Examination of witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2001
CLIFFORD and MR
120. No, this is a specific question about cemeteries.
(Mr Clifford) Yes, and if I can just point out that
the Best Value Initiative, which is a broader one, does bear on
this issue, which has been initiated by the DETR, so we are conscious
of that are that has to be taken into account. We accept, though,
that the Home Office has a central function by virtue of its responsibility
for the general legislation for burials and cemeteries, and that
we would be the first port of call to raise those issues.
121. Do the DETR representatives agree with
(Mr Roberts) Perhaps I should say that I think there
are a number of points in which the DETR group tends to have an
interest in these issues arising from our range of responsibilities.
For example, cemeteries are one aspect of Open Space and Parks,
so in our work on parks there is that role and responsibility,
and also contributing to urban regeneration, as members of the
Committee referred to earlier. Planning is important in providing
land for different uses, and cemeteries are one aspect of those
uses which the current system has to cope with. We have responsibility
for the local government finance system, including powers on fees
and charging and so on, which includes all local authority services
of which cemeteries are one. There is a general policy on local
authority services and "best value", which affects again
all local authority services, including cemeteries. Then there
are a number of specific issues such as air pollution, for example,
which may arise in terms of the operation of cemeteries, and also
through the HSE agency, which is not part of the DETR but reports
to our Ministers, through general issues on safety, for example.
122. Do you communicate with the Home Office
on any of these issues?
(Mr Roberts) Yes, there is communication on particular
issues as they arise, such as fees and charges and on the air
123. I am not clear what the Home Office actually
do, then, in that case. What do you actually do? Can we target
exactly what your legal responsibility is? Is it simply those
aspects that could impact on, say, crime and detection, for example,
or the administration? What exactly are you responsible for?
(Mr Clifford) We are responsible for the relevant
legislation, the legislative framework under the Local Government
Act 1972 and other relevant Burial Acts which are still extant,
the Cremation Act and so on and so forth. We have responsibility
for that legislation. On a day-to-day basis we have certain functions
for processing applications in relation to, for example, the closure
of potential burials in Church of England churchyards, and that
is a function we carry out. We have responsibilities in relation
124. The opening of graves and so on would come
(Mr Clifford) Exhumations, disturbances of buried
remains, require Home Office licences or similar authorisations,
licences and permissions which again we process and deal with.
125. In the Home Office you also issue licences,
do you not, for change of use? If somebody wants to convert it
into a car park, for example, you would be responsible, would
(Mr Clifford) No. No, what we do is that we may issue
permissions in relation to any necessary disturbance of the bodies
that may be buried there, but we are not actually a planning authority
in that sense.
126. So you do not need to give the approval
towards the idea where a cemetery of some age is to be demolished
(if that is the right word) and a car park is to be put in its
place; you do not need to be contacted?
(Mr Clifford) No. Where we would need to be contacted
is if the building work was likely to disturb the existing buried
remains, in which case we would require the remains to be removed.
127. So how many times has that happened in
the last two years?
(Mr Clifford) In terms of applications of that nature,
we receive about 30 or 40 a year, something of that order.
128. If I could return to Mr Roberts' comments,
have any of the detailed responsibilities that you itemised, that
are part of your responsibility, led you to have any broader policy
considerations in terms of cemeteries and their future development?
(Mr Roberts) I think a range of issues have arisen
on cemeteries, particularly issues on the scale of charges and
the role of the local authority in providing monuments. That has
been an issue that has been live, has been active and has been
looked at. In my own specific area in terms of the Urban White
Paper, we shall be going into an extensive set of work on the
role of open space and parks in urban renaissance, so clearly
the role of cemeteries is a potential issue there where they are
providing open space and spaces for recreation. So I think it
is an issue that arises in various parts of the Department from
time to time. I know there are particular issues which have been
raised with colleagues on local government finance, for example,
which they are considering. So we do not have a particular focus
on cemeteries, but it is an issue that crops up in different aspects
of our work.
129. What do you see as the potential for cemeteries
in promoting urban renaissance?
(Mr Roberts) Cemeteries are clearly part of the urban
scene, they are part of the infrastructure, so their role, I think,
will vary considerably from place to place. I think it will depend
very much on whether a cemetery is still in active use or whether
it is closed. Where cemeteries clearly provide part of the urban
green space, they can be a place for trees, for flora, for vegetation,
so they contribute to biodiversity. In places where cemeteries
have been closed many of them have been transferred over time
to more recreational usefor example, they may become a
park, a garden or some sort of recreational groundso they
are part of the green space, they are part of the urban space.
That is very much valued and is an important part of achieving
130. Does the Government have any data on cemetery
provision, on the remaining capacity in such places, or on the
resourcing, the management or indeed the ownership of cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) We have not commissioned any.
131. But do you have any at the moment?
(Mr Clifford) We have information from a variety of
sources such as the industry itself.
132. Would you describe that as comprehensive,
and would it address any of those points I raised? In other words,
would you know nationally what the remaining capacity was in cemeteries,
how many there were, where they were located, how the resource
was managed and so on?
(Mr Clifford) I suspect the information is not comprehensive.
The question is really to what extent do we need information of
that natureroutine informationor whether we need
information when issues arise which may need to be addressed.
Clearly, from evidence you have already heard this morning, there
has been an issue about the long-term future and capacity of municipal
cemeteries and the need to address that. A good deal of work has
been commissioned on that.
133. By you?
(Mr Clifford) By the industry.
134. Who is "the industry"?
(Mr Clifford) By the burial authorities, the Confederation
of Burial Authorities, the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration
and other planning authorities.
135. Can I just ask, who comprise "the
industry", the burial authorities? Are you talking about
the local authorities?
(Mr Clifford) The Confederation of Burial Authorities
is an organisation which I think represents all, or is open to
all, burial authorities, whether municipal or private.
136. But you do not have that yourselves?
(Mr Clifford) We do not have the information directly,
137. What I am getting at is what does Government
have? It seems not to have very much, unless an issue has arisen
and it has got it by default that way. Do you think there is a
case there, for us to safeguard future planning, for Government
to have such data?
(Mr Clifford) I think we need to consider what need
the database will be put to.
138. As I say, for strategic planning purposes.
(Mr Clifford) That begs the question whether central
government has a role in strategic planning on this issue. There
is obviously an argument to suggest that it should have. I do
not think we would take that view at the moment.
139. Do you accept that there might be a case
for Government to know what the national state of our cemeteries
is and what capacity we have on a national basis? Do you not think
that we would need to know that first, before changes could be
advised, before we could consult?
(Mr Clifford) Historically, Government has not sought
that information, it has not gained that information centrally.
The question obviously for consideration, I think, is whether
there are issues arising which would benefit from having that
information and the efforts needed to gather it.