Scottish burial law review ‘lacks ambition’

The committee said it had wanted to see licensing for funeral directors form part of the bill. Picture: SWNS

The committee said it had wanted to see licensing for funeral directors form part of the bill. Picture: SWNS

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A bill aimed at modernising 100-year-old laws on burial and cremation in Scotland “lacks ambition”, MSPs have concluded.

Holyrood’s local government and regeneration ­committee said it had been unable to properly scrutinise the Burial and Cremation Bill due to a lack of detail.

If passed, the bill would end the sale of burial plots in perpetuity and allow for the reuse of plots in certain circumstances in an effort to address the pressure on available land.

The committee said it supported the bill’s general principles but called on the Scottish Government to go further by introducing licensing for funeral directors and taking steps to help drive down funeral costs.

Its report said: “Overall we found the bill to be lacking in ambition. Our overriding impression is of a bill which by and large sets out to preserve the existing approach to funerals while only updating limited areas for immediate improvement.”

Committee convener Kevin Stewart MSP said: “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.”

MSPs heard evidence that the cost of a burial plot and interment ranged from £694 in the Western Isles to £2,785 in East Dunbartonshire.

The committee acknowledged the government’s position that the bill was not the means for addressing funeral costs, but said more detailed legislation “would have provided greater influence on services and thereby cost”.

Mr Stewart added: “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 licence funeral directors was not taken.”

The committee wants the bill to set a 25-year maximum initial period for the purchase of burial plots, with the ability to extend ownership every ten years.

MSPs have also called for clarity on how the bill would help councils better manage burial grounds, and an explanation of what behaviour could be criminalised under it.

The Scottish Parliament’s health and sport committee is scrutinising aspects of the ­legislation arising from the recommendations of the Infant Cremation Commission in the wake of the baby ashes scandal.

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