Of the 33 London authorities, the GLA 2010 survey showed that current burial spaces then available were full in eight local authorities: Camden, City of London, City of Westminster, Hackney, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets. Southwark figures were not given. The other boroughs said that capacity was critical or problematic, or adequate or sustainable. I think that my hon. Friend has seen the

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figures, the map and the graph, but I am happy to share them and will make sure that they are published for others to see.

The second issue is whether and when existing graves should or could be reused. I have been approached by several hon. Members and by the burial and cremation sector with requests for the Government to give further consideration to the reuse of old graves. When the Home Office conducted its survey of burial provision in 2005, it also canvassed views on the principle of reusing old graves. At the time the response rate was very low, but the small number who did respond were against reuse. That said, I am clear that the issue of shortage of burial space in some areas is not one that can be ignored and therefore the question of reuse must be addressed.

My hon. Friend referred to, and other Members may be aware of, the reuse scheme available to London burial authorities by virtue of section 74 of the London Local Authorities Act 2007. That provides powers for burial authorities to extinguish the burial right in graves where—this is the crucial point—no interment has taken place for 75 years, and then to reuse the plots by redigging, lowering the existing burial, capping and putting in new bodies on top. Despite that facility having been available for several years now, take-up is almost non-existent. Although the City of London, one of the 33 local authorities in Greater London, reused just under 900 graves in the four years up to 2013, it did this in nearly every case using the powers not in the 2007 Act but those under ecclesiastical law where, on Christian consecrated land, reuse of graves is permitted if the Church authorities issue what is called a faculty. The York research group report that I mentioned earlier confirmed the limited use of these powers under the 2007 Act. It suggested that the reason for this is partly the difficulties involved in establishing who owns the monuments, and similar issues, and partly the administrative complexity of identifying grave ownership.

A number of those who are calling for something to be done have asked that access to the reuse scheme in the 2007 Act that applies in Greater London be extended to apply to the rest of England and Wales. There must clearly be reasons why London councils are not generally making more use of these powers, and before the Government consider legislation to extend the scheme more widely, we need to make sure that we understand the reasons why they have not been used significantly in London.

The third issue, which my hon. Friend did not touch on but may well have come across—I certainly have—is the potential for collaboration between local authorities or differing policy in local authorities, including adjacent local authorities. Given that the figures available show that there are some authorities that are next to each other where one is full and the other has spare capacity, it would clearly be helpful if those with spare capacity collaborated with those that do not have space.

There is another issue of justice that we need to look at seriously. Often differential charges are applied according to whether, at the time of death, a person is living within the boundaries of the area in which they wish to be buried—or their family wish them to be buried. Charges are often considerably, sometimes punitively, higher for those living outside the areas in which they had expressed a wish to be buried. Somebody who has lived almost all their life in one place and moves, for

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example, to a nursing home, which then becomes their address, but wants to be buried in the borough—the community—in which they have lived in all their life, and perhaps where their husband, wife or parent is buried, may suddenly discover that the price is five times what it would have been if they had stayed where they were. That is clearly not just, and I am determined that, with local government, we deal with it.

I fully accept and understand the importance of this issue, as do the Government more widely. The most important factor is to be clear, with up-to-date information, as to why some councils, but not others, are finding themselves without sufficient burial space. As my hon. Friend knows, and was kind enough to indicate, I have already taken a number of steps since I took up this post to make sure that that is the case. I have met and heard the views of those interested and involved professionally in this area, including representatives of the National Association of Funeral Directors and some constituency funeral directors, particularly F. A. Albin and Sons, who are very experienced and very clear about some of the things that need to be done. I thank the association and Albins for their help and advice.

In June, I met the all-party parliamentary group on funerals and bereavement, who wanted to make sure that everything possible was being done to enable the prompt burial of those whose religion requires it—a matter of significant concern to Jewish, Muslim and some Christian communities as well as some other communities and people. I am working with the chief coroner, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, who arranged a bereavement event in the summer and has provided guidance to coroners on dealing with out-of-hours requests to facilitate timely burials.

Next week I am meeting a group of hon. Members who have written to me or to my predecessors about their concerns over the availability of burial space in their constituencies. I have arranged for a general meeting

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to gather evidence and take their views. I think my hon. Friend is able to come to that, and I welcome him. Let me use this opportunity to put out the invitation more widely to colleagues who may not have seen it either to come to the meeting next week or to let me know what their local concerns are, particularly whether the 2007 Act is working in London and ought to be extended. I should also like to announce that in the near future I intend to invite faith leaders to share their views with me as to what ought to be done.

The position I inherited was that the Government had said for some time that they wished to keep this subject under review. In the weeks ahead, encouraged by people such as my hon. Friend, I want to be in a position to move forward from that holding position. This debate and the coming meetings will help us properly to consider whether, for example, it would now be appropriate to discuss enabling legislation that would permit other local authorities outside Greater London to permit the reuse of graves in their areas. That would of course have to be after full consultation on the idea and on any proposed legislation with the communities affected, and democratic deliberation and decisions by the local councils in question. There may also be other things we need to do in Greater London, and beyond, that Government can either facilitate or enable.

I am determined not only that the Government should be active in anticipating the problem and dealing with it but that we act in the right way. I offer the House and colleagues, and all those professionally involved, a clear commitment to continue working on and engaging with this issue to make sure that we come to some conclusions on the way forward over the next few weeks and months.

Question put and agreed to.

2.55 pm

House adjourned.