Criminal JusticeSpeeches

Clive Efford – 2023 Parliamentary Question on Operation Safeguard

The parliamentary question asked by Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham, in the House of Commons on 10 January 2023.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab)

For what reason he triggered Operation Safeguard in November 2022.

Feryal Clark (Enfield North) (Lab)

For what reason he triggered Operation Safeguard in November 2022.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Damian Hinds)

There was an unprecedented short-term rate of growth in the requirement for places in adult male prisons in October and November, and Operation Safeguard creates a contingency to maintain headroom should it be needed. Meanwhile, we press on with our programme of estate modernisation and expansion.

Clive Efford

I am grateful for that answer. The Prison Officers Association says that the lack of staff is exacerbating the crisis in prison places. The Police Federation says that Operation Safeguard puts its members and the public in danger. Napo says that there is a link between the lack of prison places and the workload crisis, which is leading to an increase in the number of recalls. If Operation Safeguard fails, where on earth will the Government go next?

Damian Hinds

As I said, Operation Safeguard is a contingency that provides additional headroom; we are not currently housing prisoners in cells as a result of Operation Safeguard. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to identify that physical capacity is one side of the coin and staffing is the other, which is why we are putting so much emphasis on recruitment and retention in the prison service.

Feryal Clark

Napo has said that the insufficient capacity to hold prisoners is directly linked to staffing and workload crises in probation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said. Does the Minister agree with Napo’s view that there is a workload crisis in probation services? If so, who caused it?

Damian Hinds

That is similar to the point of the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). Of course, all the services are linked, but as with the Prison Service—it is a fact across many different occupations in the public and private sector—there is a very tight labour market with high rates of employment and low rates of unemployment by historical standards. Recruitment is a challenge, but we are putting a huge emphasis on recruitment into the Prison Service and probation, which fundamentally drives workload. The other side of that is, as always, making sure that we retain staff.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con)

I do not blame my right hon. Friend for triggering Operation Safeguard—in the circumstances, it was sensible—but he would not have needed to if the 12% of the prison population who are foreign national offenders had been imprisoned in their countries of origin. The top three groups are made up of 1,300 Albanians, 800 Polish nationals and 750 Romanians. Can we have more compulsory prisoner transfer agreements so that those people are sent to jail in their own countries?

Damian Hinds

My hon. Friend is correct that there are a large number of foreign national offenders in our prisons, and facilitating the movement back to their home country is important. We have had the prisoner transfer agreement with Albania since May 2022, and we are looking at more.