The report concludes the Committee’s stage 1 consideration of the majority of the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill which aims to update the legislative framework for burials and cremations in Scotland which dates back over 100 years.
The report highlights key policy areas which remain to be developed. The Committee believes this lack of detail has impacted on the level of scrutiny the Committee could achieve. More crucially, it also believes the lack of detail stifled the opportunity for public engagement.
Committee Convener, Kevin Stewart MSP said:
“Whilst there is no doubt Scotland needs a modern framework for burial and cremation in Scotland which is fit for the twenty-first century, it is clear the Bill before us leaves some questions unanswered.”
“Without sufficient detail it is difficult to properly scrutinise the modernisation proposals. This has an impact on the level of scrutiny and public engagement we can undertake for what is an important piece of legislation which will affect us all.”
“We are concerned the offences in the Bill lack any explanation of what behaviour is to be criminalised. This is why we have asked the Scottish Government to provide more detail in advance of the Bill proceeding.”
During its evidence, the Committee heard about the impact funeral costs can have on families at what is an extremely difficult time.
Kevin Stewart MSP continued:
“This Bill was a chance to fundamentally change the way the funeral industry operates and by doing so send a real signal on the issues of service standards and costs. It is disappointing the decision to license funeral directors was not taken - something which is surely a missed opportunity – and why we recommend licensing should be implemented without delay.”
The Bill contains a number of provisions which aim to support the sustainability of burial, including ending the sale of burial lairs in perpetuity and allowing for the ability for burial authorities to reuse lairs in particular circumstances.
The main recommendations in the Committee’s report include:
Management of burial grounds
- The Committee is unclear whether and how the Bill will help local authorities to better manage burial grounds. As such, the Committee recommends the Bill be amended to require a management scheme.
Duration and extension of right of burial
- The Bill should be amended to set 25 years as a maximum initial period for the purchase of lairs (the Scottish term of burial plots) with the ability to extend ownership every 10 years thereafter.
- Taking into account the Bill’s aim to provide a modern, comprehensive framework for burial and cremation, the Committee recommends the Bill be amended at Stage 2 to require records to be held electronically.
Proximity of new crematoria and housing
- The Committee recommends the Bill is amended to address concerns about new crematoria being built next to housing and housing being built adjacent to existing crematoria.
Licensing of funeral directors’ premises
- The Committee considers the case has been made to license funeral directors and recommends the Bill should require the making of a licensing scheme to be implemented without delay.
The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill was introduced to create a modern and comprehensive legislative framework for burial and cremation in Scotland. It seeks to repeal previous legislation which dates back over 100 years and, according to the Scottish Government’s Policy Memorandum on the Bill, “is increasingly unfit for purpose.”
The Local Government and Regeneration Committee was designated as a secondary Committee on the Bill. The Committee’s consideration of the Bill did not extend to Part 3 of the Bill which relates to losses during pregnancy. This part of the Bill is being considered by the Health and Sport Committee as lead Committee.
The Committee heard evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland that the average cost of a funeral in Scotland in 2015 was £3,550. The submission also showed the wide variation in costs across Scotland:
Burial: Purchase of lair and cost on interment
- Cheapest: £694 Western Isles.
- Priciest: £2,785 East Dunbartonshire.
Cremation: Cost of cremation and scattering ashes
- Cheapest local authority: £512 Inverclyde.
- Cheapest private: £585 Paisley.
- Priciest local authority: £749 Perth and Kinross.
- Priciest private: £830 Moray.