09 October 2002

S1M-3419 Prison Officers' Club (HMP Polmont)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-3419, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the closure of the prison officers' social club at HM Prison Polmont. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now. ...
Motion debated,
That the Parliament notes the decision by the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) to close the officers' social club at HM Prison Polmont and considers that SPS should withdraw this decision and honour its commitment to allow the club to purchase the property, recognising the important role of the club to both staff and the local community.
... ... ...
Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I am happy to support Michael Matheson's motion on his local constituency interest, just as he and many other members have so excellently supported the prison officers who are employed in Peterhead in my constituency.
I see that Richard Simpson has just received a note on SPS notepaper, which I hope carries late advice of good news. We should perhaps characterise the relationship between the SPS and its staff as one that is based on trust and understanding: the SPS does not understand its staff and the staff can no longer trust the SPS.
In view of the amount of time that I have spent in prisons and in the company of prison officers over the past year, my friends and colleagues are perhaps beginning to wonder about my own bona fides, but the bona fides of the executive of the SPS are at the heart of today's debate. Does the SPS regard staff merely as a resource to fire off against problems and the duties that it has been given? Does the SPS regard prisoners simply as a commodity to be processed through the Prison Service? I hope not. The issue is entirely different, but such an attitude would be consistent with what often seem to be the commercial ambitions of the chief executive of the Scottish Prison Service.
I would rather see the SPS show that it cares, that it is interested in public policy and that it wants to deliver on public safety. We can do that by having a Prison Service that is well resourced in buildings and programmes, but none of that will matter if we cannot deliver staff who are committed and who are able to go the extra mile that we get from excellence in public services.
As in the estates review's proposals for Peterhead, we do not know the cost of closing the social club and such a cost cannot necessarily be measured in pounds and pence. The cost will be paid in a continuing reduction in the morale of the people who are employed in the Prison Service.
Once again, the Prison Service has made an arcane and perverse decision that goes against everything that the Executive tells us about partnership. There is no partnership between the executive of the Prison Service and the people who are employed at Polmont if the SPS closes the facility in the way that has been described. The Prison Service and the minister will have noted that, when a community is roused as it was in Peterhead, a community can win. I see every sign that the community in Polmont is on the point of taking to the barricades; I will join them there if it will help.
I know that the minister had extensive experience of the Prison Service prior to coming to the Parliament and that he has a personal understanding of human psychology. If we cannot look to the Prison Service for ethical, caring and professional behaviour towards staff and their responsibilities to the wider public, I see nothing but the bleakest of futures for the Prison Service.
I think that it was Oscar Wilde who said:
"I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member."
I suspect tonight that, if Tony Cameron knocked on the door of the club in Polmont, he would not be accepted as a member.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: I think that the quotation should actually be attributed to Mr Stevenson's alter ego, Groucho Marx.

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