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LCQ10: Public funeral services

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Kwok-hung and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (December 17):


     Quite a number of members of the public have complained to me that the burial services currently provided by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) are in short supply.  They have encountered many problems when booking cremation sessions and waiting for niches, etc. They have also pointed out that with an ageing population in Hong Kong, the existing burial services cannot meet the increasing demand. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) of the current number of cremators across the territory;

(2) whether it will increase the numbers of crematoria and cremators; if it will, of the following information on the new crematoria and cremators to be provided in the coming five years: (i) the numbers, (ii) the completion dates and (iii) the locations (set out one by one in a table);

(3) of the number of new niches to be provided by FEHD in each of the coming five years and the completion dates;

(4) given that at present, when members of the public book online the cremation service provided by FEHD, they can only choose from the cremation sessions available within the next 15 days, whether the authorities will consider extending the number of days available for booking to 30 days, so as to make available more sessions for members of the public to choose; if they will, of the implementation date; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) whether it will consider increasing the amount of the burial grant provided for recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, so that the amount can cover the costs for religious (especially the Taoist and the Buddhist) funeral services; if it will, of the amount to be increased and the implementation date; if not, the reasons for that;

(6) whether it will plan the use of more lands in the North East New Territories New Development Areas for the construction of funeral parlours, crematoria and columbaria; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(7) whether it will expand the existing public columbaria by converting them to buildings of not lower than 20 storeys, so as to meet the demand for niches; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(8) of the respective numbers of cases in which members of the public used the services of scattering cremated ashes in Gardens of Remembrance and at sea in each year since 2013; and

(9) whether it collaborated with non-profit-making or charitable organisations in promoting green funeral services in the past five years; if it did not, the reasons for that; if it did, of the details and whether it will increase such services?



     On funeral matters, it is the Government's policy to encourage cremation and to provide the public with efficient and dignified cremation service. Meanwhile, the Government is adopting a multi-pronged approach to help the public handle the ashes of their ancestors properly. Relevant measures include increasing the number of public niches, regulating private columbaria through legislation and promoting green burial (including the scattering of ashes in Gardens of Remembrance and at sea) which is a more environmental-friendly and sustainable way for handling ashes.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(1) There are currently 26 cremators in the territory, distributed in six crematoria under the management of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD).

(2) In view of the increasing demand for cremation service, the Administration embarked on a reprovisioning and modernisation programme for cremators in 2003 to enhance the efficiency of cremators and improve the control of the quality and volume of air pollutant emissions so as to meet the latest environmental protection requirements. The reprovisioning of cremators at Wo Hop Shek Crematorium and Cape Collinson Crematorium (Phase 1) was completed in early 2013. Upon completion of the works for Cape Collinson Crematorium (Phase 2) at the end of 2015, the annual cremation capacity in the territory is expected to increase from about 43 900 sessions to 52 800 sessions. This will be sufficient to meet the demand for cremation service up to 2025. As regards the long-term development of crematoria, please refer to our reply to part (6) below.

(3) The expected number of additional niches to be provided by FEHD in the coming five years is listed in Annex.

(4) According to the pledge of FEHD, applicants may book a cremation session within the next 15 days from the day of submitting applications. If all cremation sessions are booked, FEHD will provide additional sessions immediately to meet public demand. This arrangement not only fulfils the public expectation of arranging cremation service for the deceased as soon as possible, but also facilitates the early disposal of dead bodies in the interest of public health. FEHD understands that most of the applicants prefer conducting cremation on weekends, holidays or other special days. As such, the regular maintenance of cremators will be carried out on weekdays as far as practicable to minimise the impact on the service in the above-mentioned days.

(5) The Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme provides a safety net to meet the basic needs of those who cannot support themselves financially.  Under the CSSA Scheme, a burial grant is payable to the deceased recipient's relatives/friends to cover the burial expenses of the deceased recipient. Such expenses may include charges for the death certificate, coffin, clothing for the deceased, cremation and hiring of ritual hall, etc. The amount of burial grant payable equals to the actual expenses after deducting the condolence money or the maximum level of the grant (currently at $13,200), whichever is less. The maximum level of the grant is pegged to the burial grant payable under the Emergency Relief Fund, which is adjusted annually in accordance with the movement of the Consumer Price Index (A). It was increased by 5.1% on April 1, 2014 according to the above mechanism. We will continue to adjust the maximum level of the burial grant according to the established mechanism.

(6) To address the demand for funeral services in the medium and long term, the Government is planning to develop public funeral facilities (including a funeral parlour with around 30 service halls, a crematorium with 10 cremators and columbarium facilities providing 200 000 niches) at the Sandy Ridge Cemetery, with a view to providing the public with one-stop funeral services. These facilities are expected to be completed in phases from 2022 onwards.

(7) FEHD carried out extension or addition works in Wo Hop Shek Columbarium, Kwai Chung Columbarium, Cape Collinson Columbarium, Diamond Hill Columbarium and Cheung Chau Cemetery from 2006 to 2013, providing more than 76 000 new niches in total.

     FEHD will continue to review the feasibility of building additional niches in public cemeteries and columbaria. However, the scale of extension work is inevitably subject to such constraints as space, transport infrastructure support and other factors which include the views of the neighbourhood, etc.

     To encourage the public to better utilise existing resources to meet public demand, FEHD has also, with effect from January 2014, relaxed the arrangement of placing additional sets of ashes into public niches, including (i) relaxing the definition of "close relative"; and (ii) allowing the public to place more than two sets of ashes in a standard niche and more than four sets in a large niche (if they so prefer).

(8) In 2013, the numbers of cases of scattering of ashes in Gardens of Remembrance and at sea are 2 354 and 797 respectively.  In 2014 (as at the end of November), the numbers of such cases are 2 469 and 793 respectively.

(9) The Government is committed to promoting green burial by encouraging the public to use a more environmental-friendly and sustainable way for handling ashes, including scattering ashes in Gardens of Remembrance or at sea and paying tribute to the deceased through Internet Memorial Service. The efforts made by FEHD to promote green burial mainly include participation in the annual Hong Kong Senior Fair, publication of handbooks and promotion materials on green burial and production of announcements in the public interest and video clips.  FEHD has also, through elderly centres/homes and religious organisations, conducted seminars on green burial for the elderly and the public as well as organised visits for them to attend ceremonies of scattering of ashes in Gardens of Remembrance or at sea.  FEHD will continue to step up publicity and educational efforts to further promote green burial.

Ends/Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Issued at HKT 14:11


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