HC Deb 07 July 1997 vol 297 cc603-4
11. Miss Widdecombe

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what discussions he has had with Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons about a possible merger between the prison and probation services. [5517]

Ms Joyce Quin

None about a merger, although I have spoken to Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons about my wish to explore all ways in which the Prison Service and the probation service can be made to work more effectively together. I have reached no conclusions yet about what additional measures might be needed to bring this about.

Miss Widdecombe

Why did the chief inspector tell the Prison Service college in the course of a lecture that the Government were considering such a measure? Will she now take the opportunity to reassure the probation service that no such merger is under consideration?

Ms Quin

First, I pay tribute to the work of the probation service and welcome the contacts that I have had with it since I took office. The position is as I described it to the right hon. Lady. We have made no decision about a merger. Indeed, we have said that we want the two services to work closely together. The right hon. Lady seems to be concerned about the actions of the chief inspector, who was appointed by the Conservative Government. We greatly appreciate the work of the chief inspector, especially his work on reports on prisons and on the various thematic reports, which we find useful.

Mr. Stephen Twigg

Is my hon. Friend aware of the positive work of the Middlesex probation service in my constituency, particularly its involvement in partnership projects such as the Enfield community initiative? Will she tell the House more about her assessment of the general work of the probation service?

Ms Quin

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. Some excellent practice is being adopted by the probation service in many parts of the country. I have already had the opportunity to visit certain probation schemes and I hope to visit more, perhaps including those in my hon. Friend's area, before too long.

Mr. Beith

Is it true that the much respected chief inspector of prisons got a dressing down at the Home Office for daring to mention future relations between the probation service and the Prison Service? Does the hon. Lady recognise the value of the concept of a single corrections function drawing together custodial and non-custodial sentences, and is she aware that she needs to tread carefully in dealing with two distinctive services with distinctive qualifications, especially as the last Government made such a mess of qualifications in the probation service by downgrading them?

Ms Quin

On the last point, I strongly agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We are urgently addressing the probation training chaos produced by the previous Government. We believe that the Prison Service and the probation service are willing to learn from each other, share experience and find a good way of working that will involve co-operation between them.