HC Deb 14 February 1983 vol 37 cc69-84

Order for Second Reading read.

7 pm

Mr. John Farr (Harborough)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

First, I should explain my interest in the Bill. I was approached by representatives of the company known as Ginns and Gutteridge. They asked me in April of 1982 to help them with the possibility of erecting a new crematorium in Leicester. The Cremation Act 1902 is a narrow and rather out-of-date measure, and it was because of the narrowness of its confines that it was necessary for my constituents' firm to proceed by the Private Bill method. That is why I am promoting the Bill.

The site in Vaughan way, Leicester, does not lie in my constituency. However, I have consulted the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), in whose constituency it lies. The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me to say that he is sorry that he cannot be present—I understand that he has to be in Leicester—and that he would have been in his place if that had been possible.

The reason for the introduction of this Private Bill is the narrowness of the 1902 Act. The Bill is a short, five-clause measure. It deals with the relevant restraints of section 5 of the 1902 Act. That Act is now 81 years old and is strictly confined by today's standards. Messrs Ginns and Gutteridge have promoted a Bill to authorise the construction by them of a crematorium in the basement of their premises at 51–55 Vaughan way. The constraints of the 1902 Act provide that no crematorium can be constructed nearer to any dwelling house than 200 yds except with the consent in writing of the owner, lessee or occupier nor within 50 yds of any public highway.

On 5 December 1982, Ginns and Gutteridge, in accordance with Standing Orders, gave us notice of the proposals contained in the Bill together with a statement that every owner, lessee or occupier of the dwelling houses within 300 yds of the land to be used for a crematorium had been circulated about the proposal.

Leicester has been greatly depopulated in some areas and in the 300 yds radius from 51–55 Vaughan way there are now only 21 dwellings in which 38 residents are known to live. They were notified of the proposals even though the 1902 Act requires that only those living within 200 yds be so circulated.

The main purpose of the Bill is to provide better facilities for those in the growing city of Leicester, which is composed of many people of different ethnic backgrounds. One of the features that Ginns and Gutteridge is making of its application in the Bill is that it will afford a service to the community at all hours on all days of the year other than Christmas day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It has been providing a funeral directors service from the present site since 1840.

It is felt by many people in Leicester that the proposed development of a crematorium on this site is a natural development of the company's policy. There have been considerable representations from the substantial Asian community in and about Leicester, which feels that its needs are not being adequately catered for at present. Its needs include the arrangement of cremations within 24 hours of death in the evenings or at other times when members of the entire family can expect to be able to attend.

The company applied to the city council in August 1982 for planning permission for the new crematorium. That was granted on 5 October 1982 subject to tough conditions which the company is confident it can meet. These conditions, quite rightly and properly imposed, relate to the emission of fumes or any visible trace of smoke in the air, and Ginns and Gutteridge is confident that it can fully meet the proper regulations laid down by the city council with the modern equipment that it is installing.

Although the city council gave planning consent in October 1982, it has seen fit, for reasons best known to itself, to deposit a petition against the Bill. In many respects it is extremely inaccurate. I can probably best deal with it by referring to paragraph 17 on page 8 of the petition. I can assure the House that, contrary to what is stated in the petition, consultations have not taken place with the Oadby and Wigston borough council in my constituency. No consultations have taken place with that council and no committee has been formed with which it is involved. I telephoned members of the council during the weekend and they told me that they would positively welcome another crematorium in Leicester that would help provide a better service.

A second petition has been deposited by the Federation of British Cremation Authorities, of which the city council is a member. The petition contains wide-ranging allegations about the effects of emissions of unpleasant fumes, obnoxious gases and visible effects if a new crematorium is established in Vaughan way.

The company is prepared to prove to the satisfaction of the Committee that the allegations that are lodged in the petitions of the Federation of British Cremation Authorities and the Leicester City council are untrue. I share that view.

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that an answer to petitions of that kind can be met adequately in Committee? Does he agree, therefore, that the Bill ought to be allowed to go into Committee where the petitions can be properly considered and argued, whereupon the House will be able to make up its mind?

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. He is absolutely right.

The crux of the city council's opposition to the Bill lies in the opening hours of the present Gilroes crematorium, which is operated by the municipal authorities of the city, and the facilities that Ginns and Gutteridge will provide if it is lucky enough for the Bill to have the consent of the House. At the moment, the opening hours of the city crematorium are limited to 9 am to 3.30 pm, Monday to Friday. That means that there are no weekend or evening cremations. As was said in the statement on behalf of the sponsors, the company has taken a pride in affording a service to the community since 1840 at all hours of the day and all days of the year except Christmas day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about Ginns and Gutteridge excluding Christmas day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Will he confirm that Mr. Ginns has said in correspondence that his services are available on Christmas day and that he has worked through the Christmas holiday? Does he further agree that Ginns and Gutteridge provides a service that no local authority can ask its employees to provide and, indeed, which no local authority employees would be prepared to give?

Mr. Farr

My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Mr. Ginns has also said that there are members of his family who are ready, eager and willing to work any hours of the day and night when normal salaried staff would not be expected to work.

It is important to Leicester to have this additional crematorium facility because it is a rapidly changing city with a host of different enthnic groups. Each has its own wishes with regard to the disposal of the dead. Messrs. Ginns and Gutteridge are principally concerned with catering for that new demand. Some beliefs require cremation to take place within 24 hours of death. If that is the belief of a quite numerous group in the city of Leicester, Ginns and Gutteridge will try to meet it. There is also a strong demand from the large Asian community for cremations in the evening and at night. Moreover, there is a demand for the hand on the casket service. The modern machinery that Ginns and Gutteridge hopes to install will enable a relative almost literally to put the casket in the cremater at the critical time. That operation will be safe because of the modern equipment and the high and special safety arrangements that are associated with it. That cannot be provided or done safely at Gilroes.

Mr. J. D. Concannon (Mansfield)

I am listening intently to discover why these strange circumstances should occur in Leicester. Will the hon. Gentleman explain what makes the people in Leicester so different that we have not experienced an upsurge for this type of crematorium in the rest of the country?

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

He does not know.

Mr. Farr

I do not believe that the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) would disagree that the ethnic minorities in the city of Leicester are more deeply absorbed into what I call the British way of life. They are more firmly established in Leicester than in other parts of the country. Unlike communities in other parts of the country, they have not hitherto paid much attention to their customs. Thay are now so well established that they are trying to get things done in the way in which they used to be done before they came to Britain.

I can give the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) an example. Not long ago, a group called the Leicester Crematoria Society employed an architect through whom they approached the city council. The society was composed almost entirely of Asian business men. They wanted to acquire 15 acres of land just outside the city to build a crematorium that would meet their special wishes. As is recorded in the minutes of the city council, they made that request in December 1982. The council felt it right to turn down the application. Irrespective of whether my reasoning about the upsurge in the desire to dispose of the dead in this way is right, the fact remains that the interest exists. It is powerful in the city of Leicester. I believe that it is the least we can do to promote and respect such customs with respect to the disposal of the dead and departed.

Mr. Ron Lewis (Carlisle)

I know little about the case apart from what was contained in the information that was sent to us by the parties involved. If the Bill is passed, will there be a special place where ashes can be scattered? As the hon. Gentleman will know, many crematoria have woodlands and the like where relatives can go.

Mr. Farr

I have learnt to treat the hon. Gentleman's interventions with respect. They always have great merit. The company hopes to make it clear during the Committee stage that a special garden of remembrance and rest will be provided for the ashes.

Mr. Ron Lewis

Near the crematorium?

Mr. Farr

At the crematorium.

The Bill revolves around the riddle of planning consent that the city council gave in October. It is hard to understand why, having given planning consent, only a month or two later the city council, although it did not withdraw planning consent, made it almost impossible by hinting at tough penalties and lodged a petition against the Bill.

When consent was given in October by the planning committee, a number of proper provisions were made. The details will come before the Committee. I hope that it will be satisfied with them. The detailed requirements laid down by the planning committee required the expenditure of a considerable amount of money and the provision of the latest techniques and equipment, which Messrs Ginns and Gutteridge can provide at considerable cost. They are prepared to do so. Therefore, they were surprised to receive a further letter from the city council saying that it would lodge a petition against the Bill and that, after all, it did not think that it would be a good idea for Leicester to have an additional crematorium.

After the original planning consent was given in October last year there must have been second thoughts about whether it would be helpful for Leicester to have an additional crematorium, although there is a demand for weekend and night work, which the municipal crematorium cannot meet. One can only assume that political pressures were put on the city council and that by a split vote it decided to lodge a petition against the Bill.

The Bill is being debated on Second Reading because of the petition against it by the city council and the Federation of British Cremation Authorities. Other points have been raised in the petitions. I shall not go into great detail because they are Committee points. Some evidence, for example, about the height of the new crematorium's chimney and the question of whether there will be traffic delays if the crematorium is used at certain hours of the day at Vaughan way and near Great Central street, should be discussed in Committee.

I emphasise that the main critique of the proposals of Ginns and Gutteridge is that, however modern the equipment and expensive the machinery that is put into the new crematorium, there must be some visible emissions when a cremation takes place. I am confident, as I am sure the Committee will be, that the equipment which Ginns and Gutteridge will provide will ensure that the whole operation is carried out in what I would call an invisible manner. Also, the whole of that part of Leicester is virtually unpopulated after nightfall and only 31 persons live within 300 yards' radius of the crematorium site. When the new crematorium is erected, it will be impossible to tell when a cremation takes place.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

In accordance with the usual practice, Mr. Speaker has not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall).

7.25 pm
Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

I shall pick up only two of the points that were made by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). First, he said that many of the matters should be raised in Committee. The hon. Gentleman's speech, dealing with fine detail, was a Committee speech. We are discussing the principle underlying the Bill and what the consequences could be if the Bill were passed. I make it clear at the outset that I bear no malice towards Ginns and Gutteridge. My only disagreement with them is that I do not think that this legislation should have to be passed in this manner, via the Private Bill route.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman seriously misled the House in two instances, the second of which was when he replied to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis). I am not here to defend Leicester city council or the Federation of British Cremation Authorities, but if the hon. Gentleman reads Leicester city council's petition he will see that it states that the Ginns and Gutteridge site is not adequate for the disposal of human remains. If cremation facilities were granted, the garden of remembrance at Gilroes cemetery would still have to be used. Perhaps on reconsideration the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his answer to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Farr

I did not mention this to the House because I did not want to speak for too long. Messrs Ginns and Gutteridge say: The chapel, rest rooms, waiting rooms, as well as available catering facilities, already provided by the promoters are markedly superior to the equivalent facilities of the City Council at Gilroes. The Promoters fully accept that a Garden of Remembrance is a necessary adjuct to their proposals, but no difficulty in arranging this will arise. That is stated in the explanation to the Bill.

Mr. Marshall

I still think that the hon. Gentleman should withdraw the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend.

My objection goes deeper than the Committee points that the hon. Gentleman raised. There is an urgent need for the Government to review cremation legislation. It is over 30 years since there was legislation amending the Cremation Act 1902. We must consider seriously whether public attitudes to cremation have altered over the past 30 years and whether section 5 of the 1902 Act is necessary. It is because the company is seeking to waive section 5 of the 1902 Act, which refers to the need for the crematorium to be 200 yards away from dwelling houses and 50 yards from a public highway, that it has to promote the Bill. I believe that only the Government can carry out that review and provide the information that is necessary for the House to determine whether alterations to the present legislation are required.

There are precedents for private legislation seeking to waive section 5 of the 1902 Act or a similar enactment in the Cemeteries Clauses Act 1847. The three examples that I have are the Torquay Cemetery Act 1940, the Merchants House of Glasgow (Crematorium) Order Confirmation Act 1950 and the London Necropolis Act 1956. The important point of principle to note is that none of the organisations in those three Acts seeking a waiver of section 5 was a firm of funeral directors and all the sites were within an existing cemetery. All three Bills were successful, but only Torquay went ahead and since then the crematorium has been taken over by the local authority.

If the Bill becomes law it will create a unique situation in two ways. First, the crematorium will be directly owned and run by a firm of funeral directors. Secondly, it will be the first time that the waiver will have been exercised outside a cemetery.

It is my understanding that at present no crematorium is owned directly by any firm or firms of funeral directors. The Great Southern group of companies, as a holding company, owns crematoria and also carries on business as a funeral director, but the two are not directly connected. There is no financial link between the two functions. If the Bill becomes an Act there is a possibility of the company promoting cremation for business interests at a time when people are most vulnerable and need sympathy and protection and should not be made to feel that private gain is the objective of the funeral undertaker.

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Bill becomes an Act. Why should not every other funeral director, not only in the city of Leicester but in the United Kingdom as a whole, apply to operate a cremation service? The arguments that the hon. Member for Harborough has used for Ginns and Gutteridge could apply to the Co-op and the other funeral directors in Leicester and throughout the country. We would have the ridiculous situation where every funeral director was also operating a cremation service.

Mr. Michael Latham (Melton)

Could the hon. Gentleman explain at least something during the course of his speech? If these arguments in principle are so important, why did the Leicester city council grant planning permission in the first place?

Mr. Marshall

I think that I made it clear at the outset that I am not here to defend Leicester city council or the federation. Leicester city council can do what it wants and so can the federation. My point is that—I am sure that it is not lost on the Minister, even if it is lost on Conservative Members from Leicestershire who seem to be promoting a sectional interest—the principle underlying the Bill has far greater consequences than just giving Ginns and Gutteridge the power to operate a crematorium.

Mr. Christopher Murphy (Welwyn and Hatfield)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Marshall

No, I will not give way. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman knows all that much about the city of Leicester or the county of Leicestershire.

Mr. Murphy

The hon. Gentleman is talking about a general principle.

Mr. Marshall

Very well.

Mr. Murphy

As a Member of Parliament not directly, involved with the situation in Leicestershire, I am listening with interest to the point of principle that the hon Gentleman is trying to put across. Am I right in thinking from what he is saying that he is against the whole concept of private enterprise being involved in funeral direction and all other aspects of this difficult subject? If so, would he like to explain why?

Mr. Marshall

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman is dressed suitably for the debate.

What the hon. Gentleman says shows his lack of knowledge and understanding of the subject. If he was prepared to do a little reading to improve his knowledge he would note that some crematoria are already operated by private business men. I am not objecting to private interests operating crematoria. The point of principle that I am making is, first that if the Bill is passed it will create a unique situation in that a funeral director will also be directly responsible for operating a crematorium. I realise that Conservative Members want to keep the debate going until 8 o'clock. The hon. Member for Harborough has his hon. Friends coming back to support him if there is a Division. I also repeat my second point. If a waiver of section 5 is given, it will be the first occasion—again creating a precedent—that a crematorium has been sited outside a cemetery.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman has established that this may be the first time that there would be a direct financial link between a crematorium and a funeral director. He has not established why he believes that to be so unacceptable. He has asserted that it is unacceptable, but so far he has not begun to substantiate that assertion.

Mr. Marshall

What I have said so far is that it would be a unique situation in two ways and I said at the outset that there is a need for the Government to review the operation of the legislation. The situation should not be created by means of private Bills.

Mr. Dorrell

Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that the House of Commons cannot make up its mind on the issue until the Government have spoken?

Mr. Marshall

I am in favour of the House of Commons making up its mind. It will make up its mind in the next half hour.

I repeat that if Ginns and Gutteridge can so operate a crematorium, why should not every other funeral director be in a similar position? They will not be unless they follow this route. I suggest that if permission is given in this instance, the Government must have a view of how they will react if every other funeral director wishes to do the same. Subjectively, do we want a situation where every undertaker can operate his own crematorium? I do not know. It is a matter for the House and the Government. But until there is an investigation and a review by the Government we shall not be in a position to decide.

Secondly, will it lead to a deterioration in standards if every funeral director operated his own crematorium? That again reinforces my view that we need a Government review and new legislation.

Being parochial and coming back to the city of Leicester, I believe that it is necessary to consider the effect on the present crematorium at Gilroes cemetery in Leicester. There is capacity for 27 cremations a day and at present there are only 14. If the city council's projections are to be believed—I accept them in this instance—further facilities will not be required until the end of the century. It is to cope with the situation at the turn of the century that the city council intends to develop the site at Enderby.

If the Bill were passed it would take business away from Gilroes but the city council would still have to maintain the large gardens at the cemetery and the buildings. There would be two alternatives. First, there could be an increased rate burden on the ratepayers of Leicester. Conservatives always seem keen to protect the interests of ratepayers and I would have thought that they would oppose the legislation on those grounds alone. Alternatively, it could lead to an increased charge for the bereaved. Either alternative is undesirable. For that reason, and for the reasons of principle that I have enunciated, I intend to seek to divide the House.

7.40 pm
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)

It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak on this subject. My constituency is served direct by its own crematorium, but I believe that some people who live in Leicester have their loved ones cremated at Loughborough rather than at the Leicester city crematorium at Gilroes. In that sense, therefore, I have a direct constituency interest, but that is not what I want to speak about.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) argued that the problem is that the Bill will allow a funeral director to have a direct financial interest in a crematorium. I do not see that that is an objection. First, the hon. Gentleman argued that it would be different if the crematorium were incorporated as a separate company. I suspect that if that were all that prevented the hon. Gentleman supporting the Bill, Ginns and Gutteridge would be happy to set up a separate company—presumably owned by the same shareholders, as in the instance that the hon. Gentleman cited—to be responsible for the crematorium. There would then be two separate companies—the funeral directors and the crematorium company. I cannot see that that would improve matters from the hon. Gentleman's point of view, although there would doubtless be no objection to organising the business in that way.

Mr. Jim Marshall

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, cremation has never been positively promoted in this country as a means of disposal of human remains as opposed to the traditional method of burial. If a firm of funeral directors has a direct financial business interest in cremation there is, to my mind, a strong possibility that it will be in its financial interest to promote cremation as opposed to other forms of disposal.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman may or may not be right, but if that argument has weight it has exactly the same weight in the instance that he noted of the two companies held by the same holding company as it would have if Ginns and Gutteridge set up its own crematorium company. In any case, it is an unjustified slur on the character of most funeral directors to imagine that they will promote a service that they offer as opposed to burial. I am sure that most funeral directors, including Ginns and Gutteridge, would leave the choice open to the family, or that if the individual had expressed his own wishes in his lifetime those wishes would be respected. The argument is not based on any evidence and cannot be sustained, although what the hon. Gentleman fears could perhaps be a remote possibility.

The hon. Gentleman then argued that if we allowed this precedent of the funeral director having his own crematorium, the flood gates would be opened. Where might the flood lead us? The hon. Gentleman suggested that every funeral director might have his own crematorium. I see no real objection in principle to that, but there is a simple business reason why it will never develop, and it is clearly illustrated in the case of the city of Leicester. A crematorium can handle many more cases than are generated by the average funeral director. The level of business required to make the crematorium necessary is very different from the level of business required to support the funeral director. That is one obvious reason why we shall never reach the position in which all funeral directors have their own crematoria, so the hon. Gentleman's basic argument does not really hold water.

Given the history of this case, that fact should not surprise us. All the opposition to the Bill, both from the city council and, with great respect, from the hon. Gentleman, has been essentially insubstantial. The hon. Gentleman attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) on the ground that all my hon. Friend's arguments were essentially Committee points. That is unfair, as my hon. Friend was simply responding to the arguments from Leicester city council and other opponents of the Bill.

Mr. Ron Lewis

It should not be overlooked that the Association of District Councils, a very important body, also opposes the Bill.

Mr. Jim Marshall

It is Tory-controlled, too.

Mr. Dorrell

No doubt if a referendum were held we should find a large number of people against the Bill, but we can deal only with the arguments that have been put to us. So far as I know, the Association of District Councils has not put its views in writing to Members of Parliament.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Yes, it has.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Member for Leicester, South is in an especially privileged position. Clearly I am not on the association's mailing list, as it has not circulated me. Nor, I gather, has it circulated my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough. Therefore, it is entirely reasonable that my hon. Friend did not respond to points that he did not know had been made to other hon. Members. My hon. Friend responded to criticisms of the Bill advanced by Leicester city council and to some extent in the local press. It is unfair to criticise his speech on the ground that it dealt with narrow Committee points. As he was merely responding to the arguments against the Bill, one may argue that the arguments against the Bill are based on narrow Committee points. The hon. Member for Leicester, South has thus condemned his own case by criticising my hon. Friend's speech. Essentially, the case against the Bill is a Committee case. It is insubstantial. No major argument of principle can be adduced against the Bill.

Mr. Concannon

I am not from Leicester, so I take a broader view. In my view, the issue before us is whether section 5 of the Cremation Act should be waived on this one occasion. Why should that be done just for Leicester? Surely if section 5 is wrong for Leicester it must be wrong for everyone. I am not being parochial. I am not arguing for or against Leicester. I want to know why on this one occasion we should waive that section for that one city. The issue is not whether Leicester needs a crematorium, private or public, but whether the proposed waiver is justified on this one occasion in this one instance.

Mr. Dorrell

The answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question, in a sense, is "Why not?" We are not being asked to decide the general question whether section 5 is right or wrong. We have to decide whether there is any objection in public policy to the provision of the Bill before us today. I see no objection to it and I have not yet heard any objection.

Mr. Concannon

That was my objection.

Mr. Dorrell

The right hon. Gentleman says that his objection is that the Bill contravenes the provisions of an Act of Parliament dating from 1902. If this were the first occasion on which that section had been contravened, he might have a point. Even then, although I am no expert on House of Commons procedure, I understand that any private Bill of this type will by its very nature contravene specific provisions of previous legislation.

The right hon. Gentleman may or may not be right. It is not, however, the only occasion on which the section has been contravened. This was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Leicester, South, who drew a distinction between this and previous cases. I have suggested that it is a distinction without a difference. There is no basis for the distinction that he drew and no reason, therefore, for us to draw a distinction between this Bill and previous Bills that have been passed in contravention of the section in the Cremation Act.

Mr. Farr

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) asked why section 5 of the Cremation Act 1902 should not apply to Leicester. There is a whole list of precedents where section 5 of the Act has been disapplied by private Bills. These have included the London County Council (General Powers) Act 1935, the Greater London Council (General Powers) Act 1971, the Mortlake Crematorium Act 1936, the South-West Middlesex Crematorium Act 1947, the North East Surrey Crematorium Board Act 1956 and the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1969. Those are some of the Acts that have disallowed the provisions of the 1902 Act. They are precedents which we are asking Leicester to be permitted to follow.

Mr. Dorrell

It is worth emphasising that the Greater London legislation exempts the whole of Greater London from the provisions of the 1902 Act. The exceptions have already been drawn in large number. If it is argued that there is a difference between them and this Bill, I do not believe that the difference amounts to grounds for rejecting the Bill.

Mr. Jim Marshall

Does the hon. know whether any of the precedents given by the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) apply to private funeral directors or to local authorities? I am sure that the two hon. Gentlemen will know that, in general, a private Bill is not required for funeral directors wishing to establish a crematorium, unless they want the waiver of section 5, whereas with local authorities it is necessary.

Mr. Dorrell

I cannot quote the name of the firm in order to establish the point beyond peradventure. I am, however, virtually certain that the answer is "Yes". I am virtually certain that there is, somewhere in London, a private crematorium that benefits from Greater London council miscellaneous powers legislation. It is almost certain that there is, somewhere, another private crematorium that benefits from a derogation from the original Cremation Act, although I cannot refer to a particular instance in detail.

I wish to come back to the central argument of the promoters of the Bill. The argument is that the opposition to the Bill is insubstantial, for reasons that have mostly lain beneath the surface. They did, however, break the surface in the speech of the hon. Member for Leicester, South. The hon. Gentleman recognised that one of the arguments against the Bill was the impact of a new crematorium on the municipally owned city crematorium at Gilroes. That has, I believe, prompted Leicester city council to change its original grant of planning permission for the crematorium and then to petition the House to reject the Bill. There can be no clearer illustration of the truth of the statement that the real reason for objection to the Bill is the protection of the municipal monopoly in Leicester than the minutes of the Leicester city council recreation committee of 10 December 1982.

At that stage the city council's planning committee had already given planning permission for the crematorium to go ahead. It had agreed that the crematorium should be built. At its meeting on 10 December the recreation committee, which is responsible for running Gilroes, the municipally owned crematorium, got wind of the fact that the city council was allowing a private funeral director to establish a private sector competitor for its business. It started looking around for an excuse under which the planning permission could be revoked. The minutes of the recreation committee state that a letter had been received from Ginns and Gutteridge, which Stated that the proposed crematorium was not intended to compete with Gilroes but to make better facilities available, especially for the ethnic minorities. What concerned members of the recreation committee was the fact that the proposed crematorium intended to compete with Gilroes.

The minutes added: The City Planning Officer stated that the proposal had received planning approval, subject to some stringent conditions relating to exhaust gases. It was not the planning committee's prerogative to consider the financial effect on the council's own crematorium activities. There cannot be any clearer evidence in the minutes of the real concern of the members of the recreation committee. However, there is better to come. The minutes continued: The City Attorney stated that in view of the planning approval it would be difficult to object to the proposal, if this were the committee's wish, on environmental grounds but the officers might be able to prepare a case on other grounds. The officers, the city attorney is apparantly saying, were willing to go away and grub up a case on grounds as yet undefined if the city council wished to oppose the development on the real ground that what was being done was to establish something in competition with a municipally owned crematorium.

If one looks through the Leicester city council petition to the House in opposition to the Bill, one can have no clearer evidence of the insubstantial nature of the case put by the opponents. Paragraph 11 states that it was necessary to erect a chimney 70 metres high on the advice of the chief environmental health officer. The next sentence states: A chimney of that height would not however be acceptable on planning grounds The Americans gave us Catch 22. Leicester city council seems to be developing its own home ground version—"On the one hand you have to have it. On the other hand we ban it." What is the promoter of the Bill supposed to do?

The next paragraph contains a passage which I hesitate to read as it might be regarded as being in bad taste. It reads like a direct quotation from a Joe Orton comedy. In talking of people arriving at the premises of Ginns and Gutteridge, it says that these people see the funeral processions which pass at present (and funeral processions are not generally considered a pleasant sight) but if the crematorium were established they would know that in some cases at least the corpse was to be cremated. That is something which in your Petitioner's submission is found so distasteful by some as to cause positive distress. We all have sympathy for people whose relatives have died recently, but it is stretching credibility to imagine that passers-by would be more distressed on seeing a funeral cortege knowing that it was going to a crematorium than they would be if they knew that it was going to a traditional burial. That is absurdity gone mad.

The petition continues in that vein. In my view, it is a very insubstantial case against a Bill promoted by a firm which offers a good service in Leicester and which wants to improve that service to all members of the community.

I hope that the House will resist the blandishments of the hon. Member for Leicester, South and give the Bill a Second Reading.

8 pm

Sir Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

If ever there was a case for the Committee stage of a Bill coming before its Second Reading, this is it.

The Bill deals with a local matter in an area on which my constituency impinges slightly. All the arguments from both sides to which we have listened ought to be deployed in Committee and, I am sure, will be so deployed. I do not know what will happen as a result. Obviously there are points to be made on both sides, but at least in the Committee counsel will be instructed to represent the views of both sides.

The House of Commons has to consider where it goes with the private Bill procedure. Very few hon. Members are present to listen to the debate. Most of us are locally interested. It does not deal with a matter of great national interest, and it breaks into business which is of national importance. Probably there will be a Division at the end of the debate, and again very few hon. Members will take part in it. What may be an important Bill in terms of one specific locality—in this case, the Leicester locality—may well founder because it concerns a local matter that is of no interest to large numbers of hon. Members who represent constituencies far away from Leicester.

This debate is a good example of a procedure that needs modernising.

8.3 pm

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Giles Shaw)

It is one of the fascinations of the House of Commons that, following a debate for three hours on a national emergency, we move to consider a private Bill on the creation of a private crematorium in Leicester. That is in no way to denigrate the promoters of the Bill from the point of view of the business of the House, and I note what my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Sir K. Lewis) said about the procedure, but the fact remains that Parliament allows a private Bill to have a proper debate and, quite rightly, it enables hon. Members to advance the opposing point of view. They have a right to do that and to take the side of petitioners against the Bill.

It is my duty to give the Government's view on the Bill, bearing in mind all the time that it is essentially a private Bill, the Second Reading of which was well moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr).

The Government responsibility for crematoria and cremations is divided between two Departments, the Home Office and the Department of the Environment. Essentially in this measure the House will recognise that we are dealing primarily with the absolution from the planning restraints involved to enable the proposed development to go ahead. It is correct to say that in a sense the Department of the Environment is in the lead on this issue.

It is for my Department to offer any Government comment on the siting of the proposed crematorium. I understand the concern felt by those who live and work in the area. I acknowledge the worries expressed by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) and the right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) about whether this is an appropriate site. However, I am sure that hon. Members will recognise that that is a matter that the planning authority will determine. The procedures being followed in this measure allow the local planning authority to adopt its normal course of action.

I know that many people take the view that funeral processions are somewhat harrowing. However, the point was well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell) that that of itself was not necessarily a matter that should cause us to express concern in legislation. The absence of a garden of remembrance from the site is another factor that causes concern. I understand that that, too, has been taken on board by the promoters and that it is their intention to correct that omission.

However, these are factors that ought to be taken into account in deciding whether the project should go ahead. No doubt they were the kinds of factors very much in the minds of our predecessors when they enacted section 5 of the 1902 Act. I am bound to say that that Act is not necessarily the most modern way of expressing planning permissions, proximities to dwellings, and so on. But they imposed restrictions—and it is right that they should be observed—on the proximity of crematoria to dwelling houses or public highways.

The intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough has established already that there are a number of precedents for local Act amendments to the restriction on the distance of crematoria from dwelling houses. That is well precedented. What is more, as the House will have recognised, they are almost all for urban planning authorities facing similar problems to that which Leicester city council faces and one of the obvious problems that face Messrs Ginns and Gutteridge and their premises.

These questions of siting and the absence of a garden are considerations that nowadays can and should be taken into account in the planning system. In this case, therefore, the Government do not object to the waiving of the restrictions in the 1902 Act on environmental grounds.

Since the Bill disapplies class XII of the General Development Order, this development is subject to normal planning controls, and the planning aspects are a matter for the local planning authority—in this case, Leicester city council.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South expressed concern that this case would create a precedent for bringing together under one roof and under unified control the two responsibilities of undertaker and cremation authority. To the best of my knowledge, this is permitted by the 1902 Act. It has not occurred up till now, but that of itself should not concern us in terms of the section 5 exemption—[interruption.] I shall dwell on this at length for the benefit of the hon. Member for Leicester, South despite the prevaricating circumstances of the sudden arrival of my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). The hon. Member for Leicester, South deserves an answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham is merely "ticking" in his usual way that I should resume my seat.

This would not be the first private crematorium. There are some 26 others in operation. But if the Bill is successful and the promoters secure planning consent, it will be the first crematorium controlled directly by a firm of funeral undertakers. There is nothing to stop a firm of funeral undertakers establishing a crematorium that satisfies the existing general legislation, and it appears to be a historical accident that so far this has not occurred. But it is a development that has implications for existing safeguards, and here I accept the remarks of the hon. Member for Leicester, South. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary shares the hon. Gentleman's concern, because one of the purposes of the Cremation Acts is to prevent cremation being used to conceal the commission of a crime. Such a possibility is extremely rare, but it is important that the safeguards remain.

Under the cremation regulations the medical referee of a local authority is responsible for scrutinising the documentation that is required. He has to see that the regulations are effective and that there is nothing suspicious about the circumstances of the death. He is assisted in this job by the staff of the crematorium.

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is giving further careful consideration to whether that job can continue to be done as effectively when the same staff are responsible for making an application for cremation. I can tell the hon. Member for Leicester, South that his point has been taken on board. It is a matter on which my right hon. Friend probably will be able to give assistance at the Committee stage for adequate consideration of this matter.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield argued that a private Member's Bill is not an appropriate vehicle for approval of such a project as it involves the possibility of a fundamental change in the relationship between undertakers and operators of crematoria. It is a matter for Parliament to determine. The Act makes that provision, and there is nothing peculiar in this measure.

Paying due consideration to the points raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), the fact that planning provision will apply, and that Leicester city council has given initial outline planning authority and seeks to apply stringent criteria, I believe it right that an opportunity should be given for the promoters of the Bill to persuade the House that the powers they are seeking are justified and for the petitioners to state their case in Committee.

I recommend that the Bill be allowed to proceed so that the issues can be fully considered in Committee.

8.10 pm
Mr. Farr

With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall reply briefly to two major points. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) questioned whether it was right for funeral directors to operate a crematorium. I am advised that there is nothing in the present law to stand in the way of that. There may or may not be precedents for it, but it is an incidental effect of the Bill and not part of the permission that Ginns and Gutteridge needs to receive from the House.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Lewis) raised a point about the garden of rest. Following research, I understand that no Conservative Member has received the brief from the Association of District Councils to which he referred. If the matter concerns him, no doubt he will approach Committee Members and ask them to deal with it.

Mr. Ron Lewis

The Association of District Councils sent the letter to its vice presidents, which is why I received it.

Mr. Farr

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the matter.

The right hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon) said that there had been many precedents for the Bill, and I dealt with that point in an intervention.

I am grateful to all hon. Members who have shown interest in this important measure.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 88, Noes 54.

Division No. 66] [8.15
Aspinwall, Jack Farr, John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Braine, Sir Bernard Fookes, Miss Janet
Bright, Graham Fox, Marcus
Brinton, Tim Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brooke, Hon Peter Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Hamilton, Hon A.
Browne, John (Winchester) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Heddle, John
Butcher, John Henderson, Barry
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Hunt, David (Wirral)
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clegg, Sir Walter Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Cockeram, Eric Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Cope, John Lang, Ian
Costain, Sir Albert Latham, Michael
Lawrence, Ivan Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lee, John Skeet, T. H. H.
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Speller, Tony
Lyell, Nicholas Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Macfarlane, Neil Squire, Robin
MacKay, John (Argyll) Stainton, Keith
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Stevens, Martin
McQuarrie, Albert Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Marten, Rt Hon Neil Stradling Thomas, J.
Mawby, Ray Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Thompson, Donald
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Moate, Roger Trippier, David
Monro, Sir Hector Wakeham, John
Mudd, David Walker, B. (Perth)
Myles, David Watson, John
Neubert, Michael Wells, Bowen
Newton, Tony Wheeler, John
Normanton, Tom Whitney, Raymond
Page, John (Harrow, West) Winterton, Nicholas
Pollock, Alexander Wolfson, Mark
Renton, Tim
Rhodes James, Robert Tellers for the Ayes:
Rossi, Hugh Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Mr. Christopher Murphy.
Allaun, Frank Kerr, Russell
Alton, David McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Beith, A. J. Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Campbell-Savours, Dale Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Canavan, Dennis Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Morton, George
Cook, Robin F. Newens, Stanley
Cowans, Harry Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Cryer, Bob Penhaligon, David
Davidson, Arthur Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Prescott, John
Dixon, Donald Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Dobson, Frank Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Dormand, Jack Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. Skinner, Dennis
Eastham, Ken Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Faulds, Andrew Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Golding, John Wainwright, R. (Colne V)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Wellbeloved, James
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Whitlock, William
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Wigley, Dafydd
Heffer, Eric S. Winnick, David
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Home Robertson, John Tellers for the Noes:
Hooley, Frank Mr. Ron Lewis and
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Mr. Andrew F. Bennett.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.