Prison Service Parliamentary Scheme

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th June 2018.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady and, indeed, to my hon. Friend Gordon Henderson. The idea is for a parliamentary scheme focused on the Prison Service, along the lines of the parliamentary schemes for the police and the armed services. This is an exceptional opportunity to show the public, through their elected representatives, the extraordinary work that prison officers do day in, day out. It is a very tough and a very challenging job, so, inspired by the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend, we have asked the Department to develop a scheme of exactly the kind that they have proposed.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I am delighted to hear the Minister’s response, as, I am sure, are the leaders of the Prison Officers Association who are with us in the Gallery today. I am sure he will agree that this must not be just a stage-managed public affairs exercise, and I ask him to commit himself to working with the POA on the design of the scheme.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

That seems an excellent idea, and I am glad that the POA representatives are here today. As the hon. Lady—and any other Members who have visited a prison—will know, prisons are rarely stage-managed affairs, but we will work closely with the POA to ensure that the scheme reflects the experience of working prison officers.

Photo of Gordon Henderson Gordon Henderson Conservative, Sittingbourne and Sheppey

I, too, am delighted by the Minister’s announcement. Can he give us any indication of how long it is likely to take to get the scheme up and running?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Let me again pay tribute to my hon. Friend for having inspired the scheme. The proposal is being put together by the Department at the moment, and I hope that before the end of the year we shall be able to enrol at least a couple of Members of Parliament on exactly such a scheme.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

As one of those who have served on the armed forces parliamentary scheme and seen the benefits that it provides in increasing knowledge, I commend the Minister for what he is doing. I suggest that this scheme should be similar to the armed forces scheme, because it has worked extremely well, and I think that the Prison Service should take advantage of it.

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

We are looking closely at the armed forces parliamentary scheme, and also at the police parliamentary scheme, in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State took part. Those are quite large and well-funded schemes, so we are looking at them carefully. This scheme may start as a smaller pilot, but we certainly want to model it on those other schemes.

Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Conservative, Hornchurch and Upminster

A Prison Service parliamentary scheme would give prison officers an opportunity to flag directly with Members of Parliament wider law and order issues, one of which is the use of separation jail cells to hold Islamist terrorists who pose a national security threat through attempts to radicalise other inmates. Many of those cells are lying empty. What work are you doing to ensure that they are in full operation?

Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Managing Islamist extremists in prison means that, as well as identifying them and gathering intelligence on them, it is sometimes necessary to remove them from the general population to prevent them from radicalising other people. We have therefore set up two separation units, one of which is in Frankland Prison, and a third will shortly be set up in a new high-security prison. Such units are a vital element of managing extremists.