With permission, Mr Speaker, as an ex officio member of the Church Commissioners I have been asked to reply on behalf of the Second Church Estates Commissioner.
It is not clear from the hon. Lady’s question whether it relates to an open churchyard or a closed churchyard. For a closed churchyard, the responsibility for maintenance and management is often held by the local authority. The regulation of an open churchyard, however, is managed under the faculty process, which is the Church’s planning process. Each diocese publishes guidelines on its website, and the regulations are there to make sure that churchyards remain places that we can all enjoy for years to come.
My question relates to a constituency case that I have raised with the Second Church Estates Commissioner in advance of this Question Time. Shelley Fleming, my constituent, lost her husband Keith in October 2017—he was aged just 49. When she was arranging his place in the church’s graveyard, she was not notified that there would be any restrictions on her choice of grave at the Great Coates St Nicolas church. I would like the Second Church Estates Commissioner to work with me to encourage the church to review its regulations to permit the laying of flush kerb stones to carefully and respectfully mark parishioners’ final resting places.
I am so sorry to hear of Keith’s passing, and I am sure everyone in the Chamber would pass on their great sympathies. It is such an incredibly young age to die.
The regulations that govern churchyards differ from those that govern municipal cemeteries, where the land is not consecrated. A churchyard almost always surrounds a church building, and memorial stones that may be entirely suitable for an urban municipal cemetery may be out of place when they are close to an ancient church, especially one in a rural setting. If a constituent wants kerb stones installed around a grave, this would generally require the special permission of the diocesan chancellor. I will ask the Second Church Estates Commissioner to write to the hon. Lady with more information about the regulations and processes.