HC Deb 19 January 2004 vol 416 cc1063-5
6. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab)

What the cost will be during (a) 2003–04 and (b) 2004–05 of establishing the national offender management service at (i) national and (ii) regional levels. [148328]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Paul Goggins)

The costs of establishing the national offender management service have yet to be finalised, but the costs of setting up the implementation team will be met from existing budgets.

John McDonnell

What mechanism will be put in place to overview the implementation of the new service so that the burdens and costs do not fall on front-line staff and detract from front-line service delivery? Given that there have been budgetary problems at the London probation service over the past three years, will my hon. Friend meet me and London colleagues to discuss the implementation of the new service within the London region?

Paul Goggins

Martin Narey has been appointed as the chief executive of the national offender management service and I will chair the service's board to oversee the implementation of the new approach. Far from drawing resources away from the front line, the whole purpose of the service is to make more resources available to the front line. The organisation will begin with a budget of £3.2 billion, which is £900 million more in real terms than was spent on prisons and probation in 1997. My hon. Friend requested a meeting, and I will, of course, be delighted to meet him.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con)

Is it not the case that the biggest financial effect of the creation of the national offender management service is that it will act as a smokescreen for a massive U-turn by the Home Office on prison and sentencing policy? How much money will the strategy of replacing 13,000 prison sentences and 60,000 supervision orders with fines save the Home Office in the coming year? Does the Minister really think that a policy that leaves thousands of criminals at large on the streets represents a sensible way of saving money?

Paul Goggins

Let me make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that there has been no U-turn in relation to sentencing policy. Indeed, we will make available about 80,000 prison places, which is certainly far more than his Government left in place in 1997 and 3,700 more than is the case now. There is no question of a U-turn. Those places will be there and available to be used as appropriate. However, we want to ensure that custody and community sentencing are tightly focused on the right people, and the national offender management service will enable us to do that.

David Davis

Much of the money that is spent on the Prison Service was put in place by us—or certainly the plans were. As for the notion that there has been no U-turn, the Minister clearly has not read the Carter report, which we set up and was the precursor to the national offender management service. On page 2 of his report, Carter complains that as many as half of all burglars go to jail on first conviction, but presumably that figure will reduce under the new regime. Does the Minister really believe that more than half of convicted burglars should go free?

Paul Goggins

A rather interesting statistic is that people committing motoring offences are four times more likely to receive a custodial sentence than they were before. In relation to the legacy that the right hon. Gentleman's Government left behind, I made it clear that we are now spending—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Let the Minister reply.

Paul Goggins

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are now spending £900 million a year more in real terms than we were when the right hon. Gentleman's Government left office. That means that 11,000 additional staff are in the prison and probation services, working to an objective—which I hope he shares—of reducing the reoffending rates of those in our correctional system.

Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab)

Is my hon. Friend aware that I welcome the new system? It will be an improvement on that suggested by the Conservative party, which wants people to go to prison just long enough to lose their jobs, homes and relationships. Therefore, they will be guaranteed to come out and reoffend. He will be aware that a key aspect of the service will be better education and better liaison with work and job opportunities and housing at a local level. Will he therefore tell me how the new system organised regionally will be able to work most effectively with local authorities, which is where the test cases will be when prisoners are released from custody?

Paul Goggins

My right hon. Friend has put his finger on a couple of important points. The fact that short-term prison sentences are often disruptive and take people away from their homes and their jobs does not help to keep them out of trouble in the long run. We are rightly focusing the resettlement strategy much more locally, and there will be regional organisation. We hope very much that voluntary and community organisations will come forward to be active partners at a local level in making sure that we get reoffending rates down.