Clause 27 - Burial grounds

Part of High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 1 March 2016.

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Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 2:45, 1 March 2016

The clause relates to burial grounds, a subject close to my heart, given that I operate a green burial site on my farm and have around 400 people as permanent guests. The clause provides for the disapplication of laws concerning burial grounds and human remains. It also includes schedule 20, which outlines the process that the nominated undertaker—an unfortunate word to use in this regard—must follow in relation to the removal and re-interment or cremation of human remains, and the removal and replacement of monuments to the deceased. I understand that this is a sensitive subject, and that it is not just the railway that presents such issues; many construction projects around the country have unfortunately done so.

The clause disapplies ecclesiastical law for the purpose of construction in phase 1 of HS2. It also disapplies the law relating to burial grounds if the remains and any monument to the deceased have been dealt with in accordance with schedule 20. Similar provisions are included in the Crossrail Act 2008.

Three known burial grounds are affected by phase 1 service works: St James’s Gardens in Euston, St Mary’s Old Church in Stoke Mandeville and Park Street Gardens in Birmingham. In addition to those, four other burial grounds lie above the tunnelled route of HS2 and/or partially within the limits of land to be acquired or used. They are: North Acton cemetery in the London borough of Ealing; the Kensal Green Cemetery of All Souls in the Royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea; St Mary’s Roman Catholic cemetery in the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham; and St Giles’s church in Chalfont St Giles in Chiltern district.

Any human remains affected by phase 1 of HS2 will be treated with dignity, respect and care. Works impacting human remains and associated monuments are an emotive and complex matter, and HS2 Ltd and the promoter recognise their duty to address the concerns of individuals and communities. Two undertakings have been concluded  in respect of the treatment of and approach to human remains and monuments, in consultation between the nominated undertaker, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the stakeholder, the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.

The nominated undertaker is required to develop a burial grounds, human remains and monuments procedure to implement the legal requirements of schedule 20. Where remains are less than 100 years old, schedule 20 requires a notice to be published in the local newspaper and displayed at the burial ground. Relatives have the right to remove and re-inter or cremate the remains themselves at the promoter’s expense.

If Members were part of the all-party parliamentary group on funerals and bereavement, as I am, they would know that this is quite a contentious issue already where municipal cemeteries are reusing land after 80 or 100 years. What is happening with HS2 is not happening in isolation; it is an issue around the country where the operators of burial grounds are reusing land, and it can sometimes be emotive for people whose relatives or friends are buried there.

For the purpose of clause 27 and schedule 20, a monument includes a tombstone or other memorial to the deceased, which includes a monument to one or more deceased persons. If the Bill is passed, phase 1 of HS2 will have been approved by Parliament, and parliamentary approval will therefore give the consent necessary to construct the railway. The limits to the powers in the clause and detailed controls in schedule 20 will apply. I commend clause 27 to the Committee.