HC Deb 19 March 1985 vol 75 cc839-40

Order for Second Reading read.

7.40 pm
Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

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

The purpose of the Bill is to authorise the promoters, the Great Southern Cemetery and Crematorium Company Ltd., to make surplus cemetery land available for development purposes appropriate to the local community. The promoting company was incorporated in 1907 and its business consists of maintaining cemeteries and operating crematoria.

Among the cemeteries belonging to the company is the Streatham Park cemetery, which is in my constituency, where it also has a crematorium. Owing to the increasing use of cremation for the disposal of human remains, there is more land available to the promoters at this cemetery than will be required by them for burials.

The Bill is required since the lands for which power to develop is sought had technically been set aside for the burial of human remains and therefore come within the scope of the Disused Burial Grounds Act 1884. Parliamentary sanction must therefore be obtained to remove the application of that Act to the lands. In addition, parliamentary sanction is required to remove the effects of consecration in respect of part of the lands which have been consecrated, though never used, for the burial of human remains.

If the Bill is enacted and if the company decides to develop or sell the lands, it will still be necessary for the company to obtain planning permission from the local authority, the London borough of Merton, in the usual way.

It is not proposed to release any part of the development profits or proceeds of sale to the shareholders but to plough such funds back into the company. The company adopts a rolling capital improvement programme at Streatham Park cemetery and has already spent over £100,000 on major improvements, such as lawn clearance schemes, with considerable benefit to its appearance, and is scheduled to spend a further £96,000 on similar projects over the next two years.

Under clause 3—"Power to sell or develop scheduled lands"—the promoting company is given power to sell or develop the scheduled lands. By clause 4 — "Discharge of trusts" — the scheduled lands are to be freed from the effects of Disused Burial Grounds Act and, so far as the consecrated land is concerned, from the effects of consecration. Clause 5 — "Power to use scheduled lands for other purposes" — enables the scheduled lands to be used for any purposes as if they had never formed part of a cemetery. Clause 6—"Removal of human remains"—contains a code for the removal of human remains and has been included as a precaution because, to the knowledge of the promoters, the scheduled lands have never been used for burials.

Although no formal objections have been lodged by any outside sources to the Bill, considerable concern exists among the residents of Mitcham about some aspects of the measure, arising from an experience in 1971. Therefore, when the Bill is in Committee, I hope that hon. Members will be asked to look carefully, on behalf of my constituents, at clause 4 and at the second schedule, which refer basically to unconsecrated land.

I particularly ask for those provisions to be examined carefully because the disposal of human remains is a sensitive matter. Many of the relatives of my constituents have been buried there. My constituents are concerned because if the lands go for development, the possibility might arise that all the remains had not been removed within the context of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that in Committee the promoters will be questioned closely about that and asked to provide undertakings to assure my constituents that no part of the land which will be used for development purposes might still contain remains or that remains might emerge during the course of development.

The House will appreciate that that would, were it to happen, cause immense distress to my constituents, remembering that, as I said, few matters are so sensitive as the disposal of human remains. I make that important reservation about the Bill on behalf of my constituents.

The schedule to the Bill contains a description of the lands affected by the Bill, and a plan showing the lands has been deposited in the offices of the Clerk of the Parliaments and in the Private Bill Office of this House.

The passing of the Bill is the only means by which the promoters may make use of the lands which are surplus to their requirements as regards the burial of human remains for the benefit of the local community.

I reiterate that, if the Bill is to be for the benefit of the local community, the residents must be assured that there will be no impediment from their point of view to the disposal of human remains. With those reservations, I commend the measure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

The Government hope that the Bill is acceptable now to the House, will be given a Second Reading and may be allowed to proceed in the usual way to Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

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