HL Deb 05 April 1995 vol 563 cc178-80

2.54 p.m.

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they consider that, under prison rule 12(2), individual pastoral care of prisoners by ministers of religion has a role to play in cases of bereavement, marital stress or breakdown and other personal crises.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry)

Yes, my Lords. We welcome the unique and important contribution that chaplains and ministers of religion are able to make, along with other agencies, to the pastoral care of prisoners in times of personal crises.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the Minister aware that up until recently the amount of time that individual ministers gave to their pastoral duties within the prison system was a matter within their own discretion but that now contracts are being let by individual prison governors which specify the maximum number of hours which can be devoted to a prison by a given minister? Under those circumstances there is a lack of flexibility and a difference between one prison and another which are hindering the visiting ministers from carrying out the duties that are mentioned.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, I am aware that as a result of the development of local management the arrangements now are made on a local basis. In setting the amount of time for which payment will be made regard is had to the requirements which are perceived to be necessary for a particular prison. They vary according to the different denominations which are predominant in various parts of the country. That is wholly without prejudice to the right of any minister to visit voluntarily without payment in addition to the hours for which he is paid.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, do I take it that the Government do not accept any responsibility for the amount of religious worship—I use the word "religious" in its widest sense—that is provided in prisons? Do the Government accept any responsibility; or do they leave it to some governor, who might be an atheist?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, as the noble Earl, who takes an interest in these matters, knows, there are provisions both in statute and in the prison rules which deal with religious observance and so on in prisons. Having regard to the obligations under statute and under the rules, the local management decides the best way in which the resources should be used in a particular prison. For example, in some areas there may be a requirement for more Buddhists or more Moslems to be visited; in other areas, more Roman Catholics. It is entirely a matter for the governor, having regard to the obligations which are placed upon him.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is it really satisfactory that matters of this kind should be determined by the governor? I am all in favour, as I am sure all of us are, of giving as much authority to governors as possible, hut are we really contemplating a situation where a minister of religion could be excluded if he required payment for what might be fairly onerous services?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, these matters are discussed with the chaplains who liaise with the various denominations. As a result of that, agreements arc entered into in the local area. There is no question of ministers of religion being excluded from visiting any particular person. The only question that arises is the number of hours of service for which they would be paid. That is determined as a result of negotiations with the chaplains and with the various people who represent the faiths. It is a matter on which, so far as I am aware, agreement is generally reached.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, can we be assured that, whatever the position with regard to payment might be, a minister of religion is free to come and go and to extend his work if he sees fit? We cannot surely be moving to a situation of payment by results in religion.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, I give that assurance. Indeed I would underline that them is no question of that. The question of access is dealt with on the basis that, so far as it does not interfere with discipline and so on, there is free access. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, raised the question of the number of hours for which payment might be made. That is a different matter.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that it is profoundly unsatisfactory for him to say that ministers of religion can provide these services free? Is he further aware that in some prisons the amount of time that is allowed to be devoted to individual prisoners can be as low as 12 minutes per month? Does he not agree that the Home Office has a duty to consult representatives of all the faiths served by visiting ministers in the prisons to see whether agreement can be reached on some common guidelines as to the level of service which ought to be provided?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, I believe that it is true to say that the Home Office and the Prison Service have taken a lead in developing over the years a way of handling the various faiths which are now represented in the prison population. Indeed, they have produced directories of information, and so on, which have been a model not only to this country but to countries overseas as well. Therefore, I would reject any suggestion that this matter has not been dealt with sensitively. On the contrary, my understanding is that agreement and consultation are very much the order of the day.

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