MSPs Call For Stronger Cremation Laws

4 February 2016, 16:10 | Updated: 4 February 2016, 16:15

New legislation on cremations must be strengthened to ensure the baby ashes scandal is never repeated, MSPs have said.

Holyrood's Health and Sport Committee has backed the Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Bill but called for a number of clarifications and changes.

The Bill was brought forward after it emerged staff at Mortonhall crematorium in Edinburgh had secretly buried the ashes of babies for decades without their parents' knowledge.

It follows on from the recommendations of Lord Bonomy's Infant Cremation Commission set up in the wake of the scandal.

The legislation will introduce a legal definition of ''ashes'' and require authorities to keep details of burials and cremations indefinitely.

The committee welcomed confirmation from the Scottish Government that it intends to amend the Bill to set out more detail about the disposal of ashes by cremation authorities.

This will specify the circumstances in which cremation authorities can dispose of ashes, the steps that must be taken beforehand and the information that must be recorded.

Committee convener Duncan McNeil said: "The loss of a baby is one of the most heart-breaking things that can happen to a parent.

"So, the poor historic practices at some crematoria that resulted in parents not knowing what happened to their baby's ashes has had a long-lasting and devastating impact on the parents and families affected.

"Whilst we welcome the legislation, this committee has concluded that there are several key provisions within the Bill that need to be strengthened to make sure that this never happens again.''

MSPs said they agreed with the definition of "ashes'' set out in the Bill but raised concerns the definition of "cremation'' was not clear enough.

The committee has sought clarification from the Scottish Government on action to ensure all women who lose a child or pregnancy are given the appropriate support.

It has also called for flexibility in the timescales relating to decisions about the disposal of remains to allow for the range of circumstances in which a woman may lose her pregnancy.

Mr McNeil added: "It was clear to the committee that the needs of the woman who has experienced the loss of a pregnancy or baby need to be placed firmly at the centre of this legislation.

"This is why we are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure there is flexibility within the legislation in order to meet the very personal circumstances and needs of women.''

The committee scrutinised aspects of the Bill relating to pregnancy loss, still-birth and infant loss while other measures relating to burials were examined by the Local Government and Regeneration Committee.

Its report, published last week, concluded the Bill "lacks ambition'' and called for licensing for funeral directors.