This has been a deeply troubling time for the Bell family, and I want to pass on my heartfelt apologies for what has happened. I am pleased that the issue has been resolved and the lessons learned process begins next month, and I know that the vicar of Holy Trinity Wingate has strongly supported the family during this difficult time.
May I place on record my thanks to the hon. Member for his assistance with this matter during the recess?
I can report to the House that Thomas Bell’s coffin has been located, and that his late wife Hilda was buried with him after a heartbreaking eight-week delay. Appallingly, however, for 17 years the family—who were my constituents, living in Easington—unknowingly attended the wrong grave, and in the process of locating Mr Bell’s coffin several other errors were identified. Does the hon. Member agree that we need to improve burial records, with digital copies, introduce a new process for marking plots after burial, and draw up rules for the orderly organisation of plots in churchyards?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: record-keeping is incredibly important. The Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978 clearly states that records should be kept in fireproof places, and the hon. Gentleman’s point about digital copies was also well made. The lessons learned inquiry will focus on best practice for all parishes. Let me add, on a personal note, that I was very pleased that Mrs Bell’s great-grandchild was baptised in the church last weekend.