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Prison Staff: Health and Safety — [Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:45 am on 18th March 2020.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 10:45 am, 18th March 2020

I absolutely take the point that the hon. Lady and others raised. The reality is that whether a prison officer is 68, 67 or 66, there will be challenging circumstances. If there is a 25 year-old prisoner and a 52 year-old officer, that will present real challenges. I do not have a glib response for the hon. Lady, but I have heard the matters that she has raised. To solve the issue of our prisons we need to ensure that there are enough staff of the right level of experience to deal with these challenges. That will be the most important point and, frankly, that will make more difference than whether somebody is 68 or 67. The reality is that we need enough people of the right calibre and the right experience to manage volatile situations.

Time is against me and I want to leave the hon. Member for East Lothian time to respond. I could talk further about the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which addresses the point that my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, who is no longer in her place, raised. It means that those who assault emergency workers, including prison officers, feel the full force of the law.

We are supporting the emotional and social wellbeing of staff, which is critically important, as well as protecting them from violence. They have access to an occupational health service. We are rolling out TRiM—trauma risk management—that, as hon. Members will know, is being rolled out among police forces as well. There are post-incident care teams, occupational health support, cognitive behavioural therapy, and so much more.

The health and safety of our staff and those in our care remains the top priority for the Ministry of Justice, and we are making significant efforts to ensure that the safety challenges in prisons continue to be addressed. Covid-19 presents a new set of challenges. We are tackling them, informed by the best scientific evidence available, alongside the existing health and safety pressures we are facing in our prisons. I take this opportunity to thank prison staff. They are being tested and they are going to be tested. We value, admire and support them, and we are going to get through this.