HL Deb 20 June 1996 vol 573 cc40-1WA
Lord Avebury

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will issue an instruction to governors of prisons in England and Wales, after consultation with the recognised authorities of the non-Christian faiths, on articles of a religious nature which a prisoner may have in his possession, or which may be taken in by visiting ministers either for distribution or for use in religious meetings.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

Responsibility for this matter has been delegated to the Director General of the Prison Service, who has been asked to arrange for a reply to be given.

Letter to Lord Avebury from the Director of Personnel of the Prison Service, Mr. David Scott, dated 20th June 1996.

Lady Blatch has asked me, in the absence of the Director General from the office, to reply to your recent Question about articles of a religious nature which prisoners may have in their possession or which may be used in religious meetings.

In general prisoners are allowed to have sufficient property to lead as normal and individual an existence as possible within the constraints of the prison environment. Negotiations have taken place over a substantial period between Prison Service headquarters and the official consultants for each faith about what should be allowed for religious purposes and what should be restricted. The results have been incorporated fully in the appropriate denominational articles and the general sections of the third edition of the Directory and Guide on Religious Practices in HM Prison Service, which is to be issued shortly and copy of which will be placed in the Library. Should a situation arise that has not been envisaged, governors will seek advice from the appropriate Assistant Chaplain General.

Articles used in religious meetings and services are such as may be reasonably required by each religion. Normally this would be at the discretion of the visiting minister or chaplain. However, certain matters have given cause for concern and special regulations have been made regarding them.

Gas or oil candles are not to be used, as they could become a source of danger to life and property if appropriated by a prisoner.

Special regulations have been made with regard to the kirpan knife carried by Sikh visiting ministers.

The use of candles and incense in general is restricted to corporate worship under the leadership of a visiting minister or chaplain. These items are not allowed in private possession or to be used in prisoners' cells or rooms.

The overall amount of property prisoners are allowed in their cells is subject to volumetric controls, currently being introduced in all prisons in England and Wales.