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Harriet Harman tacitly supports religious discrimination against Muslim and Jewish residents by Southwark burial service

08 February 2017

Harriet Harman QC MP is tacitly supporting the religious and racial discrimination of Southwark’s burial service in her constituency.

Southwark Council is using taxes to subsidise burial for Christians and other faiths, collected from Muslims and Jewish residents most of whom cannot use the service.

Southwark is spending millions felling trees and mounding over existing graves in the Camberwell Cemeteries to sell them off as ‘new’ burial plots. They claim burial is available in their cemeteries for all who seek it.

But their burial service discriminates against many people’s faiths, including around a third of residents who seek burial. Most Jewish and Muslim residents have specific burial rites in observance with their faith, including not being buried over other people’s graves. These residents have to pay privately to be buried out of borough while their taxes subsidise burial for others.

Harriet Harman knows all about the discrimination.

In late 2015, Ms Harman raised a resident’s concerns with Southwark over increased flood risk from their burial development. But the local MP has stonewalled more than a hundred emails from residents over the last two years about the embedded religious discrimination, as well as the increased flood risk and destruction of heritage and Grade 1 SINC woods. She has not replied once – to emails, phone calls and requests to meet from the Save Southwark Woods campaign.

Southwark’s discriminatory policy is one that Harriet Harman herself laid the foundations for and tacitly supports through silent consent.

In 2007, as Justice Secretary, she championed a law that allowed cemetery owners to ask for permission to dig up the dead to create new burial plots. The Camberwell Cemeteries are the test case for a national roll-out.

Southwark has three cemeteries with a combined area of more than 130 acres – yet Southwark has no provision for most Muslim or Jewish residents to buried in observance with their faith.

It is extraordinary that someone who has apparently championed Southwark’s Race Equalities Council and steered through the Equalities Act 2010, is in fact blind to the treatment of many Muslims and Jews in her constituency and borough.

Racial discrimination – asking Muslims and Jews to subsidise burial they cannot use – is just one of many reasons why Southwark’s burial project – and others like it – must stop at once and a full enquiry into its future carried out.

The Save Southwark woods campaign by the Friends of Camberwell Cemeteries is fighting to preserve the Camberwell Cemeteries as nature reserves, with respect for the dead and nature for the living.

Harriet Harman QC MP

Above: Harriet Harman QC MP for Camberwell & Peckham: no reply to emails or phone calls to constituency office raising racial and religious discrimination issue and asking to meet.

Southwark's 'new' burial plots

Above: Southwark’s ‘new’ burial plots – sold off over thousands of people already buried beneath. Next Councillors plan to dig up the remains of thousands of people across the Camberwell Cemeteries, rebury them then resell their burial plots to people to be buried over them in their graves. This is against many residents’ spiritual beliefs and respect for others.

Below: Camberwell Old Cemetery, two acres of Grade 1 SINC woods cleared for burial plots over 48,000 people buried below.

Grade 1 SINC woods cut down and chipped