House of Commons Library

Infant cremation

Published Wednesday, October 3, 2018

This Commons Library briefing paper considers actions taken both in Scotland and in England and Wales to to ensure that, where possible, ashes are available from infant cremations and are returned to parents.

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The issues

Some well publicised cases have highlighted differences in practice, over a number of years, in the cremation of infants both in Scotland and in England and Wales. It became apparent that parents had received ashes from some crematoria but not from others. The availability of ashes after the cremation of an infant appears to have been dependent, at least in part, on the equipment and cremation technique used, and also on how the relevant authority defined “ashes”. At the time these problems emerged, there was no statutory definition of “ashes” either in England and Wales or in Scotland, and there was a difference of opinion among industry professionals about the meaning of the term.

There have also been cases where parents were told that no ashes would be recovered, whereas in fact there had been ashes, which were sometimes disposed of without the parents’ knowledge.

There have been a number of reports on infant cremation, all of which made recommendations, following which action has been taken to address the problems which they identified.

Scotland

Relevant reports in Scotland include the Mortonhall Investigation Report, the Infant Cremation Commission (Bonomy Commission) Report, and the Report of the National Cremation Investigation. These have led to a number of developments with the result that, in nearly all circumstances, parents should receive ashes from the crematorium.

A National Committee on Infant Cremation was established to oversee the implementation of many of the Infant Cremation Commission’s recommendations.   The Committee has published a Code of Practice which sets out the key principles and minimum standards for all organisations conducting infant cremations.

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 includes provisions which respond to recommendations made by the Infant Cremation Commission, including a statutory definition of “ashes”. The provisions relating to cremation are not yet in force.

An Inspector of Crematoria for Scotland has been appointed.

England and Wales

The Emstrey Report, published in 2015, investigated what had happened in a specific crematorium, but also made recommendations of national significance.   The Government has since confirmed its focus on ensuring that ashes are available from infant cremations, and that they are returned to parents.

Following a Government consultation on the issue, the cremation regulations were amended to introduce a statutory definition of ashes. Further new regulations added a new section on cremation forms to make applicants aware that in some rare circumstances, such as in the cremation of a stillborn baby, no ashes may be recovered. In addition, the Government established a National Cremation Working Group to advise on technical matters related to other proposed reforms, including whether there should be an inspector of crematoria.

The Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities and the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management (among others) have a single universally agreed Policy Statement and Best Practice Guidance for infant cremation in England and Wales.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7731

Author: Catherine Fairbairn

Topics: Burial and cremation, Death, Funerals

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