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A number of guidelines are available to help assess and mitigate risks, but because the bodies involved are so diverse—they range from municipal authorities and local councils to the Church of England, representatives of memorial masons, cemetery managers and various private companies that have guidelines—there is no single source of guidance. That is why the Health and Safety Executive has been tasked to work with those bodies to re-examine producing common guidance. I can assure my hon. Friend that any common guidance produced will be goal-setting, not prescriptive, and will encourage those best placed to understand fully and own the risks, to manage them effectively and to do so with a degree of sensitivity and, most importantly, with some common sense. It will aim to encourage the spread
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of good practice across the various organisations involved. I want to challenge a sometimes lazy, risk-averse culture that invokes inappropriate product-led solutions to complex problems that need addressing with greater care and sensitivity.

John Mann: Does the Minister regard it as good practice for a local burial authority to have thousands of staked headstones? Should not such an authority move with the utmost swiftness to rectify that situation so that it does not continue for month after month, even year after year?

Mr. O’Brien: I have just said that I want local authorities to make sensible judgments about health and safety issues, and they will have to make sensible judgments about whether it is appropriate to remove stakes. In certain cases, it may well be, but as I also said, driving in the stakes can cause problems and make memorials unsafe. In such cases, the authorities will have to consider whether it is then appropriate to remove the stakes. The local authority involved will have to make a judgment, and it may well have to be on a grave-by-grave basis.

Staking on a routine basis is not recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. In fact, it should not be done like that. A key problem is that sometimes staking is done shoddily, in a way that damages the memorial. Power-driven stakes can create unsafe situations, so the HSE is now consulting on health and safety in graveyards and will say that staking should not be done routinely. Appropriate use of staking may be the right approach, but it should be done only where there is a perceived imminent risk and, where possible, after an attempt has been made to contact relatives. If they can be contacted, they may be able to carry out their own inspection and take the appropriate steps to deal with any concern about safety. We must remember that the graves are usually owned by the families, and it is their responsibility to ensure that they are safe. The local authority or church has some responsibility if it is their graveyard, so they also have to take appropriate action.

I do not want to see one more child—or adult, for that matter—die in a cemetery accident. Nor do I want to see bereaved relatives weeping over graves vandalised by unnecessary topple-testing or inappropriate staking. This debate has highlighted some important concerns. A cemetery is an important place and a person’s final resting place must never be treated with bureaucratic contempt. On occasion, over-zealousness has resulted in contempt being shown.

Most authorities and churches up and down the country operate procedures that manage the small hazards posed by memorials. They employ common sense in ensuring that risks are minimised—

The motion having been made after Ten o’clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at eight minutes past Eleven o’clock.

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