Prison Officers: Working Conditions

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:14 am on 2nd May 2018.

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Photo of Rory Stewart Rory Stewart The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 11:14 am, 2nd May 2018

My hon. Friend makes a very generous offer. We are incredibly interested in that, but the real thing that we need to make the idea work is Members of Parliament prepared to do it. If the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and even my hon. Friend the Member for Henley are interested in being part of a parliamentary scheme, we really have got something to take to the head of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service: I can say not just that this is a theoretical idea, but that we have real, living Members of Parliament who are genuinely interested. We can set up a pilot scheme, learn from what happens in the armed forces and the police service parliamentary schemes, and look at the potential support suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley. That would be an incredibly useful thing.

For anyone listening to the debate who is not aware of such schemes, the amazing idea behind the armed forces and police parliamentary schemes is that Members of Parliament can see for themselves what people are going through on the frontline. In fact, legislation considered on Friday, partly on behalf of the police, was driven in part by Holly Lynch, who had been on the police scheme and had been inspired by seeing the action of police officers. So the scheme has changed legislation here in Parliament.

To accelerate, what useful things can we do for prison officers, apart from paying tribute to them for their extraordinary service, intelligence, commitment, honour, loyalty, courage and resilience, and for the way in which they work with unsociable hours and difficult people? Concretely, there are three different types of things. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey touched on terms and conditions, but that I will not touch on today, because we are currently in confidential discussions with the public sector pay review body, looking at exactly the issues raised, such as those of how we move people from the pre-existing closed-term contracts to the new fair and sustainable contract, and the difference in salary compared with other employment opportunities.

To give one small example, of which my hon. Friend is probably aware, in the Isle of Sheppey we pay an increased amount to attract people away from competing professions, such as in transport or the police, to get them to work in the Prison Service. There is much more to be said about that, but I want to talk concretely about the equipment that we can bring in to try to make a prison officer’s life better. We talked about PAVA spray—pepper spray, in other words. My hon. Friend also talked about the introduction of rigid handcuffs and discussed other equipment being proposed, including suggestions for stab-proof vests, body-worn cameras, which we are rolling out across the estate, and CCTV. All that will increase the confidence of the prison officer in dealing with the prisoner.

We also need to be able to prosecute prisoners who assault prisoner officers. We were very proud, on Friday, to be able to double the maximum sentence for anybody who assaults a prison officer from six months to 12 months. But that requires the Crown Prosecution Service to bring those prosecutions. Too often, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey pointed out, there has been an attitude that, somehow, assaulting a prison officer is different from assaulting a police officer on the street.