HC Deb 02 March 1998 vol 307 cc693-4
5. Mr. Cranston

What plans he has to ensure integration between the prison and probation services. [30342]

12. Siobhain McDonagh

What plans he has to integrate the prison and probation services. [30350]

The Minister of State, Home Office (Ms Joyce Quin)

As my right hon. Friend announced last July, I am leading a prisons and probation review into the efficiency and effectiveness of the ways in which the two services work together. We shall be examining options for improving their performance as a basis on which to consult widely about the future of both services.

Mr. Cranston

Does my hon. Friend not agree that one of the advantages of the two services working together relates to public perception, since community sentences under the supervision of the probation service are too often perceived as a soft option? Does she agree that, by working together, the two services can change that perception and make community sentences a tough option?

Ms Quin

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Both services are very much concerned with public protection and reducing offending. By working more closely together, they will be able to find out better what works and provide a better service to the public.

Siobhain McDonagh

Given the separateness of the prison and probation services, and the antipathy within those organisations to working together, how can we ensure that the public's desire to see them working together will be met?

Ms Quin

So far during the review, both services have shown a great willingness to work together and address some of their differences in approach. I should also like to pay tribute to the work that they do jointly in delivering courses in prisons, where prison officers and probation officers work together.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

Will the Minister commend activities in Surrey, where an extremely enlightened and hard-working probation service, working with the police, is making extremely good progress on punishment in the community? However, the vindictiveness of the financial settlement makes collaborative working in Surrey all the more difficult. Will the Minister look at the way in which the funding formulae hit Surrey, which is facing difficult decisions that had not been anticipated?

Ms Quin

I am happy to join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to the Surrey probation service, which I visited recently to look at the Springboard project. However, I am astonished by her comments on funding. The settlement was drawn up by the Conservative Government of which she was a part. We are examining the future options in our comprehensive spending review.

Mr. Soley

Will my hon. Friend give a high priority to training in the prison and probation services? A higher priority for training is needed in the Prison Service. Probation officers must always be able to recognise signs of child abuse, mental breakdown and possible violence, particularly when they are visiting homes. If we lose that, people will be put at risk.

Ms Quin

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Prison officers want their jobs to be more varied and challenging. Training is an important part of that. We are also addressing the vacuum left by the previous Government in relation to probation training. We have said that there should continue to be a professional qualification, which can offer a great deal to the criminal justice system.