THE use of incense in worship will not be caught by the Psychoactive Substances Bill, the Government said this week.
The Bill seeks to crack down on so-called "legal highs", but there had been concerns that incense and other substances, including herbal medicines, could be caught up in the broad definition of "psychoactive substance" (News, 24 July).
The Minister of State for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice and Victims, Mike Penning, said on Friday that "the use of incense in religious services will not be covered by the Bill".
In a reply to the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service, he wrote: "As you acknowledge in your evidence, the definition of a ‘psychoactive substance’ used in the Bill needs to be broad, to ensure that it effectively delivers on our manifesto commitment to introduce a blanket ban on these potentially harmful substances.
"The definition is similar to the one used in Ireland, New Zealand, and at state and federal level in Australia.
"We are dealing here with the trade in psychoactive substances. In looking at the workings of the Bill, it is necessary to consider the definition of a psychoactive substance alongside the elements of the offences in clauses 4 to 8 of the Bill. We do not believe it right to equate the effect of incense wafting through the air with the direct inhalation of fumes, for example from a solvent.
"Moreover, the offences only apply where a substance is likely to be consumed for its psychoactive effect. As such, the use of incense in religious services will not be covered by the Bill.
"I hope that this letter has allayed your concerns. I would be happy to reiterate these points during the Commons stages of the Bill so that the Government’s position is clearly set out on the parliamentary record in Hansard."
The letter was copied to the Association of English Cathedrals, which had raised concerns with the Home Affairs Committee.