I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Amess on securing this debate on burial space and the treatment of death, and thank him sincerely for his kind and generous words of encouragement at the beginning of his speech.
These are important subjects and I consider it crucial that Parliament continues to have time to debate them. I am aware of the concerns of our burial and cremation stakeholders.
Burial was the only option available for people to dispose of their loved ones after death until the early 20th century, when national legislation to allow cremation was passed. Subsequently, the Roman Catholic Church has lifted its ban on the practice, and cremation has become an increasingly popular choice of funeral. As my hon. Friend said, cremation now accounts for about 70% of funerals in England and Wales. That of course means that about 30% of deaths still lead to a burial. Some 150,000 burials are carried out each year. Indeed, as my hon. Friend mentioned, for some faith groups, including Muslims, Orthodox Jews and followers of the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, burial is a religious requirement. For other faith groups, although cremation is not forbidden, burial remains a preferred option. The Government will continue to support people’s decisions to bury their loved ones after death.
In recent years, more individuals have taken greater responsibility in determining how their remains should be disposed of after death. Some have pursued what are loosely termed natural or green burials. It is worthwhile spending a moment explaining those alternatives to the conventional burial or cremation. There is now far more choice than there ever has been for people who want those alternatives. Green options include woodland burials using a cardboard, wicker or bamboo coffin. There are also natural burials, whereby the body is buried directly in the soil in a manner that allows it to decompose naturally. Ministry of Justice guidance on natural burials is available to assist operators in providing them.
Those natural or green ways of disposing of the dead are variants on conventional burial, but there are also several other methods of disposing of human remains that are more akin to cremation, in that they involve total destruction of the body. Those alternatives include promession and cryomation, which essentially involve freeze-drying the body, and alkaline hydrolysis, which involves reducing the body to a powder and liquid residue. Those processes are still relatively new, untried and untested and the Government will follow with interest the progress of trials in Europe and the United States.