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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 2, 3 and 4 together.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

International Development

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Mr. Deputy Speaker: I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred until 12.30 pm on Wednesday 17 December.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 6, 7 and 8 together.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Question agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With the leave of the House, I shall put motions 9 and 10 together.

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Public Administration



Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 6 November 2003],

Question agreed to.



7.14 pm

Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab): I wish to present a petition bearing the signatures of about 5,000 people who are British Eritreans, members of the Eritrean community in the United Kingdom and friends of Eritrea.

In 1998 there was a border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Those are two of the six poorest countries in the world. That particular border dispute developed into a war which cost the lives of about 180,000 people, probably putting back the development of both countries by about 20 years.

When the war was over—it reminds me of similar sentiment at the end of the first world war—people said that it must never be allowed to happen again. Yet the border dispute rumbles on. There is at least a threat of further hostilities. We need a speedy resolution to the dispute so that both nations, after a war that has destroyed so many lives, can move on and rebuild.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Green Burials

7.15 pm

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East) (Lab): My debate tonight deals with one of the last great taboos of modern society—death. However, I do not intend to be morbid or depressing tonight. Instead, I want to look at one of the most visionary ideas, which translates into a service that has helped many people already in my constituency, and offers hope, joy and comfort at the most difficult time of any person's life—the moment they lose someone close to them.

A year ago, I received a letter from a constituent, Mrs. Daphne Hubery, whose husband, George, had died of cancer in 1999 at the age of 77. He was cared for in the last few days of his life at the wonderful St. Gemma's hospice in my constituency, and after his death, his wife, Daphne, picked up a leaflet at the hospice about "green burials". Not knowing anything about the subject, she telephoned the name on the leaflet—John Bradfield—and so began her involvement in one of the most innovative public service projects that I have ever come across.

The Prime Minister said a few years ago that

under a new Labour Government, so John Bradfield, a qualified social worker living in Harrogate, took up the challenge, which, in his words aims to

The phrase "green burial" has been around for a while. Indeed, the late George Harrison chose to be buried in that way. I shall go on to explain what the phrase actually means, but John Bradfield wrote the definitive book on it, entitled "Green Burial: the do-it-yourself guide to law and practice".

Daphne Hubery did not want the traditional funeral service for her husband George. She spoke to John Bradfield and went to visit Gertrude's Pasture, in Scotton near Harrogate, just a few miles north of their Leeds home. She fell in love with that wildlife and nature reserve and decided that it was where George should be buried, and that she, her friends and family would dig the grave and perform the funeral themselves.

The funeral service took place in the chapel of rest at St. Gemma's hospice. Daphne and George's children and four young grandchildren came to this celebration of George's life. Daphne told me that arranging the funeral without undertakers made her "feel empowered". She said that for her grandchildren the service she organised

Gertrude's Pasture is a three-and-a-half acre site in the beautiful countryside in Scotton, near Knaresborough and Harrogate—about 15 miles north of Leeds. It is one of the few sites in the country where a type of beetle known as the "May bug" proliferates during, unsurprisingly, the month of May. It attracts the rare noctule bat, a protected species that has a wing span of up to 14 in, making it the largest form of British bat.

Gertrude Martin donated that land as a nature reserve in 1989 to the Alice Barker Welfare and Wildlife Trust, one of whose trustees is John Bradfield. The trust's registered office is in Harrogate. After her death,

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Gertrude gave her cottage to the trust as well, so that people could stay there for respite and enjoy the nature reserve itself. The land also accommodates the great crested newt, another protected species, which uses some of the grave structures to nest in. Placing permission was given by Harrogate borough council for use as a burial ground for up to 50 graves in 1995.

Once the 50 plots were used up, the trust applied for further planning permission. Unfortunately, however, this time it ran into resistance from the planning authority, which is Harrogate borough council.

Last Tuesday, 9 December, councillors from Harrogate heard the application for the site to be used for up to 1,000 more green burials, which would mean that it had a long-term future as a green burial ground. In spite of a carefully written report and application, permission was refused, mainly on the grounds that the authority could not control the frequency of burials on that site, and that permission for 1,000 graves might have meant that there would be up to "20 burials a day", resulting in traffic chaos. That is highly unlikely, given the average of one burial a month over the past four years, and the projection in the application of an average of one per week.

According to the report in last Friday's Yorkshire Post, Harrogate planning officer Neville Watson told councillors that expansion of the site for 1,000 burials,

Moreover, committee chairman Councillor John Smith told the newspaper:

That is a slight contrast to the claim of 20 burials a day.

Councillors were also worried, as I have mentioned, about the traffic implications, even though the site currently generates very little traffic indeed. It seems strange that traffic did not figure in the discussions in relation to an industrial estate on the other side of the village of Scotton. I am told that highways officers raised no objections to that application.

I am very concerned that this project could now come to an end because of the hostile and highly conservative attitudes of local elected councillors, who have failed to see the wider benefits of a public service that does so much to help the bereaved and their families cope with the death of a loved one. I shall certainly support the trust in its appeal against this narrow-minded, bureaucratic and ill-thought-out decision.

I turn now to the wider aspects of this matter: the work of the Welfare and Wildlife Trust, Gertrude's Pasture, and John Bradfield himself. I have said that I consider him a visionary in an area of work that is little discussed and on which there is little public policy. However, it is something that we will all go through at some time or other during our lifetimes. John is a strong believer in the new Labour philosophy of "joined-up Government"—a phrase coined by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle). He believes that people are "ambushed by death", and that hospitals never prepare families for the anguish and emotional pain of bereavement.

16 Dec 2003 : Column 1548

What the trust has done is to show how joined-up thinking in public services can be possible. Not only is a loved one buried in a beautiful place that is a wildlife reserve, but bereavement counselling can take place as part of the process of digging the grave and organising the funeral. I am not trying to put funeral directors out of business. There will always be plenty of work for them, but what I have seen and what constituents have told me convinces me that this is an idea that really works. However, it finds obstacles to its continuation at every turn, be they bureaucratic, unimaginative or just plain obstructive.

When Sue Thorp's husband Mike died of cancer in 1995, she was able to start grieving immediately, knowing that he had seen Gertrude's Pasture and had even decided where on the site he wanted to be buried. She gained huge comfort from knowing that they had made the decision jointly, and that their daughter Jessica, who was then just two and a half years old, has since visited the grave on many occasions—even decorating it with thyme plants and encouraging the great crested newts to nest there.

I visited the site in February this year, and was greatly impressed by the way it was managed and the tranquillity that it offered. What I saw, even in that bleak month, was a beautiful piece of Yorkshire countryside where the dead really could rest in peace and where the pain of death for surviving families could be ameliorated by the care and understanding offered by John Bradfield and the trust.

I decided then to take up the campaign, on behalf of many of my constituents, even though the site is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh). She is aware that I am taking up the issue and holding this debate tonight. As I have said, the trust's registered office is in Harrogate, and the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) fully supports what I am saying this evening.

When I walked around Gertrude's Pasture last February I came across the grave of Linda Biran, an active member of my constituency Labour party until cancer struck her down in April 2000. Her grave was marked like all the others with a flat stone on the ground. I knew that she had wanted a green burial and here she was. Her husband, Dr. Len Biran, fully supports the work of the trust and has spoken to me today to offer his encouragement.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister, in his response to the debate, will be able to offer hope to the many citizens of this country—including many of my constituents—who are not people of faith and who might choose the option of a green burial when their time comes. It will mean co-ordination between Departments responsible for planning and health, the Home Office and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Although this debate is specifically about the planning issues, I hope that he will feel able to pass on to colleagues in those Departments the message that if joined-up government is to mean anything, it should mean the encouragement of visionary services such as Gertrude's Pasture, not their discouragement by over-bureaucratic local planning authorities for what appear to be spurious reasons.

Given the fact that there will be an appeal, I know that the Minister cannot comment on the specifics of this application, but I hope that he will feel able to consider

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a planning policy guideline that will give support to such services. Unfortunately, like taxes, death is a part of life from which there is no escape. People like John Bradfield have shown us how we can cope with the death of those we love. I hope that our Government will listen to what he has to say.

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