I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.
I am anxious to proceed with the Bill, which I introduced in the House on 14 February 1983. After a fairly short debate, it received a Second Reading. A number of amendments will be discussed later. I intend to proceed as quickly as I can.
I believe that both sides of the House would wish to be associated with one interesting factor. Mr. Arthur Metcalfe has been in the service of the House as clerk to the parliamentary agents Dyson Bell and Co. for 50 years. Mr. Metcalfe is part of Westminster's history, and I know that hon. Members wish to show the proper acknowledgement to him for his dedicated service to the House for more than half a lifetime.
The Bill is almost unique. Following the Second Reading debate in February last year, the Bill went before a Select Committee for almost a record number of sittings for a Committee hearing in the post-war period. The Select Committee had about 25 sittings, considered well over 100 pieces of evidence and heard 13 different witnesses. The Committee recommended that the Bill be approved. It laid down certain stringent conditions, with which the House is acquainted, and I shall not bore hon. Members with the details. I ask the House to accept consideration of the Bill so that it can soon be put on the statute book.
It might have been thought, from the speech of the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), that the crematorium was to be placed in his constituency, but it is not. The proposal is to place the crematorium in my constituency so that the citizens of Leicester, West may have the benefits of the efforts of the hon. Gentleman, whose constituency contains more green fields and light minds than mine.
It might have been thought also that a certain remarkable parliamentary emanation would have shown that the crematorium was in Conservative territory. If nothing else, that document has made much parliamentary history because of the extremely long consideration that the Bill received in Committee.
The document purports to be a private Whip emanating from the hon. Member for Harborough and signed by the hon. Gentleman and people from the far Right, the hanging Centre and the reforming Left of the Conservative party. Those sections are apparently anxious that there should be a crematorium in a high street in my constituency.
That disgraceful document has been signed by six Conservative Members of Parliament representing the county of Leicestershire. I am the only Labour Member of Parliament representing any part of that county. I presume that those hon. Members intended to show that this was a party matter. That is the first falsehood that brings the Bill before the House.
I am pleased that the Bill is opposed not only by many of my hon. Friends but by many distinguished and vocal Conservative Members. This is a matter not of privatisation but of life or death. The nearest approach to privatisation in this debate is the privatisation by the hon. Member for Harborough of the whipping system. I suggest that we should recognise that this matter affects all of us, whether Conservative, Labour or Liberal, because one day we shall all be concerned with the end, as we are now concerned with the middle, of our lives. We should all be anxious that cities preserve the decencies and normalities of life, even if we happen to represent a place as rural and lovely as that represented by the hon. Member for Harborough.
I wonder whether the House knows the type of place in which the kindly hon. Member for Harborough and his Conservative Friends propose to place the crematorium —not in their constituencies, but in mine. Perhaps they have been encouraged to take this action because the site is next door to the office of the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers. Perhaps they believe that it would be a good idea to place a crematorium next door to the union which some of them have so bitterly opposed. I wonder whether those Conservative Members know also that in the same building from which the union operates are the offices of Creative Advertising (Leicester) Ltd. which, I understand, is against the proposal, Creative Photography (Leicester) Ltd., Studio 41 (Graphics) and TASS.
I wonder whether Conservative Members know that in the building next door to where they so kindly wish to place a crematorium are the premises of Charnwood Technic Art Ltd., Hebron and Medlock (Leicester) Ltd., industrial consultants, SAGG Beauty and Good Grooming, which undoubtedly will greatly benefit from having a crematorium next door, and John Biggs, Graphics. Across the road, in case anybody wants to take a dip, is the St. Margaret's swimming baths. I am sure that all the people who work and swim there are deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Harborough for wanting to place the crematorium opposite the main recreational facility in that part of my constituency.
Already, as people come to the baths to swim, they can observe the occasional hearse. We shall deal later—although I hope we shall not reach that stage—with amendments relating to the lack of parking and other facilities.
It is notable that. despite all the unused space in the benighted area of Harborough, the hon. Gentleman — understandably, he is departing from the Chamber—wishes to place the crematorium in my constituency. I invite him to wait until he hears what the bishop has to say, because the area includes not only swimming baths, but also churches.
The hon. Member for Harborough—I say this in all seriousness — has seen fit to make one of the most disgraceful personal attacks upon a bishop or anyone else that I have ever known. In my happy constituency the bishop and I have disagreed with each other politically, but we have always got on perfectly well personally.
The hon. Gentleman, who is now leaving the Chamber again, might like to bear in mind that the Bill is not just improper and wrong because it will affect those who use places of work, swimming baths and churches, but also because it was brought in by false pretences.
Evidence was given to the Committee that there was a place available for the scattering of ashes in a nearby churchyard, when that was not true. The bishop has made it abundantly clear that neither he nor anyone else of authority ever gave consent to acquire that churchyard to the hon. Gentleman or any of his acolytes, from other parts of Leicester—not my constituency—who want to put the crematorium in my patch, and who are sitting there wondering who is going to be cremated after being hanged.
I wish to refer the House to the correspondence that has passed between the Bishops of Gloucester and of Leicester and the hon. Gentleman, the like of which I hope never to see again, and the like of which has never before been put before the House, and which I deeply regret. It is possible to disagree with ideas but still to preserve the decencies. Perhaps that was not possible for the hon. Gentleman, in view of what has been placed before the Committee about circumstances in which it was right for Messers Ginns and Gutteridge to have their crematorium in the high street in my constituency — that, although there was nowhere to scatter ashes nearby, there was a nearby available chuchyard which would be pleased to accommodate Messers Ginns and Gutteridge. It was not so. It was untrue.
As it was untrue, what was left to the hon. Gentleman other than to attack the bishop personally and to suggest that if he spent more time in his diocese instead of abroad he might know more of what was going on? It is a personal attack which I am sure the bishop's parishioners and the people of Leicester, West will note with scorn. No doubt the hon. Member's constituents will regret it; there is no need to attack the bishop because one disagrees with him.
If the case against the crematorium being located in the place where it is asked to be located is so overwhelming, will the hon. and learned Gentleman explain why the city council gave it planning consent?
Yes, when the application first came before the city council, it made a mistake of the worst kind —[Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh. Their mistake is now in thinking that the House will be fooled tonight into passing the Bill, in thinking that the bishop would sit tight and take insults, and that my constituents would sit back and accept the mistake made by the council and others, a mistake whch the council has fought hard to rectify ever since, and which I believe the House will help to rectify tonight.
I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way and urge him not to become overexcited about this matter, because he has probably forgotten, although I have not, that when I introduced the Bill in February last year I asked him whether he had any views on it. I know that he had another important engagement elsewhere that evening, but he will accept that at that time he had no views for or against the Bill. The fact that he has suddenly changed his position is surely worthy of some explanation to the House.
The explanation is clear. I was shown to be wrong, too. I have since received the most fervent representations from people who live and work nearby, from the city council, which recognised its error, from the Bishop of Leicester and from my constituents. The constituents of the hon. Member for Harborough and those who support him are not affected. This is not a Conservative against Labour matter; it is not a matter of those who are believers and those who are not, churchmen and non-churchmen; it is not a matter for sectarian consideration and certainly not one for personal abuse.
I shall now read the correspondence which the hon. Gentleman succeeded in delaying for a few moments. The letter is dated 26 March. It is to Gloucestershire Members of Parliament from the Bishop of Gloucester. It states:
If I am not too late, I hope I might just catch your eye and ear over a private Bill which will enable Funeral Directors, Ginns and Gutteridge in Leicester, to build their own crematorium.
Although there has been no discussion about this amongst the Bishops, I am bound to say the prospect of privately owned and operated cremators on the premises of local funeral directors does cause me a good deal of anxiety.
I understand it is being argued that such a development would be of particular benefit to the adherents of non-Christian faiths, particularly Hindu, and this would not be an aspect of the matter which would be prominent in Gloucestershire. I am not competent, in any case, to deal with it, but I do believe that for most Christian families the spaciousness and dignity which are almost always provided by the crematoria we now have, away from the city centres, is a valuable part of our customary way of doing things, and one which I should be reluctant to see disappear.
I realise that there is a philosophical argument about freedom for funeral directors to become more competitive and to be able to show initiative in their business, but I believe there is another which draws our attention to many aspects of life at the moment which tend to cheapen and devalue human life. Against this background, the way we deal with death and bereavement is an important pointer to the value we place upon life itself, and if we allow or encourage developments which would appear to downgrade the rites and ceremonies attached to funerals, I think we might be taking a step in a quite wrong direction.
Obviously if local funeral directors are allowed to install small cremation machines on their own premises, they will try to exert whatever pressure they can upon the churches to license those same premises for use as chapels, so that the whole funeral service can take place there. It is, of course, a hypothetical situation, but I feel bound to say I should be very reluctant to give licences for Church of England funerals to take place under such circumstances for the reasons I have glanced at above.
I am rather hoping, therefore, that if you are in the House when the Ginns and Gutteridge Bill comes along, you will examine it very critically, and if it comes to us in the Lords, I shall at the moment be disposed to vote against it, unless something I have not yet come across emerges during the debate.
Forgive me for adding to your postbag.
The correspondence continues with a letter from the Bishop of Leicester to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee). I shall not read it, but the bishop says that he is not opposed to private crematoria but he opposes this plan because it would give private crematoria a bad name. He refers to the objections raised by the Cremation Society and the Federation of British Cremation Authorities, which have not been answered by Ginns and Gutteridge.
I may be wrong, but I have searched through the evidence given to the Committee and some of the Committee minutes and I have not found any reference to opposition to this proposal from the Church, the Bishops of Gloucester or Leicester, or anyone else. I believe that the House should not consider the Bill because, for all the time that was given to it in Committee, no time was given to the consideration of the views which have just been put forward by and on behalf of the Church and the bishops involved.
I also have a letter which was addressed to all Leicester Members of Parliament. At the bottom it says, "Except Greville Janner." I do not suppose that that was for any
sectarian reason, but probably because the bishop knew that I was on the side that we share, in righteousness. It reads:
I was only recently informed about this private crematorium bill for Leicester, or I would have written to you earlier asking you to oppose it when it comes before Parliament.
By the way, those are hon. Members for all the Leicester seats besides mine who are opposing the Bill.
The letter is dated 28 March 1984 and continues:
You probably know that I am opposed to the bill. So are the bishops who have mentioned it to me, the Cremation Society and the Federation of British Cremation Authorities.
The society and the federation are fiercely proud private enterprise organisations.
The Cremation Society has adequately outlined the objections to the proposed crematorium, and Ginns and Gutteridge have failed to reply satisfactorily to those objections.
I am not opposed to privatisation; and I deeply regret that this issue may have become political because privatisation is involved … I am alarmed at the precedents that it would set for bad privatisation with poor standards. It would be a first step to the widespread installation of corpse disposal units and inevitably carry all the unsavoury connotations of burning bodies in the basement.
What a beautiful and accurate term that is.
Somebody said to me the other day that if Ginns and Gutteridge gets its way there will be bodies burning in basements in every high street in the country, preferably those with Labour MPs in them. The letter continues:
The premises proposed are on a cramped site in the centre of Leicester City,"—
I shall return to that—
in a place thoroughly unsuitable for the purpose of cremation.
Is it not odd that Members of Parliament representing places other than that place in my part of the centre of Leicester City, which is thoroughly unsuitable for the purpose of cremation, wish to place a crematorium smack on a high street in my constituency?
I gather that Ginns and Gutteridge have suggested"—
this is where we come to the essence of the matter, and I advise the hon. Member for Harborough to listen, because this is how the bishop replied, in the way that he saw fit—
that they might purchase All Saints Church as a garden of remembrance.
That church is not next door, but is within walking or carrying distance.
They have not consulted me on this possibility.
Can one imagine the company suggesting that it will buy a churchyard, yet not bothering to ask the bishop? Perhaps it does not know his address.
The bishop said:
I would not be prepared to allow it.
What clearer statement of intention could there be?
That is a lovely question coming from an hon. Member who once asked in the House whether it was true that miners had cars.
All Saints' church is some distance from premises of Ginns and Gutteridge, across a street bearing heavy traffic. If the hon. Member wishes to intervene again, I challenge him to do so from Ashby—I am sorry, that is his name not that of the constituency which he represents, which, by the way, is many miles from the place where he wishes to place a crematorium. However, I shall give way if the hon. Gentleman wishes me to do so. He does not answer —very wise.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West, (Mr. Janner) is continually on the move. At one moment he is half way down the Bench and at the next he is on another Bench. I suggest to you that it is a requirement of the House to speak from a more or less static position.
When the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) has been in the House a little longer he will learn that the right way to oppose an hon. Member is to do so courteously, and not to follow the example of the hon. Member for Harborough in personal attack. The hon. Gentleman may also learn that when he sees fit to add his name to a Private Whip he must expect attack. If he does not like being made fun of, he should leave the Chamber. It is a free House.
After all these interruptions, I wish to end by reading the letter from the Bishop of Leicester that was disliked so much. I am not in the least surprised that some Leicestershire Conservative Members dislike it. I knew that they would interrupt me as I read it, because they have no answer besides personal abuse. The bishop said:
I gather that Ginns and Gutteridge has suggested that they might purchase All Saints Church as a garden of remembrance. They have not consulted me on this possibility. I would not be prepared to allow it. All Saints Church is in fact some distance from their premises across a street bearing heavy traffic.
In other words, the bishop says that even if he were prepared to allow the crematorium to be established, someone would have to carry the urns or caskets —presumably with ashes in them, because they have to be scattered—across one of the busiest and most dangerous streets in Leicester. It is a street which I suspect the hon. Member for Harborough would not know, because he has probably never visited that street, otherwise he would not have had the gall to put his name to the Bill.
The bishop continued:
I have found no indication that the proposed new crematorium would offer a particularly desirable service to those of non-christian faiths.
I hope you will be prepared to oppose this Bill.
The hon. Member for Harborough has a copy of his letter too. Perhaps he wishes to read it to the House. As he does not, I shall do so. It said:
Thank you for your letter of the 28th March. I was indeed surprised to learn that you have just been made aware of the
existence of this Bill. This Bill received its Second Reading in the House of Commons in April 1983, when it was widely publicised. Additionally, Mr. Paul Ginns at your suggestion, explained the purpose of the proposed Crematorium to Arch Deacon Silk"——
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw your attention and that of the House to the fact that all the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech has consisted of so far is a series of letters. They may be relevant to his case, but the hon. and learned Gentleman has been speaking for more than 20 minutes and he has hardly said a word of his own. Surely he can just say what he thinks about the Bill and sit down.
I am delighted to hear that, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Every word I have said, including the words that the hon. Member for Harborough would prefer me not to read out, is strictly relevant. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman interrupts me. No doubt he deeply regrets having written the letter. He did not refer to it in his speech, as he could have done. If he wishes me to give way again I shall always be pleased to do so, returning courtesy for courtesy—in a manner of speaking.
The letter to the bishop from the hon. Member for Harborough continues:
You do suggest that Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge have failed to reply satisfactorily to various objections which have been raised. The House of Commons Committee, however, as you may be aware, carefully considered the proposals and declared themselves as satisfied in their recent report; you refer to the site as being unsuitable as in the centre of the city, and yet the City Council has given planning permission"——
that is nicely misleading; "gave" would be better—
and the City of London Crematorium operates its cremators from a basement quite satisfactorily there".
I am not sure where that is. It is certainly not in my constituency, or in that of the hon. Gentleman. The letter continues:
Mr. Ginns, because of an ancient family link with All Saints Church, would have liked to have had a chance of purchasing it as a garden of remembrance, if only to have preserved it for the Christian faith; they have, I understand, now been able to make suitable arrangements elsewhere.
I should be very interested to know where those arrangements are being made. We have yet to be told of any place that can meet the dignity of ordinary people who wish to scatter the ashes of their beloved after they have been cremated. It is normal courtesy, whatever the faith — whether Christian, Hindu or among those Jewish people who cremate—and normal practice, that people go outside to scatter the ashes, perhaps to plant a tree or a rose bush, or to put up a plaque. They go somewhere nearby to which they can return.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I hope that he will not sigh about it, as I am on his side.
The Select Committee report said:
The first amendments required by the Committee were to the effect that no cremation operation is to be carried out before a garden of rememberance, that is a place for strewing of ashes, has been acquired by Ginns and Gutteridge. This shall be either All Saints Churchyard in High Cross Street or another area approved by the local authority.
I understand that Ginns and Gutteridge made that proposal to the Committee before consulting the Bishop of Leicester and that the bishop then wrote the letter, of which I have a copy, saying:
I gather that Ginns & Gutteridge have suggested that they might purchase All Saints Church as a garden of rememberance. They have not consulted me on this possibility. I would not be prepared to allow it.
Is it not quite extraordinary and entirely unsatisfactory in every respect to bring business before Parliament in that fashion?
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, who on this occasion is indeed on our side. That is the situation to which I referred when I said that the Bill had been brought in under false pretences, first, because the bishop had not been consulted and secondly, because it was put forward on the basis that the strewing of ashes would be either at All Saints in Highcross street, which is not far away — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) objected earlier to my moving around, but he has now moved to another Bench altogether. He cannot keep still for 10 seconds. One never knows whether he is interrupting or just moving around, planting himself in the fields of Westminster.
The report states:
If there is a disagreement about the suitability of the area, there shall be arbitration by an agreed arbitrator".
How can an agreed arbitrator arbitrate about something that does not exist? That does not happen even in industrial relations.
The House has been misled—entirely unwillingly and unwittingly, I am sure—into believing that the bishop had been approached, that there would be a churchyard nearby and a place to strew the ashes, and that if there was more than one place there would be arbitration. In the circumstances that I have described, it was clearly wrong for the Bill to be introduced at all.
The hon. Member for Harborough makes an important point in his letter, but again it is entirely incorrect. He says:
In conclusion, I would like to say that it has been my experience that Hindus like to have a hand on the casket"—
that is correct—
because the Gilroes Crematorium uses a hot cremator this is not possible there.
That cemetery is also in my constituency, but far away up the road and surrounded by green. The letter continues:
The Ginns & Gutteridge cremator will start up from cold.
So far, so good. That is all correct, but the hon. Gentleman omits the extraordinary fact that, as I understand it, at the Ginns and Gutteridge cremator the coffin containing the corpse is to be hoisted up on high before cremation. How anyone can keep a hand on the coffin in those circumstances without going up beside it is impossible to imagine.
I have had no representations from any person of the Hindu faith or any other faith, within or outside my constituency, asking me to support the Bill and to abandon my opposition to it. Those who support the Bill are all well outside my constituency in beautiful areas of the country. I shall not name constituencies, but hon. Members who wish to plant a crematorium in the middle of Leicester come from areas well away from there.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. and learned Friend, as I hope to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. and learned Friend referred to religions other than Christianity. I have not seen the premises, but is my hon. and learned Friend suggesting that it is not possible for a person, perhaps the eldest son, to be touching the coffin on its journey from the chapel to the cremator?
I am sorry. My hon. Friend has misunderstood. It is possible for someone to accompany the coffin to the crematorium but it is not possible to keep a hand on the coffin as it enters the burning area. With a hot cremator, it is not possible to keep a hand on the coffin until it actually disappears into what will be the flames, whereas in a cremator that starts from cold it is possible. Nevertheless, one cannot keep a hand on a cold coffin if it is out of reach of one's arm. I believe that such acrobatic feats are not possible even in the more rural areas of Leicestershire.
In a brief reply to me dated 3 April, the bishop makes the position abundantly clear:
The Cremation Society and the Federation of British Cremation Authorities have expressed opposition to the proposals. These proposals are not far from the provision of urban corpse disposal units which would de-humanize the care of both the dead and the bereaved.
Yet that is what it is intended to impose on the citizens of Leicester, West without consulting the bishop, against the wishes expressed by the Church and by the British Medical Association, and certainly against the wishes of all who live, work or have recreation near the premises in question. The bishop continues:
I am sad that the company never approached me to find out the reaction of the diocese to their proposals and I am deeply disturbed at the way in which this Bill has become a matter of party policy rather than real concern for the people of Leicester and their needs.
The hon. Member for Harborough suggested that the bishop was unaware of the problem because of his
extensive programme of foreign travel".
The bishop carries out his duties in the diocese marvellously well and, like others, makes an occasional foray outside. I have never accused the hon. Member for Harborough of doing his job less well because he has recently been spending time in Syria, Iraq and other areas perhaps more dangerous and less salubrious than those visited by the bishop.
Not surprisingly, the bishop replied with some disgust to what was certainly one of the most disgusting personal attacks that could be made on a bishop or anyone else. I was surprised at the behaviour of the hon. Member for Harborough, as we have served in the House together for many years and he has always treated me, as I hope that I have always treated him, with courtesy. That has been true since the first day when he invited me to sign a motion about the Leicester Tigers and assured me that he would not mislead me or the House. In this case, however, the hon. Gentleman as misled the House and I am very sorry. He has also made a personal attack on the bishop because he disagreed with his views. I am very sorry about that, too.
The bishop stated:
I spend on average one night a month away from the diocese. Just because I happen to have met Mr. Farr in East Asia some time ago does not mean that I make a habit of visiting East Asia." Even if he did——
It has been suggested that the bishop should have intervened earlier but did not do so because he was making an extensive tour of the far east and elsewhere. That personal attack was reported in the Leicester Mercury, under the headline "Church not consulted on funeral firm's plan." It has been alleged that the Church was consulted. This is entirely relevant as it was made clear in the Committee and in its report that the House was being asked to approve the plan on the basis that the Church not only had been consulted but would sell a churchyard for the disposal of the ashes. That was completely untrue. The bishop had not been consulted.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. I do not think that he read out my letter to the bishop as clearly as he should. I stated in that letter that, before the Bill was even considered, and certainly long before it was printed, Ginns and Gutteridge knew that the Church must be consulted and quite properly approached the diocese of Leicester. The diocese said that Archdeacon Silk and two rural deans would deal with the matter. They visited the offices of Ginns and Gutteridge, remaining there for five hours from 10 am until 3 pm, long before the Bill was printed. At the end of that time they expressed satisfaction with the proposed arrangements. As the bishop has suddenly become aware of the situation, Archdeacon Silk and the two rural deans have since been consulted and confirm that they are still perfectly satisfied with the proposed crematorium arrangements that Ginns and Gutteridge have in hand. I hope that that clears the matter up. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for giving way', because I thought he would wish me to put the record straight in the interests of accuracy.
It would have put the record straight, but I spoke to the bishop this evening, and he has authorised me to say that neither he nor anyone else in a position of authority gave consent. The fact that people were taken to lunch at Ginns and Gutteridge, shown around and were mainly satisfied with what they saw of how the business was run—no doubt they were also satisfied with the lunch—is in no way approval by the diocese. Nor is it in any possible way an agreement to sell, dispose of or allow the use of a churchyard. The hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well.
The hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to apologise to the bishop, as he could have done, for what he said. If he wishes to apologise now to the House, and through it to the bishop, I shall gladly give way to him again.
The hon. Gentleman does not wish to withdraw or apologise. In the face of that, there is then no way in which the House can decently continue discussion of the Bill.
The Bill is designed to place a crematorium——
No. If the hon. and learned Gentleman represented the seat in which this crematorium is to be placed, I would give way. Had he represented the seat in which the crematorium is to be placed, I would not have dreamed of signing a private Whip about his constituency without having had the courtesy to speak to him. The hon. and learned Gentleman did not speak to me, and put his name to the private Whip. I have already given way to him. Unfortunately, the act of not speaking to people before quoting them is apparently infectious —an infection emerging from Harborough.
It is a travesty that there should be an intention to place this crematorium in the high street. I have with me a photograph of the site of the crematorium which any hon. Member is welcome to see. Yesterday, I went along to see whether any mitigating factor could decently or reasonably allow the crematorium to be placed on this site. I suppose it is arguable that there are empty premises either next to or near this crematorium. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer) nods his head in agreement. I can only guarantee the permanent emptying of all the premises nearby. If that is his object, he should also speak to me before signing a private Whip relating to premises in the next-door constituency. That is a normal courtesy in this House, but it was not followed in these extraordinary circumstances.
I do not take this personally, because the hon. and learned Member was probably unaware of that convention. That said, this is my constituency, not his. It can be seen from the photograph that there is not one lane of traffic but, believe it or not, about eight, as well as a tunnel running into one of the busiest parts of the city. Even were there to be an available churchyard, which there is not, it is across that road that the bereaved are expected to dodge between cars or, perhaps, to use the pedestrian crossing, 100 yards away outside the AUEW building.
I doubt whether those hon. Members who support the Bill have bothered to look at the plan. Had they done so, they would see that the crematorium has no parking facilities. I gather that if we ever reach the appropriate stage, which I hope we shall not, an amendment will be tabled, but at present there is nowhere for vehicles to park. I do not know where an increasing flow of mourners coming to this excellent undertaking are expected to park their vehicles.
It is obvious that more people will use this facility. That is the object of the exercise. It is a perfectly proper way for businesses to try to expand. It would have been proper had the matter been put to the House properly, which it has not. It would have been proper had those who were allegedly approached been approached. It would have been proper had those living round about been consulted. They were not. It would have been proper had the hon. Member concerned been consulted before other hon. Members signed their names to a so-called private Whip stating:
Your attendance at 7 pm until the business is concluded is urgently requested".
It might have been proper had the BMA, which is concerned with medical ethics, been in favour. It is not. It might also have been proper had the crematorium authorities wanted it. They do not.
I have tried to find out who wants this crematorium, and I cannot. Apart from hon. Members who represent constituencies miles away and the business people who wish to expand their business, I have found no one else who wants it. I have asked the AUEW and TASS. I have asked people who swim in St. Margaret's baths whether they would prefer to have a crematorium opposite. I have not found one person who wants it. I have asked estate agents whether it would make it easier to let property. No one wants it, except the hon. Member for Harborough and his colleagues. I cannot understand why.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman thought that the bishop wanted it—he did not. Perhaps he thought the diocese wanted it — it does not. Certainly the people of my constituency do not want it. When the citizens of Leicester, West want something, they do not have the least hesitation in telling me. Generations of Janners have received representations from hundreds of thousands of Leicester, West citizens, but no one apparently wants this.
In due course we shall no doubt hear from someone — we did not hear it from the hon. Member from Harborough—why it is desirable to have a crematorium in the high street in my constituency. We may perhaps hear from the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South that he would like it in his constituency. As a distinguished and learned Member, he will know that precedents are there to be followed. Once the precedent is established in my constituency, I serve notice that it will not be long before it gets to him.
It may even get to other areas where people do not want it. Learned lawyers will then say, "There is a precedent. The House of Commons approved this after the longest sitting in the history of any Committee. The House of Commons approved it after speeches attacking it. The House of Commons approved it even though it was not wanted by the crematorium employees, the bishop, the people of the constituency, the local Member of Parliament or the BMA."
They approved it because the hon. Member for Harborough wanted it. Therefore it is a precedent and, of course, one that should be followed. I wish that I could find a place in Harborough, worthy of the name of city, capable of implanting——
As you please, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely pointing to the realities of life.
The traffic situation in this area is already disastrous. There is one of the heaviest flows in the county of Leicester. It flows at speed; it is controlled by lights; it is controlled by a tunnel which is immediately opposite the crematorium. There is no adequate parking and there is certainly no reason why the precedents of centuries should be overruled in order to allow the site to be used as a crematorium.
There are houses nearby—not many, but there are, I believe, some 22 homes within a few hundred yards. And certainly I know of no evidence from any persons dwelling in any of those houses that they would like to have a crematorium—if only so that their last journey may be a shorter one than travelling up the Groby road, past the hospital, to Gilroes cemetery, which is available and is, as far as I know, well run and adequate. Behind, there is a garage, and that is about all, and near to that there is a Roman town.
The placing of this crematorium in that position could not possibly be warranted. The only slightly ironic reason, I suppose, is that two streets away is a street known as Holy Bones, but even that is opposite a fabrics factory where people work. Across the road, during the hours in which this crematorium would operate, there is a printing works.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. and learned Gentleman to go on like this about a matter which has been considered by the city council and by the planning authority, which considered all these matters very carefully and gave the proposal their consent? For the hon. and learned Gentleman to go on detailing all the surrounding properties is, I suggest, a great waste of time and quite unnecessary as it already has planning approval from the Leicester authority, as he well knows.
If the hon. Member for Harborough were to interrupt me less often, I might finish rather sooner. However, I would still be prepared to give way to him if he wished to apologise to the Bishop of Leicester for his attack. Subject to that, perhaps he will hear me out and we shall get through more swiftly. All that he wants is for this, Bill to pass. I hope I have made it plain that all I want is for the Bill to be rejected, and I am using a wholly proper parliamentary method in order to see that it is, I hope, rejected—because it is not, as has been made out in this private and extraordinary Whip, a Conservative party matter, but a matter, as the bishop has said, of concern to all citizens interested in the decencies of life and of death.
A statement was made on behalf of the promoters in support of consideration of the Bill. I have the statement and I have attached to it the Bill itself. The statement says:
The Company' s"—
that is, Ginns and Gutteridge's—
premises are situated immediately upon Vaughan Way and are therefore affected by the 50 yards' limit under the said section 5. However, as the area constitutes the industrial and commercial centre of the city of Leicester, there are only 21 dwellings even within the 300 yards in respect of which notices were served…on 38 owners, lessees or occupiers, as prescribed by the Standing Orders. Moreover, none of those dwellings is within sight of the Company's premises.
It must be relevant to this Bill that there are 21 dwellings and that there are 38 owners, lessees and occupiers, with their families, who live out of sight but within range of this place—this place which Ginns and Gutteridge itself says constitutes the industrial and commercial centre of the city of Leicester, which is not where a crematorium should be placed.
I would oppose this Bill even if the crematorium were not in my constituency. I would oppose it just as heartily if it were in the constituency of the hon. Members for other parts of the city of Leicester who have seen fit to add their names, without consulting me, to this Whip.
Perhaps I could help the hon. and learned Gentleman with a possible solution to this problem. If Ginns and Gutteridge, which, I gather, represents that it will be able to buy this churchyard even though the bishop, apparently, is not in favour of it, could perhaps buy a field in Harborough and use that instead, local honour would be satisfied all round. How would the hon. and learned Gentleman feel about that?
I would be agreeable to that. It could also be put in north-west Leicestershire. In fact, I think we could even have a whip round and find people to contribute the odd copper so as to place it in one of their constituencies and not in mine. I greatly appreciate the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned Leicestershire, North-West, and I must say straight away that I do not see anything objectionable about a garden of remembrance in north-west Leicestershire. It would be a great honour and I would be quite willing.
The hon. Member's intervention completely seals this matter because he is talking about a garden of remembrance and he has not even noticed that there is no room for a garden of any kind where it is intended to put the crematorium in my constituency. It is amazing that the hon. Gentleman has not even read his brief on this occasion. Had he read it he would have known that the basis of the objection on this side is that there is no garden, for remembrance or for any other purpose. There is no field, no patch of green, not even a window box, within sight. If the hon. Member thinks that is funny, I do not. I think it is awful and a great shame, and that is what we are talking about here — the planting of a crematorium where there is no room to plant anything else, the putting of a crematorium for the disposal of human remains where the bereaved cannot walk out into a field, into a garden or into sunshine where they can sit quietly and reflect. They can walk out only on to one of the busiest streets in the midlands, with traffic flowing in both directions, where, alas, they and the casket may be knocked down, may be whisked away — [An HON.MEMBER: "More customers."] There would be no objection to a garden of remembrance in north-west Leicestershire and no objection to a garden of remembrance near Gilroes cemetery. The objection is to having a crematorium in an area where there is no garden of remembrance. If the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) would like to intervene again with any more helpful suggestions, I would be most pleased to give way.
This matter is treated in the city of Leicester as one of very great consequence. Two parts of the city are represented by hon. Members who have seen fit to sign a motion saying that they would like the crematorium to be in the third part. The House may draw its own conclusions about that. From out of the country —yea, yea, from the bushes and the fields—have emerged hon. Members—some of them now listening, some moving around chatting — in order to suggest that in my constituency there should be planted a garden with no earth, no soil, no rose, no tree, no shade, no leaf; a garden where nobody can sit after a cremation and contemplate, as human beings all over the world do, and are entitled to do.
I rebuke my hon. and learned Friend, because it is not right that he should concern himself about hon. Gentlemen opposite who are sitting in discussion. What he does not know is that they have got their heads together to see whether they can find that field in Harborough. Perhaps he could consider whether, if they find the field, they could take the crematorium as well?
With respect, I have enough problems dealing with Leicester, West. The hon. Member for Harborough will have many more problems dealing with Harborough after this effort than he has had, and I think that we should let him get on with it. He also has to deal with the bishop, to whom he has refused to apologise. A lot of people will be as disgusted as this House is, with the placing before this House of the suggestion, repeated tonight, that this Bill should be passed as having the consent of the diocese when it has no such consent. What is more, his hon. Friend says that he would have no objection to having in his constituency of Leicestershire, North-West a garden of remembrance.
My case is clear. It is that it is right and proper that dignified, decent, humane and compassionate arrangements should be made for crematoria, but not in places where the establishment of one is opposed by the people who live in the area, by the BMA, by those who run crematoria in Britain, by the diocese and on the basis of there being a garden of remembrance when there is no green, no garden and no soil.
It is certainly opposed on the basis that the garden of remembrance should be across one of the busiest roads in the county of Leicestershire, in a churchyard. It should certainly not be established in such a place when the Committee was deceived into passing it on the basis that the bishop and the diocese had agreed to the garden of remembrance being in the churchyard, even across a dangerous road with constant traffic, so that people might be knocked down. In other words, there is no place for a garden of remembrance.
Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the condition that the Committee suggested should be imposed on the planning application? Has he ever seen such a condition? Is he in the least comforted by the condition that
the equipment for the burning of human remains…shall operate so as not to create any smoke or smell"?
Is he happy about the delay that would take place should anyone bring an enforcement action to enforce that condition?
I wondered, when the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Ground) began that intervention by referring to me as his hon. and learned Friend, what he intended to say, but it is clear that sanity and compassion are not confined to the Opposition Benches. This is not a party matter. I believe that the condition to which he refers is better in the Bill than out, so that if by some awful quirk of parliamentary fate this dreadful Bill becomes law, there would be some possibility of enforcement thereafter.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether I am happy with that condition. My answer must be no, for two reasons. First, on powerful expert information that I have, it is not possible to operate a crematorium completely without smoke or smell. Secondly, I am unwilling for the experiment to see whether it would be possible to do it without smoke or smell to take place in my constituency. I should prefer it to take place in Harborough, in Leicestershire, North-West or in a field or garden, but certainly not smack in the centre of my constituency on one of the busiest streets in the whole of the midlands where the traffic flows by at the rate of thousands of vehicles an hour in a never-ending stream, against the wishes of the diocese, the bishop, the crematoria operators, the BMA, the local residents and all those who live, work and sleep in the vicinity.
I have had the misfortune to see the cremating of people in various parts of the world. There is no happy way of dealing with the end. As General de Gaulle once remarked, life is a marvellous voyage and its end is shipwreck. He might have said that life is a marvellous voyage and that sometimes at the end the ship gets burned. Throughout the world, decent and compassionate people try, in their various ways, to see what can be done to ease the pain and burden.
After all, the person who has died, whether he or she has gone to Heaven or elsewhere, has gone from the earth. It is those who remain on whom this crematorium is to be imposed. Those who remain will have to suffer from the imposition of this wholly unwanted "facility" to be planted in my constituency by people from outside who probably do not know the area and who even talk about the garden of remembrance when there is not a scrap of soil, not a tree, a leaf or a plant.
This is a horrific, horrible, uncompassionate, ill-conceived and misrepresented Bill. Had it been placed before the Committee in a way that showed that the bishop and diocese were against it, which it was not; had it been placed before the Committee with a frank admission that they had not even been consulted, which they were not; and had the Committee been told that this patch of land, that this churchyard across the flow of traffic, would not be available, which it is not; I doubt whether even that Committee, after all its interminable sessions, could conceivably have placed the Bill before the House, even with the provision to which the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston drew attention.
The Bill has all those defects. It would establish a crematorium in the wrong place, it is uncompassionate, it would be on a busy road and there would be no garden of remembrance.
Some hon. Members may have received a briefing letter from Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge—I gather that it was sent out in the middle of February—in which it was clearly implied that permission for this churchyard had already been given. It was implicit in the statement that it would probably be the churchyard of All Saints. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman should seek to make the case that that was a complete misrepresentation of the facts in that there is no such formula available for that to happen, and that the Bill should fall on that ground alone.
I happily adopt what the hon. Gentleman says. However, the Bill is not founded on that ground of failure alone. It is founded on all the others. I make no apology to the House for having taken due time to explain the feelings of my constituents and for expressing the views of the BMA, of the crematoria operators and, above all, of the people who live and work in the area. I make no apology for asking the House to consider with great care this bad Bill and roundly to reject it by whatever method is proper in the eyes of the Chair.
I shall not detain the House for long. As we have heard, the proposals in the Bill clearly arouse strong feelings on both sides. While the Government do not wish to take sides in the argument, it may be helpful, to clarify the Government's position, if I mention a few of the issues that have arisen.
The House understands that Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge wish to install cremation equipment in their existing funeral director's premises in Leicester, and hon. Members will be aware that they need to promote a private Bill for that purpose only to overcome the restrictions in section 5 of the Cremation Act 1902, which prohibits the construction of crematoria within 50 yards of any public highway or, unless the owner and occupier agree, within 200 yards of any dwelling.
There have been a number of occasions on which Parliament has agreed to relax the restrictions in the 1902 Act in particular cases, and in the light of those, the Government took the view that Parliament should decide whether the restrictions should be waived for the benefit of Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge.
It would be invidious for the Government, on the basis of the information likely to be available to us, to conclude that a waiver would be appropriate in one such case but not in another. In the circumstances of this Bill, it was clear that the Committee on the Bill would have to consider all the evidence in detail.
I recognise, however, that the Committee felt that it was inappropriate for parliamentary Committees to have to take on the role of "planning tribunals" — as it described them in its special report — and it recommended that urgent consideration should be given to the repeal of section 5 of the 1902 Act. As my hon. Friend who is now the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy said when speaking for the Government on Second Reading, the siting restrictions in the 1902 Act are not necessarily the most modern way of dealing with these matters.
We realise, however, that there are arguments for and against repeal of the 1902 restrictions. On the one hand, there is the view that nowadays one should be able to rely on the planning system to ensure that crematoria are judiciously sited. It was on that basis that the opportunity was taken, in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, to rescind the requirement under section 1 of the Cremation Act 1952 to obtain my Department's approval of the site and plans of any proposed crematorium.
That does not, of course, mean that my Department no longer has any kind of role here. If, for whatever reason, an application for planning permission were refused by the local planning authority concerned, and the applicant subsequently appealed, the case would then come to my Department for determination.
On the other hand, one has to recognise that strong views are held against the idea of repealing the 1902 restrictions. There are, of course, a number of precedents in local Acts for partially waiving the restrictions, but approvals given under the 1952 Act for the siting of crematorium projects have generally been within the framework of these restrictions. There can be no doubt that the organisations making up what is called the "cremation movement" regard the section 5 restrictions as having set the tone for crematorium siting in this country, and thus having greatly helped to make the practice of cremation as widely acceptable to the public as it has now become.
The Government will, as the Committee has recommended, consider repeal; but I emphasise that no decision will be taken without the cremation movement's case having been fully taken into account. Meanwhile, I take this opportunity of informing the House that we propose to bring crematorium projects within the classes of "bad neighbour" developments to which section 26 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 applies. That means that applications for planning permission for such projects would have to be advertised, and any objections to them would have to be taken into account by local planning authorities in determining the applications and we are now having consultations.
It is true that the Minister is not introducing the Bill but the Government are bound to take a view, if only through inertia in letting the Bill come before the House in the way that they have.
Is it appropriate to use the private Bill procedure to seek such a major departure from a public statute which has worked well for so many years?
Many issues have been raised and the Government took due note of discussions in Committee and the representations that were made. We are now having consultations.
The Committee recommended that emissions from both existing and future crematoria should be more stringently controlled. First, my Department has little evidence that smoke and smell from crematoria have caused significant problems in recent years. A number of controls are applied to crematoria emissions. The grit and dust arrestment plant and the chimney heights are approved under the Clean Air Acts. There is an absolute prohibition — also in the Clean Air Acts—on the production of dark smoke. If a crematorium is in a smoke control area, it may not produce smoke at all. There is also the long-stop power available to local authorities under the Public Health Act 1936 to require emissions to be abated, provided that the emissions are adjudged to be a nuisance as defined in the Act.
The control powers are really quite strong. However, I take note of what the Committee says about the need for tighter control. It took a lot of evidence and went into the matter most carefully. Those are important issues. I am also conscious that many crematorium furnaces are due for renewal with the next five to 10 years. I am pleased to say, therefore, that the Government propose to consider, with the manufacturing industry, the preparation of tighter technical specification for new furnaces.
In addition, the House may recollect that in its response to the fifth report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution, the Government announced that they would undertake a comprehensive review of air pollution control legislation. That review is under way, and will encompass the Clean Air Act powers to which I referred earlier. I believe that the House will accept that the Government's response to the Committee's recommendation demonstrates a proper recognition of the need for action and I am grateful for the points that it raised.
I am not from Leicester or from the midlands, but the Bill has wider implications. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) has made clear, if the Bill is approved tonight it will be accepted as a precedent for the rest of Britain. I represent an inner-city area and I find it incomprehensible that such a proposal should even be considered by the House of Commons in this way. It is even more remarkable that the Committee—I note that the Chairman, the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), is present; perhaps we shall have the benefit of his advice—came to the conclusion that it did.
Throughout this century, since cremation has become more desirable, one thing that stands out above all others is that generally crematoria operate in nice, green surroundings. Many people today prefer cremation to the old-fashioned type of burial because they feel that their loved ones will be resting in happier and more attractive surrounding than they otherwise would.
Tonight it seems that the promoters of the Bill are attempting to put the clock back, not 50 years but more than a century. This is a thoroughly bad Bill and I hope that the House will reject it.
It had not been my intention to join the debate at this stage, but it seems to have developed into a broad, almost Third Reading debate, so perhaps I should take the opportunity to make one or two points as the person who had the privilege—it became rather a strained privilege after 25 days—of having been Chairman of the Committee. That Committee was particularly onerous and those hon. Members who served on it undertook a considerable task and performed a great duty to the House of Commons.
We are presented with a considerable difficulty because, having listened to the argument for 25 days, having heard both sides and having been into some of the points that have been raised in enormous detail, it is tempting to intervene and to take almost a partisan point on the issues that are given a broad brush treatment in a debate such as this.
I shall come to that point. The hon. and learned Gentleman must present his case in his own way. I do not want to take a partisan attitude. Nevertheless, I support the conclusions to which the Committee came and would vote in support of the conclusions to which I and others came.
The hon. and learned Gentleman said that he had read the minutes. Frankly, I began to doubt that he could have done. I began to doubt whether he knew all the facts that had been presented, in the light of the way that he dealt with the case today. Obviously, how he deals with that is his affair. I can understand the depth of his feelings and those of his constituents, but he did not do justice to the amount of consideration that had been given to the points that have been raised.
We were presented with a great deal of evidence about the All Saints churchyard. We were given to understand —I have no reason to doubt it—that negotiations were under way with the church authorities on the possible purchase of that churchyard. I believe—I do not intend to check through 25 days of minutes—that even figures were mentioned for the price that was being negotiated. That it should be a garden of remembrance seemed to me to be a right, proper and reverent use of a religious site. To those of us who are concerned about what happens to redundant churches, that seems an attractive and sensible use.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has criticised other hon. Members for not listening, but he is not listening to me. If the bishop was not advised, that is a matter for the internal management of church affairs. I have no reason to doubt that proper and genuine negotiations took place. It was because we could foresee that imposing such a condition on the promoters would give the whip hand to the opponents that we added the alternative that if that site was not available, an alternative site should be found. The alternative site should be subject to approval by the planning authorities, and if those authorities did not give their approval, there should be scope for arbitration. We could not have been fairer than that.
I apologise for having been seeking guidance while the hon. Member was speaking, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is true that with 25 days of evidence it is not possible to remember everything, but I believe that my recollection is absolutely correct. There was discussion, and a price of £30,000 was mentioned. But the fact remains that neither the bishop nor the diocese was asked to give evidence to the Committee, nor was there any evidence that the bishop or the diocese had agreed or would agree to the sale. If that is correct, perhaps the hon. Gentleman would be good enough to tell the House why the Committee saw fit to conclude its considerations without even asking the bishop, when it was going to base part of its decision on the unreal possibility of the churchyard being available.
I shall resist the temptation to go through the many points raised in the Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman may use his considerable and formidable court room techniques, but I am not going to answer in that way. The hon. and learned Gentleman is changing the subject and the point.
The deliberations of the Committee were held over some five months, because of the intervention of the general election. After that time, the subject was very well known. I put it to the hon. and learned Gentleman, who again is not listening, that if the church objected to the proposals about All Saints churchyard — All Saints churchyard was frequently mentioned during the proceedings — it is up to the church to explain why objections were not made while the Committee was sitting. At no time was it said that the churchyard was not available. Had that been said, I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that the Committee would have taken the objections on board, because considerable importance was attached to the garden of remembrance.
I know how carefully my hon. Friend investigated these matters. When, as Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend visited the site with the Committee to assess the matter that it was discussing—[Interruption]—was he able to see the impact that this will have on the garden of remembrance, if it is allowed to go ahead?
The Committee unanimously decided not to visit the site. My hon. Friend has not had the privilege of serving on such a Committee, but he has many years of experience in this House. Before he starts to expostulate, he should remember that it is not the normal practice of Committees to visit sites under consideration. The Committees are asked to consider principles, not to act as a planning committee. It is therefore proper for counsel to promote the case of the petitioners or objectors in this House, where everything is on the record.
We had a weight of evidence before us, including a vast array of photographs. We knew a great deal about Vaughan way. That is the name of the street. The hon. and learned Gentleman keeps referring to the high street, which is a name never used in the Committee. He ought to get it right, because the area is in his constituency. We knew the details very well indeed. I deny that the Committee was not familiar with all the arguments about the site.
I accept that, with his experience, my hon. Friend is right about not visiting the site. However, although, because of custom and practice, they did not deem it worthwhile to visit the site, my hon. Friend tells us that the members of the Committee spent 25 days studying photographs, and that is just the same thing. Would it not have been better to visit the site and to see, for example, the enormous petrol tank at the rear of the building, which could easily blow up?
Yet my hon. Friend is an expert on the subject. The members of the Committee did not agree about all the issues, but they all agreed that they should not visit the site. We were familiar with the petrol tanks, the petrol pumps, the parking places and the location of traffic lights. If we had not been, that would be a criticism not of the Committee but of the way in which the counsel on either side had presented their case.
I understand that the membership of the Committee changed as a result of the general election. The hon. Gentleman states that the Committee made a unanimous decision not to visit the site. Was that decision made before or after the election? If the membership of the Committee changed, how could all the members of the Committee have been familiar with all the details?
Technically, it was a newly constituted Committee. With a new Parliament, it became a new Committee. There was a change, and the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) then became the new member.
Some members of the Committee may have been diligent, but the hon. Gentleman was not so diligent. He is not even sure who was serving on the Committee at any one time.
That is a most valuable point.
The hon. Member for Caerphilly joined us after the election and studied its earlier proceedings most diligently. The newly constituted Committee decided not to visit the site. It is nonsense to suggest that the Committee was not as familiar with the site in question and the relevant facts as any Committee has ever been on a comparable matter—or even more familiar.
I do not want to become involved in an argument about this point, but it has been suggested that the Committee was not thorough in its deliberations, and the hon. and learned Gentleman has suggested that we were deceived. I ought to put the record straight. The hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong to suggest that we were deceived about the churchyard.
If the bishop was not privy to the negotiations entered into by the church, that is a criticism of the bishop, and bishop ought to apologise to us. [Interruption.] If the church had strong ojections, there was ample opportunity for those concerned to make representations to the Committee. It is a matter of record that they did not do so.
Is it not the case that the Bill was amended in Committee to take account of the point now made by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner)? The matter was dealt with extensively in Committee, and the Bill has been amended as a result. It expressly provides that, in default of the churchyard being available, some other place can be adopted by agreement, and in default of agreement there is procedure for the selection of another appropriate place.
As I have already said, that is exactly what we did. We all understood how worried people were about the garden of remembrance and we thought that the promoters had gone a long way to meet that worry.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Accepting, as I do not, that the alternative was included because the Committee was waiting to see what the bishop thought, when it could have asked, and accepting that the Committee would have preferred to have a garden of remembrance, can the hon. Gentleman show anywhere—as he did not go to the site perhaps he can do so from a map—where a garden of remembrance could be put within a reasonable walking distance?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There is nothing wrong about asking an hon. Member to state the results of the Committee's inquiry to which he is referring when he has said that the Committee gave alternative methods—one of which was that it should be in a churchyard, and another in a garden of remembrance to be stated elsewhere—to have that referred to——
It is not so much the substance of what the hon. and learned Gentleman says as the manner in which he says it. If he looks at the record he will see what I mean. I am surprised, because I have always had rather more respect for the hon. and learned Gentleman than that.
I said that the Church could have made representations but that it did not. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the British Medical Association, which also could have made representations but did not. There were many opportunities for it to do so, and had the petitioners against the Bill thought that there was a valid argument on the basis of the BMA's objection, I am sure that they would have brought objections to that effect.
I should like to support a couple of points that we made in our special report. My hon. Friend the Minister has made a statement which I warmly welcome. I am extremely grateful that the Department and the Government have so clearly considered the recommendations, which are general and, in many ways, separate from this matter. I hope that something will flow from that. He said that there had not been widespread anxiety and complaints from the crematorium but the evidence which the Committee received suggested that nuisance caused by the existing crematorium was far more widespread than could leave us satisfied.
The House should know that it was the witnesses of the Cremation Society of Great Britain Ltd. and The Federation of British Cremation Authorities who pointed out how widespread was the amount of smoke and the smell caused by crematoria. One of the witnesses gave a catalogue of visits that he had made and said how bad the problem was. There was other evidence which suggested that present practices fall far below the standard that the country is entitled to expect. That is why we urge that the controls be more strictly applied.
The other crucial issue was whether the House should consider this issue. For all the important issues that concern us now, it is significant that we are only considering it because of a requirement in the 1902 Act that a crematorium should not be allowed within 50 yards of a highway or 200 yards of a house. Oddly enough, in London the requirement is that a residence should be no less than 100 yards away. I do not know why there should be such a difference in human sensitivities, but there is. It is almost by a legislative quirk that the matter came to the House—other bad neighbour developments would not.
My hon. Friend the Minister said that, in future, crematoria would come within the bad neighbour rules. It is significant that the bad neighbour procedures were followed in this case. It would be far better if planning issues such as we are engaged in now were dealt with by local authorities. It is up to them to judge a suitable place for a crematorium and whether they prefer a lawned to an urban crematorium. It is a planning matter. No two matters are exactly the same, but we are discussing bad neighbour developments generally and I suggest that many planning decisions are harder than this. They are decided by local authorities, and if the applicant is dissatisfied, the case comes before the Secretary of State on appeal. That is how this matter should be dealt with. It is all about traffic volumes and smoke emissions and they are matters which planning authorities consider all the time. That is why we recommend that, in future, such applications should not come to Parliament but should be dealt with in the normal planning way.
I am sure that my hon. Friend's views on planning are correct but, bearing in mind the considerable work and effort that he and his colleagues have put into researching this proposition, does he believe that this is a decent, honourable and good place for bereaved people to bring their dead to cremate them? It is in the middle of a busy road near a crowded street.
Perhaps I can put the following question to my hon. Friend.[HON.MEMBERS:"Answer."] I shall answer. My hon. Friend shows the type of preference that I would have — a cremation in what we now call a lawned crematorium. However, it is not up to us always to impose our taste——
It has not. It has changed its mind, but it has not gone so far as revoking it. Local authorities make mistakes, and if they do so, they should go through the normal procedures to revoke a decision. It is simply because we have this oddity of a parliamentary procedure that we have intervened in the normal pattern of revocation. If that is what the authority feels we should do, it should take the necessary steps. By saying that it is a matter for a local authority's decision, I am saying that it is that authority's right to revoke a decision if it so wishes.
The hon. Gentleman must accept that the siting of a crematorium is plainly sui generis. There are no comparable examples and the matter must be examined on its own merits. It is unique. Does he accept that whether crematoria should be in lawned areas or in urban areas is a matter of public policy which is legitimately a matter for the Government and the House?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman only to the extent that this might be a matter on which guidelines might be drawn. I suggest that it is not a planning matter which should come to the House.
I have immense respect for the cremation movement. Its approach to cremation has produced enormously high standards which have generated support for it. I do not want to change that. However, it is not up to us to dictate for ever and a day that there must be lawned crematoria, because not everyone in urban surroundings necessarily wants that. Since the possibility of competition—or, as I prefer to call it, consumer choice — has been introduced, there has been a dramatic improvement in the facilities offered at municipal crematoria. The Committee had ample evidence of that.
Had any hon. Member here today been on that Committee, he would not have been impressed by the evidence that we were given about the standards, the quality and the facilities available previously at municipal crematoria. If the possibility exists of expressing a consumer choice between big and beautiful lawned crematoria and a proper, respectful urban crematorium, it is up to the individual to exercise it. We are not necessarily right, therefore, to impose for ever and a day our own requirements for lawned crematoria. This alternative type of crematorium should be considered. It is because I believe that the choice should be available and that it will be for the benefit of people generally — and for the benefit of the people of Leicester, if I dare suggest it to the hon. and learned Member—that I think that this deserves support. If however, the local authority thinks that it does not, it is up to it to revoke the planning procedures in the usual way.
We learned a great deal in the Committee. Many of us had illusions about cremating techniques. Many believed that, immediately after the cremation, the strewing of the ashes in the garden of remembrance takes place; but it is usually done on a different day. The location of the garden of remembrance, therefore, is not as important as its quality. Some of the photographs that we saw of the way in which ashes had been strewn, even at the Gilroes crematorium, left much to be desired.
We should take into account the fact that the promoters of the Bill are a highly respected firm of undertakers, who I understand have conducted their business and earned much local respect for over 100 years. It is quite legitimate to argue about whether there should be a crematorium there, but I think it is right to believe that a firm of that repute, with so much at stake—its whole business—would not engage in something that was disrespectaful or that treated the dead with less than the reverence required at the time.
The firm has a chapel. The buildings have been used for years for this purpose but not for cremation itself. It is quite legitimate to say that there should not be a crematorium there but it is also right to acknowledge that the firm would conduct all these affairs in a reverential and proper manner.
I had not meant to be lured into some of the more partisan arguments involved, but I thought it right to welcome what my hon. Friend the Minister said in response to the Committee's report, and to deal with some of the factual errors of the hon. and learned Member.
I believe that the Committee was not decieved, and that it came to the right conclusion. I hope that the Bill will proceed on the basis that we recommended it, but if the planning authority decides, because of local feeling, that it should not proceed, the proper way is for it to go through normal planning procedures and revoke it, if it thinks that that is right for the people of Leicester.
I should like to begin by referring to the report which the hon.
Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has just delivered to the House, coupled with the absence of any reference by the Under-Secretary of State to one aspect of that report. As far as I know, the Under-Secretary said what the Government were planning to do in relation to the law on cremation. I should have thought that that was a good reason for the promoters immediately to withdraw the Bill.
The last sentence in paragraph 4 of the report, when referring to cremation and undertaking being under the same control, says:
This was also the subject of a Home Office report, the Home Office believing that the existing separation may lessen the risk of illegal cremation.
It goes on in paragraph 6 to make a point which is relevant, bearing in mind what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The Committee
were thus asked, purely as a result of geography, to make a decision which the Committee was told could have implications for public policy in the field of crime prevention.
There was no reference to the Home Office report, from which I have just quoted by the Under-Secretary of State. It was not taken up by the Minister who was giving a view of the Government neither for nor against the Bill. I understand the position of Ministers dealing with private Bills, but the Home Secretary put before the Committee a statement which I shall read to the House. It said:
The Bill would place in the hands of a single agency the trust of obtaining on behalf of the relatives of the deceased the necessary medical certificates, (Forms B and C) required for cremation purposes, of nominating as the cremation authority the medical referee whose duty it is to scrutinise those certificates and to authorise cremation, and of carrying out the cremation itself. There is a possibility, to put it no higher, that if these duties are combined (they have hitherto been divided between the funeral directors acting on behalf of the relatives of the deceased and the cremation authority) the safeguards built into the cremation procedures to prevent the premature disposal of a body for the purpose of concealing crime may be lessened. This is particularly true where the funeral directors managing the crematorium are under pressure to cremate within 24 hours of death.
Since the Cremation Regulations were first introduced in 1903, no crematorium has been under the same management as a firm of funeral directors as part of a single business. The Secretary of State would draw the committee's attention to the point of public policy which these effects of the Bill involve.
Here is the Home Secretary putting a considered statement before the Committee—a statement which is referred to in the report of the Chairman of the Committee —yet there is no comment, one way or the other, in any detail. So far as I am aware — and I listened carefully to the Minister — he made no reference whatsoever to the views of the Home Secretary. I ask the Minister whether that statement still represents the considered views of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department.
That statement was given to the Special Committee, setting it up, so it clearly represents the views of the Home Office. The Home Secretary was concerned that a precedent would be considered to have been set— although I hasten to add that no reflection was made on Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge. Nevertheless, he felt bound to take into account the fact that by installing cremators as part of a funeral director's business a precedent would be set. The Committee touched on that, and the report and the contribution made by my right hon. and learned Friend is of great importance.
Does the hon. Gentleman know what checks are carried out to see that the certificate authorising cremation refers to the body that is ultimately cremated? Will he accept that the current practice relies extensively on the integrity of the funeral director to see that it refers to the body in respect of which it has been granted, and that that integrity will still be effective even if the Bill is passed?
The point I was making in putting on record the Home Secretary's statement was that the unique thing about the Bill is that it would place in the hands of a single agency all the tasks to which I referred, including, of course, nominating the medical referee. It would place these in the hands of a single agency — Ginns and Gutteridge. I make no offensive reference to this firm. Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge are highly respected funeral directors who have carried on their business of undertaking, at which they are experts, for a very long time. They are seeking to change the nature of their business and one of the effects of the Bill is to bring under their control, as a single agency, those tasks which are at present shared between different agencies. That is a very important point to which the Home Secretary drew the attention of the Committee.
The hon. Gentleman has touched on an important point. As he says, this is unique. Ginns and Gutteridge is an excellent firm. Does he agree, however, that in America, where these things are normal and where institutions of this kind are run of the mill, the most appalling mistakes are made and that there are well-known horror stories? This must be a matter of the greatest possible concern to the House.
The hon. Member is right. I should imagine that, when the House reaches amendments selected by Mr. Speaker—I hope that it will not get that far—Members on both sides of the argument as well as of the House will be able to raise those points in detail, which will be an important aspect of proceedings, but which, I repeat, I hope we shall not reach.
This is not a party political matter, but it is a highly political matter of public policy. The purpose of the Floor of the House of Commons is to provide a forum for the discussion of such matters. When the day comes that we start to be defensive about our role, we might as well pack up shop. The issue is not privatisation or private crematoria versus public crematoria.
It was the management at the crematorium at Perry Barr which drew my attention to the Bill in a letter, with enclosures, dated 25 January. At the outset I felt a certain uneasiness in my own capabilities in that I did not know about the Bill. I have served in the House for 10 years, and I have participated in private Bill legislation on the Floor of the House. I have served as a member of a Committee considering a private Bill, as has the hon. Member for Faversham, although the Committee on which I sat did not sit for as long as the one that considered this Bill and I was not the Chairman of it.
I am well aware that it is the duty of hon. Members every November, when the time comes for lodging private legislation, to keep their eyes on what is coming before the House. All sorts of measures pass through the House of Commons under private business without being debated. The view is taken that there is nothing contentious about them and that all the problems have been sorted out. If the Bill is opposed, it is thought that the Special Committee procedure will take care of any difficulties that arise.
The Perry Barr crematorium is lawned. It is on the edge of a park, it borders allotments and it is adjacent to a busy main road. It is a private crematorium, owned by the Great Southern Group, which also owns the crematorium in the Prime Minister's constituency. The Prime Minister has been told in a letter from the Great Southern Group dated 3 April that if the Bill passes through the House of Commons the crematorium in her constituency, which is at St. Marylebone, will be under threat of closure. The group calls upon the Prime Minister to vote against the Bill tonight. It will be interesting to see whether the right hon. Lady will do so on what is for her a constituency matter.
The crematorium in the constituency of the Prime Minister is passing from the ownership of the Westminster city council to that of the Great Southern Group for reasons that I shall not go into. According to the letter from the group, the economics of the change of ownership would be undermined if the Bill were passed and enacted. Those facts reinforce my contention that this is not a private versus public crematoria argument. It is not an argument that should be considered on party lines.
When I received the statement that was issued on behalf of the promoters a couple of days ago, like other hon. Members, I was taken by the statement in paragraph 3, which reads:
After a full debate the Bill was given a Second Reading by your honourable House on 14 February 1983.
The debate started on Monday 14 February at 7 o'clock sharp, which is normal for private business, and it was moved by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). As far as I am aware, the debate concluded with a Division at 8.15 pm. There may be a printing error in Hansard, but I doubt it. The Bill was carried by 88 votes to 54.
I do not consider that to be a full debate for it continued for less than the three hours which were allotted. No motions and no instructions were debated. It matters to me not one jot how many times the Committee has sat, although I pay tribute to the perseverence of all hon. Members who have served on it. When a Member of this place is summoned to attend a Private Bill Committee, he or she can be fined for non-attendance. A Member is not allowed to be absent from such a Committee although that is possible when he or she is a member of a Select Commitee or a Standing Committee. The rules for Private Bill Committees are onerous in the extreme. However, as I have said, it matters to me not one jot that the Committee had 25 sittings. That must be set against the debate on the Floor of the House on Second Reading, which lasted for one hour and 15 minutes, and which was described by the promoters as a full debate.
I regret that the hon. Member for Harborough is not in his place, although I see that he is within my hearing. It is deplorable that he should have sought by a procedural motion to stop any further debate on the Bill at this stage. The motion extended to any hon. Member who was not a Member of this place before the general election or to any hon. Member who did not serve on the Committee. It was designed to prevent Members in that category from debating a supreme issue of public policy on the Floor of the House. The issue is whether we should start making crematoria look like factories. I deplore the attempt that has been made to stifle debate.
I shall confine myself to the rules of debate on a private Bill and make one or two remarks about the Bill's contents. I shall not allude to the amendments. It has been said on several occasions that Ginns and Gutteridge is good at its job and I have no doubt that it is a trustworthy firm. However, clause 2 states:
In this Act 'the Company' means Ginns and Gutteridge Limited and includes their successors".
The Bill does not apply only to the one company that is owned by one group, although I understand that it is a long-standing family business. The Bill is seeking permission for the special powers within it to be passed on to another company or another family at some stage in future. I object to clause 2, which is the interpretation clause.
Clause 3 is entitled "Provision of crematorium" and it attempts to define the premises. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) covered some of the details of location in Leicester. He was in order to do so and the occupant of the Chair would have called him to order if he had strayed from it. Clause 3 delineates the premises. It describes them as
227 square metres or thereabouts
at a particular address in Vaughan way. It says that it was outlined on a map signed by the hon. Member and deposited in the Private Bill Office to show that that was the exact location. I object in principle to a crematorium on an inner city site. It would not matter whether it was owned and run by the funeral directors. The point of principle is that the crematorium is on an inner city site, in factory-type premises.
Does the hon. Gentleman object to chapels of rest being on such sites? On occasions they may contain as many as 15 deceased persons who are visited by friends and relatives.
The difference is that people do not generally go there in family groups, and services for the deceased are not conducted there. It is a visit to the chapel of rest—no more and no less. It may not happen on the day of the funeral; it may be the day before. In other words, it is not relevant and there is no connection between that aspect of bereavement and going to the crematorium for the service. There is a substantial difference. If the hon. and learned Member cannot see the difference, I cannot convince him that there is one.
I object in principle to a crematorium in inner-city premises. The premises may have a chapel of rest, a 6,000 gallon petrol tank and dining facilities, so the wake may be taking place on one floor while the coffin is being cremated in the basement. This is an obscenity in relation to the conduct of a cremation ceremony.
No doubt the hon. Gentleman is aware that this is happening already in many municipal crematoria. It is no use the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. The City of London has an identical crematorium in the basement of its premises, which are probably within a mile of the Palace of Westminster where we are talking this evening.
If I had the opportunity as a Member of Parliament to go into the Lobby I should vote against that. It is not relevant to the argument. We are discussing the uniqueness of the Bill and the funeral directors who wish to expand their business. I did not have the opportunity to express a view about the premises referred to by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). It is a quirk of law that hon. Members have the opportunity to vote on this proposal.
Clause 3(2)(a), a paragraph put in by the Committee, says:
No cremations of human remains shall take place on the land specified in subsection (1) above until the Company has acquired
and so on. I do not want to go over all the arguments about whether the company has acquired a garden of remembrance; nor do I wish to enter into the argument about the bishops.
The situation has changed completely since Second Reading. When the hon. Member for Harborough was speaking then, there was an exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) and the hon. Member for Harborough as follows:
"Mr. Farr: I have learnt to treat the hon. Gentleman's interventions with respect. They always have great merit. The company hopes to make it clear during the Committee stage that a special garden of remembrance and rest will be provided for the ashes.
Ron Lewis: Near the crematorium?
Mr. Farr: At the crematorium." — [Official Report, 14 February 1983; Vol. 37, c. 72]
The hon. Member for Harborough said, "At the crematorium." There was no question of a garden of remembrance at a local church or at other premises within walking distance, driving distance or flying distance. He said, "At the crematorium."
One can only assume that when the hon. Member for Harborough was moving the Second Reading on behalf of the promoters he was speaking to the brief provided. In the circumstances, that is all that one can do. The question arises as to the good faith of the brief which must have been provided for the hon. Member. What I have heard in the debate about the correspondence from the Church, added to what was said on Second Reading, leads me to believe that the House was misled, though not by the hon. Member for Harborough. I make no imputation against him, because he must have been speaking to a brief supplied by the promoters. There was an attempt deliberately to mislead the House to get the Bill passed. The impression was given that there would be a garden of remembrance and that it would be at the crematorium. It clearly states "at the crematorium". Therefore, I object to the fact that the Committee has been forced to insert into the Bill clause 3(2).
Does my hon. Friend agree that while no imputation of bad faith can be made against the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Fair), he owes the House an explanation of how he came to make such an extraordinary and inaccurate statement that the garden of remembrance would be at the crematorium? Perhaps he might be advised to do so now.
The matter is quite simple. In the debate in February last year, I said that Ginns and Gutteridge would have liked to have a garden of remembrance at the crematorium. That has since proved to be impossible, and subsequently it attempted to get the use of a churchyard several hundred yards away from the crematorium. That plan has now fallen through. To put at rest once and for all the issue whether a garden of remembrance for the scattering of ashes and for the conduct of small services will be available, I can tell the House that a site for the garden of remembrance has been acquired and is in the possession of the company.
When the hon. Member rose—having failed in his attempt to stop any debate at 7 o'clock—to move consideration, why did he not give that information to the House? Why is it not possible to give chapter and verse for where the site is? Why was no response made to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West when he made his point about the churchyard?
I have given the facts now because I have been given the information recently by the promoters of the Bill. I ask the House to accept my word that a site has been acquired and will be treated for the proper purpose——
—in a reverential manner, and not in the jocular manner used by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) when he referred to this particular purpose. Many of us think that a garden of remembrance is a special place. I should be happy to have it in my constituency, wherever it may be.
Clause 3(2) says that there should be no cremation unless a churchyard is obtained,
or some other land which is agreed between the Company and the Leicester City Council".
This land has been acquired, but has Leicester city council agreed to it? Has the condition of the Bill that the hon. Member is seeking to get through the House been complied with? Does Leicester city council know about the site, and has it agreed to it?
Oh, "Read paragraph (b)," says the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer). That implies that Leicester city council will not agree to the land, and paragraph (b) will have to be used for the company to go to arbitration. So Leicester city council has not agreed to the land that has been obtained.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) has said that he has, through no fault of his own, only recently heard that Ginns and Gutteridge has purchased this new site to spread the ashes, it is surprising that the new site — bearing in mind that the Bill makes a specific reference to All Saints' church, Highcross street, "or some other land"—is not entered as an amendment so that we can be aware of it and judge whether the land is suitable within the context of the Bill, and be told whether Leicester city council has approved of it?
As I understand it, it is in order for the promoters to move amendments at the consideration stage of a private Bill. They would obviously have to do it through an hon. Member, but there are no amendments down in the name of anyone remotely connected with the promoters of the Bill. We are in a bit of a pickle. More than halfway through the consideration debate we are given some new and relevant information that impinges on the Bill. Clearly, it is assumed that Leicester city council will not approve the site. It appears, from an earlier intervention from a sedentary position by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Spencer), that the matter will go to arbitration, and if that fails will end up with the Secretary of State. We have arrived at a most unsatisfactory point.
I know the hon. Gentleman well. I know also that he is sincere and believes in what he is saying. He must accept my statement on behalf of Ginns and Gutteridge that no deception or misdirection of the House was intended. Until very recently Ginns and Gutteridge believed in all good faith that the churchyard of All Saints church in Highcross street would be available. That area has a special significance to Mr. Ginns, because his grandfather's name is on a plaque inside the church.
The negotiations were proceeding happily and speedily, until recently when they came to a sudden halt. Ginns and Gutteridge has therefore taken steps and has recently acquired an alternative site. The details have not yet been submitted for approval to the city council. Those plans will be submitted in accordance with the Bill's provisions and the Secretary of State will, if necessary, determine whether the site is suitable. That is the present position.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The House is, therefore, being asked to put on the statute book a part of clause 3(2) which is wholly irrelevant, and we know it. I refer to All Saints church, Highcross street. That matter is not on the agenda for consideration at this time. Before the Bill is enacted, the reference to All Saints church in subsection 2(a) should, in all fairness and conscience, not still be in the legislation. It should be removed so that people do not accuse us of passing legislation which we know to be inaccurate.
I say in all fairness to the hon. Member for Harborough that, given the delicate nature of the negotiations that are to occur, he should request that consideration of the Bill be adjourned. The debate should be stopped, so that the hon. Gentleman can return on another day to tell the House whether Leicester city council has given approval to the site. Ginns and Gutteridge is not paying for our presence, other than as general taxpayers, so adjourning consideration will not impose extra costs. In view of the hon. Gentleman's statements, we would be placing gobbledegook on the statute book if we continued the debate.
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman is not going to move that further consideration be adjourned. I shall leave discussion on subsection (2) because we now have better information, to which I cannot fully address my mind while speaking. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House can discuss those issues later.
I do not agree with the Committee's recommendation that section 5 of the Cremation Act 1902 should be repealed. We should not let local council planning committees free reign over local crematoria. Progress has been made, and I am grateful for what the Under-Secretary of State said. I hope that the Government will not accept clause 3(3). That part of the Bill is objectionable.
I do not believe that the country has reached such a state that the public at large, whom we represent, are prepared to accept—I say this with no sense of acrimony to any religion—the sheer damned godlessness of this type of cremation activity occurring next to a public highway, in a building adjacent to a six-lane road, without proper parking facilities or a decent garden and with the bereaved having to walk to the chapel from nearby car parks. That is not on. I do not believe that when my or any other hon. Members' constituents see what we are being asked to approve they will say, "Yes, go on and approve it." I believe that in their hundreds and thousands they will say, "What on earth are you doing even debating such a Bill?"
I have been here for some time. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in many respects this is a dreadful waste of parliamentary time? We are not being asked to decide a principle—under what circumstances a cremation can take place—but what, effectively, is nothing more than a planning application that should be referred to Leicester district council? The arguments you have put forward reinforce what I have just said.
You are putting forward no arguments, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I am. I do not consider private business brought to the Floor of the House a waste of time. However trivial it might be in the hon. Member's mind, great matters of public policy can flow from apparently minor legislation.
I shall allude briefly only to another private Bill, or I shall be ruled out of order. A private Bill was brought before the House of Commons in 1976 which involved the compulsory purchase of 47·5 acres of foreshore at Nigg bay—the Cromarty Petroleum Order Confirmation Bill. That land was the block on the construction of a £200 million oil refinery by Daniel K. Ludwig, the richest man in the world. The House of Commons became involved in discussing 47·5 acres of Scottish foreshore. That seemed trivial, until one realised what lay behind it in terms of energy and oil refinery policy. I make no apology, and nor should any other hon. Member, when private legislation that involves an element of major public policy, as this does, is brought before the House.
If the hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) is here for some time, I hope he will remember my words when other legislation in which, for some reason, he takes an interest comes before the House which other hon. Members might question.
The Bill to which the hon. Gentleman alluded is the one on which he and I fought side by side. I agree with what he is saying about the opportunities private Bills sometimes give to discuss major matters. Once one has examined some of these minor points that give rise to major policy, is that not the time to re-examine the correct way to proceed in respect of matters relating to the Home Office and planning generally? Does he agree that this is an unsatisfactory procedure for examining the homicidal tendencies of doctors, which is what is presupposed, or bad neighbour developments generally? Is it not time to consider how better to approach these general policies?
For a start, I should like to reform the private Bill procedure. One of the hon. Gentleman's constituents was involved with the other Bill. That Bill had been through the Scottish Order Confirmation Bill procedure. There had been umpteen meetings in Edinburgh. In effect, it had passed its Committee stage. It was in the same parliamentary position as this Bill. We were told that it had been looked at by Members of Parliament in a Special Committee in Edinburgh. We were told that it was nothing to do with the House of Commons or hon. Members in Faversham, Perry Barr or Keighley. We were told to keep out of it, although great matters of public policy were to be debated.
The final point to which I object is the part that the Committee has inserted in clause 4. In clause 4(2) there is a reference to the equipment that will be used. The requirement is
that the equipment of the crematorium shall operate so as not at any time to create any discharge of smoke or smell from the premises".
As I understand it — I may be wrong, and we may receive further and better advice as the night goes on—this equipment has never been installed in this country.
The equipment is of American origin and is held in at least one case to have been a prime cause of a fire in an American crematorium. Therefore, it is untried and untested in this country. Modern crematorium equipment is very sophisticated. There has been increasing acceptance of the cremation movement in this century and, as that has come about, more people have realised—I hate to use the word "productivity"— that, as private profit is involved a surplus must be made for the businesses to survive. I accept that as a way of life. None the less, the sophisticated equipment that may be installed is untried and untested in this country. If I am wrong, I hope that an hon. Member will say so.
The Committee, not the promoters of the Bill, inserted new clause 2. The promoters did not promise to use equipment that would not give off smokes or smells. The Committee put in the clause. The promoters, through the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), promised that there would be a garden of remembrance at the crematorium, but they gave no commitment that the equipment would not give off smokes or smells. They have handled the matter very unprofessionally, to put it at its politest, throughout. I object to the Bill proceeding further in the House.
The Committee members have not visited the premises. I can understand their reasons. Like them, I have seen lots of photographs. I confess that I was put off by the photographs of the premises supplied by the crematorium in my area. Hon. Members receive representations from their constituents. I am sure that you have received them, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Hon. Members receive a mountain of bumf every day from every organisation and individual with a beef. The main thing to watch is that, in the general, non-constituency mail, crucial correspondence does not slip through the net.
The photographs of Ginns and Gutteridge's premises that were given to me by the crematorium superintendent in my area—that crematorium is in the same group that owns the one that I hope will be operated in the Prime Minister's constituency—made me read the seven or eight pages in detail. I could not believe what the letter was about, after reading the first three paragraphs. I called on the superintendent of the Birmingham crematorium and said to him that I could not believe what I had read and asked him whether he was sure that the photographs were of premises that someone intended, in all conscience, to use as a crematorium. The pictures showed three lanes of traffic going past the premises, and exits next to Shellubrication signs, petrol pumps and advertisment hoardings. It showed a typical rear access view of industrial premises, with mechanics working on vehicles. The bereaved would be expected to go through the ordeal of facing such a scene when they went to the chapel of rest or attended the cremation.
We must put further restrictions in the Bill, if the occasion arises, to make it stronger and workable. None of the amendments on the Order Paper could be classified by any hon. Member on either side of the House—or of the argument — as a wrecking amendment. Each amendment strengthens the Bill and would make it operate better than in the form in which it has come from Committee. It is, of course, considerably better after the Committee's amendments than it was when it started its life.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Bearing in mind what he has drawn to our attention towards the end of his speech, can he tell the House, or hazard a guess, why so many hon. Members seem to be determined, even knowing those facts, that the crematorium will still go to Leicester? Why must it go there? I ask the hon. Gentleman to address his mind to two simple questions: is the crematorium needed in Leicester and is it wanted by the people of Leicester?
The answer to both those interesting questions is clearly no, as shown by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Leicester, West in whose constituency the crematorium would be situated, and by the number of Conservative Members who have produced a private Whip.
I cannot give full answers to those questions, and I shall not repeat the rumours that I and no doubt other hon. Members have heard about why the planning committee was advised to approve the application in the first place and why it was not later advised to revoke the application —a costly process, but far less costly to the city council than the eventual bill for this little lot. I do not know why and the question has bothered me, too, since I saw the weight of support in private Whips and the partisan nature of some Conservative contributions.
One wonders why a respected company, which is good at undertaking—we do not know about cremation as it has never done any—should bring forward an obnoxious proposal to change the law of the land to secure a unique scope for its own premises. Why has the proposal been pushed so hard for so long? I do not know, but I am a naturally suspicious fellow, which sometimes gets me into trouble. I am also a nosey parker and I intend to find some answers before the next debate on this matter. In logic, the argument is against the proposers. In conscience and in public policy it is also against them. The attitude of the vast majority of British people also seems to be against them. Certainly no one in my hon. and learned Friend's constituency favours the proposal, as he has received no representations to that effect.
I do not know why the proposal has been pushed so far, but we must make sure that we get as many answers as possible and explore the thoughts, desires and wishes of the proposers as much as possible. I hope that hon. Members on both sides will ensure that that is done.
I believe that I am unique among hon. Members in having visited the Ginns and Gutteridge premises, so I speak with some knowledge in this serious matter. I believe that the site and the facilities are satisfactory and adequate. They are run by a respectable company which has been in existence since 1840 and cares about the community throughout the city of Leicester.
No, I shall not give way.
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) said that he had received no representations in favour of the proposal, but representations have been made to me from that part of the city. I note that the hon. and learned Gentleman is not in the Chamber. No doubt he is on television or something like that. I take great exception when he presumes to speak for the whole city.
I have visited Ginns and Gutteridge twice. I should point out to hon. Members that the company's premises are in Vaughan way, not on the high street. It is a family concern and is unique in being prepared to offer, seven days a week and 365 days a year, a 24-hour service, which genuinely cares and caters for the whole community. Hon. Members have spoken about the proposed crematorium but not about the company. It is not just a matter of private versus municipal. Why should a very good private company not be allowed to operate this new facility? We do not know what need there is for another crematorium in Leicester, but the company is prepared to offer one and it should be respected for that.
The Leiceser City Council granted planning permission on 5 October 1982. As we tried to point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames), that has not been revoked. Ginns and Gutteridge gave the Select Committee an undertaking that it would provide 65 car parking spaces, and 30 already exist. I have been to the site and I assure Opposition Members that that is so. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) wishes to learn something for a change, he should listen.
I shall not give way.
Ginns and Gutteridge already has an excellent chapel of rest. People forget that this company, formed in 1840, is located on a regular site. The whole of the city of Leicester knows where it is — by the traffic lights. People stop there and know the premises belongs to Ginns and Gutteridge.
There is nothing new in funeral directors offering a crematorium facility. Ginns and Gutteridge genuinely believes that it will not cause smoke, offence to the 28 residents in the neighbouring area, or damage and disturbance to some of the other companies in the area.
Death is a serious, trying and disturbing time for everyone. It affects the whole city, and the people of Leicester, West and those living up to 12 miles around the city should be offered an alternative crematorium to the one at Gilroes, which to date has been little used.
During the inquiry, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) served, various changes were offered in respect of the facilities at Gilroes crematorium. From having piped music, there was suddenly an organ, and from closing at 3 o'clock on a Friday, it was decided to stay open a bit longer. That is being done because Gilroes is worried about competition, but what is wrong with competition if the company is respectable?
I am sorry, but I wish to get on.
It is alleged that a hoist will be used to bring up the coffins, but there is a six-passenger lift from the basement up to the relevant floor. Therefore, the allegation about having a hoist was wholly unwarranted.
Why is the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West so against this company? Has he visited it, discussed this matter or tried to assist? The fact that Leicester city council is Labour-controlled and that the hon. and learned Gentleman is a Labour Member has, I suppose, nothing to do with it.
Mention has already been made of the Bishop of Leicester, the Right Reverend Richard Rutt. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), I find it incredible that the Bishop has only just found out that this Bill is before the House and that there is the possibility of another crematorium. That is amazing. I and other hon. Members have spoken about this on the radio, and articles have regularly appeared in the Leicester Mercury. The matter was debated on 14 February 1983, yet the Bishop has only just found out. That is strange — [HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It could be that he was not in the city as much as he ought to have been. We do not know.
I shall not give way.
On 28 March the Bishop wrote to all hon. Members asking them to oppose the Bill. That was surprising because I thought that he would have done so last year, when he wrote expressing great concern. He wrote to me again on 3 April. It is incredible that he could not find out until 28 March that this site was being considered.
As a member of the Committee, it was not my intention to intervene, but does my hon. Friend agree with me that it is perhaps necessary to make sure that right hon. and hon. Members are aware that, whereas on matters of doctrine one might well approach the bishop direct, on matters appertaining to the fabric of churches and grounds on which churches stand, particularly redundant churches, the method of approach would be to the archdeacon?
I am grateful for that intervention by my hon. Friend. What he says is quite correct and I understand that there was an approach to Archdeacon Silk. However, as a member of a diocesan synod myself, I would have thought that there would have been regular meetings and that the bishop would have been told exactly what was going on and why it was necessary.
It is particularly interesting to me that so many hon. Members who have spoken in this debate did not take part in the debate in the House on 14 February 1983. It may be that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West was unable to be here, but he is supposed to represent his constituents and I would have thought that he would have made quite sure that he came to the House for that debate.
Similarly, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who represents a constituency not very far from Leicester, might perhaps have wished to be in the Chamber on that day. Finally. the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)——
The point of order is that the hon. Gentleman is seeking to impugn my integrity when I had already made it clear that it was only when my local crematorium wrote to me that I was aware of this matter. I said I was remiss in not being aware of it in February 1983.
I have the impression that I did not impugn anyone's integrity.
The hon. Member for Blackburn also did not take part in that debate. The hon. Member for Perry Barr said that I have not been in the House very long, but it is 10 months to the day.
As we know, this debate took place during sittings of the Committee. I believe, having read the report— I really have read it—that virtually all the points that have been rehearsed by a number of hon. Members in the Chamber have been well and truly debated before. I understood that we were here to try to get a decision, not to filibuster or waste time.
I said earlier that death is not pleasant for anybody, and I sympathise with all the people in the city who feel that they would like an alternative to the Gilroes crematorium. Choice is offered by Ginns and Gutteridge—choice and service at any time. I think that is courageous because we do not know whether they will be successful, whether many people will use their facilities, but we do know that they have spent a tremendous amount of money trying to offer the citizens of Leicester that alternative.
There is one crematorium within 12 miles of the city centre and there are at least 300,000 potential users. No one has to use these particular facilities, but the ethnic minority, which plays quite a substantial role in the city of Leicester, would, I believe, welcome such an alternative. The Moslems would not, because they have their own facilities and tend to be buried rather than cremated, but the Hindus would welcome such a facility. This might seem unpleasant to some hon. Members, but in some cases Hindus wish to burn their dead themselves. Ginns and Gutteridge make this possible by allowing bereaved members of the family to go forward and press the button, and see their loved ones successfully cremated. That is something that is to be commended.
I have referred already to the tranquil surroundings. The site itself is tranquil, and there is adequate parking.
I must, in fairness, agree that hon. Members who have spoken about the garden of remembrance have a point. I have spoken to the Ginns family on the subject. They believed that All Saints churchyard would be offered to them, and they were in negotiation on the subject.
No, I will not give way.
Ginns and Gutteridge had that belief throughout the hearings, and I do not believe that anybody has been blatantly dishonest. The fact that tonight we have heard — some of us knew it a few days ago — that an alternative site has been purchased shows that the argument adduced on that point is unfounded.
I had hoped that tonight we would have a debate reflecting the time that has been given to this disturbing subject over many months. Instead, Opposition Members have made only historic points.
The local authority must be responsible for our debating the issue today. If it wants to revoke permission, it will have an opportunity to do so, but as it gave permission, it must bear responsibility for doing that. Indeed, I go further and say that if the Bill were to find its way onto the statute book, the city councillors in Leicestershire should be surcharged for wasting time. This has cost a lot of money to contest. Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge is an honourable company and should be given a chance.
Nobody is disputing the honour of the family of Ginns and Gutteridge. As the hon. Gentleman spoke to them, may I ask him to say whether they told him that they had or had not approached the bishop or the diocese regarding the churchyard?
I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) was in his place when my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) highlighted that point. Archdeacon Silk was taking part in the negotiations at the time about which I am speaking.
We are debating an important subject. I had hoped that the House would give this company the right to give the people of the city of Leicester the opportunity of an alternative facility. I commend the Bill to the House.
Like other hon. Members, I did not intend to participate in this debate. However, having heard the comments of the hon. Members for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) and for Faversham (Mr. Moate), I thought it might be useful to make a short contribution, as one who took part in the Committee proceedings from day one.
I would have been more impressed with the case made by the hon. Member for Leicester, East had I seen him at more than one or two of the Committee's sittings.
The hon. Gentleman's attendance at three out of a possible 20 sittings of the Committee suggests that he does not know much about the subject. Consider, for example, the question of car parking. Does he know that the proposals for car parking facilities altered twice during the Committee's deliberations? Is he further aware that some of the information we were given was found to be incorrect?
The hon. Gentleman spoke of 30 parking spaces in or near the premises in Vaughan way. It would require a full-time attendant to guide cars in and out of the area. Indeed, people might have to make special insurance arrangements to cover them for the knocks that would undoubtedly occur if 30 cars had to park in that restricted area.
Does the hon. Gentleman also appreciate that the other car parking facility is almost as far away as the All Saints churchyard where it was originally intended that the ashes should be strewn? Does he also understand that it was only in Committee that we discovered that the land to be used was at All Saints church and now we learn that it is some other piece of land? As somebody who spent 25 sittings of the Committee considering that part of Leicester, I cannot think of any vacant piece of land that could be used other than All Saints churchyard. I should be interested to hear where that new piece of land is, because it was never referred to in Committee.
One thing that did become clear in Committee was that some of the exaggerated claims that were made by the manufacturers of the intended crematorium would never have come to light unless the Committee had done its job. I commend my hon. Friends on the Committee for their determination to get to the bottom of the matter. The Bill exposed the real flaws in the arguments that were presented. As an engineer, I was rather annoyed to discover that the expert witness whom Ginns and Gutteridge brought before the Committee had no experience of crematoria. He had never been in charge of a crematorium and had never as an engineer been involved in the design, planning or installation of a crematorium, yet he was the expert witness called before the Committee.
As a member of the Committee perhaps my hon. Friend will examine what the Chairman of the Committee said. If I understand him correctly, he said that Ginns and Gutteridge's business was at stake. That was never said in Committee.
In fairness to the hon. Member for Faversham, I think that my hon. Friend has misunderstood him. As far as I can recall, it is the second biggest undertaking business in Leicester and, with or without the crematorium, its business would not have been affected. The Gilroes crematorium has adequate facilities.
The Bill has highlighted a serious malpractice in crematoria. If it does nothing else, if it means the Leicester city council has had to improve the conditions of the Gilroes crematorium we should all be pleased. I hope that the House and every planning department looks at every crematorium. The hon. Member for Faversham was correct to say that a representative of the Federation of British Cremation Authorities admitted that the general practices in almost all crematoria need to be looked at and tightened. If that is all that the discussion tonight produces we shall have done the country a service.
|Division No. 233]||[9.48 pm|
|Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)||Hunt, David (Wirral)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Knight, Gregory (Derby N)|
|Burt, Alistair||Lang, Ian|
|Chope, Christopher||Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham)|
|Cope, John||MacGregor, John|
|du Cann, Rt Hon Edward||Malins, Humfrey|
|Dunn, Robert||Malone, Gerald|
|Eggar, Tim||Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Farr, John||Moate, Roger|
|Favell, Anthony||Murphy, Christopher|
|Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey||Nelson, Anthony|
|Forth, Eric||Neubert, Michael|
|Gale, Roger||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Parris, Matthew|
|Goodhart, Sir Philip||Penhaligon, David|
|Grant, Sir Anthony||Percival, Rt Hon Sir Ian|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)||Powley, John|
|Gummer, John Selwyn||Raffan, Keith|
|Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)||Spencer, Derek|
|Hayward, Robert||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Waddington, David|
|Hickmet, Richard||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hind, Kenneth||Wells, Bowen (Hertford)|
|Hirst, Michael||Wood, Timothy|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)|
|Hooson, Tom||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Howard, Michael||Mr. Peter Bruinvels and Mr. David Ashby.|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)|
|Atkinson, N. (Tottenham)||Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)|
|Barron, Kevin||McCrea, Rev William|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne E)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Bruce, Malcolm||McWilliam, John|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Marek, Dr John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Conlan, Bernard||Nellist, David|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Norris, Steven|
|Coombs, Simon||Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)|
|Couchman, James||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Cowans, Harry||Robinson, P. (Belfast E)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Sims, Roger|
|Dixon, Donald||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dobson, Frank||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Dubs, Alfred||Speed, Keith|
|Field, Frank (Birkenhead)||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Foulkes, George||Straw, Jack|
|Ground, Patrick||Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)|
|Hawkins, C. (High Peak)||Tracey, Richard|
|Haynes, Frank||van Straubenzee, Sir W.|
|Holt, Richard||Williams, Rt Hon A.|
|Hoyle, Douglas||Winnick, David|
|Janner, Hon Greville|
|Kennedy, Charles||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Mr. Ernie Ross and Mr. Tony Banks.|