HC Deb 09 February 2001 vol 362 cc747-8W
Mr. Fitzpatrick

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made in reforming the arrangements for industrial relations in prisons and in setting up a Prison Service Pay Review Body for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. [150088]

Mr. Straw

On 26 July 2000,Official Report, column 713W, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, announced that it was my intention to set up a pay review body to make independent recommendations to the Government on the pay of prison governors, prison officers and related grades for the Prison Service in England and Wales and for the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

I indicated that the delivery of those intentions depended on my being satisfied that the state of industrial relations within prisons is such to enable the effective and efficient management of the service. At that time, relations were not satisfactory because the Prison Officers Association (POA) had withdrawn goodwill following a decision to market test Her Majesty's Prison, Brixton.

Since then, there has been a very frank but positive dialogue between the Prison Service, the POA and Ministers on this and a range of other issues. I am pleased to announce today that I am satisfied that the industrial relations climate is now conducive to proceeding with plans for a pay review body.

I am also able to announce the appointment of Sir Toby Frere to the post of chair of the Prison Service Pay Review Body.

This review body will operate on the lines of the five existing review bodies which deal with 1.3 million public sector employees. Like the existing review bodies, it will have a secretariat from the independent Office of Manpower Economics. The remit of the Pay Review Body will also have the scope to make an independent determination in relation to the pay of prison governors, prison officers, night patrol officers and prison auxiliaries in the Northern Ireland Prison Service based on submissions made to it by that service.

This establishment of an independent pay determination mechanism is under the provisions of section 128 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It is part of a comprehensive improvement in Prison Service management.

It is also my intention, when parliamentary time allows, to replace section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 with a reserve statutory power and a voluntary industrial relations agreement. Section 127, as it stands, makes it unlawful for officers of a prison to take industrial action. The voluntary agreement which has been accepted by the Prison Governors Association (PGA) and the POA national executive committee will be put to a special POA delegates conference at the end of February. This will mean that they have agreed not to induce, support or authorise industrial action. In recognition of this we will provide them with a new disputes procedure which will include independent arbitration. The voluntary agreement, which will be legally binding, will give me, as Secretary of State for the Home Department, the power to seek injunctive relief.

In order to bring about these important improvements in industrial relations in the Prison Service in England and Wales quickly, I intend to use the provisions of the voluntary agreement instead of those in section 127, while awaiting parliamentary time to effect the changes in legislation. However, it is clear on all sides that section 127 would be used in the event of a breakdown of the agreement.

Together, these measures create a new climate for industrial relations in the service. They clear the way for more constructive dialogue on a wide range of issues by modernising the way that this key group of public sector workers deal with their employer.