We have seen a slight decrease in assaults, and this year is the first time that we have seen assaults fall since 2013. However, we of course recognise that there is still more to do in this area.
When the Minister visits HMP Bedford tomorrow, can she look the governor in the eye and say that she is doing all she can to ensure the health, safety and welfare of his staff when the last Independent Monitoring Board report on Bedford prison revealed chronic levels of sickness, with nearly a quarter of officers off sick at times?
I am looking forward to visiting the prison in the hon. Member’s constituency tomorrow and to speaking to the governor this afternoon. I recognise that the prison has some challenges, but I have heard that it is making real progress. I look forward to discussing the measures being taken in Bedford and talking about how we can support the prison to improve morale and the work of prison officers and to rehabilitate the prisoners.
This afternoon, trade unions representing the wide variety of staff working in our prisons to keep us safe will meet to finalise the safe prisons charter, which has been drawn up by those facing violence in prisons first hand on a daily basis. Will the Minister adopt the charter and put the safety of staff first—yes or no?
I very much look forward to seeing the charter. It is difficult to commit to it until I have seen it, but I am pleased to have met regularly with the unions to discuss general issues relating to their members. When I met prison officers at HMP Whitemoor after they experienced a terrible incident in their prison, I was bowled over to see their determination, resilience and stoicism at first hand and to hear about the amazing work they do every day and the support they give each other. I will look closely at the document the hon. Gentleman mentions.
Will my hon. and learned Friend outline her Department’s plans to crack down on crime within prisons?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about crime in our prisons, which takes several forms. A few months ago, we announced expenditure of £100 million on security within our prisons, which will enable us to stop the use of illicit phones, prevent drugs from getting into our prisons, and increase our intelligence and surveillance to stop criminal activity.
Is it not about time the Government changed the law so that anybody who is guilty of assaulting a prison officer loses their automatic right to early release, thereby acting as a huge deterrent for this appalling activity and giving prison officers the support they deserve?
My hon. Friend has made a number of points on the criminal justice system over a number of years that are all worth thinking about. He is absolutely right about protecting our prison officers. We have, as he will be aware, increased the sentence for assaulting prison staff.
No, we did!
Parliament brought it in, at the behest of the hon. Member’s Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018—cross-party working in this place is very important—and we continue to look at this important area.