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Covid-19: Protection of Prison Staff

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020

I take this opportunity to thank our prison staff and those who work in probation for the outstanding job they have done to keep our prisons and those in the community safe. We have taken a range of measures to protect staff from the virus, including reducing the risk of transmission in prisons, led by Public Health England guidance, and making personal protective equipment and testing available. The latest Public Health England advice indicates that the measures we have taken have had a positive impact on limiting the spread of the virus.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for her response and join her in praising prison staff for all the work they have done during this difficult time. What is the plan to continue to protect prison staff as restrictions start to lift and life goes back to near-normal?

As my right hon. Friend points out, as restrictions are lifted in the community we need to lift restrictions in prisons too, but we need to do so cautiously to ensure that we do not increase the risk of infection. Where prisons are starting to open up—for example, to introduce visits—adaptations are being made to ensure that the risk of infection to staff and prisoners is minimised.

On 5 May, the shadow Minister for Prisons and Probation, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), wrote to the Department regarding concerns about the treatment of cleaners at Petty France during the pandemic. The Secretary of State’s reply on 29 May made it clear that he thought there was no issue in terms of management, access to personal protective equipment, social distancing or sick pay. However, hours of interviews and leaked emails and text messages confirmed that cleaners were forced into the Department during the lockdown period, were denied PPE, were offered no support and had medical issues consistent with coronavirus symptoms. Seven outsourced staff on the site have had those consistent symptoms; two are now dead. The Department had to be guilt-tripped into backdating sick pay. Will the Minister live up to the Ministry of Justice’s name by committing to a full independent review of what happened to those cleaners working in the Ministry of Justice?

As the shadow Secretary of State has mentioned, these matters have been looked at. I am happy to take on board any further points that he would like to make.