HL Deb 19 May 1970 vol 310 cc973-7

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I must say that in moving the Second Reading of this small Private Member's Bill it strikes one as rather appropriate that the House should be discussing burial grounds in the dying embers of the life of this Parliament. May I also say, on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, that I very much appreciate the co-operation of both the Government Chief Whip and my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip, not omitting, of course, the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party, in allowing this Bill to go forward to-day and, subject to the general approval of the House, to pass through all its stages. It is, I believe, a recognition that the Bill is non-controversial—a thought with which I hope noble Lords who may be taking an interest in the Bill will also agree.

The Bill is really split into two parts. The first half under Clauses 1 and 2; brings up to date the powers of burial authorities to enter into agreement, in return for payment, to maintain individual graves and memorials. I would say at once that nothing in either of these two clauses affects either private family burial grounds or, for that matter, private cemetery companies, such as the West London Crematorium. The need for bringing this general legislation up to date will be immediately apparent to anyone who has made a study of the problem. I am told that there are over 10,000 burial grounds, crematoria, places of interment and churchyards maintained by burial authorities. Many of these burial grounds are situated in the centre of villages and towns and many have lapsed into a state of untidiness, largely due to the burial authorities being unable, by law, to accept money for the maintenance of private graves—nor, for that matter, could they spend public funds upon a private interest.

Up to now there have been two courses open for families who wished to arrange with burial authorities the future maintenance of their private graves. The first was by forming a charitable trust and the second was by entering into a contract for specific maintenance. Neither of those courses has proved very satisfactory; and because of the deep concern at the unsatisfactory state that many burial grounds have got into, over 120 local Acts have been passed conferring powers on the burial authorities to improve maintenance procedure.

Clause 1 virtually adopts a similar power to those in the local Acts. It will thus bring these powers under general legislation and so will be available to all burial authorities. Under subsection (1) of Clause 1 agreements between burial authorities and individuals will be limited to ninety-nine years, a time limit which is considered expedient for administrative reasons, but that period is renewable at the discretion of the burial authorities. Subsections (2) and (3) deal with the problem of transferring existing grave maintenance agreements where, for instance, a churchyard is closed by Order in Council and passed to a burial authority for future maintenance. Clause 2 basically brings up to date the procedure for granting rights of burial, which up to now have been governed by the old Burial Acts, stretching from 1852 to 1906, and also the Public Health (Interments) Act 1879. Up to now, the procedure has been that all rights granted must be by deed, must be under seal, and must be, I am told, witnessed by at least two parish councillors—a fairly laborious process. The new procedure under this Bill will allow this right to be granted by the simple signature of the clerk or an authorised person and does away with the necessity of a deed. It is a process of streamlining which, one may say, has already been adopted under fourteen local government Acts.

I turn now to Clause 3 of the Bill. This part of the Bill, together with Clauses 4, 5 and 6, deals with the granting to parish councils of limited powers in relation to the erection and maintenance of local signs. The general purpose of this part of the Bill is to allow parish councils to erect signs at bus stops, place names, and warning signs—for instance, of dangerous cliffs. With the recent pressure on local authorities to provide international road signs throughout the country, the priority for these local signs has, naturally, taken a rather low place, and it is with the agreement of local authorities and of Her Majesty's Government that these limited powers should be granted to parish councils.

Clause 3(1) makes certain that powers under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 granted to highway authorities, will apply, except to signs on footpaths and bridlepaths. It also establishes that any sign which will be seen by drivers of vehicles must conform in size, colour and type to Ministry of Transport regulations. subsection (2) will permit a parish council to provide or contribute to the cost of providing bus-stop signs, warning signs or place-name signs close to a road, subject to the highway authority's consent or conditions.

Subsection (3) will allow a parish council to provide miscellaneous signs on a footpath or bridlepath, and subsection (4) will limit the parish council's powers to erecting signs on adjacent private land only with the owner's and occupier's consent. Subsection (5) serves two purposes. In the first place, it preserves the highway authority's power to require removal of objectionable signs. Secondly, it places on the parish council the responsibility for the removal of these signs, thus avoiding a situation where the landowner, having granted initial permission for the parish council to place a sign on his land, may find himself liable for the cost of removal on the order of the highway authority. Subsection (6) allows the parish council to erect warning signs where it considers it necessary. One example is that of high-tide warnings on beaches.

I turn briefly to Clause 4. This is a common-form clause empowering the Minister of Housing and Local Government to repeal or amend provisions in local Acts similar to the provisions under this Bill if the promoting authority request him to do so. Clause 5 deals with the interpretation of both a parish council and a burial authority under this Bill. The effect of subsection (1) of Clause 5 is to extend to the council of a borough included in a rural district the powers available to a parish council under Clauses 1 and 3. Clause 6 is again a standard provision, authorising the payment of any increase in rate-support grant resulting from expenditure by local authorities under the powers in this Bill. The Financial Resolution passed in another place on April 14, 1970, has limited its effect to the provision of Clause 3 only. Clause 7 sets out the Short Title of the Bill, and the House will note that it does not apply to either Scotland or Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I have dealt briefly with the clauses and the purposes of the Bill, which I hope I have explained in sufficient detail. Before concluding, I should like on behalf of the promoters of the Bill to take this opportunity to thank Her Majesty's Government for their support and assistance in its drafting. And, on a personal note, I should like to thank also the Ministry and the National Association of Parish Councils for their guidance, in particular in the rather jungle-like atmosphere of burial-ground legislation. I would only add that this Bill was unopposed in another place and, so far as I am aware, has not been opposed by any of the local authority associations. I hope that to-day it will receive the blessing and support of Her Majesty's Government. For these reasons I commend it to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Kinnoull.)


My Lords, the noble Earl will have earned the thanks of parish councils throughout England and Wales, and of many larger authorities concerned with burial and cremation, for having introduced this Bill to-day. It will do all sorts of modest but useful things which he has outlined, such as doing away with the need to seal certain documents. All this is going to make life a lot easier for many people whose lives ought to be made a lot easier. The Government are in entire agreement with the proposals in the Bill and have cooperated with its sponsors in the House of Commons in amending it. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.

Then, Standing Order No. 41 having been suspended (pursuant to Resolution), Bill read 3a, and passed.