Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the regulation of the provision of funeral director services.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees, I think for the first time. Over recent years, I have had more to do with funeral directors and the service they provide than I would have liked. I start by placing on record my thanks for the work that they do, particularly during the covid pandemic, when they have dealt very sensitively with families in very difficult situations. Funeral directors are in charge of assisting families at some of the most difficult times in our lives, and the vast majority of them do so with an exceptional level of service and sensitivity.
I want to talk about an unfortunate case—an example of how it does not always go right—that happened to a family from Darwen, in my constituency. The family came to me with a complaint against K.C. Funeral Services, following an incident that happened at the burial of their uncle in Darwen cemetery on 22 January 2021. The incident was caused by the snapping of the straps used to lower the coffin into the grave. After the straps snapped at the mouth of the grave, the coffin fell more than eight feet into the open grave, resulting in the exposure of the remains of the deceased. Understandably, many family members and other mourners immediately left the funeral. The family had been led to believe by K.C. Funeral Services that enough members of staff would be in attendance to assist at the graveside, but the family did not believe that was the case. They felt, understandably, very distressed about the situation.
The family also noted that, in any event, even if they had not snapped, the straps used to lower the coffin into the grave were not long enough. In fact, if they had had to lower the coffin into the grave themselves, because of the lack of assistance from the funeral directors, they would have ended up lying on their stomachs at the graveside, lowering the coffin to the floor. It was a three-person grave, so it was very deep, and my deceased constituent was the first person to be interred.
This was an appalling incident, and I pay tribute to Father Brian, who is a well-respected and widely liked parish priest based at St Joseph’s and St Edward’s in Darwen. He assisted the family, arranged for the majority of them to go home, sent away the mourners who had come to pay their last respects, and organised the removal of the deceased’s body from the grave, which had to be undertaken by cemetery workers and the remaining family members. The body was then returned to the funeral directors and another coffin was sought. The body was cleaned, having been at the bottom of the grave, and a team of pallbearers completed the burial the following day, which was Saturday 23 January.
It is absolutely apparent to my constituents that K.C. Funeral Services had been lacking in many areas. Given the distressing story I have just recounted, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members can see why they would come to that conclusion. It is their view that the minimum standards required by law, or by decency in many cases, had not been met. The incident was exceptionally traumatic for the family, who were already grieving the loss of a well-loved family member. Following the incident, they went back to see Emma Childerley at K.C. Funeral Services on 28 January, in order to ask her some questions about the normal operating practices of her business. They were made aware at the meeting that K.C. Funeral Services was not a member of the National Association of Funeral Directors or the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors. She confirmed to the family—it was the first time they had heard it, and I must admit that it was the first time I had heard it—that both registration schemes are voluntary. Some funeral directors, including the one I have mentioned, do not join such schemes, largely because of the cost burden of doing so.
In what I hope will be a relatively brief contribution, I want to address the gap in the regulations that enables some providers to operate with limited or no regulation. The regulations do not enable families who have suffered in this way, or who have any other grievance, to pursue the funeral directors through a professional body. That is what I hope the Minister will address as we move through the debate.