Religious burials will be protected after MPs passed an amended version of the government’s emergency coronavirus bill.
The 329-page coronavirus bill, which cleared the House of Commons on Monday, is set to go through the upper chamber on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The bill, subject to a six-month review, gives powers to local authorities to dispose of bodies and allows funeral directors to register deaths.
But it also states that local and national authorities must have regard for “the person’s wishes … religion or beliefs, if known.”
The government tabled an amendment after calls from MPs and faith leaders, including the Board of Deputies and the MP Naz Shah, who raised concerns about respecting religious practices.
A government spokesperson said: “We have worked closely with faith groups, MPs and local authorities to reassure them that we are fully committed to respecting religious practices.
“We recognise the huge importance of this and will do everything we can to maintain the right for a person or their loved one to have their preferences respected and the wishes of the bereaved upheld.
“These emergency measures are only intended to be an absolute last resort.”
One hundred MPs backed an amendment proposed by Shah to ensure local authorities respect the deceased’s religious beliefs.
The shadow women and equalities minister told Jewish News on Tuesday: “Both Muslim and Jewish communities were rightly anxious and very worried about the possibility of cremation in the original coronavirus bill as it is completely against their faiths.
“I am grateful that government listened to those concerns and made changes to the bill and therefore, I withdrew my amendment. The government has now provided the much needed legal protection.”
She added: “The manner in which Muslim communities and organisations collaborated and worked collectively with Jewish communities and organisations has truly lifted my spirits but also highlights how we, as communities, can collectively work together and stand together with one another at such times.”
The Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl said on Sunday defaulting to cremation could “add to the sorrow of grieving families and go against fundamental freedoms of religion and belief.”
She hailed the amended bill in a statement on Monday as “an inspiring example of interfaith solidarity and responsive government.”
“It shows, even in these difficult times for our nation, why we have so much reason to be proud of this wonderful country,” she said, thanking ministers “for acting speedily to address the concerns raised by Jewish and Muslim communities.”
She also thanked Shah and the Ilford North MP Wes Streeting “for their close communication with us throughout the bill process.”
Senior Reform rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner welcomed the amendment. “I’m pleased that the government have listened to Naz Shah and accepted her amendment,” she said. “This will allow Jewish and Muslim communities to rest assured that no loved ones will be cremated without consultation with families.”