HL Deb 09 May 1977 vol 383 cc5-8

2.43 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a Statement regarding the present conditions of service, including accommodation, of the prison officers at H.M. Prison, Dartmoor.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, all prison officers in England and Wales have the same rates of pay and general conditions of service, and staff at certain establishments, including Dartmoor, receive additionally an allowance to take account of the inconvenience of the locality. Officers are entitled to official quarters or, if quarters are not available, a rent allowance. The staff at Dartmoor have recently been engaged in industrial action in support of their claim for improvements to their official quarters, but I am glad to say that they have now suspended their action and are resuming discussions on a programme of improvements put forward by the Home Office.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for that reply and say that I am glad to see that some action has been taken? Does he realise that this is an exceptional prison in a very difficult area and that the accommodation is often surrounded by mists for weeks on end or snowed up in winter causing difficulties for the families in the older type of accommodation? Does he agree that it would be a good idea for some of the prisoners to be allowed to do some of the repairs, and that that would save money?


My Lords, without notice, I cannot say whether the prisoners at Dartmoor are used for that purpose. Certainly, at a number of prison establishments they carry out work under the supervision of the, works department of the Prison Service. I am aware of the special problems so far as Dartmoor is concerned. Nevertheless, it is only right to say that, although there is a special agreement with the Prison Officers' Association under which staff may be allowed to transfer at public expense from Dartmoor after five years' service, on April 1st this year there were 86 officers who had served there for five years or more, of whom 80 had expressed no wish to move. There was a waiting list of 21 officers wishing to transfer to Dartmoor.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that many of us who heard on the radio the statements made by the wives of these prison warders were very distressed that the conditions of some of the men who guard the prisoners are not as favourable as those of the prisoners themselves? Is he also aware that we are delighted to know that something is to be done about it?


My Lords, I accept that conditions are not satisfactory. That is why the Government have put forward proposals for public expenditure of £100,000 to deal with the situation. So far as comparison with the inmates' conditions is concerned, no more money is spent on prisoner accommodation than is justified by considerations of humanity and necessity.


My Lords, is it correct to say that in the last 35 to 40 years no improvements have been made to the accommodation for Dartmoor prison staff?


My Lords, without notice I could not give an answer to that supplementary question. I should be sceptical with regard to the suggestion that no work had been carried out for 35 years; I find that hard to believe. There are nationally agreed standards which arise as a result of agreement between the Prison Officers' Association nationally and the Department; and the programme of work which has now been put forward by the Home Office takes into account these national standards. We hope to carry out this work as soon as possible.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, in view of statements made, may I ask the noble Lord whether he will not agree that these officers are first-class officers, that because of their devotion to duty and the years they have spent there they have an understanding of the prisoners, that this is why the prison runs so well, and that they should receive extra consideration in respect of their years of service?


My Lords, certainly we want to be as reasonable to the staff as possible. We are applying the full national standards to Dartmoor. That is what the programme of work is all about and we shall get on with it as soon as possible. There is no disposition whatsoever on our side to delay this matter.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a general impression that more concern is shown for the comfort of the prisoners than for the wellbeing of the prison officers?


My Lords, I have heard that view expressed, but I am rather surprised that the noble Lord should see fit to repeat it. Our desire, so far as all prison establishments are concerned, is to treat prisoners with humanity. Anyone who has seen the conditions in which a very large number of them have to spend their lives would find it difficult to believe that they are being particularly well-treated at the moment. There are nationally-agreed standards for prison officers' accommodation. The proposed programme of work takes into account these nationally-agreed standards, and we hope that we can get on with this.