HC Deb 15 February 1999 vol 325 cc599-600
16. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

If he will visit Surrey probation service in Godalming to discuss its performance in relation to its charter mark award. [69122]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary hopes to be able to visit the service this year. He wrote to the chief probation officer on 25 January to congratulate the service on achieving a 1998 charter mark award.

Mrs. Bottomley

Surrey probation service was very proud to win a charter mark award, which followed it being highly commended two years ago. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the citizens charter initiative, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), was an inspired contribution to public services.

Surrey probation service has been commended by the chief inspector for being dynamic, flexible, imaginative and well managed, but is in a dilemma because it has received among the lowest funding settlement in the country, and will have serious problems meeting its superannuation fund commitments. People in Surrey want to know whether the Government have a systematic policy of raiding the home counties. Surrey has received the lowest probation and health service settlements, and £6 million has been taken from its social services budget. Is that part of a consistent Government policy?

Mr. Howarth

We accept entirely that the approach of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) to charter marks, and so on, was useful. Indeed, we have carried on with it. I echo the right hon. Lady's congratulations to Surrey on its excellent work, but rather than putting a sting in the tail of her supplementary question, she over-egged the pudding. If there is a problem in Surrey, my noble Friend the Minister and I would be more than happy to hear about it. I suspect that she is slightly exaggerating the problem, although we are always willing to receive representations.