“And homes that people want to live in so kids can play in the streets and people come home with some pride.”

But they have totally failed to deliver on all the rhetoric on that day and since.

In her contribution, my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) touched on the fact that the Government are failing to deliver. Indeed, every one of the plethora of new initiatives announced by the Government has been an utter failure. As my hon. Friend the shadow Minister for Housing pointed out, in the month following the introduction of the NPPF, planning approvals fell by 37%, which accompanied the loss of 180,000 planning approvals as a result of the meddling in the planning rules by the Secretary of State when he first came to office. That puts into context the cavalier way in which the Government have addressed the whole issue of delivering decent housing.

The Government’s definition of “affordable housing” means that it is not even affordable to large numbers of people. Indeed, the ministerial announcements that we are seeing on various new housing initiatives would not have been out of place if they had appeared in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” as the product of the Ministry of Truth. Perhaps we should rename the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The reason we face this massive housing crisis today is the abject failure of the coalition parties’ economic plan. They have cut housing investment at precisely the wrong time and, as a consequence, the construction industry is on its knees. It is a very labour-intensive industry and it could create huge numbers of jobs. Moreover, 80% of the products on a building site are procured from inside the United Kingdom. Construction is an engine for economic growth.

5 Sep 2012 : Column 342

Mr Prisk: The hon. Gentleman said that he was appalled at the alleged cuts. How much more would Labour spend?

Chris Williamson: With all due respect to the Minister, I know it is his first day but it is his party that is in government, his party that is responsible for this housing crisis, his party that is presiding over a huge increase in homelessness and a significant rise in rough sleeping, and his party that is catastrophically failing in its duty to provide the houses that people need in this country.

What do the Government do in response to this huge and growing crisis and massive demand for housing? Rather than build the homes that people need, they tinker with measures that deny housing benefit to people under 25, inflict a crude housing benefit cap and impose a bedroom tax on people deemed to be under-occupying their homes, forcing people up to the age of 35 to live in a single room if they happen to be on a low income.

The human cost of the calamity with which we are faced as a consequence of the failure of the Government’s economic and housing policies is tragic and shameful. More people are homeless as a direct consequence of their policies, and more people are having to sleep on the street—as I mentioned, rough sleeping is increasing. This is completely unacceptable in the 21st century in one of the richest nations on the planet. I just hope that the new Housing Minister is not blinded by the failed ideology that resulted in the abject failure of his predecessor.

The country is crying out for, and demands, real action now, not more meaningless initiatives. We need a clear plan, because plan A has totally failed. The new Minister said that he was committed to increasing housing supply. I hope that he can deliver on that. We need a new tax on bankers’ bonuses to build tens of thousands of new homes, and we need a cut in VAT on home improvements to help people undertake that work and generate more jobs. These are the sorts of measures contained in our motion and that would give a boost to the construction industry. I therefore commend the motion to the House.

Mr Speaker: With the leave of the House, I call the Minister.

6.52 pm

Mr Prisk: I am delighted to respond to this debate. It has been constructive and timely in a number of ways—from my personal point of view and in terms of the Government’s programme—and I would like to congratulate right hon. and hon. Members on what has been a genuinely positive and constructive debate. I want to respond to some of the positive ideas raised, because it is an important part of my learning curve and so that we can tackle a problem with which, as several Members have said, many Governments have been faced. The hyperbolic contributions from Opposition Members do not help us to find a meaningful and lasting solution. I have already outlined the steps that the Government have taken to address the previous Government’s failure to deliver sufficient housing supply. I want now to address some of the specific points that have been raised and that Members have asked me to touch on. After that, I shall conclude in the time left to me.

We began with the contribution from the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), who, to be fair,

5 Sep 2012 : Column 343

accepted that the Labour Government failed in several areas. I accept the point about self-build, however, and want to consider it further, because it is an interesting idea. Several Select Committee members have recommended that I read their report. I do not know whether they are on a bonus or chasing a sales target, but I am more than happy to look at it, because it is an important issue.

I draw attention, in particular, to the contribution from my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill). I would like to put on the record my personal tribute to him. The House knows that he was a hard-working Minister, experienced and courteous to the House—a lesson that I shall try to follow. He worked on Ebbsfleet, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), where 23,000 houses went un-built in the 13 years of the last Labour Government. My hon. Friend ensured that those houses can now be built. He was right to say that Labour Front Benchers are unfortunately suffering from what one can only describe as collective amnesia. Now they talk highly about helping our councils, but they forget that they spent 13 years trammelling local councils and preventing them from doing what they want to do. We are changing that; that is what the Localism Act 2011 is all about.

I thought the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs Riordan) was a little negative. She omitted to mention the contributions in transportation, infrastructure investment or the £770 million in the Growing Places fund—if I may, I shall come back briefly to discuss Halifax in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) highlighted the fact that this is a long-term issue. She asked about the empty homes package, which is a package of £160 million. I am pleased to say that we are scrapping the old top-down pathfinder targets, which sought to demolish houses. We are looking to ensure that we refurbish them. I also very much welcome her comments about the new homes bonus.

A number of Members mentioned social housing issues. I will want to look at them, but to do so in the two minutes I have left would be to treat them inadequately, as they are deep and sustained issues.

Let me turn the underlying economic issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Meon Valley (George Hollingbery) hit the nail on the head. He was absolutely right to say that we have recognised that ensuring that we deal with the deficit is what keeps interest rates low. For many of our constituents—indeed, for millions of households—ensuring that interest rates remain lower for longer is vital to their being able to continue to afford their homes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) talked about how the new Gateway site is a good example of a project that is progressing.

The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford) is an experienced Member in this field. We disagree on a number of areas, and he will not be surprised to know that the new homes bonus is one of them. Indeed, he might like to know—he might also wish to debate this with the hon. Member for Halifax—that Calderdale council is receiving £1.7 million from that bonus for 550 new builds. I suspect that there may be an element of tension on the Labour Back Benches.

5 Sep 2012 : Column 344

My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) talked about the important issue of ensuring that brownfield sites are developed, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke). Getting the balance right between greenfield and brownfield sites is difficult. Wearing my old surveyor’s hat, I want to look at the issue further. As a practitioner, I dealt with how we regenerate brownfield sites back in the 1980s and 1990s. I want to look at the issue, and I would ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to write to me about it.

Let me turn, finally, to a couple of the last points that were raised. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) was absolutely right that we are determined to ensure that we get house building numbers right, and that we should develop and build on that and reverse the problems we faced under the last Labour Government. However, we should not ignore quality. That is an important point. Quality and design; places that people want to live in; the use of the vernacular—these are important as we think about how to ensure that we provide the appropriate homes.

To conclude, the Government are working hard to increase substantially the supply of housing from the low point of the last Labour Government. Our housing strategy combines practical measures with an understanding that Whitehall cannot and must not try to control the housing markets. Our work in helping first-time buyers, simplifying the planning system and unlocking stalled sites is all part of our commitment to enable more homes to be built. By tackling the deficit we have built the foundation for a sustainable economy. We are now focused on getting houses built.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Mr Speaker: I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.

The House having divided:

Ayes 222, Noes 297.

Division No. 57]

[6.59 pm

AYES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lloyd, Tony

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Tom Blenkinsop and

Graham Jones

NOES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Greg Hands and

Mark Hunter

Question accordingly negatived

.

5 Sep 2012 : Column 345

5 Sep 2012 : Column 346

5 Sep 2012 : Column 347

5 Sep 2012 : Column 348

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.

The House divided:

Ayes 285, Noes 214.

Division No. 58]

[7.17 pm

AYES

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Barwell, Gavin

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Benyon, Richard

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Chishti, Rehman

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, rh Mr Edward

Davies, Glyn

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Farron, Tim

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Fox, rh Dr Liam

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Gove, rh Michael

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hague, rh Mr William

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Heaton-Harris, Chris

Hemming, John

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Mr Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huhne, rh Chris

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Macleod, Mary

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Norman, Jesse

Nuttall, Mr David

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Osborne, rh Mr George

Ottaway, Richard

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reevell, Simon

Reid, Mr Alan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Sir Robert

Soubry, Anna

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thurso, John

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Greg Hands and

Mark Hunter

NOES

Abbott, Ms Diane

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Bayley, Hugh

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunt, Tristram

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lloyd, Tony

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Morrice, Graeme

(Livingston)

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, John

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Spellar, rh Mr John

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Weir, Mr Mike

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Noes:

Tom Blenkinsop and

Graham Jones

Question accordingly agreed to.

5 Sep 2012 : Column 349

5 Sep 2012 : Column 350

5 Sep 2012 : Column 351

5 Sep 2012 : Column 352

The Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).

Resolved,

That this House welcomes the first Opposition Day debate on housing in this Parliament; notes that house building under the previous administration fell to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s; further notes that house building starts in England were 29 per cent higher in 2011 compared with 2009; believes there is still more to do to get Britain building; further notes that housing is the most affordable for first-time buyers for a decade and mortgage payments are the lowest since 1997 as a direct consequence of the decisive action to tackle the deficit brought about by the previous administration; notes that the Coalition Government’s affordable housing programme will deliver 170,000 affordable homes by 2015 and leverage £19.5 billion of investment; and welcomes the steps being taken to increase house building and unlock stalled sites and the comprehensive programme to get empty homes back into productive use.’.

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance and draw to your attention a matter that will be of interest and concern to all right hon. and hon. Members: the impersonation of a Member of this House. A Twitter account has been set up in the name of “Bob Russell MP”. I assure you that it is not I who have done it. Throughout today it has been filled with vile comments from someone with a sick, evil and warped mind. This must be viewed in the context of three years of dirty tricks in Colchester against me by three immature young men who are all members of the same party. It has involved a spoof YouTube video of me, a snooper photograph and letters to newspapers with false names and addresses. Can you provide guidance on what can be done in a case of impersonation of a Member of this House?

Mr Speaker: It is clearly unacceptable that the hon. Gentleman has been subject to this form of harassment. However, it is not a matter of order for the Chair. I understand that the companies that host such accounts usually respond promptly to any example of “MP” being used illegitimately. For tonight, I shall leave it there.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Companies

That the draft Community Interest Company (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which were laid before this House on 14 June, be approved.—(Mr Swayne.)

5 Sep 2012 : Column 353

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Equality

That the draft Equality Act 2010 (Age Exceptions) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 21 June, be approved.— (Mr Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Co-operation with South-East Asia

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 6677/12, relating to the joint draft Council Decision on the Accession of the European Union to the Treaty of Amity and Co-operation in South East Asia; notes the European Union’s accession to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Co-operation; and supports the Government’s policy of increasing United Kingdom and European Union engagement with the countries of ASEAN to promote British and European prosperity, security and values.—(Mr. Swayne.)

Question agreed to.

Sittings of the House

Ordered,

That, on Tuesday 18 September, the House shall meet at 11.30 am and references to specific times in the Standing Orders of this House shall apply as if that day were a Wednesday.— (Mr Swayne.)

PETITION

Post Offices (Clifton, Bristol)

7.32 pm

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD): The petition is from Bristol West constituents and concerns a post office in my constituency, one of the many that were closed between 2004 and 2008 under the previous Government—the Alma Vale road post office in Clifton, which is still trading as the Clifton Mini Market. The owner of the shop, Mr Satnam Singh, has collected the support of approximately 400 customers who want him to reopen the post office on a voluntary basis.

The Petition states:

The Petition of residents of Bristol West constituency,

Declares that the Petitioners support the proposed re-opening of the Clifton Mini Market Post Office.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to make provision for post offices to be operated on a voluntary basis so that communities such as ours may gain an invaluable service.

And the Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

[P001115]

5 Sep 2012 : Column 354

Burial Space

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Swayne.)

7.33 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): At the outset I would like to congratulate wholeheartedly the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), on her promotion. She of course followed my great friend Ann Widdecombe as Member of Parliament for Maidstone and The Weald and I am absolutely delighted that she has been made a Minister. I have every confidence that when she replies she will satisfy all my very reasonable demands.

I fully understand that the subject I am raising this evening is not the most cheerful one. It is taboo to talk about death, but none of us is immortal—I think—and the one thing that is certain is that we are all going to die. According to the Dying Matters coalition, two thirds of us are uncomfortable talking about dying and death. However, thinking about what happens to us after we are gone is likely to be of huge significance, not just from our personal perspective but from that of the loved ones we leave behind. That thinking will often centre on funeral arrangements, which provide the very last chance to leave a mark on the world that we have just left.

I have probably been to more funerals than I have had meals. I have never been to a truly happy one, but if the person has lived a reasonable length of time, I like to see the funeral as a celebration of that person’s life. That notion was gained from my time on the all-party group on funerals and bereavement. Recently, I have been to the funeral of my good friend Ken Hargreaves, Member of Parliament for Hyndburn from 1983 to 1992. We are having a memorial service for him in the Crypt on the third Wednesday of October; the date is up in the Crypt. The ceremony in Hyndburn was very moving and I had the honour of giving the eulogy. I also recently went to the funeral of Joan Short, my first election agent in the late 1960s. That was at the City of London crematorium.

I am not trying for a job, but I should add that a number of constituents have asked me to preside over the funerals of their loved ones. It has happened when the loved one has not had any particular faith. Although I have not entirely enjoyed presiding, if that is what the departed constituent has wanted me to do, that is what I have done.

Unless a Member has died and been resurrected, none of us can say what it feels like to be dead. Whether we are in some place looking down at our funeral services saying to one another, “My goodness—I can’t believe that hypocrite has turned up at my funeral,” I do not know. I have no doubt that at my funeral one or two people will go to the altar to check that the lid of the coffin has been screwed down tightly.

A funeral is a very important event. I have been to funerals at which there has been hardly anyone and to funerals with so many people that many are standing outside the church. Despite the importance of funerals, only a third of us have discussed the type of funeral we

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would like. I say publicly that I intend to be buried, not cremated; I hope that someone vengeful does not disregard my wishes.

Not wanting to talk about death leads to an unwillingness to address the many issues that surround it. Foremost among them is what happens to our bodies once we die. We owe it to our loved ones to ensure that what happens following our death is as smooth and pain-free as possible, while still providing a dignified remembrance. Cremation is overwhelmingly the choice of the people of the United Kingdom: about 70% of us are cremated, the highest rate in the world. In some respects, that is understandable—we are a tiny little country and we lack space. The argument is that cremation is efficient, hygienic and cheap and leaves no site behind that needs to be maintained, unlike burials.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The two things that are sure in life are death and taxes; those are things that we have to deal with whether we like it or not. The hon. Gentleman mentioned that most people choose cremation, although he said that he would like to be buried. Is he aware of the new system that at present enables three people to be buried in a grave, but could enable six people from a family to be buried together? The system means that families can be together in death, and a lot of families would like that. It also takes care of the issue of space.

Mr Amess: I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is my friend, that I certainly am aware of that suggestion and I will be touching on it briefly. I know that it works extremely well in Northern Ireland.

I want to question whether the popularity of cremations is borne out of choice or necessity. As I said, I certainly do not want to be cremated. For some groups, religious doctrine completely rules out cremation. For instance, Jewish people, Muslims and, until recently, those of my own faith—the Catholics—disapprove of cremation, while modern environmentalists object to the environmental impact of cremation and prefer natural or green burials. The first time I was invited to attend a natural burial I thought, “My goodness, they’re putting someone in a cardboard box—is it going to collapse?”, but in fact it was done with great dignity. That is the choice for a number of environmentalists.

I wonder whether the high cremation rate can be explained by people genuinely wanting to be cremated or by the lack of choice when it comes to burial and the absence of locally accessible, well-managed cemeteries with available burial space. I do not think the answer is simple, but I would like to use this debate to explore the possibility that some people are forced into cremation because of a lack of choice about burials. I should like us to entertain the idea that this problem is going to get worse. We should face up to it, and this Parliament should give a lead.

I am aware that responsibility for burial is a very complex field involving local and parochial authorities. I also understand that at present, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, there is no statutory requirement to make available a place for burial, but this does not change the fact that we need to approach the issue of burial space in a holistic fashion. Burial space is a

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problem that has plagued this country since Victorian times, and despite its resurfacing again and again, it has not been adequately addressed.

The longer we leave the issue unresolved, the more serious it is going to become. It is a particular problem in London; I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) in his place. In August 1997, the London Planning Advisory Committee published its report “Planning for Burial Space in London”. This outlined that inner-London boroughs were then estimated to have only seven years’ burial capacity remaining, while for outer-London boroughs it was up to 18 years. A more recent report of 2011 suggested that inner-London boroughs such as Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea had virtually no burial space remaining, while in some outer-London boroughs such as Croydon and Haringey the situation was deemed to be “critical”.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I thank the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. He will know that in my constituency in the 1960s a new town was built with no cemetery provision. In the past few years the council has given planning permission for a cemetery and crematorium, but on the other side of the borough nothing is happening and we are making no progress, and there is no danger of the council forcing the issue. Yet my constituents are having to pay what amounts to a death tax by being buried or cremated in other areas. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need councils to act with compassion towards their residents—the people who are paying council tax—who ought not be forced to be buried or cremated out of the area at a huge cost to them? There are of course religious connotations. The local Catholic priests are very anxious that Skelmersdale has its own cemetery; in fact, not only Catholic priests but the local priesthood of all denominations need burial space.

Mr Amess: I absolutely agree with everything that the hon. Lady said. She will be delighted to know that the wonderful Library briefing on this issue specifically told me about those points.

Evidence suggests that the problem is not just restricted to large metropolitan areas such as London. In rural locations, for example, there are problems with financing the purchase of new land for burial and of secure and appropriate land at a reasonable distance from the communities. I know that the hon. Lady raised the issue in the House in 2007, but it has obviously not been solved. In 2011, the Church in Wales claimed that two thirds of its 1,000 burial grounds would be full in 10 years and that it was short of funds to maintain graves. It added that it could not afford to extend or open new churchyards. It is clear that this is a major issue.

Over the past decade, Governments have begun to recognise that this is a problem, beginning in 2001 with the Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Committee’s inquiries into cemeteries. There was also a Home Office report in 2004, but I think that there has been inactivity with regard to responding positively to the problems.

There are knock-on effects on the cost to the population. Foremost among these is the narrowing of affordable burying options. There is often no space available in the

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local cemetery and the family may be forced to choose a burial plot that is some distance away from where the deceased actually lived. This can be emotionally distressing and geographically challenging, with the deceased losing any links to the local area and the family having to travel some distance to visit the grave. There is an economic impact on the costs to local authorities, and I have already mentioned issues relating to the Muslim and Jewish communities.

The House should also consider the impact of historic cemeteries. We have many such cemeteries in the United Kingdom, many of which have become full and are often neglected, even though they may well contain wonderful buildings, artefacts and landscapes of great importance and heritage. It is estimated that there are approximately 3,500 pre-1914 historic cemeteries in the UK, all of which could be at risk because of lack of burial space. For example, in the London borough of Newham, where I was born and where the Olympics were staged, 60% of public open space is made up of cemetery land given over to cemeteries.

I will end with the potential solutions. The reuse of graves is a very controversial suggestion, but some people favour it. It is not a new idea—it has been under consideration for some time. I remember there being a bit of a round-the-houses about it in 1994. It is called the lift and deepen method, whereby graves are excavated to their deepest depths and all remains placed in a casket and reinterred at the bottom of the grave. The research team involved interviewed 1,603 members of the public and the majority thought that it was a good idea, but I have my own views on it. The reuse of graves older than 75 years is allowed in London under the London Local Authorities Act 2007, but I say again that it is a controversial activity. I believe that Southwark council has unveiled plans recently to tackle lack of burial space in the borough by reusing graves. If approved, such action would free up 1,600 burial plots by 2015 and more than 5,000 by 2028.

I turn now to the subject to which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) alluded in his intervention—Italian-style mausoleums. I believe that this is a possible solution. I have been to see them in America and other countries and think that, done well, they are both respectful and tasteful. They are particularly prominent in southern European countries such as, obviously, Italy. The mausoleums allow for a maximum number of entombments in a minimum amount of space. Not only do they use space effectively in burial grounds, but they provide the opportunity to be interned alongside loved ones. Such mausoleums come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and a variety of materials can be used. They are a possible solution and I think that we should learn from best practice in Northern Ireland.

Green burials are another solution to consider and provide environmental benefits. The natural process is sped up, freeing up space more quickly. There is no bulky headstone. Instead, the burial register can be anything from a shrub or tree to an electronic chip, which helps keep the space required to an absolute minimum. The coffins are made of biodegradable cardboard or papier-mâché, thus freeing up space underground at a faster rate. Finally, the graveyard when full can be

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turned into a nature reserve or picnic site. Many people have no problem with that. It would not be my choice, but I am probably in a tiny minority. The first green burial site was opened in Carlisle in 1993 and there are now more than 200 across the United Kingdom. A further benefit of the method is the low cost, with cardboard coffins costing as little as £60.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister what the Government’s views are on adopting the measures that I have mentioned. Such new methods are becoming more widespread and I wonder whether the Government’s position on them has altered since the debate on the matter some years ago. I am aware that the situation is being kept under review, but then everything seems to be under review. It would be nice if, rather than reviewing things, we could have a bit of activity. If we do nothing, people will be left with less choice, further increasing the case for cremation to be the solution that is offered to everyone, and those who still opt for burial, either out of choice or due to religious conviction, are likely to be faced with considerable costs, increasing the likelihood that burials will occur outside the local area. We should buck our cultural trend and face up to the treatment of death. Other than those who, tragically, commit suicide, none of us know when we will die. The way in which we say goodbye to a loved one should be treated with the greatest possible dignity.

7.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Mrs Helen Grant): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) on securing this debate on burial space and the treatment of death, and thank him sincerely for his kind and generous words of encouragement at the beginning of his speech.

These are important subjects and I consider it crucial that Parliament continues to have time to debate them. I am aware of the concerns of our burial and cremation stakeholders.

Burial was the only option available for people to dispose of their loved ones after death until the early 20th century, when national legislation to allow cremation was passed. Subsequently, the Roman Catholic Church has lifted its ban on the practice, and cremation has become an increasingly popular choice of funeral. As my hon. Friend said, cremation now accounts for about 70% of funerals in England and Wales. That of course means that about 30% of deaths still lead to a burial. Some 150,000 burials are carried out each year. Indeed, as my hon. Friend mentioned, for some faith groups, including Muslims, Orthodox Jews and followers of the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, burial is a religious requirement. For other faith groups, although cremation is not forbidden, burial remains a preferred option. The Government will continue to support people’s decisions to bury their loved ones after death.

In recent years, more individuals have taken greater responsibility in determining how their remains should be disposed of after death. Some have pursued what are loosely termed natural or green burials. It is worthwhile spending a moment explaining those alternatives to the conventional burial or cremation. There is now far

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more choice than there ever has been for people who want those alternatives. Green options include woodland burials using a cardboard, wicker or bamboo coffin. There are also natural burials, whereby the body is buried directly in the soil in a manner that allows it to decompose naturally. Ministry of Justice guidance on natural burials is available to assist operators in providing them.

Those natural or green ways of disposing of the dead are variants on conventional burial, but there are also several other methods of disposing of human remains that are more akin to cremation, in that they involve total destruction of the body. Those alternatives include promession and cryomation, which essentially involve freeze-drying the body, and alkaline hydrolysis, which involves reducing the body to a powder and liquid residue. Those processes are still relatively new, untried and untested and the Government will follow with interest the progress of trials in Europe and the United States.

Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): I am sure that I speak for the whole House and beyond in our universal approbation and congratulations to the Minister on her new position.

May I possibly seek to influence the Minister? As one who attended the natural funeral of the late Tony Banks and saw his wickerwork coffin, plaited with ivy, being carried forward to the bosky dell, I could not help thinking that from dust we come and to dust we shall return. What happens to our body is not actually the most important thing in the world. The soul is rather more important. I would not suggest following the silver-tongued leadership of the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) and creating a whole new world of urban parks where once bodies lay and disintegrated, but I reiterate that I have utter confidence in the Minister and repeat my congratulations on her appointment.

Mrs Grant: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman and will give serious thought to his important comments and observations on that type of burial.

There is currently no legislative power or duty to regulate the new processes that I described in England and Wales. They fall outside the Cremation Act 1902 because the processes concerned are not seen as constituting the burning of human remains.

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I want to make it clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West that burials will, of course, continue to be an option in England and Wales. In the case of burial grounds situated in London, there is the specific legislation to which he referred—section 74 of the London Local Authorities Act 2007, which permits the reuse of graves subject to certain conditions, particularly that the last burial must have taken place more than 75 years previously. Where reuse is possible, a practice known as “lift and deepen” takes place, as he mentioned. Existing remains are lifted to deepen the grave, and the new remains are buried on top.

Indeed, the City of London corporation applied for and was granted a “faculty”, which is a special authorisation by the Church authorities, to reuse old graves in consecrated areas of the City of London cemetery in the London borough of Newham, where the last burial had taken place more than 75 years previously. Signs were placed in the area for several years explaining the intention to clear and develop it and asking people to declare an interest in the graves of their loved ones.

In 2005, the previous Government conducted a survey of burial grounds. It indicated that existing burial grounds could remain in operation for approximately 30 years on the basis of current levels of demand. Of course, it is fundamental that people should be laid to rest with dignity and respect. I am aware of the difficulties that some burial authorities are experiencing both with a shortage of burial space and in finding practical and affordable alternatives, particularly in some urban areas. However, we have not yet reached the stage where the position is critical or requires Government intervention.

Indeed, after careful consideration of all those factors, I do not consider that introducing a policy of reusing graves is critical at the moment. Nevertheless, my officials have offered help and advice to burial authorities, and guidance has been issued for burial ground managers so that they can make the best use of their cemeteries. I will, of course, continue to keep the matter under constant and careful review.

Question put and agreed to.

8 pm

House adjourned.