Prison Officers Association (68 Is Too Late Campaign)

– in the Scottish Parliament at 12:59 pm on 18 April 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party 12:59, 18 April 2024

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-12265, in the name of Pauline McNeill, on the Prison Officers Association’s 68 is too late campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

I advise all members that I will seek to ensure that they stick to their allocated time, as they have signed up and agreed to do, because business will resume at 2 pm, and we must allow our staff sufficient time to clear the chamber in preparation for the start of the afternoon session.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes the Prison Officers Association campaign, 68 is too late; understands that the campaign seeks to end what it sees as the injustice of prison officers being required to work until they are 68, compared with other uniformed services, such as the police force, fire service and the Armed Forces, which, it understands, have a normal retirement age of 60; notes the view that expecting prison officers to work until almost their seventh decade, at a time when, it understands, the prisoner population is rising, the average age of a prisoner is 36, violence is increasing and the influence of organised crime is expanding, is both dangerous and unrealistic; further notes the belief that a retirement age of 68 risks the safety of prisoners, prison officers and the public, including in the Glasgow region; considers that, for successful rehabilitation, prisoners rely on well-trained, motivated and confident officers working in safe and fully-staffed establishments, and notes the calls on the Scottish and UK governments to enter talks with the Prison Officers Association to discuss how to bring about changes to the retirement rules to provide an option to access their pension at 60 with no financial detriment.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 1:00, 18 April 2024

When I was first asked to host—jointly with Audrey Nicoll, Maggie Chapman and Liam McArthur—the drop-in on the 68 is too late campaign, my reaction was that 68 is too late for everyone, but it is certainly too late for prison officers. I also put on record that although I did not manage to get to the WASPIWomen Against State Pension Inequality—demonstration today, I, in common with everyone else in the chamber, endorse the WASPI women’s continued fight for justice.

When we think of the risks that prison officers manage on a day-to-day basis and the incredible physical courage and patience that they must display, it is clear to me that, in the main, 68 is far too old an age for a prison officer to be able to deal with physical challenges of such a nature. Most prisons and custodial institutions are inherently violent places, but the skill and professionalism shown by prison officers are what limit the frequency and severity of incidents.

In his 2011 review of public sector pensions, Lord Hutton of Furness produced a list of uniformed services that he proposed to protect from the rise in the state pension age to 68. He insisted that, historically, the pension age had been lower for the armed forces, the police and firefighters to reflect the unique nature of their work and that, therefore,

“a pension age of 60 is appropriate.”

Prison officers are clearly a uniformed service, but they were unfairly left off that list. If a prison officer fails their annual physical test, they will generally be allowed to retire, but that means that they will not get their full pension. That is hardly fair when police officers and firefighters are able to retire almost a decade earlier.

Unlike most public sector workers, prison officers cannot go on strike. Given that they are prohibited from taking any form of industrial action, we need to make sure that the Government is not taking advantage of that restriction and underrewarding prison officers.

I also note that the Prison Service Pay Review Body has continued to raise concern about the pension age, arguing that 68 is

“far too old to cope with the physical and mental demands of being an operational frontline prison officer”.

The retention rate of newly recruited prison officers is very low. Violence, or the threat of violence, is always there. The fact that it is a difficult and unpredictable job should be acknowledged through the retirement age.

At the start of the year, the head of the Scottish Prison Service, Teresa Medhurst, said that Scotland’s jails were “too full” and that they were reaching a “tipping point”. Overcrowding creates all sorts of pressures inside jails. Andy Hodge, the governor of Perth prison, has pointed out:

“The pressure of population is forcing us to put more people into one room. That’s a real stretch. Two adult men into a room where you’ve got one TV, one kettle, tensions start to build, people start to fall out. Violence amongst the residents starts to go up.”

Prison officers have to deal with the fallout of those increasing pressures and tensions. That is on top of their having to deal with violence directed at them by inmates.

Another pressure that prison officers have to deal with is the increasing number of prisoners suffering from acute mental health problems. There are high levels of self-harm, suicide and drug deaths in our prisons; all are clearly challenging to deal with, and our prison officers are tasked with dealing with such incidents on a daily basis.

The Prison Officers Association is extremely concerned about the impact of prolonged exposure to such an environment on front-line staff, especially those who are required to continue working until they are 68. It has pointed out that relying on prison officers to work until they are 68 results in high levels of sickness and absence rates across the service. Prison officers are critical to the rehabilitation of prisoners, and it is not in the interests of prisons as a whole for members of the prison workforce to feel that they are being unfairly treated compared with workers in other sectors.

Prison officers are on the front line of the criminal justice system and do a difficult and dangerous job. I do not believe that a retirement age of 68 is either appropriate for prison officers or in the public interest, and I ask the Scottish Government to have discussions with the United Kingdom Government about how we can ensure fairness for prison officers.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 1:05, 18 April 2024

I congratulate Pauline McNeill on securing crucial debating time for this important subject.

Prison officers shoulder unique and demanding roles, necessitating that they keep order while functioning, on occasion, almost as social workers and educators to individuals, many of whom are deemed too dangerous for the rest of society.

The Prison Act 1952 vests prison officers with

“all the powers, authority, protection and privileges”

of police officers. Despite that clear legal mandate, a glaring denial of prison officers’ pension rights persists. Expecting prison officers to retire at 68 shamelessly disregards the realities of prison life for those on the service’s front line. It makes no sense to ask a 67-year-old male or female to confront, subdue and control a physically agile 25-year-old who might be armed with a bladed weapon or influenced by a history of violence or drug abuse. In such situations, a retirement age of 68 threatens the safety of inmates, prison officers and, ultimately, the public.

There have been 900 reported assaults against prison officers in the past three years, and the number is on an upward trend. Moreover, the behaviour of inmates is becoming hard to contain as new types of crime and drug use evolve in combination with overcrowding. A recent study conducted by Richard Harries of the Leverhulme research centre for forensic science at the University of Dundee revealed that vapes are now being utilised in prisons for the trafficking and administration of drugs, leading to a risk of the escalation in drug use and gang affiliation within Scotland’s prisons. The proliferation of mobile phones also introduces security risks that require constant vigilance.

An anonymous source told The Guardian last year:

“Prisoners are bigger due to steroids. Spice turns inmates into zombies. And with social media they might know where we live.”

Managing those challenging circumstances places significant physical demands on younger staff members, let alone those in their seventh decade who might have dedicated almost half a century of their lives to their roles in the prison system.

There is certainly no other profession that places such duties and expectations on staff. The pension age for police officers, the fire service and the military stands at a dignified 60, or less in certain circumstances, whereas prison officers are required to work for an additional eight years. The Prison Officers Association has rightly voiced concerns about the prolonged exposure of front-line staff in their 60s to that environment.

Research from PTSD UK indicates that UK prison officers face a significantly higher risk of developing post-dramatic stress disorder than those in most other occupations. Burn-out, characterised by emotional exhaustion, depersonalisation and a diminished sense of personal accomplishment, is also more prevalent among prison officers.

Given the widely acknowledged risks faced by officers on the job, there is a clear need for increased support, one crucial aspect of which is to ensure a timely and dignified retirement. Moreover, for Mark Fairhurst, chair of the POA, the retirement age is a primary reason for the recruitment crisis in the prison system. Fairhurst has said that, for many 18-year-olds, the thought of working on the prison estate for half a century deters them from seeking to join the service.

The POA has also found that poor retirement prospects are central to the haemorrhage of long-experienced officers, who are lost to the service. Meanwhile, years of austerity and real-terms pay cuts have intensified the pressure on prison officers, resulting in the overcrowding and understaffing that can lead to prisons failing to meet the minimum staffing requirements for a safe and fully operational establishment.

It is imperative to acknowledge that the challenges faced by prison officers do not cease on retirement. Many carry physical injuries, mental scars and emotional burdens accumulated over years of service. They deserve the opportunity to retire at an age where they can enjoy the fruits of their labour, spend quality time with their families and pursue personal interests without the constraints of age-related limitations.

I whole-heartedly support the 68 is too late campaign, because we cannot, in good conscience, allow the situation to persist. It is incumbent on us to prioritise the wellbeing of our prison officers, both in the present and during retirement. Let us not forget the years of service that they render to our communities. A retirement age of 68 is an act of profound injustice and disrespect, and I therefore support Pauline McNeill’s motion.

Photo of Sharon Dowey Sharon Dowey Conservative 1:09, 18 April 2024

I thank Pauline McNeill for bringing the debate to the chamber and for bringing the Prison Officers Association to Holyrood at the end of March, when we heard from it directly about its campaign.

The retirement age for these dedicated professionals has sparked widespread concern, particularly in light of the challenging conditions that they face daily. The Scottish Conservatives understand the demanding nature of the work that prison officers carry out and we fully understand and appreciate the sentiment that 68 is too late for officers to be conducting front-line work. The work is incredibly demanding and physical, and it takes a real toll. I have spoken with prison officers and I recently visited HMP Kilmarnock, and I have great admiration for the work that prison officers do.

The broader context is important. The SNP Government’s justice failures have resulted in crime levels spiralling upwards, overcrowded prisons, delayed infrastructure projects and heightened risks in our prisons. In such a deteriorating environment, expecting officers to continue front-line duties until the age of 68 is asking too much.

Prison officers also face increasing gang violence. A new study by the SPS found that gang violence is being fuelled by steroids inhaled through vapes, and those steroids were identified in every prison that the study looked at.

With many premises being over capacity and understaffed, prison officers often face terrifying situations. One of the POA campaigners highlighted to me a situation that occurred where the ratio was 66 prisoners to two female prison officers, and at one point an officer was left alone with the prisoners. The chief executive of the SPS has also warned that officers are facing significant danger from organised crime gang members.

We agree that there should be action on the pension age, but the Scottish Government must also look at what else it can do for prison officers. It can ensure that prison officers are not subjected to such adverse work conditions, and measures such as the provision of body-worn cameras for officer safety can be implemented, which would reverse recent setbacks such as the loss of those cameras when HMP Kilmarnock was nationalised by the SNP.

I agree that 68 is too late. It represents a long time to expect officers to work on the front line, especially in such harsh and difficult conditions. However, it is also important that the Scottish Government addresses the pressing and systemic issues that the prison system faces. The wellbeing and safety of our prison officers must receive greater focus from the Government.

Photo of Baroness Katy Clark Baroness Katy Clark Labour 1:12, 18 April 2024

I congratulate my colleague Pauline McNeill on securing this important debate. The age at which prison officers can retire from the service and collect their pension is currently set at 67, and it is due to increase to 68. While their retirement age continues to be linked to the UK state pension age, prison officers face the real prospect that the age could be increased even further. As it stands, 67 or 68 is too late. It puts prison officers, the colleagues for whom they provide back-up support and the prisoners whom they look after at unacceptable levels of risk.

The omission of prison officers from the list of uniformed services for which a pension age of 60 was agreed to be appropriate, in recognition of the unique toll that such professions take, was a significant error. As Pauline McNeill said, the Hutton review in 2011 concluded:

“for the uniformed services ... where pension age has historically been lower to reflect the unique nature of their work a pension age of 60 is appropriate.”

Prison officers should have had a pension age of 60. We must appreciate that, historically, there have also been lower pension ages in other sectors, such as for staff in psychiatric hospitals. Firefighters, prison officers and the armed forces were all included in 2011, yet prison officers were then excluded.

The current retirement age fails to recognise the unique pressures on prison staff. It is abundantly clear to me from speaking to them and reading the many responses that they provided to the Prison Officers Association’s all-member survey on the issue that the situation is untenable and unsafe. More than 90 per cent of the Prison Officers Association members who were surveyed said that they believe that they will not be able to continue to work until the age of 68, with more than 95 per cent fearing that they will need to leave their job before they reach that age because of the considerable physical and mental health challenges that they face in their work.

In the words of one prison officer,

“By the time we reach 68, we will already be suffering from ill health, hip and knee issues, and the stress that comes from working in the job. Including strokes and heart attacks and high blood pressure. Most of us barely live until our 70’s.”

Another describes how they are already

“struggling to cope”

at the age of 49. The injuries that they frequently receive in the course of their duties

“are taking longer to heal from”,

yet that officer will still be required to work a further 19 years of service before they are permitted to pick up their pension. It is clear that the mental and physical impact of carrying out those roles is incredibly high—and, as Sharon Dowey said, the prison environment that officers work in is becoming increasingly dangerous.

Prison officers work with an ever-expanding prison population and respond to high levels of prisoner violence, which is often instigated by those who are high on psychoactive substances. As has been said, prisons are becoming more dangerous, given the presence of drugs and the increasing numbers of members of organised crime gangs. All of that is coupled with a Scottish Prison Service that is understaffed and overstretched.

I urge the Scottish Government to meet the Prison Officers Association to discuss those issues and, thereafter, to make appropriate recommendations to the UK Government.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green 1:16, 18 April 2024

I thank Pauline McNeill for her motion and for securing the debate. Before the Easter recess, it was my pleasure to co-host, with Pauline McNeill and other cross-party colleagues, a drop-in session in the Parliament with the Prison Officers Association. Many colleagues will have taken the chance to have a chat with prison officers about the work that they do and the conditions in which they must do that work.

In those conversations, I heard prison officers talk about the physically demanding nature of their role, which staff who are in their seventh decade—and who are approaching their eighth decade—should not be expected to undertake. A prison may be a “controlled environment”, but that does not mean that it is a safe environment. This afternoon and in many other debates in the chamber, we have heard of the violence and abuse that take place in our prisons. I argue that such conditions alone are justification enough for a whole-scale review of our prison system that covers what—and who—it is for, and why we still use a carceral system that has not fundamentally changed for decades, if not centuries.

However, that may be a debate for another day. Today, we have the chance to come together as a Parliament and stand in solidarity with workers who do a difficult and demanding job. We have the chance to make a clear and united call to the UK Government that we agree with the Prison Officers Association’s campaign—that 68 is, indeed, too late.

Pauline McNeill has mentioned, but it is worth reiterating, that as a uniformed service, prison officers should have been included in the 2011 Furness review of public service pensions. That review stated clearly that uniformed services should have a pension age of 60,

“to reflect the unique nature of their work”.

Pauline McNeill outlined clearly many of the increasing pressures on our prisons, all of which make a retirement age of 68 even less appropriate. Making prison officers work until they are 68 is risky, and lays the foundations for problems in the service in the coming years. Experienced prison officers might decide to leave their roles in their 40s or 50s because they want to get another job before getting close to 60, when their employment prospects will decline. That is not good for ensuring that younger workers have experienced colleagues to support them as they get to grips with a job that probably not many of us would want to do. It is not good for the service as whole. It is also likely that sickness absence rates will increase, which will put additional strain on remaining colleagues and potentially make prisons even more dangerous. That cannot be the future that we want for the service.

I hope that we can all be clear in our commitment to ensuring that prison officers are included in the list of uniformed services with a retirement age of 60. I urge the cabinet secretary, in her closing remarks, to commit to engaging with the Prison Officers Association and others, so that we might explore what we can do to support prison officers until we get the change that we need at Westminster.

I close with the words of a prison officer who took part in a survey undertaken by the POA this year:

“I am aged 59 at the moment and have 30 years of experience in working in various establishments. The job that I am required to do has had a lasting mental and physical impact on me, in particular the latter years. The thought of having to go to 67/68 fills me with dread as I feel that I will be less capable of doing what is demanded of me. It is not an environment for anybody over the age of 60.”

Photo of Audrey Nicoll Audrey Nicoll Scottish National Party 1:20, 18 April 2024

I, too, am pleased to speak in the debate, and I thank Pauline McNeill for bringing it to the chamber. I commend the 68 is too late campaign, which seeks to address a long-standing anomaly whereby prison officers in the UK are unable to access their pension until they are 68. As a former emergency services worker, I recognise the strength of feeling and support behind the campaign.

I am astounded at the appalling position taken by UK ministers, who view 68 as an appropriate age for prison officers to retire on the ground that a prison is a controlled environment, which completely fails to understand the complexities and challenges of managing a changing 21st-century prison population. The UK Government must bring about pension justice for our front-line prison staff, and I lend my weight to the efforts to secure that change.

I want to continue the theme of wellbeing and acknowledge the commitment of prison officers in Scotland. That was highlighted at a recent event that I sponsored in the Parliament on behalf of Aid & Abet, a charity that works with ex-prisoners. The event celebrated the publication of “The Good Prison Officer”, which is a collection of reflections written by ex-prisoners who are all now practitioners and educators in the criminal justice field. Their personal stories offer an insight into the importance of developing a rehabilitative culture in prison that derives from the empathy, compassion and respect that are shown by prison officers and which were shown towards them, profoundly impacting their lives and, in some cases, probably saving their lives.

Those people described what I would call discretionary effort, the lifeblood of every organisation, whereby staff go above and beyond their role, day in and day out. If workers do not feel that that effort is recognised and acknowledged, they will eventually withdraw it. I will pick up on that point in the context of today’s debate. In a recent lecture titled “We asked for workers and they sent us humans”, the former chief constable of Lancashire constabulary, Andy Rhodes, set out a compelling argument for placing mental health and wellbeing at the forefront of every operational and organisational decision. The context was policing, but the principle applies across other bodies of public-facing workers and particularly, I would argue, to prison staff.

Andy Rhodes spoke of the importance of embedding organisational justice so that a workforce is given the protection and support that it deserves and is better able to respond to the public in a competent and compassionate way. That ties in closely with the survey findings in the report “68 is Too Late: The Case for a Fair Retirement Age for Prison Officers”, which highlights the impact that

“prolonged exposure to this environment has on front-line staff, particularly for those staff who are required to continue working until they are 67 and 68 years of age.”

The report includes some powerful quotations that were shared with the POA, including the one that Maggie Chapman used in her contribution, which I am going to repeat:

“I am aged 59 at the moment and have 30 years of experience in working in various establishments. The job that I am required to do has had a lasting mental and physical impact on me, in particular the latter years. The thought of having to go to 67/68 fills me with dread as I feel that I will be less capable of doing what is demanded of me. It is not an environment for anybody over the age of 60.”

I would have felt exactly the same.

I wish the Prison Officers Association well in its campaign, and I hope that today’s debate shines a light on the injustice that is being faced by prison staff in Scotland and the UK.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour 1:24, 18 April 2024

I begin by thanking my colleague Pauline McNeill for bringing this important debate to the chamber. I know that she is a strong campaigner on this matter and will continue to stand firmly on the side of prison officers in Scotland.

I was privileged to have the opportunity to meet POA Scotland members in the Parliament just last month, and we had some good discussions about what challenges are presented to prison officers and service delivery as a result of the retirement age remaining at 68.

In setting out my position today, I start by firmly reiterating my support for this campaign, as I did to the POA Scotland members. As we have heard from across the chamber, 68 is too late. UK Government ministers must act, and Scottish Government ministers must redouble any efforts that they are currently making to deliver the much-needed change in retirement age to 60.

As the POA parliamentary briefing ahead of today’s debate states,

Prison officers are manifestly a ‘uniformed service’”,

and, as such, it is clear to me that they should be treated in the same manner as other uniformed services and see their retirement age return to 60 without detriment to their pension. Indeed, the briefing that we have all read acknowledges that that was previously the case and that it is due to a 2011 review that omitted prison officers from the definition of uniformed services that they are now expected to work until they are 68.

Prison officers have explained to me the mental and physical challenges associated with working in the prison setting until that age. Other members have described those well, and I fully agree that the situation is wholly unacceptable and untenable. In its report, the POA highlights that more than 90 per cent of those surveyed believe that 68 is too late and that more than 95 per cent have concerns that they will not be able to work until they are 68 due to the physical and mental demands that are associated with this extremely challenging job.

Across the chamber, we all agree that this is no way to treat our prison officers, who deliver an absolutely essential service, that they must be treated with dignity as they reach their retirement age, and that this challenging profession deserves to be treated in the same way as other uniformed professions.

It cannot be forgotten that, despite the fact that they are described as managed environments, prisons can often be violent places, as we have heard, and officers are regularly expected to attend violent incidents. By their own admission, prison officers are rightly concerned about their ability to provide physical support to younger colleagues if they encounter such a situation as they approach their 60s, and they have concerns for their safety and the safety of others.

We hope that the UK Government will recognise that the current position poses a risk to the physical and mental health of the officers and others. It must listen to those who are lobbying it and take action, and I hope that the Scottish Government will continue to lobby it as constructively as it can in order to make progress on the issue.

Again, I thank Pauline McNeill for bringing the debate to the chamber and all members who supported the motion.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party 1:28, 18 April 2024

I welcome the opportunity to respond to this important debate and I place on record my thanks to Pauline McNeill for lodging the motion and to the members who have made a valuable contribution this afternoon. I also pay tribute to members who have worked on a cross-party basis to support POA Scotland in its quest. I very much agree that 68 is too late, and, as members would expect, I have met with the POA, and will continue to do so.

We all agree that prison officers play a vital role in our justice system, helping to ensure that our prisons are safe, secure and stable environments for all prisoners and staff. They are very much hidden in plain sight; they are a hidden part of our criminal justice system and the more that we can do together to show the nature of their challenges and the value of their work to the general population, the better.

In my tenure as Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, I have taken the opportunity to visit every prison in Scotland and I have seen the dedication, professionalism and engagement of prison officers. In my past role as a prison-based social worker, and in my present role as the justice secretary, I have seen them working in a way that is person centred, inclusive, trauma informed and rights based and that makes a difference to people’s lives every day.

I was struck, but not surprised, by the words of an individual in custody in HMP Greenock, who is quoted in a recent report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland:

“This prison has been exceptional in helping me through my sentence, all the staff are wonderful and easy to speak with. This is my first time in prison and I have felt supported at each step of the way”.

Audrey Nicoll spoke to the work of the good prison officer project, where people with experience of incarceration spoke powerfully in their testimonies about how prison officers have helped them to turn their life around.

The Scottish Government and the Scottish Prison Service recognise that prison officers work in a challenging environment and, at times, put themselves in danger and at risk. We have a high and rising prison population. Behind the numbers, as members have accurately reflected, there is increasing complexity, whether that is with the increasing numbers of those in custody with links to serious and organised crime groups, challenges around drugs and psychoactive substances, or the increased demand for social care due to an ageing prison population.

The Scottish Government and partners across the justice sector, including the SPS, are fully committed to tackling those issues and reducing the impacts and harm caused. You will be relieved, Presiding Officer, that I will not repeat the content of the two previous statements that I have made to Parliament on those matters.

I very much recognise that prison officers carry out front-line operational duties, including control and restraint, until the state pension age, which is due to rise to 68. That is hugely challenging and carries with it significant stresses and strains.

The Scottish Prison Service takes the safety and security of its staff extremely seriously. I discuss the matter of staff wellbeing regularly with the SPS. The SPS provides support to staff to remain at work and in meaningful employment when they cannot undertake their full contractual role, including workplace adjustments and redeployment to alternative roles across the organisation. Every effort will be made to accommodate requests for a change or adjustment when the request is evidence based. However, that does not in any way detract from the point of principle that prison officers deserve parity with other uniformed services.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I apologise to Pauline McNeill for missing the opening minute of her speech. There was a bit of a lunch stampede and it was hard to get back in the chamber.

I am listening to the debate with great intent. It is an area of interest to me given my former role, and I am sympathetic to, and concur with, a lot of what has been said. On the issue of parity with other uniformed services, one of the big pushbacks over the years—this has been rumbling on in Westminster—has come from various Government ministers who have said that the reason that they were able to reduce the pension age for police officers is that police officers have been paying higher contributions to their pensions up front, as employees, during the course of their career. Is it the case in Scotland that police officers have to pay high contributions to allow them to retire early, and would it have to be the case for prison officers, too? It is more of a technical question, rather than one of policy intent.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am happy to answer Mr Greene on that matter, which is, indeed, technical. Prison officers do not have a separate pension scheme; they are part of the UK-wide civil service pension scheme that all devolved civil servants are part of. It was deeply regrettable that the Hutton review did not take account of the Prison Act 1952, which said that prison officers should have “authority, protection and privileges” and rights equal to those of police officers. However, no account was taken of that.

It is well established—many members have articulated it—that some occupations are restricted by capacity and age due to the physical demands of those roles, making it untenable to expect their duties to be carried out until state pension age. That was recognised by the Public Service Pensions Act 2013, which at that time set the pension age at 60 for firefighters, police officers and those in the armed forces. Prison officers do not have their own dedicated pension scheme—they are part of the wider UK civil service pension scheme.

Over the years, the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government have strongly supported the position of POA Scotland on the issue. We opposed the changes to public pensions following the Hutton inquiry and, in particular, the requirement that prison officers should have the normal retirement age of 68.

Successive cabinet secretaries for justice have made representations to the UK Government, and we will continue to do so, raising concerns about the physical demands of the prison officer role. The UK Government has consistently maintained its position that there is not a sufficiently strong case to make on-going special provision for operational prison staff. However, I politely beg to differ, based on the testimony and contributions of members across the chamber.

I acknowledge the work of POA Scotland on behalf of its members. I point out that prison officers in Scotland have the right to strike, unlike in England and Wales. POA Scotland has a constructive partnership agreement with the Scottish Prison Service, which has been in operation for more than 20 years. I very much welcome the POA’s support in bringing HMP Kilmarnock into the Scottish Prison Service family.

I reiterate that the work that prison officers do to keep our prisons safe and stable has great value. Their commitment and dedication make a difference to people’s lives every day, and I put on record yet again how much I appreciate everything that they do.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—