HC Deb 16 February 1944 vol 397 cc184-5
63. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what percentage of prisoners in this country are recorded, respectively, as members of the Church of England, the Free Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, or of the Jewish faith; and whether he will arrange for the practice of automatically classifying prisoners who are agnostic or indifferent as Church of England to cease and unless a positive indication of religious conviction is made prisoners to be recorded as agnostic or as indicating no religious conviction.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

No statistics are collected of the religious denominations to which prisoners may state that they belong, but even if available I consider it would be quite wrong to seek to draw any inference from them with regard to any particular denomination. The suggestion in the latter part of the Question is, I think, unfounded. I am not aware that any prisoner is classified as a member of a particular denomination against his wish.

Mr. Sorensen

Is it not true that figures are available indicating the respective faiths and beliefs of prisoners? Further, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the careless way of describing the majority of prisoners as "members of the Church of England," gives rise to the most unfortunate feeling that members of that Church are more prone to crime than agnostics or persons with other religious beliefs?

Mr. Peake

No statistics of any kind have been collected centrally since 1930, but if the hon. Member would like some information on that point I will try to furnish it privately. With regard to the hon. Member's second point, the possession of religious convictions is not an essential qualification for admission to any of His Majesty's prisons. If a person declares that he has no religion that fact will be recorded.

Mr. Sorensen

But if people are indifferent, is it not true that, automatically, they are put down as "C. of E.," which is misleading?

Mr. Peake

No, Sir, but I admit that it seems to be the general idea that there is something rather respectable or patriotic about declaring that one belongs to the Church of England.

Mr. E. Walkden

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that practically every Member of Parliament has received a pamphlet during the past few days inch-eating that certain crimes have been committed by members of a particular faith and stating that these facts are derived from the Home Office or certain Departmental figures? The evidence is very disturbing.

Mr. Peake

I am not aware of the facts which have been stated. I have seen the pamphlet and I regard it as very mischievous.

Mr. Loģan

Ought there not to be an inquiry into the characters of those who have issued the pamphlet?