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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)



  160. But they do not have to?
  (Mr Clifford) There is no requirement.

Mr Benn

  161. What about burial on private land? What permission is required then?
  (Mr Clifford) Again, provided we are talking about a single burial—and the importance of that is that if it is a single burial it is not likely to be interpreted as changing the use of the land to a cemetery or burial ground—then there is no requirement in burial law which requires Home Office or other permission. Again, there are potential issues for environmental health, and with anybody approaching us enquiring about this we would advise them to get in touch with the local authority, specifically the environmental health people, and they may need also to be in touch with the Environment Agency regarding water courses and that sort of issue.

  162. Can I explore a little more this question of the Home Office's precise responsibility for cemeteries? In your joint submission you reported that the Home Office itself had commissioned three reports into six cemeteries in the last five years. You then say, "In most cases, action has been taken". Who exactly has had the responsibility for ensuring that action is taken following an investigation by the Home Office?
  (Mr Clifford) I think we are talking about action being taken in the sense of us pursuing any recommendations that might arise from that.

  163. Do you have the power to require action to be taken?
  (Mr Clifford) We have limited powers to require action to be taken. Basically the powers are either to close the cemetery to further burials or to require further work, or works, to be done. It is a rather limited range of powers.

  164. So would you say that those powers were adequate to allow you to ensure that the law relating to the operation of cemeteries is fully enforced?
  (Mr Clifford) I think there is a case for saying those powers would benefit from review.

  165. Do you think there is a case for an independent inspectorate of cemeteries?
  (Mr Clifford) The argument has been put to us that something along those lines is needed. I think more work is needed to establish the extent of the problems which such an inspectorate would address. We need to be careful we do not create an inspectorate and then go and look for the problems. We need to be satisfied there is a need.

  166. Often we set up inspectorates precisely to try to identify whether there is a problem. Is it not the case that under, as your submission says, section 8 of the Burial Act 1855, the Home Office has the power to appoint an inspector? Is there someone who currently holds that position?
  (Mr Clifford) No.

  167. So when you had those three reports into six cemeteries in the last five years, you appointed a specific person?
  (Mr Clifford) Yes.

  168. Was that a Home Office official or somebody else?
  (Mr Clifford) No, the Home Office has no in-house expertise on these matters. We discussed the issues with the representative bodies and the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration, to find someone suitably qualified who could undertake the work on our behalf.

  169. So this person could be described as "OfDeath" in view of the current parlance. Can I turn to look at the statutory duty on the part of the local authorities to provide cemeteries. You very helpfully gave us a draft of the consultation document on potential reuse of graves. You start by acknowledging that there is mounting evidence, particularly in London, that we are running out of land for burial purposes. Then later on you say, referring to the fact that there is no statutory requirement to provide burial facilities, that the present system appears to work well. The evidence we have had would appear to indicate that that is not the case and that there is a problem developing. Why does the Government not think that there should be a statutory responsibility to make sure that appropriate burial space is provided?
  (Mr Clifford) So far as we can tell, there has not been any lack of will on behalf of burial authorities to provide cemetery burial facilities where they can do so. The main problem has been the ability to realise their will, in the sense of problems about finding places that are suitable and going through a planning process. So I think we would be reluctant to start imposing duties, unless there was an evident need to do so.

  170. Yet the position in London, as you yourself say in your own evidence, is that London is running out of land for burial purposes?
  (Mr Clifford) Can I say firstly that that is a draft document.

  171. I appreciate that.
  (Mr Clifford) Secondly, this is the evidence that has been put to us. In those circumstances, I think it may characterise the fact that the situation is not uniform across the country.

  172. Yes, but you would accept presumably that ultimately somebody has to have a responsibility for ensuring that there is sufficient provision for burial if there is public demand for that?
  (Mr Clifford) What I would say is that since time immemorial provision has been relied on by local discretion; the church, local authorities, private companies have responded to the demand. Apart from the fact that we are now perhaps reaching a time when that situation is being questioned, in all this period of time demand has been satisfied one way or another.

  173. If it were to become a problem in a particular area, though, you would accept that action would need to be taken to ensure there is sufficient provision?
  (Mr Clifford) I think it is part of the bigger question which I agree is about whether there is a need for strategic planning for all this. It might be easy, for example, to say that perhaps in London one could impose a duty to provide burial facilities. That begs the question whether there is anywhere to do that, unless one approaches it on the basis of reusing existing facilities.

Mrs Ellman

  174. Should there be strategic planning for burial provision?
  (Mr Clifford) I think this is an issue that is now coming to the fore, and I think part of this inquiry will no doubt come to a view on that point. The point is being made to us by the industry about legislation, as you heard mentioned earlier, and we are listening to those concerns. As others have said, at the moment it is a question of "Is the problem of a scale and a nature that requires action today?" sort of thing, as opposed to a more measured response and consideration of the issues. As I said earlier, we are looking to see whether more research needs to be done in this whole area, particularly on a whole range of issues that have come up, to get a view as to what action should be taken.

  175. Do you see this as an alternative, an answer to the problem of today, an answer to the problem for the future? Do you believe that there should be strategic planning? Does the Home Office have a view? In principle, should there be strategic planning for burial space?
  (Mr Clifford) I do not think we have seen the evidence to suggest that we need to impose a strategic plan at this stage.

  176. I am not saying who should do the imposing. Do you think there should be strategic planning at any level?
  (Mr Clifford) At any level?

  177. Yes, at any level.
  (Mr Clifford) Sorry, I was thinking about central government.

  178. It could be national central government or regional.
  (Mr Clifford) We had assumed—sorry, that is not quite the right word—we are aware that the representative bodies have made their views clear about what they think is good practice in this area, including the development of management plans for their burial authorities, and this seems to be an appropriate step for a burial authority to take.


  179. When the Department of the Environment look at unitary development plans of local authorities is any regard given to whether there is sufficient burial space within a local authority area?
  (Mr Roberts) That could certainly, I think, potentially be an issue, because the planning guidance on development plans requires local authorities to look at social needs in their area, which would include not only cemeteries but schools and other issues. So if they were aware that there was a need for extra space in their area, it is certainly an issue they ought to be taking account of in their development plans, and there is provision if they wish actually to designate sites for future cemetery use.

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