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Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill published

Legislation to provide better scrutiny and governance of burials and cremations.

New legislation to modernise the governance of burials and cremations has been published in the Scottish Parliament recently.

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill proposes to modernise and update 100 year-old legislation – introducing a definition of ashes, standardising forms and record-keeping across Scotland, clarifying the process for instructing the disposal of human remains (including pregnancy loss) and placing a duty on burial authorities to maintain the safety of burial grounds.

It also contains proposals to give Scottish Ministers the powers to formally regulate the funeral industry.

The Bill takes forward the recommendations from the Infant Cremation Commission chaired by Lord Bonomy, which was set up following historical concerns about the handling and disposal of infant remains at Mortonhall Crematorium in Edinburgh. The Bill also gives effect to recommendations made by the Burial and Cremation Review Group not already implemented in the Certification of Death (Scotland) Act 2011.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt said recently: “The legislation we have published today is an important step forward in bringing the governance of burials and cremations in this country into the 21st century.

“Our wide-ranging proposals aim to standardise burial and cremation practices across Scotland and provides for better scrutiny and governance of those who are tasked with this important and sensitive role. We have also sought to address some key issues such as the safety and maintenance of burial grounds.

“While this Bill is an extremely positive step forward, we cannot forget that parts of this legislation have arisen from some very tragic circumstances. I have written to those parents affected by the historic practices of certain crematoria, and who have been involved in the work of the National Committee on Cremation, to give them more detail about the contents of the Bill. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their contribution towards the process of preparing this legislation.

“We have already taken immediate steps to address the issues surrounding infant ashes, such as issuing national guidance and appointing an Inspector of Crematoria. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill will provide the legislative framework to ensure this can never happen again.”

The recommendations from the Infant Cremation Commission contained in the Bill include:

  • Introducing a legal definition of ‘ashes’
  • Requiring the relevant authorities to keep burial and cremation records indefinitely and ensuring that the details of the burial and cremation of pregnancy losses and stillborn babies are recorded
  • Strengthening the application process for cremation, requiring the applicant to clearly specify what should be done with ashes and also requiring cremation authorities to record details of cremations on a central register

The Bill also proposes to modernise and improve the administrative procedures surrounding adult cremation.

In addition, the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill contains proposals to give Scottish Ministers the powers to formally regulate the funeral industry – including making provision for the introduction of a licensing scheme for funeral directors in the future if considered beneficial.

It proposes to supplement the existing role of Inspector of Crematoria by establishing two new inspector roles for burial authorities and funeral directors.

The Bill provides regulations that would give burial authorities the power to carry out activities considered necessary for the upkeep and management of burial grounds – including maintaining and repairing headstones and memorials to make them safe. The Bill also proposes to make it a legal requirement for burial authorities to ensure the safety of burial grounds.

Other proposals contained in the Bill include the regulation of private burials (i.e. burials at home or in a private family burial ground) and addressing the issue of pressure on available burial land in Scotland by allowing abandoned lairs to be restored to use in tightly controlled and regulated circumstances – and only if the last interment was at least 100 years ago.

Bill Stanley, Institute of Cemetery & Crematorium Management (ICCM), said: “The ICCM welcomes, applauds and wholeheartedly supports the Scottish Government's action in proposing new, fit for purpose burial, cremation and associated legislation that will meet the needs of a modern day society. The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill certainly sets the standards required of those involved in all aspects of the funeral industry, which in turn will provide additional reassurance to bereaved people in the future.”

Richard Powell, Secretary and Executive Officer, Federation of Burials and Cremations Authorities (FBCA) said: “The FBCA is supportive of the move to modernise the legislation in respect of burial and cremation, whilst firmly believing in the importance of ensuring that important safeguards such as measures to control the location and tranquillity of new developments remain in place, securing the sensitivity of these essential services for the future.

“The FBCA has been pleased to be involved with discussions around the development of new burial and cremation legislation for Scotland and we can confirm our continuing support for further work that may be necessary during the coming months.”

Paul Cuthell, Immediate Past President, National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD), said: “Since the establishment of the devolved Parliament, the NAFD - the trade association that represents the majority of the country’s funeral firms – has provided support and advice to the Scottish Government on all matters relevant to the funeral service in Scotland. We welcome the fact that the Government is keen to ensure the sector remains fit for the future and that it continues to be an industry that the public can trust.”

Jim Brodie, The Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF), said: “We are pleased to be engaged in partnership with the Scottish Government in reviewing and modernising the legislation surrounding cremation and burial. There are areas which haven't been reviewed for over 100 years. We're sure that, at its conclusion, Scotland will have a fair, consistent and transparent framework of regulations.”


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