Examination of witnesses (Questions 160
TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2001
CLIFFORD and MR
160. But they do not have to?
(Mr Clifford) There is no requirement.
161. What about burial on private land? What
permission is required then?
(Mr Clifford) Again, provided we are talking about
a single burialand the importance of that is that if it
is a single burial it is not likely to be interpreted as changing
the use of the land to a cemetery or burial groundthen
there is no requirement in burial law which requires Home Office
or other permission. Again, there are potential issues for environmental
health, and with anybody approaching us enquiring about this we
would advise them to get in touch with the local authority, specifically
the environmental health people, and they may need also to be
in touch with the Environment Agency regarding water courses and
that sort of issue.
162. Can I explore a little more this question
of the Home Office's precise responsibility for cemeteries? In
your joint submission you reported that the Home Office itself
had commissioned three reports into six cemeteries in the last
five years. You then say, "In most cases, action has been
taken". Who exactly has had the responsibility for ensuring
that action is taken following an investigation by the Home Office?
(Mr Clifford) I think we are talking about action
being taken in the sense of us pursuing any recommendations that
might arise from that.
163. Do you have the power to require action
to be taken?
(Mr Clifford) We have limited powers to require action
to be taken. Basically the powers are either to close the cemetery
to further burials or to require further work, or works, to be
done. It is a rather limited range of powers.
164. So would you say that those powers were
adequate to allow you to ensure that the law relating to the operation
of cemeteries is fully enforced?
(Mr Clifford) I think there is a case for saying those
powers would benefit from review.
165. Do you think there is a case for an independent
inspectorate of cemeteries?
(Mr Clifford) The argument has been put to us that
something along those lines is needed. I think more work is needed
to establish the extent of the problems which such an inspectorate
would address. We need to be careful we do not create an inspectorate
and then go and look for the problems. We need to be satisfied
there is a need.
166. Often we set up inspectorates precisely
to try to identify whether there is a problem. Is it not the case
that under, as your submission says, section 8 of the Burial Act
1855, the Home Office has the power to appoint an inspector? Is
there someone who currently holds that position?
(Mr Clifford) No.
167. So when you had those three reports into
six cemeteries in the last five years, you appointed a specific
(Mr Clifford) Yes.
168. Was that a Home Office official or somebody
(Mr Clifford) No, the Home Office has no in-house
expertise on these matters. We discussed the issues with the representative
bodies and the Institute of Burial and Cremation Administration,
to find someone suitably qualified who could undertake the work
on our behalf.
169. So this person could be described as "OfDeath"
in view of the current parlance. Can I turn to look at the statutory
duty on the part of the local authorities to provide cemeteries.
You very helpfully gave us a draft of the consultation document
on potential reuse of graves. You start by acknowledging that
there is mounting evidence, particularly in London, that we are
running out of land for burial purposes. Then later on you say,
referring to the fact that there is no statutory requirement to
provide burial facilities, that the present system appears to
work well. The evidence we have had would appear to indicate that
that is not the case and that there is a problem developing. Why
does the Government not think that there should be a statutory
responsibility to make sure that appropriate burial space is provided?
(Mr Clifford) So far as we can tell, there has not
been any lack of will on behalf of burial authorities to provide
cemetery burial facilities where they can do so. The main problem
has been the ability to realise their will, in the sense of problems
about finding places that are suitable and going through a planning
process. So I think we would be reluctant to start imposing duties,
unless there was an evident need to do so.
170. Yet the position in London, as you yourself
say in your own evidence, is that London is running out of land
for burial purposes?
(Mr Clifford) Can I say firstly that that is a draft
171. I appreciate that.
(Mr Clifford) Secondly, this is the evidence that
has been put to us. In those circumstances, I think it may characterise
the fact that the situation is not uniform across the country.
172. Yes, but you would accept presumably that
ultimately somebody has to have a responsibility for ensuring
that there is sufficient provision for burial if there is public
demand for that?
(Mr Clifford) What I would say is that since time
immemorial provision has been relied on by local discretion; the
church, local authorities, private companies have responded to
the demand. Apart from the fact that we are now perhaps reaching
a time when that situation is being questioned, in all this period
of time demand has been satisfied one way or another.
173. If it were to become a problem in a particular
area, though, you would accept that action would need to be taken
to ensure there is sufficient provision?
(Mr Clifford) I think it is part of the bigger question
which I agree is about whether there is a need for strategic planning
for all this. It might be easy, for example, to say that perhaps
in London one could impose a duty to provide burial facilities.
That begs the question whether there is anywhere to do that, unless
one approaches it on the basis of reusing existing facilities.
174. Should there be strategic planning for
(Mr Clifford) I think this is an issue that is now
coming to the fore, and I think part of this inquiry will no doubt
come to a view on that point. The point is being made to us by
the industry about legislation, as you heard mentioned earlier,
and we are listening to those concerns. As others have said, at
the moment it is a question of "Is the problem of a scale
and a nature that requires action today?" sort of thing,
as opposed to a more measured response and consideration of the
issues. As I said earlier, we are looking to see whether more
research needs to be done in this whole area, particularly on
a whole range of issues that have come up, to get a view as to
what action should be taken.
175. Do you see this as an alternative, an answer
to the problem of today, an answer to the problem for the future?
Do you believe that there should be strategic planning? Does the
Home Office have a view? In principle, should there be strategic
planning for burial space?
(Mr Clifford) I do not think we have seen the evidence
to suggest that we need to impose a strategic plan at this stage.
176. I am not saying who should do the imposing.
Do you think there should be strategic planning at any level?
(Mr Clifford) At any level?
177. Yes, at any level.
(Mr Clifford) Sorry, I was thinking about central
178. It could be national central government
(Mr Clifford) We had assumedsorry, that is
not quite the right wordwe are aware that the representative
bodies have made their views clear about what they think is good
practice in this area, including the development of management
plans for their burial authorities, and this seems to be an appropriate
step for a burial authority to take.
179. When the Department of the Environment
look at unitary development plans of local authorities is any
regard given to whether there is sufficient burial space within
a local authority area?
(Mr Roberts) That could certainly, I think, potentially
be an issue, because the planning guidance on development plans
requires local authorities to look at social needs in their area,
which would include not only cemeteries but schools and other
issues. So if they were aware that there was a need for extra
space in their area, it is certainly an issue they ought to be
taking account of in their development plans, and there is provision
if they wish actually to designate sites for future cemetery use.