HC Deb 14 June 2004 vol 422 cc508-10
7. Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of trade union proposals for an independent publicly owned forensic science company. [178156]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint)

Work on an outline business case has recently been completed and resulted in a detailed analysis of the current state of Forensic Science Service business and what is needed to ensure its successful long-term future. FSS trade unions have been invited to contribute details of their proposals to inform the work on the outline business case. We understand that further work has been carried out by the trade unions and I would be happy to meet representatives to discuss their recommendations in detail. We have invited the trade unions to take part in a two-day event in July to discuss the outline business case and their alternative proposals

Colin Burgon

I am happy to hear that reply because I am one of the Labour Members who patiently, over nearly a year, have argued that the Forensic Science Service should stay in the public sector. We were very disturbed to read press reports that Legal and General will finish up buying it for £100 million. The people who work in the Forensic Science Service are committed to the public sector ethos and many Labour Members want that to be retained. As long as the proposals from the union address the questions of the flexibility and innovation that the Government want to see, many of us will argue that the service should stay in the public sector. Although I am no great political theorist, I would have thought it sensible to develop a policy that was not electorally unpopular and did not divide Labour Members.

Caroline Flint

My hon. Friend is also a colleague in Yorkshire and he has already met me on the train back to Yorkshire to discuss some of these issues. Over the next few months, I hope to have the opportunity to meet him again and to visit as many sites as possible.

I have just assumed this area of responsibility and I say to my hon. Friend that there are some difficult questions to answer. For example, I understand that just six police forces account for 47 per cent. of revenues to the Forensic Science Service, so there are real issues about police force use of the service and about the implications for the service if any of those police forces go elsewhere. As he will be aware, technology is advancing day by day and we have to keep up with it. I hope that, in our discussions, we can make sure that the Forensic Science Service does not just maintain its high standard, but can respond to the changing needs that are already out there. I hope that we can discuss that and, on that basis, move forward in terms of having a good service. That involves recognising the competition out there and the needs of the customers—primarily police forces and other parts of the criminal justice system—who pay for the service and, importantly, talking to the staff and, I hope, taking them with us.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab)

My hon. Friend is well aware that we have one of the leading forensic services in the fight against crime and that we sell knowledge and solve crimes across the world for other police forces. Please, please, please do not put at risk an essential service that is independent and not answerable to shareholders. If selling off the service is pursued, we will know that crime is not the first priority—the shareholders will come first. The service is a 24/7 operation that we should not put at risk. While we lead the world, let us not give it up easily.

Caroline Flint

I assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to have the public interest at the heart of whatever we endeavour to do. The issue is about recognising that the Forensic Science Service is a world leader and addressing how we sustain its position given the competition, the new demands in terms of policing and the way in which we can detect criminal activity. At the heart of all this is the public interest; it is not about maintaining but sustaining it for the future.

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