, involving cremated remains, between burial or scattering on ground level? Do you think that could be a problem?
  (Mr Clifford) I am not sure that is the problem. I think there are some potential problems.

  151. It is an ambiguous status, is it not?
  (Mr Clifford) There are potential ambiguities there. They are not the only ones, I think. One of the perhaps more obvious ones is the extent to which burial legislation, particularly in the protection against unauthorised disturbance, can apply to above-ground mausolea and catacombs and that sort of thing .

  152. With the electronic medium now, do you think that local authorities are fulfilling their registration responsibilities if they have computerised burial records?
  (Mr Clifford) Yes. The amendment to the Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order allowed them to do that, and certainly doing that is a sensible move.

  153. Can I now turn to this growing trend of private sector firms setting up "green" burial—and I use that word in a loose sense. What particular difficulties have you noted regarding the winding down of many of the older private sector cemeteries? When we say "green" burial, you probably know more about this possible problem than I do, but there are various sorts of disposal methods which suggest themselves here. Are there any issues that have come to you about that?
  (Mr Clifford) I think no great issues have been raised on that. We have ourselves thought through some of the potential problems with new burial sites if we are talking about "green" burials, let us say, burials where trees are planted over the ground.


  154. You do not think there is a need for regulation in that area?
  (Mr Clifford) We have been thinking along the lines of whether it is entirely satisfactory from the point of view, for example, of the absence of any requirement for records of the burial. That is potentially an ambiguity, so that is one issue that we have been thinking about.

Mr Benn

  155. Pursuing this point, could you clarify for us what the legal position is, dealing with cremated remains? If someone wished to put cremated remains in their back garden, in a field, is that permissible?
  (Mr Clifford) Yes.

  156. Is permission required?
  (Mr Clifford) I say "Yes"[1]. For cremated remains there is no requirement to bury cremated remains in any particular place.

Mrs Dunwoody

  157. You do not have to bury them at all, do you?
  (Mr Clifford) No.

  158. You can have them sitting on the mantelpiece, can you not?
  (Mr Clifford) Yes, exactly. Some people would say that is unsatisfactory: other people would say it would be an unjustified intervention into people's private decisions to regulate that. That is the situation at present. With regard to the burial of cremated remains, it is open to anybody to bury them in their garden, subject to any other factors which might come into play, such as covenants.

  159. But you do not have to register that, so if I bought a house and somebody else's grandma was cremated and stuck in the back garden, then I would not necessarily know?
  (Mr Clifford) No. It begs the question of where the person was buried in the first place. Where people notify us of an intention to do that, we would advise them.

1   Witness correction: The answer is incorrect. No permission is required under burial or cremation legislation, but permission may be required of the relevant landowner or there might be legal obstacles as to the use to which the land may be put. Back

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