Examination of witnesses (Questions 20
TUESDAY 9 JANUARY 2001
HUSSEIN and DR
20. Surely you do not want the Committee to
believe that virtually every cemetery in the country is so run
down and mismanaged that everything needs to be corrected. That
is certainly not my experience of local government. My experience
in the area in which I live leads me to believe there is a tremendous
amount of expertise and that cemeteries are well maintained and
that parish councils take great pride. I would not like the evidence
today, Chairman, to suggest that there are not many well run and
well maintained cemeteries. Can I move on because you also mentioned
(Dr Walter) I did.
21. Before I put my questions would you perhaps
elaborate upon that? Who would employ them? Would this be another
charge on already expensive funerals? Can you tell me where the
present system is failing?
(Dr Walter) The concept of a funeral adviser, which
in a way I think is quite peripheral to the issue of cemeteries
22. Well, you mentioned it.
(Dr Walter) I mentioned it, that is right. It was
in response to the question about information. The concept, which
is being piloted in a small number of old people's homes and hospices
at the moment, is that a member of staff should be trained and
be available to discuss, either with the patients before they
die or with the family after they have died, what the options
are. There is sometimes a rather cosy relationship between a particular
funeral director and a particular old person's home or even hospice
and we would like to unpick that so that independent advice can
actually be given to people.
23. Have you any examples of where the present
system is falling down?
(Dr Walter) Yes. Just to give my own personal experience
of a very close friend who died in a hospice where she received
extremely good terminal care. This was not in the area where I
live and I asked "can you recommend a funeral director?"
and they said "yes, we believe X is very good, we often use
them" and they were absolutely dreadful. It was over Christmas,
they were a large organisation and they just were not open most
of the time. Certainly we would have got much better service from
another company. When you look at what actually happens, you do
get a close relationship very often between a particular funeral
director and a particular institution like that. What those institutions
could very easily do is every yearit would take no more
than a day or half a day of one member of staff's timering
around the different funeral directors, also the different cemeteries
and crematoria, find out what their charges are and publish them.
That would completely change the relationship so that people would
24. It would certainly make for very interesting
reading in the small libraries they have in old people's homes.
(Dr Walter) It would indeed.
25. You mentioned in your evidence, Dr Walter,
that the need for cemeteries to be local is extremely important.
(Dr Walter) Yes.
26. You did touch on this earlier. What harm
would accrue from consolidating cemetery services and relocating
sites further out of town?
(Dr Walter) Again, we perhaps do not have the evidence
base for this although I would imagine that the research by Dr
Doris Francis, which is going to be published in detail soon,
would have some evidence on this and perhaps Cemetery Management
would know something about this as well. A significant proportion
of mourners who visit graves, and they will often visit graves
for five, ten, 15 years after the death, are elderly and they
are female. In London maybe where you have got free bus passes
for the elderly it might be a nice day out to take three buses
to get to a cemetery that is a considerable distance away, but
in many towns that is not a realistic option for elderly relatives.
27. Dr Hussein, evidence presented to the Committee
indicates that lack of funding is a significant barrier to the
restoration and maintenance of cemeteries. What would you consider
to be the best ways forward to ensure the long-term financial
viability of cemeteries?
(Dr Hussein) The only way to ensure the long-term
financial viability is to have the reuse of graves so that they
are sustainable. In the short-term I think that local authorities
are their own worst enemies in terms of finances for cemeteries
because they fail to charge realistic fees. Most burial fees are
heavily subsidised. I think there is a great deal of inconsistency
in the way in which burial and cremation fees are applied. In
many authorities cremation fees are used to subsidise the cemetery
even further, so someone who is choosing cremation is not only
paying a higher fee but they are also subsidising the cemetery.
28. That might be the case where you have a
crematorium and a cemetery in the same location but in a rural
area you often have to travel for perhaps 15 or 20 miles before
you come across a crematorium. You cannot relate what you have
just said to all parts of the country.
(Dr Hussein) No.
29. Likewise, as far as the subsidy is concerned,
I would imagine that people who are being buried in cemeteries
have been loyal ratepayers and council taxpayers for most of their
lives and in many cases councils have made quite a conscious decision
that they will subsidise because of the very expensive cost of
funerals these days.
(Dr Hussein) Yes. That is obviously a policy decision
to be made by elected members at the local level. My concern and
my experience is that generally speaking there is a lack of specific
policy making in respect of cemetery fees and charges. It is often
just a reluctance to address the issues to put up the fees for
30. Why is that important if it does not cause
a particular community concern?
(Dr Hussein) Precisely because they lack the resources
to look after the cemetery in a decent manner. I agree with you,
when I started I said that the general upkeep of the grounds,
the cutting of the grass, is generally good, but I am talking
about the infrastructure, the care of the boundaries, the paths,the
buildings and the long-term upkeep of the monuments, it is quite
appalling in our cemeteries and it is because of a lack of resources.
You cannot have your cake and eat it. This is what local authorities,
particularly at parish level, are doing, they are not charging
realistic fees. I agree with you, if they were prepared to meet
the costs of running the cemetery as it should be run from the
rates then fair enough, but they are not.
31. The cemeteries to which you are referring,
are you thinking in terms of high cost cemeteries like Highgate,
Kensal Green, large municipal cemeteries, because I do not have
that experience in small communities? Perhaps where I live they
are more enlightened than anywhere else.
(Dr Hussein) The cemeteries that you have referred
to are not typical of your British cemetery or burial ground in
this country, they are not typical at all. What I am talking about
applies to every cemetery in this country, whether it is a small
parish burial ground or a large municipal cemetery. You have got
to have realistic charging levels or a deliberate decision to
subsidise the service ensuring that adequate resources are provided,
and that is not happening.
32. If you obtain the reuse after 75 years without
an objection from living relatives, which is what you appear to
be asking for, you are saying that would put the maintenance of
municipal cemeteries on to effectively an ongoing basis?
(Dr Hussein) Yes.
33. In terms of the income they would be able
to continue to generate by being able to continue to recycle the
(Dr Hussein) If they charge realistic fees, yes.
34. That surely is a matter for them, is it
not, their fee level charging?
(Dr Hussein) Yes.
35. If the people in that local area are sufficiently
exercised over the state of their cemeteries and think that the
policy of the ruling authority is wrong, it is up to them to make
changes in an election to people who want to maintain them in
a different way with a different level of either public subsidy
(Dr Hussein) Absolutely, yes, given the option.
(Dr Walter) I would want to emphasise that, but at
the moment they do not have that option because the law as it
is currently interpreted does not allow the reuse of graves. I
completely agree with Dr Hussein that that is the only way forward
to produce an adequate revenue for cemeteries.
36. If you obtain reuse then further regulation
would not be required because it is then within the scope available
to the local authorities to be able to manage their cemeteries
in a way they and the local people who have elected them so choose?
(Dr Walter) I would certainly say that the most important
issue at the moment for national Government is either to change
the law or allow the reinterpretation of the present law because
that is what is completely gumming up the options at the moment.
Could I also say that although the 75 years with a lift and deepen
proposal that Dr Hussein has proposed is one that is current in
this country I think we should also consider the continental type
of option where typically leases are for a much shorter period
of time. In a suburb of Antwerp in Belgium it was as little as
eight years, I have seen it as 25, 30, 40 years in other towns.
It depends upon what the local community determines as culturally
acceptable and depends upon local soil conditions. In that kind
of situation the family have complete option to renew the lease
as often as they want, so how long the grave is there for is entirely
up to the individual family. It is not a management decision which
says "after 75 years you will have to have your loved one
dug up unless you object", it is very much driven by the
desires of the family rather than the management concerns of the
cemetery. I think that is another option that should be looked
at. In that kind of system there is no grave which does not have
a family with an interest and there is no grave without an ongoing
income stream coming in.
(Dr Hussein) May I just add to that. Three years ago
at the City of London Cemetery we introduced the option giving
new grave owners the right to buy a grave either for 50 years,
75 years or 100 years, with the option that every five years they
could add on another five year period so they could keep it at
50 years, 75 years or 100 years. Our experience so far has been
that 95 per cent have opted for the 50 year option.
37. Is that because they cannot afford to pay
for the longer ones?
(Dr Hussein) I think that may be a factor, they are
choosing the cheaper option, but generally in speaking to the
public they are saying "50 years ahead I will not be here
myself and if we want to extend the ownership we can do that,
we can do that in five years' time, so we do not need to buy 75
years". We need to work towards that. We know from research
into public attitudes that to try to bring down the periods will
not be acceptable.
38. What would be the cost of a typical plot
for 50 years and then for 100 years?
(Dr Hussein) Generally speaking, in the country?
Mr Blunt: A ball park figure?
39. What does the City of London charge?
(Dr Hussein) If you were to buy a grave for 50 years,
it is £550 for the right of burial.