Covid-19: Protection of Prison Staff

Justice – in the House of Commons on 14th July 2020.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

What steps his Department has taken to protect prison staff during the covid-19 outbreak.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I take this opportunity to thank our prison staff and those who work in probation for the outstanding job they have done to keep our prisons and those in the community safe. We have taken a range of measures to protect staff from the virus, including reducing the risk of transmission in prisons, led by Public Health England guidance, and making personal protective equipment and testing available. The latest Public Health England advice indicates that the measures we have taken have had a positive impact on limiting the spread of the virus.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for her response and join her in praising prison staff for all the work they have done during this difficult time. What is the plan to continue to protect prison staff as restrictions start to lift and life goes back to near-normal?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As my right hon. Friend highlights, as restrictions are lifted in the community, so we need to lift restrictions in prisons, too, but we need to do so cautiously to ensure that we do not increase the risk of infection. Where prisons are starting to open up—for example, to introduce visits—adaptations are being made to ensure that the risk of infection to staff and prisoners is minimised.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice

On 5 May, the shadow Minister for Prisons and Probation, my hon. Friend Ms Brown, wrote to the Department regarding concerns about the treatment of cleaners at Petty France during the pandemic. The Secretary of State’s reply on 29 May made it clear that he thought there was no issue in terms of management, access to personal protective equipment, social distancing or sick pay. However, hours of interviews and leaked emails and text messages confirmed that cleaners were forced into the Department during the lockdown period, denied PPE, offered no support and had medical issues consistent with coronavirus symptoms. Seven outsourced staff on the site have had those consistent symptoms; two are now dead. The Department had to be guilt-tripped into backdating sick pay. Will the Minister live up to the Ministry of Justice’s name by committing to a full independent review as to what happened to those cleaners working in the Ministry of Justice?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As the right hon. shadow Secretary of State has mentioned, these matters have been looked at. I am happy to take on board any further points that he would like to make.