HC Deb 28 June 1966 vol 730 cc1599-602

3.50 p.m.

Mr. John Cordle (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

I beg to move, That leave to bring in a Bill to provide for the better use of disused graveyards and burial grounds. In view of the short time allotted under the Ten Minute Rule, I propose, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, to stick very closely to my notes as I seek to introduce my small Bill. I should like, first, to congratulate the "usual channels" and those responsible for bringing the Ten Minute Rule time back to the afternoon. It is, I think, a move that will be welcomed and applauded. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Many hon. Members have asked that Ten Minute Rule Bills should be taken at this time. I hope that they will listen.

Mr. Cordle

I think that this is a good move which will be welcomed by both sides of the House. As the first hon. Member to have the good fortune to take advantage of this more civilised hour, I hope that it will be a happy augury for the Bill I seek to introduce.

One of the most difficult problems facing us today is shortage of living space. Statistically, the actual amount of land developed is only about one-eighth of the total land available, but that is a very false figure since, rightly or wrongly, most people do not wish to live in the middle of Dartmoor, or the Highlands of Scotland, but prefer to reside and work in the same areas as everyone else. In consequence, there are the enormous pressures on land for housing, roads, schools, hospitals and all the other manifestations of civilised living which are known to every one of us and are growing year by year.

Modern planning and architecture are constantly making better use of the land available and cramming a quart into a pint pot.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must appeal to the House again. This, I understand, is an experiment. I hope that the House will listen to the hon. Member who is seeking to introduce his Bill.

Mr. Cordle

As I was saying, modern planning and architecture are constantly making better use of the land available and cramming a quart into a pint pot without seeming to do so. But, just as it is prudent and sensible to make the best use of the land we have, so I believe it is also prudent and sensible to make sure that land which could be used for specified socially desirable purposes is not sterilised because of archaic laws or out of misplaced sense of reverence.

There are many thousands of acres of disused graveyards and burial grounds up and down the country. Many of them are situated in the poorer residential districts of our great towns and cities. No one has been buried in them for years. Usually, any remaining links between those who are buried there and their surviving friends or relatives have long since disappeared. They are untidy, overgrown, an eyesore, and, I believe that, in their present state, they now have no Christian or aesthetic value whatsoever.

The legal position covering such graveyards is complicated and obscure. Ownership of many closed burial grounds is often very difficult to establish. Depending upon the length of time the graveyard has not been used, coupled with certain other requirements, the Church or a local authority may develop the ground for certain purposes. However, due to the legal difficulties I have already mentioned and possibly ignorance of what is allowed under the existing law, very little development takes place.

The Bill proposes to free many of the restrictions surrounding disused and closed burial grounds so that they may be developed as open spaces, playgrounds, gardens of rest, and the like. There would be safeguards regarding the length of time between the last burial and the redevelopment of the ground. If the owners were not able to redevelop themselves or could not be traced, then local authorities would be required to act within a given time. Some existing old burial grounds would not be affected since it is already common practice to use them for such purposes as car parks or rest gardens subject to appropriate consents.

The main objection that can be levelled at such a Bill does not lie in the legal problems or complications. These can be overcome. I recognise, however, that there may be a number of very sincere people who would regard it as sacrilegious or irreverent to disturb the last resting place of those who have died and been accorded a proper funeral. To these people I say just this. We are dealing with the living and those as yet unborn. In many part of our cities open spaces, gardens for the elderly, playgrounds in safety for the young are often not available.

Does it make any kind of sense to have these disused graveyards, often locked up, untended, unvisited, which could cheaply and quickly be used for a really worthwhile purpose? Before passing judgment, we should ask ourselves what would the wishes be of those people who have passed on and have lain in such graveyards for many years. I think that there can be only one answer. Legislate for the living, not for the dead.

The view of the Churches is extremely important since, in many cases, they may be the owners of the disused graveyard— [Interruption.]

Mr. Victor Goodhew (St. Albans)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it not possible for those of us who wish to listen to my hon. Friend giving an account of his proposed Bill to listen to him in peace and quiet without having all this noise led from the Treasury Bench?

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for reinforcing the appeal I have made.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

Further to that point of order. Is not the experience we are having this afternoon reinforcing the opinion of—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that we should interrupt a speech under the Ten Minute Rule to discuss what I think the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele) has in mind.

Mr. Cordle

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, and to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) for his intervention.

The view of the Churches is extremely important since, in many cases, they may be the owners of the disused graveyard and, anyway, they will certainly be concerned with any change in use from both a theological and practical standpoint. I understand that the Churches are, broadly, sympathetic with the aims of my proposed Bill. They would welcome an extension of the power to use disused burial grounds after a reasonable period and they would also welcome a widening of the factors upon which burial grounds could be closed. I am very grateful to Sir Griffith Williams, Secretary of the Churches Main Committee, and his staff, for the sympathy and encouragement they have given to me in this matter.

We are spending prodigious amounts of money, quite rightly, on new towns and slum clearance. The rotting centres of many of our old towns and cities are being replaced by gleaming new flats and office blocks. Yet we all know that many people for many years to come will be born and grow up in districts where open space probably means a wilderness of rubble or a second-hand car sales site and where a park or garden of rest is either a bad joke or a long and relatively dangerous journey to another part of the town.

If my Bill could only help a small proportion of these people I feel that it would be infinitely worth while.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Cordle, Mr. Hugh Fraser, Sir George Sinclair, Mr. John Tilney, Dame Irene Ward, Mr. Geoffrey Wilson, Mr. Harry Randall, Sir Frederic Bennett, Mr. Robert Cooke, Mr. Joseph Hiley, Mr. Gilbert Longden, and Mr. Michael Alison.