I say to the hon. Gentleman, who is my friend, that I certainly am aware of that suggestion and I will be touching on it briefly. I know that it works extremely well in Northern Ireland.
I want to question whether the popularity of cremations is borne out of choice or necessity. As I said, I certainly do not want to be cremated. For some groups, religious doctrine completely rules out cremation. For instance, Jewish people, Muslims and, until recently, those of my own faith—the Catholics—disapprove of cremation, while modern environmentalists object to the environmental impact of cremation and prefer natural or green burials. The first time I was invited to attend a natural burial I thought, “My goodness, they’re putting someone in a cardboard box—is it going to collapse?”, but in fact it was done with great dignity. That is the choice for a number of environmentalists.
I wonder whether the high cremation rate can be explained by people genuinely wanting to be cremated or by the lack of choice when it comes to burial and the absence of locally accessible, well-managed cemeteries with available burial space. I do not think the answer is simple, but I would like to use this debate to explore the possibility that some people are forced into cremation because of a lack of choice about burials. I should like us to entertain the idea that this problem is going to get worse. We should face up to it, and this Parliament should give a lead.
I am aware that responsibility for burial is a very complex field involving local and parochial authorities. I also understand that at present, as my hon. Friend the Minister knows, there is no statutory requirement to make available a place for burial, but this does not change the fact that we need to approach the issue of burial space in a holistic fashion. Burial space is a problem that has plagued this country since Victorian times, and despite its resurfacing again and again, it has not been adequately addressed.
The longer we leave the issue unresolved, the more serious it is going to become. It is a particular problem in London; I am pleased to see Stephen Pound in his place. In August 1997, the London Planning Advisory Committee published its report “Planning for Burial Space in London”. This outlined that inner-London boroughs were then estimated to have only seven years’ burial capacity remaining, while for outer-London boroughs it was up to 18 years. A more recent report of 2011 suggested that inner-London boroughs such as Lambeth, Tower Hamlets and Kensington and Chelsea had virtually no burial space remaining, while in some outer-London boroughs such as Croydon and Haringey the situation was deemed to be “critical”.