UK Government proposes to add humanists to new prison chaplaincy forum

11 January, 2023

Yesterday, the UK Government announced it intends to replace Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)’s Chaplaincy Council with a Chaplaincy Faith and Belief Forum and that this will include non-religious pastoral carers. The change would affect England and Wales. Humanists UK has been working with HMPPS on the reforms for some time. Today it congratulates the Government for its inclusive approach and looks forward to helping make this proposal become a reality.

The announcement came in response to an oral question posed by Lord Singh of Wimbledon (Crossbencher), about the work of the prison chaplaincy service. Justice Minister Lord Bellamy said that the Chaplaincy Council was no longer reflective of ‘the breath of faith and belief of those in prison or on probation’, proposing that the Council therefore be replaced by ‘a Chaplaincy Faith and Belief Forum representing all faiths.’

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Labour), member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), responded:

‘The Minister has used the words “all faiths”. I wonder if he will include humanists in the consultation, because there are many who would welcome chaplaincy from a humanist understanding as well.’

Lord Bellamy responded unambiguously: ‘The answer to that, my Lords, is yes.’

APPHG Vice Chair Baroness Burt of Solihull (Liberal Democrat) later highlighted the strong case for including non-religious pastoral carers. She said:

‘Prison chaplaincy provides a very valuable pastoral and counselling service for all prisoners and staff in the Prison Service. Chaplains are forbidden from proselytising and have a general responsibility to help all who seek help and advice. However, given that according to the 2021 Census 37% of the population have no faith at all, has the time not now come for non-religious pastoral carers to be included in the new Chaplaincy Faith and Belief Forum?’

Lord Bellamy reiterated:

‘My Lords, it is the Government’s intention to see that that happens.’

Since 2016, Humanists UK has overseen the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NRPSN), which provides pastoral care in prisons, hospitals, and other settings. Around 10% of prisons now have a non-religious pastoral carer, but these posts are generally held by volunteers. Paid positions are generally held by Christians and Muslims. Research published last year showed that non-religious people are being discriminated against in prisons in the provision of chaplaincy and pastoral care services. This puts non-religious offenders at a disadvantage when compared to their peers, contrary to the Equality Act 2010, by depriving them of the ability to connect with like-minded people.

Clare Elcombe Webber, Humanists UK’s Head of Humanist Care at Humanists UK, commented on the announcement: 

‘We’ve been campaigning for this to change for a long time. We’re pleased with the Government’s unambiguous statement that it wants to include us in the new Forum, and look forward to working with them to make this happen.’

‘The current situation for non-religious offenders is dire when compared to their religious counterparts. It is so important for prisoners to be able to speak to someone who shares their worldview.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

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Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.