asked the Secretary of of State for the Home Department what representation he has received from the Prison Officers' Association on his decision to permit Mr. Curtis, South-East Region organiser of the National Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders, to visit Her Majesty's prisons.
Will my right hon. Friend say whether the allegation is correct that this officer belonged to an organisation known as PROP—an organisation with which my right hon. Friend has said he will not negotiate—and that that is why exception was taken when he visited Norwich Prison, when he was refused admission, and that subsequently the Home Office reversed this judgment and permitted him to visit prisons?
It is true that Mr. Curtis did in the past belong to PROP, an organisation started by ex-prisoners to further prisoners' rights and which, for many reason well known to the House, I did say I was not prepared to negotiate with. But Mr. Curtis left that organisation some time ago, and I think it is right that he should be judged on his present merits. I am sure that the House would agree with that. It is for the governor of a prison to decide to allow a particular visit. Governors are asked to take account of both the views of the prison staff and their judgment about the effect of a particular visitor on discipline in the prison. They have to take into account the views of prison staff, and the governors have now been advised that prison officers object to visits by Mr. Curtis.
Does that answer mean that in practice Mr. Curtis may be allowed to visit prisons? Is not the test the work which this man could do? Is it not wrong that he should be prevented from making visits? Is not that the real effect of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying?
I do not think I said that. I stressed that Mr. Curtis's membership of PROP was in the past, and I hoped that everyone would judge him on his present activities, and not on his past, whatever that may have been. It is also the fact that governors must take into account the views of prison staff. The views of the prison staff are as I have described them, but that does not mean to say that they will always remain so. One cannot ignore the views of the staff. I would have thought that Opposition Members would agree with that.
Is this not an unsatisfactory position? It means, in effect, that the Prison Officers' Association is able to exercise a veto over a man who left PROP because he disliked its methods, has now joined a very responsible organisation, known as NACRO, and is himself acting very responsibly? It is an unfortunate attitude for the POA to take in exercising a veto in relation to a man who has seen that the organisation with which he was once associated is not the kind of organisation to which he wants to belong now, and who is therefore really accepting the Home Secretary's views about PROP.
It is no good pretending that this is an easy matter, because it is not. In considering the current attitude of the prison officers one has to remember what they suffered not much more than a year ago, partly because of the activities of PROP. They are human beings, as we are, and we cannot expect them to forget what happened. I do not think that the attitude is directed personally at Mr. Curtis, but it is a strong feeling which the prison officers have towards PROP and for the moment towards anyone who as recently as just over a year ago played an active part in it. I am not saying that this will—I hope it will not—persist for all time. We must be understanding and persuasive on both sides of this question.