Death touches us all and there are few times more difficult than when a loved one dies. At such moments, the procedures required to ensure a respectful funeral for the deceased should be straightforward and clear. We should expect to be able to bid farewell in a dignified way that provides comfort to those left behind, and we should expect to know that the remains of our loved ones will be handled compassionately and appropriately.
When that does not happen, the weight of grief is compounded by anger at systematic failures at this most sensitive of times. No-one should be faced with this situation, and one way to reduce the likelihood of such occurrences is to modernise the legal framework for burial and cremation in Scotland. This consultation paper invites views on various proposals for a new Bill relating to burial and cremation and other related matters.
Many of the recommendations considered by the consultation paper were made by the Infant Cremation Commission chaired by Lord Bonomy. The Commission was convened to recommend improvements in the way that cremations of babies and infants are carried out, in response to historical poor practice at a number of crematoria across Scotland, details of which emerged in 2012. Families facing the unimaginable situation of the death of a baby or infant were given unclear or incorrect information about the cremation process, particularly about whether or not ashes would be recovered. My predecessor in this post, Michael Matheson, established the Commission to examine practice and recommend ways to ensure that this situation could not be repeated.
The Commission made sixty-four recommendations, many of which are already being taken forward by the newly established National Cremation Committee. Other recommendations require legislative change, and this consultation paper sets out proposals to give effect to those recommendations.
Several of the other recommendations in the consultation paper were made by the Burial and Cremation Review Group. The Group was convened in 2005 to consider ways to improve procedures following a death in Scotland. Several of the Group's recommendations have already been implemented in the Certification of Death (Scotland) Act 2011, but recommendations designed to improve practices relating to burial and cremation have not yet been taken forward. These remaining recommendations cover a wide range of issues, including the general management of graveyards, proposals to ease pressure on burial land and modernising the legal framework for burial and cremation, as well considering new methods which involve neither cremation nor burial. Collectively, these recommendations represent the most radical overhaul of burial and cremation practices for well over 100 years, and will provide a legal process that is fit for 21st Century Scotland.
In addition to the recommendations from the Burial and Cremation Review Group and the Infant Cremation Commission, the consultation paper also considers various other related proposals. Increasing numbers of people are finding that the cost of a funeral is too much to bear, and at a time of grief many people are struggling to afford to provide a dignified funeral for their loved one. Funeral poverty is not something that that should happen in modern Scotland, and the consultation paper considers ways to end this situation.
The paper also makes proposals about the regulation of the funeral industry. While there are a number of professional bodies for the funeral industry, there is no formal regulatory system. I am keen to explore whether regulating the industry, including the appointment of inspectors, will bring improvements and benefits.
My intention is that the recommendations should be taken forward in new legislation, which will replace the existing legislation covering these issues. I believe that the proposals set out by this consultation paper will provide a legal framework for burial and cremation in Scotland that will meet the needs of 21st Century Scotland and afford due dignity during one of the most difficult times any of us will face.
Maureen Watt MSP
Minister for Public Health
Email: Joseph Ewesor