I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the pension age of prison officers.
Police offers, firefighters and prison officers are all classified as emergency workers. They all do an extremely important job, and their work is physically demanding and often involves an element of risk and danger. Because of that, police officers and firefighters, quite rightly, are allowed to retire at 60 years of age. However, prison officers, who work in an equally stressful operational environment, have been told that they must wait until they are 68. That is not right. In fact, it is patently unfair and deeply resented by the hard-working prison officers in the three prisons in my constituency. I am not surprised by that, because the prospect of having to work until almost 70 years of age adds to the stress of what is already a stressful job.
From the point of view of health and safety at work, there is a clear argument for reducing the retirement age of prison officers, but I believe there is another equally good reason to bring their pensions into line with those of their colleagues in the police and fire and rescue services. Last week, at the Conservative party conference, the Home Secretary made an excellent speech in which she made it clear that Government would crack down on serious crime. That commitment resonates with the public, particularly those who have been victims of such crime, because they want tough action. However, inevitably, such a crackdown will lead to more criminals being sent to prison.
Also last week, the Justice Secretary made a speech in which he made clear his determination to ensure that those who have been convicted of serious crimes will have to serve two thirds of their sentence, rather than the half that they currently serve. Although both initiatives are highly commendable, they will put pressure on already-stretched prison places. That is likely to mean that more prisons will have to be built. If that happens, I have a couple of suggestions. First, finding a suitable location for a new prison is always difficult, because few communities like the idea of having a prison in their backyard. Those of us who live on the beautiful Isle of Sheppey understand the benefits of having a prison, and particularly the work involved. As I mentioned, we have three prisons and plenty of room for more, so we will have another prison if the Government want to build one on the island, subject to improvements to the road that leads to them.
My second suggestion is offered more in hope than with any great expectation that it will be taken up. The Government should abandon their support for private prisons and ensure that any new prisons be run by the public sector. Do not get me wrong—I am a free-market Tory who believes that there is a place for the private sector in the prison service, for instance in catering, education, training and rehabilitation.
I have a couple of examples of the positive involvement of the private sector in the latter of those fields. A private construction company has set up a workshop in HMP Elmley, in my constituency, to train inmates how to install drywalls in buildings. The company guarantees that everyone who completes the course will be offered an interview when they leave prison. Obviously, that does not automatically mean a job, but an interview is the first step. I visited the workshop as part of the Prison Service parliamentary scheme, of which I am a member. I was impressed by the positive attitude of the inmates who were being trained. One of them told me that the training had turned his life around. Also in my constituency is HMP Standford Hill, an open prison where more than 250 inmates are allowed out every day, to do either voluntary work in the community with charities or paid work in one of the local companies that have agreed to employ them.
Those are just two ways in which the private and third sectors can help to rehabilitate prisoners. There are many other examples, but I do not have time to mention them all. Despite those excellent examples of involvement by the private sector, the supervision and care of prisoners should be the sole responsibility of the public sector, for two reasons.