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

Examination of witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. And for 100 years?
  (Dr Hussein) It is double that. Those fees are considered very high in this country yet, to be honest with you, financially they are not realistic. We are taking on responsibility for maintaining that grave and the cemetery in which it is located for 50 years, it is not sustainable. If we were to charge the realistic fee for 50 years people would not be able to afford to be buried.

Mr Blunt

  41. What would be a realistic fee?
  (Dr Hussein) I have not actually calculated that. What we are starting to do is to try to generate sufficient income from our burial and cremation fees and to put any surplus we generate into a reserve fund to offset future expenditure so that we do not have this continual pressure to either keep putting up the fees, because that is what is going to happen, or to rely on local taxation.

Mrs Ellman

  42. There are new regulations governing emissions from crematoria, what do you think the impact of those regulations will be?
  (Dr Hussein) I personally welcome any greater controls over emissions from crematoria. I think that we should work towards new emissions as far as that is feasible. I think it is right that we should look at greater control over emissions but before taking action we should determine exactly what we are emitting from the actual cremation process and then address the problem.

Mrs Dunwoody

  43. Do you mean that we do not know at the moment what emissions there are coming out of crematoria chimneys?
  (Dr Hussein) Correct.

  44. Nobody has made the slightest attempt to find out?
  (Dr Hussein) Attempts are being made. Research is now being commissioned to establish the extent particularly in terms of heavy metals, the scale of the problem.

  45. How many bodies contain heavy metals?
  (Dr Hussein) We are talking primarily about mercury which is in amalgams in your teeth. I am talking about general pollution and we should aim to eliminate, as far as we can, any damage we cause to the environment from the cremation process.

  46. They must have a lot of filled teeth, must they not, to be a problem?
  (Dr Hussein) Sorry?

  47. How much mercury would you expect per corpse?
  (Dr Hussein) I would not want to get into that but I know that there is concern about emissions from crematoria and that needs to be researched. In terms of the implications for the viability of existing crematoria, the equipment that would need to be installed, it is said, would result in a number of crematoria being closed, but I think it needs more detailed research than has been carried out at the moment.

Mrs Ellman

  48. Who do you think should pay for those improved facilities?
  (Dr Hussein) I think that the user should pay. The cremation fees in this country could sustain increases to finance such improvements. If you compare our cremation fee costs and costs of burial, for example, they are very low.

Christine Butler

  49. What are they?
  (Dr Hussein) Cremation fees on average are about £200. It will vary from as low as £150 up to £300. In London, £220 would be an average fee. When you compare it to the overall cost of the funeral, it is quite a small percentage.

Mrs Ellman

  50. Do you think that an effect of the new regulations could be fewer crematoria?
  (Dr Hussein) No. It is very difficult to run a crematoria without making a surplus and I think that cremation can sustain either the extension of existing crematoria or the building of new ones, I honestly believe that.

  51. Who should take responsibility for providing that?
  (Dr Hussein) I think the current arrangements are quite good in that it can either be left to the local authority to provide it or the private sector. I can assure you that where local authorities maintain that their crematorium is not sustainable and will close, I have no doubt in my mind that private companies will build new crematoria because they are sustainable.

Mrs Dunwoody

  52. You are saying that it is cheaper to be cremated but you are not sure what is coming out of the chimneys anyway and it may be that the whole system would have to be rebuilt but it is still going to be cheaper than burial?
  (Dr Hussein) Financially it is more viable, yes, far more.

  53. So you do not actually believe what local authorities are saying?
  (Dr Hussein) What are they saying?

  54. You have given us the impression that local authorities are going to have to move on from crematoria, have to rebuild them.
  (Dr Hussein) There is a suggestion from some research that has been carried out that around 25 per cent of crematoria are saying they would have to close if abatement equipment had to be installed in their crematoria. I am saying that needs more research and I am saying that where crematoria did have to close I think either a new crematorium could be built or the private sector will ensure that one is provided because it is financially viable.

  55. So as an association you think it might be a good idea if you ran a whole campaign to encourage everybody to be cremated?
  (Dr Hussein) I believe that people should have the basic right to choose between burial and cremation and both should be affordable. That is fine as far as cremation is concerned but until we get the reuse of graves we are not going to have financially sustainable cemeteries. Cremation has been promoted on the basis of save the land for the living and the only reason that argument works—

  56. Also some people do not like the idea of being a nuisance to everybody for some considerable generations.
  (Dr Hussein) Absolutely. That is why it should be a personal choice. We have promoted cremation on the basis of save the land for the living and that argument would fall flat on its face if we had the reuse of graves.

Mrs Ellman

  57. There is a tendency towards formal burial of cremated remains, what impact does that have on the land use?
  (Dr Hussein) At the cemetery and crematorium where I work we are finding that about ten per cent of cremations will result in a burial of the cremated remains in a formal plot. It is going to have an impact on the amount of space that we have. Every cemetery has a limited amount of space. We try to draw a balance between the needs and expectations of the bereaved and the actual physical requirements of cemetery space. I think we have done that by trying to reduce the size of graves as best we can. This is the interesting thing, that in terms of a cremated remains grave, because we are talking about a much smaller amount of remains that can be buried, we can reuse graves because they have far more space in them. Cremated remains are treated exactly the same as a body, we cannot disturb them once they are buried, so even those plots are going to run out eventually.

Mrs Dunwoody

  58. What are the alternatives to burying ashes, they are happily spread up and down the Thames?
  (Dr Hussein) Around 40 per cent now are actually taken away from crematoria.

  59. So you do not know where they are?
  (Dr Hussein) There has been no real research as to exactly what is happening to them. What is happening is they are being transferred around the country. We receive remains from other crematoria. No-one has actually carried out any research to see what is happening to those remains that are removed, to what extent are they scattered on rivers, we do not know.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 9 February 2001