HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc892-3
7. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is satisfied with the screening procedures in operation for members of Her Majesty's Prison Service.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Whitehead

Did my right hon. Friend see the Press reports of 14th and 15th November about the large-scale activity by National Front cells and other groups to the right of the National Front in several of Her Majesty's prisons? Is he aware that 70 out of 300 prison staff in one prison are said to be members of the National Front and to wear National Front insignia and tie-pins with their uniforms? In view of the delicate nature of the Prison Service, the security aspects involved and the need to have good relations in our prisons as everywhere else, will my right hon. Friend have these matters investigated?

Mr. Rees

As background, I should tell my hon. Friend that the National Front is not a proscribed body. There are thus no grounds for not employing staff who are members of it or for placing any restrictions on them because of their membership. I stick firmly to that principle. If I were to get involved in the political motivation of civil servants at that level, I should move into very difficult waters. It is a different matter where there is evidence that the political views of the staff affect their attitudes to prisoners, whatever maybe those political views. It is that with which I am concerned. If prison staff wear insignia and so on, that is a matter for the governor, and I am confident that it will be dealt with. What I need, as I have said to my hon. Friends who have spoken to me, is evidence that membership of, say, the National Front affects the way in which prison staff treat prisoners. If I have evidence of that kind—I realise the difficulty—I shall act on it.

Mr. Speaker

May I appeal to the House for shorter supplementary questions and shorter replies?

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

I realise the difficulties of moving in this sensitive area, but does my right hon. Friend accept that, whilst the majority of prison officers do a very good job in extremely difficult circumstances, it is totally inappropriate for members of Right-wing racialist organisations to have control over black and coloured prisoners who are, by the nature of their situation, in an extremely vulnerable position? Will my right hon. Friend make strenuous efforts to ensure that no discrimination is practised by prison officers against black and coloured prisoners?

Mr. Rees

I shall certainly continue to watch the last point. It is the only one with which I can concern myself.

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