Keeping them honest

Charles Cowling


Posted by Charles


What do we think of these e-petitions? Democracy at its finest? A place where the mad, the bad and the rabid can loose off a bit of spleen? Something in between? HM Gov describes e-petitions as “an easy way for you to influence government policy in the UK”. We never supposed our governing class cared so much about what we think.

Topping the charts just now is Convicted London rioters should loose all benefits. You can see the rest here.

Languishing at the bottom we have this: Hook up the national grid to the crematoriums

Also down there is this: Regulation of Funeral Industry 

I’ve been monitoring this Regulation petition for a few days. When I first looked it had 5 signatories. When I just looked it had 7. It seems not to have legs.

In a more or less scandal free industry this is to be expected. But when an undertaker screws up, it’s natural that the person who’s been screwed is going to conclude that regulation is the answer. There’s an example of this here

I don’t think regulation is the answer for three reasons.

First, when someone dies it is their executor who is the lawful possessor of the body, responsible for disposing of it. So the executor is the funeral director. The executor has to register the death. The executor has to apply for burial or cremation. The executor has to demonstrate that he or she saw it through. The role of the undertaker is secondary, subordinate and collaborative. It is to do those things (and only those things) that the executor is allowed to delegate and which he or she doesn’t want to do. Conclusion: if an executor doesn’t need a qualification, why on earth would an undertaker?

Second, professionalising and regulating undertakers can only reinforce the perception that they are the default disposers of our dead and, worse, move them a step closer to being the only people allowed to do so. We the people are the default disposers of our dead. An undertaker is our agent. That is our ancient right, and that right defines our responsibility both to ourselves and to our dead. Our dead belong to us. Let us not give them up. 

Third, it is hard to see how nasty undertakers could be transformed into nice ones by government regulation. It doesn’t work like that in any other industry. It doesn’t work like that in America where costs are high and scandals plenty.

Where there is room for improvement—and there certainly is—it will be brought about by clients who exert informed expectations on undertakers. We all have a responsibility to guard our best interests, even at a time like death.

In short, consumer scrutiny is the way to keep ‘em honest. Don’t sign the petition. 

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10 years ago

Slow down, Roger, the issue is not who should regulate and in what form (that implies that a need for regualtion is a foregone conclusion); it’s for what reasons regulation has even been mooted, and what benefis, if any, could ensue. Oh yes, and what regulation means would be a handy thing to have clear. Not a crime to suggest a different way of doing things, and no-one’s accusing anyone of criminality here. Not a crime, either, to resist a stupid idea – whoops, that’s a bit robust, sorry, I mean of course an idea that hasn’t been thought through… Read more »

Rupert Callender
10 years ago

Roger, if there is one thing we are all very clear on here, this broadest of churches, it is that one day we too will die. Speaking as an undertaker of eleven years with no professional qualifications whatsoever, presumably the sort that Sarah wishes to outlaw, or force to do some meaningless diploma, there is no industry self regulation. I don’t belong to any professional body who can take action in the event of a client of mine complaining, the buck stops firmly with me and my wife, as does our reputation. As the creeping compensation culture takes hold in… Read more »

roger destain
10 years ago

Hi everyone, Firstly it is sad to see that the ‘arguments’ presented against Sarah are so personal and derogatory- no need. Secondly, the main issue is not on whether to regulate or not (the industry has already ‘self regulation’) but who should do this and in what form. Not a crime to suggest a different way of doing things- unless you are currently a stakeholder in the benefits and fear losing those benefits. Prevention is often better than cure-especially in this delicate case. Most people that have been ‘screwed’ as you put it are usually in no state to complain… Read more »

Richard Rawlinson
Richard Rawlinson
10 years ago

Unlike the God [sic] Funeral Guide, the link to the case for Regulation of Funerals was littered with literals:

1. Official recongnition [sic] that Funeral Directors…

5. Embalmers given similar rights and proctection [sic] as nurses…


Jonathan, irreligious correspondent
Jonathan, irreligious correspondent
10 years ago

Sarah Stafford-Smith, “similar as” is not in the English lanugauge. Are we to rely on you to write these regulations? Why don’t you get qualified in your own work before you try and impose qualification on others? Your regulations would be unlikely to take account of the creativity and humanity that is the true qualification of an undertaker. How would you research the industry and, more important, the needs of its clients? Would you employ bereavement specialists and the bereaved themselves, or would you employ lawyers and accountants? The criteria for regualation you quote as your starting point are superficial… Read more »