8 July 2015 : Column 162WH

“It is clear we need to have a much more consistent practice of burial and cremation across the country…We need to make sure we have absolutely the best standards in every part of the country and anything the inquiry recommends to me by the way of improved practice not just in Shropshire, but elsewhere, I would intend to follow.”

I have never agreed with anything he has said so much as I agree with that, and I hope the Minister agrees, too. Simon Hughes also indicated that changes would be made by the end of the year. Does the Minister’s Department still stand by that timetable? We know that a consultation has been proposed and could start very soon. Will she outline further details of the terms of that consultation? Which recommendations of the Shropshire report is she comfortable with going ahead on, possibly immediately?

In closing, I once again pay tribute to the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham for securing this debate. As we know, the issue was sadly not limited to Shropshire; it happened in many districts across the country. I am not sure we know how many districts and how many people have been affected. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North has been campaigning on behalf of her constituents for many years. She mentioned one of those constituents, Mrs Tina Trowhill, who is demanding answers after she was told that there were no ashes following the funeral of her son William in 1994. I will finish on this point, because it sums it up well. Speaking to her local newspaper, Mrs Trowhill said:

“The crematorium system has changed a lot in the past few years but I don’t want it to ever slip back to how it was. There are still some changes I would like to see made”.

I pay tribute to her and all those who have been campaigning on this issue to try to ensure that no other parent suffers the misery they have gone through. I hope that the changes can be agreed and legislated for quickly.

Mr George Howarth (in the Chair): Before the Minister begins, I should say that it would be helpful if she took into account that the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) would like one minute to sum up before we conclude.

5.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice (Caroline Dinenage): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I begin by extending my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this debate and for the fantastic way in which he has championed his constituents on this important issue. I also express considerable thanks to all the Members here today, who have represented their constituents so heroically and sensitively.

The issue has been at the forefront of many people’s thoughts, including mine, since David Jenkins published his report into the historical practices at Emstrey crematorium on 1 June. I have been considering the report extremely carefully and am grateful to have this opportunity to discuss his findings further and to set out the next steps that the Government will take to ensure that the tragic events at Emstrey cannot happen again.

As my hon. Friend set out, last week I had a very helpful meeting with him, along with the bereaved parents who are members of the Action for Ashes

8 July 2015 : Column 163WH

group, which was set up by the families affected by the non-return of their infants’ ashes. It continues to support them and campaign for changes in the law. I am hugely grateful to those parents for travelling to London from all over the country to tell me of their experiences. Listening to them, I was struck by how palpable their pain remains and by the fact that the ashes of their babies were either not recovered or not returned to them, often for many years and in some cases for decades. The pain has not elapsed and not diminished, and the meeting will stay with me for many years to come.

Meeting those parents has strengthened my view that bereaved parents and other family members affected by the loss of an infant should never have to experience what those families have gone through. My meeting with the Action for Ashes group, my ministerial postbag and parliamentary questions from many Members from all parts of the House have shown that what happened at Emstrey was unfortunately not an isolated occurrence, as many Members have said today. We now know that other crematoriums either did not recover ashes or did not return them to parents. Whether there were no ashes following a cremation or the ashes were not given to parents, neither of those things is acceptable, and the pain of those parents is unimaginable.

Sir Edward Garnier: The Minister mentioned her ministerial postbag. Two of the letters in it came from me: one on behalf of the Jones family, whom I mentioned a moment ago, and another on behalf of Lisa Smith, whose daughter was cremated in the mid-1990s. Both those cremations took place at Gilroes crematorium in Leicester. Will she make a particular point of looking up those two letters so that she can reply to them as soon as possible? One of the parents of the Jones family met the Minister last week, but they would be most grateful for a personal letter from her, as would Ms Smith.

Caroline Dinenage: I will certainly do that as soon as I get back to the office. I will not spend too much time on the history, because it has already been outlined by a number of Members today. As the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) outlined, the Emstrey inquiry followed Lord Bonomy’s infant cremation commission in Scotland, which reported in June last year. It concluded that crematoriums in Scotland had not returned ashes to families. That report followed on from Dame Elish Angiolini’s report on the issue at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh.

As we all know, David Jenkins’s report on infant cremations at Emstrey was published on 1 June this year. It established that between 1996 and 2012 the Emstrey crematorium did not obtain ashes to return to families after the cremation of a baby or stillborn child. As we all know, the report contains 12 recommendations, of which some of the important ones are: to introduce a statutory definition of ashes; to implement a national inspector for crematoriums; to make a single Government official responsible for all cremation policies; to ensure that there is one code of practice for crematoria; and to consider all 64 of Lord Bonomy’s recommendations. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) also raised the need for training for crematorium staff and funeral directors. All those recommendations are important, and we will consider them carefully before responding, but I can say now that I am determined

8 July 2015 : Column 164WH

that any regulations, both existing and future, must be followed and applied uniformly in all crematoriums throughout the country.

I am aware that many bereaved parents think that there should be a national investigation into the non-return of ashes, and I appreciate families’ wish to know. It is deeply moving to have read about and heard at first hand the experiences of such families. The Emstrey report highlighted the fact that the crematorium did not recover ashes in 51 out of 53 cases over the 13 years. In my view, not only is 51 cases too high, but one would have been too many. We are focused on ensuring that no other parent has to suffer in that way. The Government’s role is to ensure that in future two things happen: first, that there are always ashes in infant cremations, and secondly, that they are returned to parents. That would be the case whether there were thousands of affected families or one. The painstaking and insightful inquiries into Emstrey crematorium have led to very helpful reports with many important recommendations.

I am heartened to hear that some parts of the cremation industry now appear to be taking infant cremations seriously, and to hear of examples of good practice in dealing with families. There is a lot to build on. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham has already outlined the changes that Emstrey crematorium has made since 2011. Its ownership has changed and there have been changes to its machinery, and it is now working with Shropshire Council to review and progress the recommendations outlined in the report.

More generally, we need to ensure that the industry knows, in no uncertain terms, what good looks like, and that good practice must be installed across the country. I am aware that the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities felt that Lord Bonomy’s report, which came a year before the Emstrey report, had been a wake-up call for crematoriums. The FBCA and Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management codes of practice require crematoriums to recover ashes for families wherever possible. I also understand that crematoriums have been working with funeral directors to ensure good and consistent practice following both reports. The technology now allows for far more sophisticated cremation programmes for infants than 20 years ago, and such programmes increase the recovery of ashes after cremation.

We take very seriously the experiences of families who have encountered problems following the death of a loved one. They deserve services that are as sensitive as possible following a death. That is why I am encouraged that in the Budget earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a forthcoming review of crematorium facilities, cremation legislation and coroner services, to ensure that they are fit for purpose and sensitive to the needs of all users and faiths. That may not be the Budget commitment that makes the headlines, but it is very important to me.

The previous Government planned for the Ministry of Justice to amend its cremation regulations to dovetail with wider death certification reforms planned by the Department of Health. It was planned to make any changes regarding infant cremations at that time. That is not good enough for me. Bereaved families deserve better. I felt that when I first heard of the Emstrey report, and I feel it even more having met the families last week. I have been considering that timetable again in the light of the reports’ recommendations. In particular,

8 July 2015 : Column 165WH

I have been considering whether it will be possible to progress the work on infant cremations before the death certification reforms are implemented. As I indicated to the families I met last week, I believe we should act now. As I announced in my written ministerial statement this morning, it is my intention to consult on a number of changes to the Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008 later this year. In answer to a couple of Members who asked when later this year, it will be as soon as possible, because I have absolutely no reason to delay.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham asked when the cremation legislation was last changed. It was changed in 2008, but we want to ensure that it does what it is intended to do, which is why we will consult on it. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) mentioned baby William from her constituency and the tragic events of 1994. That was before the implementation of the 2008 regulations. Now, parents, or another appropriate applicant, must sign an application form. Nevertheless, we will continue to look at all practices to ensure that they are being done properly. We will continue to work with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Department of Health, the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Human Tissue Authority and the cremation industry stakeholders. We will consider all the report’s recommendations as part of our consultation.

I want to cover one final issue. I am aware of many cases in which parents have not received ashes even when ashes were recovered. The 2008 regulations say that after a cremation, the crematorium must give the ashes to the applicant or their nominee. If they do not want the ashes or have no nominee, the cremation authority must retain the ashes and either decently bury them or scatter them. But parents have told me that that has not been the case. Our consultation will consider further how the regulations can be improved.

I want to leave some time for my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham to sum up. I welcome both the publication of the Emstrey report and the important chance to debate it today. I look forward to announcing more details of the consultation in due course, as soon as possible. I will do whatever I can to make sure that I do not hear of grieving families suffering in the future as they have in the past. Specifically, I will do all I can to ensure that, in future, any parent who has already had to endure the unimaginable pain of suffering the loss of a baby does not have to suffer in order to be reunited with their child’s ashes.

8 July 2015 : Column 166WH

5.26 pm

Daniel Kawczynski: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the way in which she has replied to the concerns we have expressed collectively today. I could not have asked for a better response. Families are watching the debate live in Shrewsbury. They have asked me to keep them informed of the progress we make, and, over the coming weeks and months, I will keep them updated about all the changes that we will hopefully make as a result of bringing this issue to the Minister’s attention.

The Minister has seen at first hand Members’ strength of feeling in the Chamber today. I referred earlier to my neighbour, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), who was unable to be here. He asked me to read out a statement from him; many other colleagues in other jurisdictions in England have also approached me to say that they are interested in this case and that they know of similar cases. They have been looking to the Emstrey report to see what, if anything, can be done in their constituencies. I am very disappointed that the leader of Hull City Council has chosen not to conduct an inquiry. It has been extremely important for us to have one in Shrewsbury for the residents who are affected.

I would like to end by saying how delighted I was by the contribution from our colleague from Scotland, the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley). As someone who believes in the Union, I do not think that we need to reinvent the wheel. If something very good is happening in another part of the United Kingdom—if they have already been through the process north of the border and started to put into place various safety measures to ensure that this does not happen there—I hope that the Minister will ensure that her advisers and officials take a trip north of the border to find out what is happening in that jurisdiction.

Thank you, Mr Howarth, for chairing this important debate. I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister in the coming weeks and months about the progress on this very important issue for our constituents.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of the cremation of infants in England.

5.29 pm

Sitting adjourned.