– in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2016.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-15996, in the name of Maureen Watt, on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill. Before I invite the minister to open the debate, I call the cabinet secretary to signify Crown consent to the bill.
For the purposes of rule 9.11 of the standing orders, I wish to advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.
I am delighted to open the stage 3 debate on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill. I thank the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, the Local Government and Regeneration Committee and the Health and Sport Committee for the rigour with which they each considered the bill.
The subject matter of the bill is not something that many of us are keen to think or talk about. Nonetheless, the bill addresses important matters. It is vital that burial and cremation processes are robust, consistent and fit for 21st century Scotland. Recent events—as well as evidence taken at stage 1—suggest that that has not always been the case. The bill makes important and much needed changes to the burial and cremation processes, and it will help to ensure that those processes are easy to understand, reliable and fit for purpose.
The existing legislation for burial and cremation is extremely old. The legislation for burial dates back to 1855 and current cremation legislation is from 1902, when cremation was a new and largely untested process. We have come a long way since then, but current legislation continues to reflect older and very different expectations about death and what should be done with human remains. As our attitudes change to death, the treatment of human remains and how we remember the dead, the current legislation is increasingly found wanting. It is right that we should put in place legislation that reflects modern Scotland and supports our expectations for the respect and dignity with which human remains should be treated. I believe that the bill will do that.
The bill’s passage has been marked by broad agreement about the need for new legislation and by support for the bill’s key provisions. Nonetheless, key areas of the bill have undoubtedly been strengthened by the parliamentary process. In particular, the provisions relating to stillborn babies and pregnancy loss have benefited greatly from the evidence given by various people at stage 1, and from the recommendations that were made by the Health and Sport Committee. Much of the bill is based on recommendations that were made by Lord Bonomy’s infant cremation commission. It is particularly important that the provisions of the bill address problems that have arisen in the past.
Some of those who gave evidence to the Health and Sport Committee were healthcare professionals, who drew on years of experience working with people who have suffered the devastation of losing a pregnancy or a baby. I am pleased that the bill reflects that collective experience.
Others who gave evidence had personally experienced such a loss and, in many instances, had also been affected directly by past failings in relation to the disposal of ashes. Indeed, many people whose losses were compounded by the torment of not knowing what had happened to their babies’ remains have been involved with the development of the bill as well as with other non-legislative work that has emerged from Lord Bonomy’s report. I thank them for their continued commitment to ensuring that such mistakes will not happen again.
At stage 2, a number of amendments were made to the processes that will apply in the case of a pre-24-week pregnancy loss or a stillbirth. Those will provide improved clarity and consistency while ensuring that women are not rushed into making decisions before they are ready. The woman who experiences the loss is rightly placed at the centre of the process, and at every step of the process she will have the opportunity to make decisions about what she wants to happen to the remains. Several of the amendments that I lodged today at stage 3 provide additional flexibility, ensuring that women have every opportunity to make a decision about what they wish to do.
An important point that emerged from stage 1 was the tension that exists between ensuring that a woman is able to make a decision in her own time and ensuring that remains can be buried or cremated when it becomes clear that the woman does not wish to make a decision. The bill initially set out a six-week period between a loss occurring and a decision being made about burial or cremation. Although it was always the intention that a hospital could go beyond that six-week deadline when a woman was still trying to decide what should happen to the remains, the bill was amended at stage 2 to provide a clearer route for that to happen. In developing provisions about pregnancy loss and stillbirth, we have ensured that the woman is always at the centre of the decision-making process. That extends to situations in which it is known in advance that a pregnancy will be lost or will result in a stillbirth. The hospital must ask the question, but the bill gives the health professionals the discretion to decide whether it is best to ask the woman before or after the loss occurs.
Other amendments were made to the bill at stage 2 to set out a clear process for what should be done with ashes. Those amendments will make sure that a cremation cannot be carried out unless the applicant has stated what he or she wishes to be done with the ashes. Cremation authorities are placed under a duty to carry out the applicant’s wishes. The bill sets out a clear process for cremation authorities and funeral directors about what should happen when ashes are not collected as agreed. Those are important steps that will provide consistency and clarity about what will be done with ashes.
There has also been considerable debate about the location of crematoriums in relation to housing. I am glad that the matter will now be left in local authorities’ hands and that those who make the planning decisions will decide on the locations. It is a matter that is sensibly placed with local authorities. As I said in speaking to my amendment about the separation distance, the Scottish Government will produce specific planning policy on the issue that will set out the issues that planning authorities should consider in assessing development proposals for crematoriums, which will include steps that can be taken to support a quiet environment. Such guidance will be included in the next revision of the Scottish planning policy. Guidance on separation distances between particular types of development and housing is already contained in the Scottish planning policy, and it is right that matters relating to crematoriums will also be set out there. That will ensure a consistent approach in the siting of crematoriums while leaving scope for appropriate local decisions to be made.
The bill will bring about important improvements to burial and cremation, creating a system that meets the needs of modern Scotland and prevents a repeat of previous mistakes. I hope that the Parliament will pass the bill at decision time.
That the Parliament agrees that the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I would like to start in the same way as the minister by thanking the Health and Sport Committee, the Local Government and Regeneration Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their careful and scrupulous consideration of the bill over the past few weeks and months.
As the minister said, this is an extremely important bill. It addresses crucial issues around death with dignity and the importance of ensuring that all our loved ones and all our citizens have a dignified death and burial or cremation, that families are able to afford to give their loved one that dignity and that the appropriate arrangements are in place by statute to enable that.
The bill’s passage in the last days of this parliamentary session has given me time to reflect on some of the representations that I have had over the past five years. Constituents have come to my surgery with issues and difficulties to do with death, burial and cremation. I am sure that many other members share that experience. Therefore, I very much welcome the improved arrangements that the minister outlined for how we deal with death and burial and cremation in Scotland today.
I will explore a few of the issues that we discussed at stage 3, because the bill has been a good example of legislation evolving through the stages of the parliamentary process. The most sensitive issue—and probably by far the most important one—that the bill has dealt with has been women’s decisions on what happens to the remains of their unborn children following stillbirth, pregnancy loss or termination. The Scottish Labour Party very much welcomes the Government’s amendments today. The minister has made great improvements on the clarity of the process for the families and the health bodies.
Malcolm Chisholm’s amendments identified a potential loophole, but it was good that the minister was able to confirm that the intention of her amendments was to do with timing, and Parliament was in complete agreement that the bill is putting in place the correct and most appropriate and sensitive arrangements. That is to be very much welcomed.
On the issue of exclusion zones, I briefly argued at stage 1 that such decisions should rest with the local planning process, which is the decision that the Government has taken today. However, at stages 2 and 3 we were persuaded by the arguments for the amendments to provide that no residential property should be constructed within 200m of any crematorium. The evidence was strong on both sides of the argument. Although we took the position that I have outlined, it is good that we have come to an overall position on the matter today.
My colleague Lesley Brennan has raised persuasive issues on funeral poverty since she came to the Parliament. Lesley Brennan and I, as well as other members, are very aware of the funeral poverty issues in some of our more deprived communities, where people’s experience is that they simply cannot afford to bury their loved ones. I think that I said at stage 1 that it is a hallmark of a civilised society that there are arrangements in place that allow everyone to have a dignified funeral, whether that be a burial or a cremation. That some families in the country simply cannot afford the costs is an issue that the next Parliament will need to look at seriously.
I am glad that the powers over funeral payments are being devolved, and that the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport has commissioned a report on funeral poverty. If I am returned to the Parliament, I certainly intend to work on the matter and follow it closely to ensure that we make strides on it. I commend the work of citizens advice bureaux on the issue. They have highlighted very starkly the issues of funeral poverty across the country. It was good that the Government was today able to accept Lesley Brennan’s amendment on funeral costs. As she said, this is just the start of the important process of trying to eradicate funeral poverty in Scotland.
Nigel Don, as convener of the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, was left to deal with some of the intricacies of the bill. Like him, I would prefer arrangements for a licensing scheme for funeral directors to be set out in primary legislation rather than left to regulation. Such an approach would make for clearer and better law. However, I am glad that the affirmative procedure will help the next Parliament to scrutinise the development of a licensing scheme. For reasons that I have set out, and given the issues to do with funeral poverty, such scrutiny will be important. We will follow the issue intensely in the next session of the Parliament.
I call Dr Nanette Milne. Members might want to note that this is Dr Milne’s valedictory speech. On behalf of the Parliament, I would like to thank Dr Milne for her many years of dedicated service to our Parliament. [Applause.] She has been a figure of honest endeavour and, if I may say so, she has at times been undervalued, even by her own party. Dr Milne, thank you very much.
Thank you very much for those kind words, Presiding Officer.
Of the seven bills that the Health and Sport Committee dealt with during this session of the Parliament, six have been before us during the past five or six months. This final stage 3 debate brings to a close a particularly busy session that has been quite onerous for committee members, clerks and support staff—no doubt that is the case for ministers and their staff, too. The committee clerks have done a tremendous job and have managed to retain their sense of humour even over the most nitpicking changes to their carefully written draft reports. I greatly admire their tenacity.
The bill is a welcome piece of legislation and is much needed, given that the law around burial is well over a century old and no longer fit for purpose in the modern world. The proposed legislation on cremation should prevent the traumas that were experienced by the many still-grieving parents who have no idea what happened to the ashes of their infants and still-born babies following cremation.
It was the discovery in 2012 that cremation authorities in Scotland had different practices for the recovery of ashes from the cremation of babies, and the severe distress that that caused to bereaved parents, that led to Dame Elish Angiolini’s report on practice at Mortonhall crematorium and the establishment of the infant cremation commission, which Lord Bonomy chaired. The commission examined the policies, practices and legislation relating to the cremation of babies in Scotland, and its recommendations in 2014 led to the publication of a voluntary code of practice on baby and infant cremations, which the bill will make binding on relevant authorities in the funeral industry.
There were significant concerns around the drafting of the bill as introduced. A particular concern was the large amount of detail that was left to regulation rather than being set out in the bill. A deal of work will be required during the next parliamentary session, but significant amendment of the bill at stages 2 and 3 has resulted in a better and stronger piece of legislation.
At the last meeting of the Parliament’s cross-party group on funerals and bereavement, which I have co-convened for a number of years, there was general consensus that the bill as amended at stage 2 was acceptable and indeed welcome, and the group made no suggestions for further amendment ahead of today’s stage 3 proceedings. There was agreement that electronic records are needed in this day and age, although there was less willingness to accept the need to license funeral directors, most of whom already follow the code of practice of the National Association of Funeral Directors. Very few funeral directors give the industry a bad name. I am sure that the group will also welcome the agreement to provide guidance on funeral costs.
It appears that the bill has widespread support, from the bereaved and from people who are responsible for dealing with the burial or cremation of loved ones. There is a great deal of sensitivity surrounding the issues that the bill deals with, and the Parliament’s committees and staff have done their very best to ensure that the bill’s passage has been handled in a mature and sensitive manner.
As I said, the Health and Sport Committee scrutinised several bills during this session, as well as doing a number of other important pieces of work. However, we have had no time at all to look at previous legislation. That lack of post-legislative scrutiny in a unicameral Parliament will have to be considered in future, as critical appraisal of work in a Parliament such as ours is very important, particularly when there is a majority Government.
As I come to the end of my speaking time in the Parliament, I acknowledge with gratitude the help and support of many people who spare no effort in looking after us in this building. That includes all the Parliament support staff—those in security, the postal service, the canteen and Queensberry lounge, the Scottish Parliament information centre, the official report and many others whom I have no time to mention. I also acknowledge the excellent work by the Deputy Presiding Officer, his colleagues, the committee clerks and my party’s hard-working researchers in our press and research unit. In particular, I must mention my own team of Miles Briggs, Dom Heslop and Lindsey Walls, whom most members know. They have been rocks of support and help to me over the years and are now more like family than employees.
I have enjoyed my contact and friendship with fellow MSPs in my party and across the chamber, and I have particularly enjoyed sharing the health brief with Jackson Carlaw, whose astute and witty comments have often enlivened a long Thursday afternoon of debate.
Jackson Carlaw quickly absorbed the detail of our health service, which I have lived and breathed for a long time.
It has been a privilege to represent the great folk of north-east Scotland for the past 13 years and to meet the many people whom I have got to know down here through committee work and the many cross-party groups that I am involved with. However, I am looking forward very much to getting back to my long-suffering husband and family, to re-engaging with many friends in Aberdeen and beyond, and to paying a bit more attention to my home and garden.
When I met the late Tom McCabe’s widow showing her young daughter around Parliament last week, I was reminded of my maiden speech in 2003. That was in a members’ business debate on north-east dentistry, to which Tom McCabe replied in his role as health minister. During his speech, he inadvertently referred to me as Nanette Newman, who was quite a famous film star in her day—she is probably not known to younger members. Poor Tom McCabe could not understand what he had said to result in such loud laughter all around him, and I dined out on his mistake for quite some time.
Thirteen years on, I think that I am the oldest member of the Parliament. Therefore, there is perhaps a degree of irony in the fact that my final contribution is at stage 3 of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill. We will, of course, support the bill at decision time. [Applause.]
I enjoyed Nanette Milne’s valedictory speech, although she had me googling Nanette Newman to double check that I know who that is, and I do. Unfortunately, I am not that young; I just wanted to check that I was right.
I thank Nanette Milne for all her hard and diligent work on the Health and Sport Committee, which she was a member of, with me, for a number of years. I very much appreciate the constructive partnership approach that she took and I wish her the very best for the many years of her retirement outwith the Parliament. I suspect that she will be back to the real world rather than the bubble of Holyrood. I give her best wishes for her retirement.
I also thank all the witnesses who gave evidence to the Health and Sport Committee and the range of committees that took evidence on the bill. Most of all, I thank the families whom other MSPs and I met, who came forward bravely, fiercely and diligently to make their voices heard about the shortcomings in the service that should have been their due, that they expected and that should have been delivered to them when they had the most horrific experiences of their lives. They were let down by the organisational framework and people who failed in their service to them. I thank the parents who came forward to help to shape the bill.
I have written down a few words about what I think the bill is about. For me, it is about bereavement and loss as much as anything else. That thread runs through it all. When a person suffers bereavement and loss, it is about feeling in control and knowing that there is transparency and certainty in the process that they face, that there is compassion along the way, that there is sensitivity and flexibility to deal with the loss in the way that they see fit, and that they have that choice.
At the bottom of it all, there is also the expectation that when someone loses a loved one, they should be able to choose how that person’s remains are dealt with, and that there will be ashes, should they wish to have them. It is said that 99.9 per cent of the time we should expect to get the ashes of loved ones who have passed away. The bill should ensure that people can get them every time.
The legislation that underpinned things was archaic and fragmented, and, to be frank, it was poor and shoddy. The bill as amended at stage 3 provides a coherent statutory framework with which to take forward a modern way of dealing with these tragic events.
When we considered one of the stage 3 amendments, I intervened on the minister in relation to section 54A. The minister quite rightly said that the amendment that we were discussing did not refer to section 54A, but I wanted to make a point about pregnancy loss and situations in which pregnancy loss is expected. A powerful aspect of the bill is that it expects higher standards of care across the national health service when expectant mothers lose their babies, whether that happens before or after 24 weeks of pregnancy. They will be given the choices that too often they have been denied. I said during consideration of amendments that many mums are sent home and told that they can expect a miscarriage or pregnancy loss in the next week or so, and they have to deal with the pain and grief that surrounds that tragedy. Section 54A affords those mums the same choice, power, protection and control that others who go through similar horrific experiences have—they should always have had that.
We must build on the bill and we must look at the continuum of loss and bereavement, from when it happens in pregnancy to when it happens in old age. We must draw the issue right down to recurrent miscarriage and early pregnancy loss, how we deal with the mental health of expectant mums and how we support families in relation to that, and how we ensure that when they lose their unborn children, we deal with that loss in a very sensitive way that gives them the maximum amount of choice. The NHS has not always got that right.
The Parliament can legislate any way that it likes. The key aspects of this issue are empathy, respect and dignity, and the conversations that people have, whether that is NHS staff having conversations with mums who experience pregnancy loss or funeral directors having empathy and compassion in the discussions that they have with families who experience loss. We cannot legislate for those things; we have to hope that the human condition makes them happen in a positive and constructive way. We can, however, legislate for the framework that underpins all that. I hope that we do better in the years ahead than we have done in the past.
Before we proceed, I should apologise to Parliament for having inadvertently misled it. I am expecting four-minute speeches in this debate, but there is quite a bit of time in hand, so they will be generous four-minute speeches.
I pay tribute to Nanette Milne for the massive contribution that she has made on health and other issues during her 13 years in the Parliament. I have enjoyed working with her for the several years that we have been joint conveners of the cross-party group on cancer. Since the bill is in effect a health bill, which I dealt with during my six months on the Health and Sport Committee, I take this opportunity to say, for the last time, thank you to the committee’s wonderful clerks and the always helpful members of the Parliament’s legislation team and delegated powers and law reform team.
This is not my last speech, but like Nanette Milne I thought that the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill might be a suitable topic for an older person such as me. Although it is the prerogative of an older person to look towards death in a realistic and light-hearted way, that is certainly not the situation for any parent who loses a child. In the context of the bill, that also means infant loss, stillbirth and pregnancy loss, which must be the most devastating experience that anyone could suffer. If anyone doubts that, they need only listen to the evidence that we heard. I thank all the people who gave evidence to us on the record and those SANDS Lothians parents who gave evidence to Nanette Milne, me and, I think, one other member of the Health and Sport Committee in a private session.
There was a great deal of discussion in that and other evidence sessions about ashes. I have even heard people ask, “What difference do the ashes make?”, but if we listen to the parents, we know how important that is. Once we have listened, we can begin to empathise—to use the word that Bob Doris used—with those parents. I raised the issue of ashes in committee and suggested that there should be an expectation that ashes will be recovered, that the processes and equipment in crematoriums should be dealt with in regulation and that we should always insist that the maximum amount of ashes will be recovered. I pay tribute to the minister, because she reassured me in committee that the codes of practice covered those issues. I note, too, that amendment 74 is about the making of regulations about
“the operation of equipment for the carrying out of cremations”.
Therefore, I think that the Government has dealt with those matters.
Earlier, I was reassured on the issue of putting women at the centre of decision making in relation to ashes, and I think that we are all united in the belief that the bill does that in a satisfactory way.
Of course, there are issues that are not dealt with in the bill and which perhaps cannot be dealt with in the bill. An issue that was raised by the SANDS Lothians parents in the private session was that of the training of staff, which is crucial to how staff relate to parents—mothers in particular—in such situations. They recommended that there should be specialist roles in midwifery, maternity and bereavement services, and I hope that the Government will consider that.
We ought to think about not just how health staff relate to patients, but how we as politicians relate to parents in such situations. As I have thought about the bill and the issues that it deals with, that has made me reflect on the need for politicians in general to have empathy with the people with whom we discuss matters, both so that we can respond appropriately to the individuals whom we meet and can develop suitable policies and legislation. As I come to the end of my political career—although not my political involvement—it seems to me that empathy is the most important quality that a politician can have.
I support the bill, including today’s amendments, of which there were quite a lot, but as someone who lodged more than 1,000 amendments at the final stage of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Bill, I am in no position to complain about late amendments.
Is Rhoda Grant saying that she does not trust councillors to make commonsense decisions in that regard?
The next time that I hear Kevin Stewart complaining about a council planning decision, I will remind him of his words. I think that we are all aware of council planning decisions that we have not agreed with and which might well have flown in the face of a community’s wishes.
Another issue that was touched on in the stage 3 amendments was the cost of funerals, which has increased by a huge amount. Some of that is the result of local government cuts; because the Scottish Government has starved local government of funding, it has been left with no choice but to increase costs where it has the ability to charge. It is just not right for people who are already distressed by bereavement to have to worry, on top of that, about how they will afford the burial or cremation of their loved one. The speed and the cost of the process do not leave people with much choice, and they are often forced to take the cheapest option, which might not be their preferred option.
We need to talk about dying and death and provide family and friends with the information that they need to make choices about burial and cremation. We must also ensure that those who cannot make those choices for themselves are represented by close relatives, and that those relatives are, in turn, supported through a very difficult time.
I put on record my thanks to Dr Nanette Milne for her quiet words, particularly when we served together on the Public Petitions Committee. It has always been a pleasure to work with Nanette. I think that it is appropriate to mention the sage advice that she has given in comments in passing in the corridor.
Today we will pass a bill, which will become an act. Earlier, members heard my concerns about one area of the bill where we missed out on an opportunity to modernise. Many witnesses told the Local Government and Regeneration Committee that the Parliament should try to ensure that the bill is fit for the 21st century. In the written submissions and oral evidence that we received from local authorities, issues were raised about the retention of some type of buffer zone between crematoria and residential properties.
I wait with interest to hear the minister’s assurance that Scottish planning policy will result in guidance being issued to local authorities. However, my concern is that, although we have guidance in the Scottish planning policy, as other members—such as Rhoda Grant—indicated, that guidance is too often overturned in decisions that are made not by local authorities, which try to follow the guidance, but by other bodies that are above local authorities.
Local authorities spend three years carrying out local plan consultations with local communities to find that, after that process, Scottish Government ministers and the planning and environmental appeals division—the DPEA—totally ignore the local plans when it comes to housing development proposals. I would like to think that, when the minister takes the issue back to her colleagues to consider the way forward, she will take on board the need to ensure that guidance applies to all.
I congratulate Lesley Brennan on her perseverance, which got her amendment 1 accepted by the Scottish Government and agreed to by the Parliament. It is important that we address fuel poverty—sorry, I meant funeral poverty, although fuel poverty is equally important.
When we took evidence at the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, we heard the costs of some of the burials that take place in Scotland. The most expensive was East Dunbartonshire Council, where the cost of a lair and interment was £2,785, and the cheapest was Western Isles Council at £694. When such costs are presented to us and we then hear and read that local authorities are increasing them by 15 per cent this year, we realise the importance and the urgency of the minister’s working group addressing the concern. We need to get something in place so that people do not end up being unable to claim a family member’s body because of the differences in funeral costs and the fear of having to pay them.
At committee, we also heard evidence from a chaplain from the Scottish Prison Service that, when people die in prison, family members are not encouraged to claim the body because they will be liable for the costs of the funeral or cremation. In the 21st century, we cannot say to individuals that it is better for them not to claim their loved one’s body because they may be put into further financial hardship.
I think that the Parliament will vote for the bill and it will become an act. I support it with the caveats that I mentioned: I hope that the minister will address the concerns that have been raised and ensure that we do not find developers chapping on the door of local authorities and other bodies to erode further the barriers between crematoria and housing.
We turn to closing speeches. I invite the two colleagues who have participated in the debate and are missing to return to the chamber.
The bill is a contract between the Parliament and the parents who reacted with anguish, bewilderment, astonishment and dismay earlier in the parliamentary session when they found out the fate of the remains of their babies. It was impossible not to be enormously affected—as I know members from all parties in the chamber were—by the personal testimony that we experienced at the time. It led to the recommendations from Elish Angiolini and Lord Bonomy, the voluntary arrangements that Nanette Milne detailed in her speech and, finally, to the bill.
As I think that the minister would accept, many of the amendments to which we have agreed today have been quite technical in nature, given the way in which the bill has progressed. However, the parents—some of whom were sitting in the public gallery earlier this morning as we discussed the amendments and began the debate—should be assured that the bill will, in its effect, realise the powerful demand that they made of us: to pass legislation that would ensure that such a situation would never happen again.
We can be proud of the fact that the bill will achieve that, even as we acknowledge with dismay that it proved to be necessary. As in so many areas of public life, something was going on beneath the surface of a nature that proved to be astonishing in the modern era, and which we all would have imagined was being addressed otherwise.
In the context of the debate, the key exchange of interest concerned the designated location of a crematorium and its boundary with adjacent properties. I was minded to support the minister, although I found John Wilson’s contribution very powerful. However, I must say to Kevin Stewart that his unfettered, unblinking and unquestioning belief in the planning process that goes on in our local councils—which in my own area can often cheerfully ignore even elected councillors, if those in charge of the process bother to let those councillors have a say at all, given that so many planning processes are now automatic—will have provoked hoots of derision the length and breadth of the country.
I know that his contribution was well intentioned; maybe the folks—as Kevin Stewart likes to refer to them—in old Aberdeen do things differently up there. However, I am not persuaded that such faith will be rewarded elsewhere.
I know that we all get upset from time to time about planning decisions. However, in sensitive cases such as the ones that we have discussed, councillors normally act wisely. We must take into account the situation in Edinburgh, for example, where there already is housing next to a crematorium. If there was a reapplication to refurbish that crematorium, would it be rejected out of hand if John Wilson’s amendment had been agreed to? The answer to that is yes.
As Kevin Stewart said, councillors “normally” act wisely. That underlines the point that there must be occasions on which they do not act in that way. John Wilson’s amendment, which simply sought to ensure that the provisions that existed in the ancient act would carry on, was perfectly sensible.
I will finish by commenting on departing members. Malcolm Chisholm’s contributions over the years in which I have watched him in Parliament have always, on every occasion, given me pause for thought. They have very often challenged my conceptions, although they have often reinforced them on subsequent consideration. I have always admired Mr Chisholm’s tenacity and fluency in identifying issues—even in relation to the amendments that he did not move today—that might otherwise have escaped the attention of Parliament, and in developing an argument around such issues in a way that has always given us pause for thought and helped to inform our debates all the more so for that. I will certainly miss him from this Parliament in the next session, if I am fortunate enough to be here myself.
I turn now to my colleague Nanette Newman—[Laughter.] Nanette Newman! Until I met Nanette Milne, I had never met or come across a Nanette before. The only Nanettes I had encountered were Dame Ninette de Valois, who I seem to remember was some ghastly old ballerina who used to stamp her stick on the television in some odd programme or two, and Nanette Newman, who I knew was married to a film director called Bryan Forbes and who—from my recollection—appeared in a lot of dreadful movies. I seem to remember suffering through some awful thing called “International Velvet” with my sister when I was younger. However, Nanette Newman was most famous to me for singing:
“Now hands that do dishes can feel as soft as your face with mild green...”
That was my recollection of her on the television.
Before that, the only other Nanette I had ever known was “No, No, Nanette”—the 1925 musical that had in it the songs “Tea for Two” and “I Want to Be Happy”. I am very autosuggestive, so every time I have seen Nanette Milne in Parliament during the past nine years, the songs “Tea for Two”, “I Want to Be Happy” and “Now hands that do dishes...” have gone through my mind.
Nanette Milne has been a persistent and superb member of this Parliament. On health, she has the advantage of having been a medical doctor. She has a son who is with her now because of an organ donation and she has spoken powerfully on that issue, too. I wish her well.
Mr Stevenson should be reassured. Nanette Milne’s discomfort was not that Mr Johnstone was not there. It was because Nanette is so mild-mannered and polite that the savaging that Mr Stevenson was getting from the farmers left her slightly uncomfortable. That must have been the emotion that Mr Stevenson witnessed on that occasion.
I look forward to staying in touch with Nanette. We have worked together since John Major invited us both to be party vice-chairmen more than 25 years ago. She has given great service to this Parliament and I know that she and Alan will have a long and happy retirement, for which I wish them every success and happiness.
Since I have two opportunities to speak in the debate, I will use this one to pay tribute to some of my colleagues who are leaving Parliament.
As several other members have done, I pay tribute to Nanette Milne. I have held the health brief for only a relatively short period, but I have felt great warmth from Nanette Milne, both in meetings in Parliament and outside it, in NHS Tayside and other forums. I hope that Nanette has a long and happy retirement from Parliament.
While mentioning a woman who is stepping down from Parliament, I reflect on the example that women in this Parliament have set for me since I stepped into the role for the first time five years ago. There is an added pressure—if not a burden or responsibility—on women in elected politics. People like Nanette Milne bear it with great fortitude and dignity, and are a good example to us all.
This week, Parliament dissolves, and three very special colleagues of mine in the Labour group will not be seeking re-election. Duncan McNeil made his last speech in the chamber on the Scotland Bill last week. Given that this is a health debate, it is appropriate that I pay tribute to him now. As convener of the Health and Sport Committee for the past five years, he has paid assiduous attention to the health of the national health service throughout Scotland. Duncan always provides insightful and grounded analyses of how decisions that are made here affect our constituents and the people whom he represents. He has given great service to Parliament and its development over the past 16 years, and I know that he will be missed.
I pay tribute also to my colleague Hugh Henry, whose sense of humour and wit will be dearly missed. Hugh Henry and Duncan McNeil are giants of the first 16 years of this devolved Parliament.
I also pay very special tribute to my dear friend and colleague, Malcolm Chisholm. This is the last debate that I will participate in with Malcolm. Since I stepped into this building five years ago, he has been the most supportive, inspirational and empathetic mentor that any young politician could hope for. He has taken very special care of me and of our Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, and we will both be forever indebted to him. With his attention to detail, I always feel reassured and more confident when Malcolm Chisholm is taking part in a debate, and I get the sense from the Government members that they feel the same. He will be greatly missed in Parliament.
I turn now to some contributions to the debate, although I summarised most earlier. I was particularly taken by Kevin Stewart’s thoughtful reflection on the bill. He mentioned the welcome inspection regime, reuse of lairs—which is very welcome and particularly important—and licensing of funeral directors. I mentioned fuel poverty in my opening speech. It will be important to watch that issue closely, as we go forward. He also took the opportunity to highlight Citizens Advice Scotland’s figures and the geographical disparity in costs of funerals, giving great weight and evidence to the case that my colleague Lesley Brennan made about funeral poverty. He highlighted the 35 per cent increase in enquiries about affordability, which together with the geographical differences in costs, are particularly stark statistics.
Kevin Stewart’s contribution made me reflect on representation that I received from a constituent on that very issue, in respect of insurance policies for funerals. Some couples had been paying into insurance policies for many years to cover their funeral costs, but when the bill came the policies fell short of the actual costs of the funerals, and the family was left to cover the rest. Insurance policies should probably be regulated by the European Union. I wonder whether the matter can, at the summit that the Government will hold—which Kevin Stewart referred to—be addressed along with the welfare payment of £1,300 to which Lesley Brennan referred. That payment goes no way towards meeting the average cost of a funeral, which is £3,500.
As MSPs will know from representations about it, there is an issue with timing of payments—whether they will be approved by the Department of Work and Pensions and whether funeral directors can rely on the money when the application is still in progress. I am sure that all those issues will be discussed at the summit, and by the commission that the cabinet secretary, Alex Neil, has commissioned.
I close by saying that I have, throughout the passage of the bill, enjoyed Stewart Stevenson’s contributions. The points that he made today about records of burials added a lighter note to the debate, but also added a important cultural note about knowing our place and about being able to track and record where our ancestors are buried. That is important not only for companies in Scotland, by allowing them to stretch abroad and to make business through genealogy, but for people who are making their family trees. It also adds to our sense of place and of belonging in this country.
That is very appropriate note to end on, and a very important provision in the bill, which the Scottish Labour Party is delighted to support.
I thank all members for their contribution to the debate.
Throughout the bill’s progress, there has been strong support for its principles. I am grateful to members for the quality of their contributions, not only this morning but throughout the bill’s progress through Parliament.
I again thank the committees that dealt with the bill. It is always difficult when a bill is in front of two committees, but the Health and Sport Committee and the Local Government and Regeneration Committee have done a good job with this bill. I thank the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, and its convener Nigel Don, for that committee’s detailed look at bills. Nigel Don has brought specific insight into the working of this Parliament and has always had a slightly different take on bills as they have gone through Parliament, for which I thank him.
I pay tribute to Duncan McNeil as the convener of the Health and Sport Committee, and to the thoughtful way in which he dealt with witnesses and ministers at the committee. I had a tear in my eye when, last week, he spoke on giving legislative consent to the Scotland Bill in his final speech.
I thank the bill team for their support and the stakeholders who helped in the construction of the bill. In particular, I thank Dr Simon Cuthbert-Kerr, who has lived and breathed the bill for months. I am sure that he wakes up thinking about the bill, but he will now be able to get his life back and get back to playing in his band, which he does so well.
Malcolm Chisholm said that he has not yet made his final speech in Parliament, but I pay tribute to all the work that he has done both in this Parliament and in the other place. He, too, has had a colourful and distinguished career in politics, and I commend him for that.
I will also miss Nanette Milne, and not just when I take the train up to Aberdeen on a Thursday night—a journey that we have shared on many occasions. The number of cross-party groups on health that there are in the Parliament has exceeded all expectations, and she has done her utmost to represent the Conservative Party on many of them. She and I have worked together at local government level, at Grampian regional level and at district level, and she has made a huge contribution to political life in the north-east. I am sure that I will still see her, as her son lives quite near me, and that she will continue her interest in the arts scene in the north-east. I, too, wish her and Alan a happy retirement.
There can be no doubt that the bill makes some much-needed changes to burial and cremation processes. I believe that it will create a legislative framework for burial and cremation that will meet the needs of 21st century Scotland. It will remove the inconsistency that is apparent and will make processes easier to understand and more reliable. When we are arranging a funeral, we should be able to expect a straightforward and transparent process that makes things easier, not more difficult, and I think that the bill will provide that.
Many of the topics covered by the bill are extremely sensitive. As the bill has made its way through Parliament, we have heard from people who have experienced loss in unimaginable circumstances, and those experiences alone should be reason enough for us to address the shortcomings in the current system.
Bob Doris made an important point about the need for health professionals and others to deal sensitively with pregnancy loss at whatever stage it occurs. In particular, the new processes that will be put in place in relation to pregnancy loss and stillbirth will address many of the issues that were identified by Lord Bonomy, as Rhoda Grant and Richard Lyle mentioned. It is really important that we prevent a repeat of previous mistakes, and I believe that the bill will do that. However, this is in no way the end of the process, as Dame Elish Angiolini has still to report on some of the mishandling of ashes at crematoria throughout Scotland.
Throughout the bill’s passage, much has been said about the role of funeral directors. Although it is possible to organise a funeral without using a funeral director, in the majority of cases people turn to funeral directors for their expertise and experience. In most cases, funeral directors provide a high-quality service but we are all aware, from our constituency cases, of poor service and high costs that can be difficult to understand. It is important that we can rely on funeral directors when we have to.
Therefore, the bill allows ministers to introduce a licensing scheme for funeral directors that will establish basic criteria for anyone who wants to operate as a funeral director and which will prevent those who fail to meet standards from doing so. The new inspection powers will bring a level of scrutiny to funeral directors—indeed, to the funeral industry as a whole—that has never been seen in Scotland. I am confident that that will drive up standards and consistency, helping people to know that they will receive the same level of care and service from all parts of the industry.
Before the Scottish Government commits to the licensing of funeral directors, however, it is important that we better understand the current state of the industry. That will ensure that any scheme that is introduced reflects best practice and addresses specific concerns. I therefore intend to use the inspectors who are appointed under the bill to monitor the industry and make recommendations about licensing.
During the bill’s passage, there has also been much debate about funeral costs. The bill is likely to influence costs to a degree, as it requires local authorities to publish all costs relating to burial and cremation, which will help to improve transparency. It is also likely that the introduction of inspection and the potential introduction of licensing for funeral directors will help to improve cost transparency and consistency.
At this stage, I pay tribute to Lesley Brennan’s work on funeral poverty in her short time in the Parliament. Like me, she came in at the tail end of a session, and she has immersed herself fully in the Parliament’s work. Lodging an amendment in one’s early days as an MSP is quite daunting, and I congratulate her on all the work that she has done. I wish her well.
As I said in my opening speech, the Scottish Government has recently initiated work to examine funeral poverty. That work, which is being led by the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, very much builds on Citizens Advice Scotland’s report, “The Cost of Saying Goodbye: Burial and cremation charges in Scotland 2015”, for which we should commend CAS. The cabinet secretary has commissioned further work on the area, which will report early next year and on which there will be a conference, as has been said.
In response to the CAS report, the cabinet secretary has indicated that we will undertake a range of work to address funeral poverty, including speeding up the time taken to make decisions about funeral payments, which Jenny Marra mentioned, once responsibility for that area is devolved to Scotland.
Members have raised other parts of the bill on which we have perhaps not spent much time today. Kevin Stewart and others have mentioned reusing lairs and revitalising old burial grounds in our city and town centres, which will be important going forward.
The bill makes important changes in an area that few of us wish to think about but which, as Stewart Stevenson said, touches us all at some point. I hope that Parliament will pass the bill unanimously at decision time.
That concludes the debate on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill.
I, too, pay tribute to Dr Nanette Milne. Over the years, we have agreed, we have disagreed and we have agreed to disagree, but there has been no malice when we have disagreed. Dr Milne’s service in the Parliament and, previously, as a councillor has been a great thing for Aberdeen, and I wish her and her husband Alan all the best for the future. I am sure that she will keep him very busy indeed.
We have given the bill a great deal of scrutiny, and there are a number of provisions in it that will make things much better than they were previously. The provisions on inspectors are to be welcomed, the introduction of a licensing regime for funeral directors is certainly a good thing and the reuse of lairs has been a long time coming. There are other measures that are important, too, even though they have not featured prominently in the debate thus far. The recording process must be improved, and the bill provides for that. During the Local Government and Regeneration Committee’s deliberations, Willie Coffey mentioned that a lot and made a significant contribution, and I think that the passing of the bill will mean that we end up with a much better system in that regard.
Fraser Sutherland of Citizens Advice Scotland told the Local Government and Regeneration Committee that Citizens Advice Scotland had seen a 35 per cent increase in the number of clients who were concerned about funeral issues and affordability.
During our evidence-taking sessions, we noted that there are huge differences between the costs in various places. For example, the cost of a lair and an interment is £694 in the Western Isles but £2,785 in East Dunbartonshire. That is an astronomical figure. For a local authority cremation and the scattering of ashes, the cost is £512 in Inverclyde but £749 in Perth and Kinross. A private cremation costs £585 in Paisley but £830 in Moray.
I am pleased that the Government has agreed to organise a national funeral poverty conference and round-table discussions between ministers and stakeholders to look at the matter and promote action. As the funeral payments powers are being devolved, now is the right time to look at all the issues. As other members have said, people struggle with paying for the funerals of loved ones, and we must do all that we can to ensure that we get it right.
The bill covers a huge number of issues. As we heard this morning, one controversial issue that has been discussed is the distance between crematoria and housing. We need to look at the planning guidance, but I do not think that it is just housing that is the problem. If we are going to have limitations, they should include commercial property, too. We also need to look at the current position. As I said earlier, we have a crematorium here in Edinburgh that has housing right on the doorstep. If we had agreed to Mr Wilson’s proposal, it would have been extremely difficult to reconstruct or refurbish that crematorium should there be an application to do so. We have to trust planning authorities to look at the matter carefully, take local circumstances into account and act accordingly.
The issue probably requires more than a four-minute speech, but as that is all that I have today, I will finish. I hope that we will agree to pass the bill at decision time.
I join others in paying tribute to Nanette Milne for her valedictory speech, but also for her service to the Parliament. She is always thoughtful and considered in her responses, and she is somebody whom everybody listens to. She will be greatly missed, but knowing the way that this place works, I am sure that she will be in touch and will give us the benefit of her thoughts and ideas—or, at least, those of us who hope to go forward; we may hear more valedictory speeches than we would hope to hear.
I thank the witnesses who gave evidence to the Health and Sport Committee, some of whom gave evidence in difficult circumstances. I pay tribute to them, as well as to all those who supported the committee.
The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill tries to put safeguards in place to prevent terrible things such as the baby ashes scandal from ever happening again. However, it also makes us look at the way in which we view death. There is, of course, a temptation to take as much pressure off the bereaved person as possible. That is understandable, and even more so when the bereavement was unexpected. Because such loss feels unbearable, we seek to make decisions for people in order to make things easier.
However, that can cause problems. Very strong rituals—indeed, cultural issues—are attached to the disposal of remains, and the practice is very often bound by religious belief. Moreover, it is the last thing that we can do for a loved one, and it is therefore important that their wishes, where they have been expressed, as well as the wishes of close family are put at the heart of the process. In cases of pregnancy loss or stillbirth, the mother must be involved in decision making at a pace and at a time that show that her best interests are being taken into account.
The organisation of a funeral, an interment or a cremation is a ritual that forces people to continue through their grief, provides them with a focus and ensures that the person in question gets a fitting send-off. That can bring comfort in the long term, but if things are not done in accordance with the wishes of the bereaved, it can add to their distress. As a result, it is not only sensitivity but the provision of information and choices that is required. We have seen with the disposal of baby ashes the distress that can be caused when parents are not informed or involved. There is no way of easing that suffering; all we can do is ensure that what happened never happens again.
Under amendments that have been lodged and agreed to, matters will be put very much in the mother’s hands and no one will be allowed to make assumptions with regard to her wishes; indeed, that is where things went wrong in the past. Whatever guidance goes with the bill, it must emphasise the need to seek out and implement the wishes of the bereaved.
The Health and Sport Committee, of which I was a member, dealt with some of those very difficult issues, but the Local Government and Regeneration Committee dealt with the bill’s more contentious issues such as the siting of crematoria and their distance from housing. That is, indeed, an important issue; if a crematorium is put too close to housing, parking and noise problems for those attending it are likely to arise as well as problems with traffic congestion and disruption, which might be dangerous for the young children and families who live in the housing close by. I agree that it is only common sense to put such buildings at a reasonable distance, but as we know, common sense does not always prevail in planning decisions, and I sincerely hope that the Scottish Government does not rue the day that it removed the distance prescription from the bill.
Like others, I welcome the bill and anticipate its passage come decision time.
Burials and cremations are, of course, a very important part of most people’s lives. We will make individual decisions about what we want to happen after our own deaths, but it is for those who come after to discharge what we have decided. For my part, I hope that there is neither a burial nor, in particular, a cremation. It would be awfully nice if my pals got together and celebrated a little bit of my life, but I am in the tiny minority who wish their remains to be disposed of for the benefit of anyone who can find anything useful to do with them.
Different societies make different decisions. In 1972, I visited the remains of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov in Red Square, and in 1978, I visited the embalmed remains of Mao Zedong in Beijing. In our culture, burials have been important with cremations following on rather later. The important point seems to be that we should give those who are left behind to grieve a sense of connection to a place. That is why it is important that part of the bill places a legal duty on local authorities to publish where people are buried, because it enables that sense of connection to be continued through the generations if that is what we want.
Through the genealogical research that I have done during the past 50 years, I am still discovering connections to place. It is only three years since I discovered that one of my father’s cousins died in Queensberry House in 1970; it was a nursing home then, so that was not particularly unreasonable. I have that connection and I find it interesting. In the past year, I have discovered that three members of my extended family are buried in the new Calton kirkyard out the back. That sense of connection is what we are discussing in the bill.
In looking at the issue of ashes, particularly those of youngsters or those who did not survive to be born, there is a particular poignancy around those remains, their disposal and the feeling of connection for those who have experienced the loss to where the remains will end up. The bill does a great deal to set out a future in which people will not suffer the emotional turmoil that has been suffered in the past.
I congratulate Lesley Brennan, the most recent member of the Parliament, on persuading the Government to accept her amendment. Having spent quite a few years in opposition, I know that that is not the easiest of things to achieve, so she deserves our congratulations. It simply illustrates that, if sensible propositions are made, the option is always there to persuade people.
At the other end of the scale, the mother of the house departs shortly. I have sat beside Nanette Milne at many occasions when she has not felt at her most comfortable, particularly when she has deputised for Alex Johnstone at farmers’ events. I see that she is nodding slightly, so that is certainly true. The fact that she has done so shows how she never shrank from undertaking the duties that come with elected office. As others have done, I wish her well in what we will describe as retirement but I suspect should more properly be described as simply another part of her life.
At an earlier stage of the bill, I referred to something that we have to deal with when we consider succession. One of the enduring mysteries for me in all this is the fact that I can decide how my house, the money in my bank account and my possessions are to be disposed of but, as the person who might be newly deceased, I will have no say over the disposal of my remains. That is left completely to my relatives. That is unfinished business in this area of policy, although we always need checks and balances and there will be difficulties to be considered.
As many members have said, the bill covers many sensitive topics. I have focused on funeral poverty because of my experience as a councillor and, as I mentioned at a previous stage, because of a close friend’s experience. Empathy has been mentioned a few times; politicians ought to be able to empathise so that we can understand how we can best serve the people who we are here to represent.
I am pleased that the minister agreed to accept the amendment that I lodged, especially given the welfare state’s cradle-to-grave philosophy and in light of rising funeral costs and an ageing population. I am also pleased that the minister referred to the academic work that I highlighted at stage 2—particularly that of Dr Christine Valentine and Dr Kate Woodthorpe at the centre for death and society at the University of Bath.
Having communicated with those academics, I know that they are keen to share their knowledge to help to eradicate funeral poverty in Scotland. I hope that, in the next parliamentary session, those who are working in that area will use those academics’ work and expertise. As they point out, it is accepted that
“funeral costs may impose considerable financial burden on those left behind ... This burden not only reflects that funeral costs are subject to market forces, but also that bereavement, in itself, may cause financial hardship.”
The situation is compounded by death being perceived as a private and highly individualised event, and that is accompanied by a lack of a widespread culture of preparing for death.
Increasing funeral poverty has important implications for existing and potential future demand on local authorities, which has been flagged up. We need to look at why there is an increasing demand for public health funerals, which are often referred to as paupers’ funerals; obviously, that demand is because of funeral poverty.
I look to the next Government and the next parliamentary session to fully address the social fund funeral payments scheme, because it is not working. Someone can get a funeral payment of about £1,300, but the actual cost of a funeral can be about £3,500.
When people have no choice, they have to go to the local authority or—as in the case of my friend, which I raised in the stage 1 debate—they are advised not to claim the body so that it is left to the state to arrange the funeral. That is not good enough in Scotland today. My friend was left with the shame of not being able to give his mother the funeral that he wanted to give her. I hope that that is addressed fully in the next parliamentary session.
I recognise that my amendment was modest—it was just about guidance on funeral costs—but it will illuminate how to help grieving families keep the cost down and give their loved ones a dignified final send-off. As Rhoda Grant said, a dignified send-off gives those who are grieving some comfort.
The amendment states that, before issuing such guidance, the Scottish Government will have a duty to consult
“burial authorities ... cremation authorities ... funeral directors ... any other persons they consider appropriate.”
I am glad that the Government supported my amendment, because it is a reasonable amendment. It is similar in structure to section 20 of the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Act 2014. If everyone supports the bill and it is passed later, the Parliament will take one step on the pathway towards eradicating funeral poverty.
I thank the Parliament’s clerking team, which helped me as a newbie to shape an amendment. The team has been supportive and I express my appreciation for that support.
I am delighted to speak in this important debate on the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill, particularly as I am a member of the Health and Sport Committee. I wish Nanette Milne well. It has been an absolute pleasure to have worked with her on the committee. She is actually younger than Nanette Newman—some eight years younger—so I say to Nanette Milne, “Don’t say you’re an oldie—you’re not.”
I take the opportunity to wish my other retiring colleagues on the committee—past and present—all the best in their retirement. It has been a pleasure to work with them over the years of the parliamentary session.
The committee has dealt with a number of bills over the years. The evidence that was taken on this bill was the most heart-rending.
I will focus my remarks on this important bill that is before Parliament today, which will modernise the legislative framework for burials and cremations. Our existing legislation on burials and cremations dates back more than 100 years, and we see each day that it is becoming increasingly unfit for purpose in modern Scotland.
I do not wish to deliver a history lesson to Parliament—Mr Stevenson does that quite ably—but it is important to note that the law on burials was set out in the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act 1855 and has not been substantially revised since the 19th century. Our laws on cremation were set out in the Cremation Act 1902 and amended and regulated through other pieces of legislation. In short, the picture that I want to paint for the Parliament is that our existing legislation is fragmented, dated and increasingly unable to meet the needs of Scottish society. It is therefore right that we refresh and modernise the existing provisions that are relevant to today’s society and combine those with new provisions, which will create legislation that is fit for our modern, 21st century Scotland.
I do not have a lot of time to speak, so I will reflect on two strands of the bill. First, I will look at the bill’s ability to deliver on many of the recommendations in the infant cremation commission’s report. In April 2013, the Scottish ministers established the commission in response to historical practices at some crematoriums in relation to the cremation of babies and to address serious public concern about that.
The majority of the commission’s recommendations focused on providing a more consistent and robust process for applying for the cremation of pregnancy losses and of babies. The recommendations were made to remove ambiguity about the extent to which the legal process for cremation applies to pregnancy losses. The commission also recommended that the application process should be strengthened so that applicants are given as much opportunity as possible to consider the implications of various methods of disposal before making a final decision. As the minister, Maureen Watt, outlined, the bill has a number of provisions that address the issues that Lord Bonomy identified and it will ensure that we never make the mistakes that were made in the past.
In the time that I have remaining, I would like to look at burials. One of the resounding areas of the bill is that it will support burial authorities in the management of their burial grounds. As we know, all burial authorities already manage and maintain burial grounds, but there is no single source of guidance on that, which causes uncertainty over what actions can be taken in certain circumstances. In particular, there is a lack of clarity on what actions can be taken to make headstones and memorials safe. It was found from the Scottish Government’s consultations with burial authorities that regulations would be beneficial. Therefore, the bill serves to clarify the situation and places a duty on burial authorities to ensure the safety of burial grounds.
I am proud to see another piece of legislation before the Parliament that seeks to deliver for our modern, 21st century Scotland.