HC Deb 22 June 1995 vol 262 cc464-5
6. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement about the current level of staff morale within the prison service. [28402]

Mr. Michael Forsyth

A survey carried out in 1994 showed that two thirds of prison staff were either satisfied or very satisfied with their job.

Mr. MacShane

Is the Minister aware that, as the summer is becoming hot, the same survey showed that nine out of 10 prison staff said that they felt that Prison Service management did not have enough regard for those who have face-to-face dealings with prisoners, which suggests that morale is rather low? Can he give an assurance that if there is any incident later this summer, Ministers will accept their responsibility instead of, as in the past, passing the buck to anyone else down the line?

Mr. Forsyth

I am slightly astonished that the hon. Gentleman should seek to link any incident with how Ministers should or should not take responsibility. Is he seriously trying to send out a message that if people riot in prisons, it will somehow affect our attitudes? If he is, that would he very irresponsible. Whatever happens in the Prison Service, we will follow the established procedure, which is to establish the facts and hold those responsible to account. If he is concerned about morale in the Prison Service, would not it be better if he and his colleagues gave the service a little credit for the good work that it does every day of the week in looking after 51,000 of the most difficult people in the country?

Mrs. Peacock

Is my right hon. Friend aware of some prison officers' concern about the notice that they have to give prisoners before searching their cells for drugs? Why is that notice needed?

Mr. Forsyth

There is no requirement for notice to be given, and I share my hon. Friend's consternation when it is. However, it is a matter for governors, who are responsible for the conduct of prisons, and some governors have sometimes given notice. I share with my hon. Friend and, I believe, most hon. Members, a determination to ensure that effective drug searches are carried out in our prisons. We are reviewing the amount of property that prisoners are allowed in their cells so that more effective searches can be carried out—and quickly.