Clause 41 - Religious relics

Human Tissue Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 5th February 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health) 9:30 am, 5th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 182, in

clause 41, page 26, line 21, after second 'of', insert 'committal or'.

Photo of Mr Alan Hurst Mr Alan Hurst Labour, Braintree

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 183, in

clause 41, page 26, line 31, at end insert

'or the ceremony associated with committal'.

Government amendment No. 109.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

This is a fascinating clause, on which I have received a lot of correspondence. Perhaps the Government have had a lot of correspondence on the amendments as well. The result of my amendments and of the Government amendment would essentially be the same. The clause deals with religious relics, although it could be interpreted as also including

bodies displayed at funerals for relatives to view, provided that they are religious funerals. I do not think that that is the clause's intention. I think that it was drafted to apply to relics in the generally understood sense of the word: relics that might appear in a church many hundreds of years old, for example. I drafted my amendments to cover non-religious funerals, as it is perverse to allow the display of the dead at religious funerals but not at the increasing number of secular funerals. My amendments and Government amendment No. 109 would allow the display of the deceased at religious or secular funerals so that relatives and mourners can pay their respects.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 9:45 am, 5th February 2004

I declare an interest as an honorary associate of the National Secular Society. I have had correspondence on this matter through the National Secular Society, including from a constituent of the hon. Member for Westbury. I support what he said and ask whether it is necessary, if the Government accept his amendment, to change the title of clause 41 to ensure that people's body parts are not considered as ''religious relics'' if there is no religion associated with the activity involved. Until I saw Government amendment No. 109 and the hon. Gentleman's amendments, I thought that the clause assumed that all burials were carried out in a religious setting. In fact, a significant number are not.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

I am glad that the hon. Member for Westbury acknowledges that his amendments and the Government amendment would have the same effect. Of course, the Government amendment does it better, so I hope that he will ultimately agree to accept it.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

That is a very dangerous thing to say. The Committee will no doubt have observed that my amendments are far less wordy than the Government's. We have talked about the need for plain English and for the Bill to be understood. I strongly submit that my amendments are better than the Government's.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

Well, we will have to have an arm-wrestling contest to settle that later.

The hon. Gentleman is right that his amendments would remove places of non-religious burial from the remit of the Human Tissue Authority, from the licensing scheme, and from the remit of the inspectorate of anatomy and pathology. Government amendment No. 56, which we believe resolves the issue of non-religious funeral ceremonies more comprehensibly, will have the same effect by amending a different clause.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

The Under-Secretary meant to refer to Government amendment No. 109 to clause 56.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

The hon. Gentleman is right. For once he illuminates me rather than clouds my judgment. He is Watson to my Holmes.

Government amendment No. 109 came about because of concerns raised, since the Bill was published in December, about the public display provision. Hon.

Members will know that public display is a scheduled purpose. Storage and use of bodies for that purpose is lawful only if the deceased gave advance, witnessed written consent. That requirement is set out in clauses 2(4) and 3(3). Public display also falls under the remit of the Human Tissue Authority, as outlined in clause 11(1), and is licensable under clause 13(2)(f)—except for display at places of public religious worship of bodies or material connected with such worship, for example religious relics, which is covered by clause 41(2).

After the Bill was published in December, it was pointed out to us that the public display of the body of the deceased before funerals is customary in some ethnic communities and at venues that might not be places of religious worship. An unintended consequence of the Bill would have been to make it unlawful to display a body at a funeral that was open to the general public, unless the deceased had given advance consent in writing. The Bill would have also required such display premises to be licensed if they were not places of religious worship.

Amendment No. 109 will remove from the definition of ''public display'' any display of a body that is connected with a person's funeral or that allows people to pay their last respects to the deceased. The exemption would apply whether or not the funeral is religious. I commend the amendment to the Committee. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for Westbury will agree to withdraw his amendment. If he does so, that will be the end of the bulk of my work in this Committee. I have enjoyed serving under your chairmanship, Mr. Hurst, and that of Mrs. Adams. I hope that Opposition Members do not feel that I have teased them too often and too much. I will buy them alcohol later if they feel that I need to make it up to them.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Shadow Minister (Health)

With that tempting prospect, Mr. Hurst, and given that Government amendment No. 109 is very similar to, if rather wordier than, my amendments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 42 and 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.