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Emotional debate over ‘permission’ proposals for pipers at funerals in the Highlands

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Families planning to have a piper at their loved one’s burial will need permission from Highland Council, according to draft new rules.

Grieving relatives could also have to inform the council in advance if they think a large number of people will attend the service.

Graveside ornaments and memorials would also be restricted under the rules in their proposed new form.

The draft rules, put together by officers and poised to go out to public consultation, were branded “petty and ridiculous” by a former piper during an emotional debate at the communities and place meeting.

Retired piper councillor Roddy Balfour added: “I’ve played at plenty of funerals. This is making fools of us in the eyes of the wider world.

“Army manuals are full of instructions for pipers playing at funerals, and often an army officer is detailed to play at a funeral.”

Councillor Duncan Macpherson asked if a family member who decided to play unannounced would be in breach of a by-law, while Dingwall councillor Margaret Paterson said she had been at the funeral of someone who used to play the mouth organ.

She said: “Suddenly someone took out a moothie and started playing a tune, you couldn’t stop them.

“This has to be worded more gently.”

Gordon Adam, member for the Black Isle, asked if it was really necessary.

He said: “Often a piper is at a funeral, I can’t think why prior notice should be given of that.”

Funeral director councillor Alasdair Rhind said there should be more flexibility around music, including in crematoriums.

“People can’t take a key board in and experienced organists can’t use the crematorium organ, only the crematorium organist.”

Another new rule is the requirement by families to tell the council if they are expecting large numbers, which Mrs Paterson described as ‘heavy handed’.

“Families aren’t thinking about it, you don’t know who’s going to turn up.”

Mr Rhind said: “Crematoria need to be more user-friendly for the customers.

“There were one or two rules and regulations pre-Covid that aren’t good for customers at times of grieving, including letting people in only 10 minutes before.

“People arrive half an hour before but when the crematorium doors are locked and people kept outside that’s not good, there needs to be flexibility on that.”

The draft rules also set out regulations to prevent the bereaved from extending graves with things like fences and gravel, or planting trees and bushes.

Councillor Ron MacWilliam urged extreme sensitivity around these issues.

He said: “People grieve in different ways and some families want to spend a lot of time round the grave side, putting up ornaments and so on, in my view if it’s not upsetting someone, you very much leave them to their own personal experience.

“How do you go about enforcing these rules in a way which is ultrasensitive and very specific to that family’s circumstances and is understanding and reasonable in every way?”

Committee chairman councillor Allan Henderson urged the public to take part in the statutory consultation.

“We are acutely aware of the potential sensitivities involved in communicating with the public on the management of burials and cremations – particularly at this difficult time during a pandemic.

“The council has a statutory duty to consult with the public on any changes to the management rules and I would urge anyone with an interest to take part and have their say.”

The council will promote the public consultation in due course and the results will be considered by councillors in February.

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