LCQ12: Policy on funeral matters

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (May 25):


     I have received complaints from quite a number of members of the public and groups about the problems they encountered when they arranged for the cremation and burial of their deceased family members according to the various applications and waiting arrangements prescribed by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD), including application for cremation permits, requesting to use eco-coffins, scattering cremated human ashes in Gardens of Remembrance (GoRs) and waiting for niches.  In addition, they pointed out that they were unable to secure mourning halls in funeral parlours to pay respect to the deceased as all the mourning halls had been fully booked.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) as such members of the public pointed out that there are "queuing gangs" queuing up almost 24 hours a day on behalf of undertakers to book the cremation services of crematoria under FEHD, making it impossible for the underprivileged people to book those services, whether FEHD will immediately provide telephone or on-line registration for booking cremation sessions of its crematoria to replace the current practice of alloting a maximum of five chips to each person on a first-come-first-served basis, so as to eliminate and combat "queuing gangs"; if it will, of the implementation timeframe; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) as the information from FEHD reveals that there are at present 10 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or charities in Hong Kong providing burial support services specifically for poor people relying on the burial grant from the Social Welfare Department and even the elders who do not have any relative, whether the Government will consider afresh allowing such NGOs or charities to directly use the cremation services of the Government without having to arrange such services via licensed undertakers, as well as issuing undertaker's licences to such NGOs or charities; if it will, of the implementation timeframe; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) of the respective numbers of cases using eco-coffins, applications for cremation services and scattering cremated human ashes in GoRs, and registrations on the waitlist for public niches in each of the past five years (to be listed in the table in Annex 1);

(d) as FEHD indicated at the meeting of this Council's Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene on October 15, 2010 that about 100,000 new niches would be available in the next three years, of the number of additional niches to be supplied in each of these three years and their locations;

(e) of the expiry dates of the licences/operation rights of the existing seven licensed funeral parlours in Hong Kong; as it has been reported that the Government holds the ownership of one of those funeral parlours and had granted its operation right through tendering, whether the Government will call an open tender again for the operation right by publishing on its web site or through advertisements upon the expiry of the existing operation right of that funeral parlour; and

(f) whether it knows the respective numbers of large and small mourning halls in each licensed funeral parlour at present; as the mourning halls in funeral parlours are often fully booked due to the ageing population, whether it has any plan to increase the number of funeral parlours in the next three years to meet the service demand; if it has, of the details, including the districts in which lands will be allocated for constructing funeral parlours and the implementation timeframe; if not, the reasons for that?



     In respect of funeral matters, it is the Government's policy to promote cremation and to provide efficient and dignified cremation service.  We are also committed to promoting more environmentally-friendly and sustainable means of disposal of the dead.  The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) is empowered to regulate undertakers of burials under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap.132).  Any person interested in operating in the trade of undertaking duties connected with burials must apply for a licence from the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene and comply with the statutory requirements on handling human cadavers and maintaining records.  Besides, the Government will review the provision of cemeteries, columbaria and crematoria facilities from time to time in order to ensure that burial facilities and amenities can keep abreast of the times.  To meet the future demand, the Government will strive to identify suitable sites for building more burial facilities with appropriate design.  My reply to the six parts of the question is as follows:

(a) At present, applicants for cremation services are required to produce the original documentary proof (e.g. certificate of registration of death, cremation permit, etc.) for verification by FEHD before booking a cremation session.  Applicants can either make the application in person or authorise licensed undertakers of burials to act on their behalf.  Since a vast majority of members of the public choose to entrust licensed undertakers of burials to arrange one-stop after-death services for the deceased, FEHD has, after discussion with the representatives of the funeral trade,  implemented a new arrangement for booking cremation service starting from 2003.  Under the arrangement, a person waiting for booking cremation service will be allocated a maximum of five "chips", provided that they can produce the aforesaid original documents as the evidence of an equal number of authorisations for booking cremation service.

     The above arrangement was made in the light of the community's mainstream practice of entrusting undertakers of burials to arrange after-death services for the deceased, with a view to striking a balance among the needs of various parties.  Irrespective of whether applications for booking cremation service were made through undertakers of burials or by the applicants in person, FEHD will offer a cremation session within the following 15 days from the day an application is made in accordance with the performance pledge.  FEHD will review this arrangement as and when necessary.

(b) Under the existing legislation, burial matters must be handled by licensed undertakers of burials.  Any person (including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or charitable organisations) interested in operating in the trade of undertaking duties connected with burials can apply for a licence from FEHD.  There are at present 101 licensed undertakers of burials, with social welfare organisations included.

(c) The respective numbers of cases using eco-coffins, applications for cremation service and scattering of cremated human ashes in gardens of remembrance (GoRs) as well as registrations on the waiting list for public niches in each of the past five years are shown in Annex 2.

(d) The Government is now constructing a new public columbarium at Kiu Tau Road, Wo Hop Shek to provide about 41 000 niches and a GoR.  The facilities are expected to be completed for public use in mid-2012.  In addition to public niches, the Board of Management of the Chinese Permanent Cemeteries expects to provide about 50 000 niches in the coming three years.  Private cemeteries managed by Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist and other religious bodies also plan to build more niches.  Besides, to increase the supply of public niches, the Government has been actively exploring further the feasibility of building additional columbarium facilities in existing cemeteries, and has also been promoting the district-based columbarium development scheme.  So far, the Government has identified 24 potential sites in 18 districts across the territory.  Relevant technical feasibility studies are being conducted to assess whether these sites would be suitable for columbarium development.  The relevant District Councils will be consulted before sites are confirmed for development.

(e) According to the existing legislation, anyone interested in carrying on the business of a funeral parlour should first obtain a funeral parlour licence issued by FEHD, which is to be renewed every year.  At present, there are seven licensed funeral parlours in Hong Kong, one on the Hong Kong Island, one in the New Territories, and the other five in Kowloon.  Except for the Sai Sing Funeral Parlour located at Hunghom, Kowloon, which operates under a contract awarded by the Government through open tender, the other six funeral parlours are owned and operated by private companies or NGOs.  The contract signed between the Government and Sai Sing Funeral Parlour stipulated that the contractor should provide low-cost basic funeral services to people in need as recognised by the Social Welfare Department or other relevant agencies (such as Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients).  The current contract of the Sai Sing Funeral Parlour will expire on February 29, 2012.  The Government will then conduct open tender again for the operation right of the funeral parlour.

(f) The mode of operation of each funeral parlour varies, so does the size of the mourning halls they provide.  The number of mourning halls in the seven licensed funeral parlours in Hong Kong is set out below:

Name of funeral parlour      No of mourning halls
Hong Kong Funeral Home                19
Po Fook Memorial Hall                 21
Kowloon Funeral Parlour               17
Universal Funeral Parlour             26
Diamond Hill Funeral Parlour          13
International Funeral Parlour         21
Sai Sing Funeral Parlour              21

     At present, the average utilisation rate of the seven funeral parlours is 70%.  Operating a funeral parlour is a business decision.  FEHD will continue to keep in view the utilisation of the funeral parlours, and handle applications for funeral parlour licence according to the established licensing procedures.

Ends/Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Issued at HKT 16:10