HC Deb 17 March 2004 vol 419 cc71-93WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

9.30 am
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab)

I am grateful to have the opportunity to introduce such an important debate. This is the first time that we have had the chance to discuss the new national offender management service. No one would disagree that improvements must be made to the way in which offenders are managed. That is not to say that some progress has not been made. In their response to the Carter report, the Government had a lot to say about improvements, such as the policies that have been adopted in prisons to deal with mental health and drug abuse. This year, 50,000 prisoners will be subject to clinical detoxification, which is an enormous improvement on what was happening a few years ago. As for education, I think that 50,000 prisoners will gain basic skills qualifications this year.

Significant improvements have been made. The percentage of prisoners who are in work or training compared with a few years ago has improved enormously. We all recognise that progress has been made but there are still some problems. We must bear in mind two key issues: first, the number of people in prison, which is far too high and is still rising and, secondly, the reoffending rates, which do not show any great signs of coming down.

Although there have been improvements, there have been worrying shortfalls in some parts of the country. I am thinking in particular of the probation service in London, which has significant resource problems, and the capability of the service to do the work that it should be doing. I shall cite a recent example. An offender was leaving prison after a fairly short sentence, but there were problems with completing his probation report. No one was available to undertake such necessary work.

Although we shall be discussing the structures of the service this morning, there are clearly resource implications. We must consider what resources are available. The services are overstretched and, if we do not examine resources, we will not solve the problem. In the past two or three years, there has been a tendency not to use the extra money that has been put into the service to fund front-line services. There have been large increases in bureaucracy at national level within the probation service but, as I said, money has not gone into front-line issues.

There are two stated aims of NOMS: first, to punish offenders appropriately and, secondly, to reduce reoffending. As for the structure that is proposed, Martin Narey has been appointed to head the service. There will be 10 regional offender managers. I am not clear why reorganisation is regarded as so important that it must be done quickly by June this year. The regional managers will be in place within the next year, but it has only been three years since the probation service was last reorganised and some of that reorganisation has hardly had time to settle in. That is causing concern to many people who work in the probation service.

There was not any serious consultation with stakeholders prior to the publication of the Government's plans. Patrick Carter did not appear to carry out any consultations with stakeholders or trade unions. I was told in a written answer that he was conducting an independent review, so he was not expected necessarily to consult, and that the Government's response to "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" would seek views from stakeholders on a number of issues. However, the paper was published on 6 January and the closing date for responses was 3 March, although the Cabinet Office guidelines recommend a standard 12-week period for consultation with key stakeholders. There seems to be a rush to get things through.

It would have been better if there had been consultation before, rather than after, announcements were made. That leaves us with a lot of uncertainty about how the new organisation will work, and I hope that the Minister will deal with that. We are told that one of the key aspects is that the reorganisation is about ensuring that individual offenders are managed right through the system. I cannot see how 10 regional managers will be able to deal with all the individuals concerned. I am unclear about what will happen on the ground. What will be the relationship between people in the Prison Service and people in the probation service? Where will decisions be made about what happens to an individual offender?

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con)

I apologise for the fact that I shall not be able to stay for the whole debate. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with representatives of the Prison Officers Association in my constituency that the consultation did not make it clear whether those who work in prisons will have the same training under the new system as they have under the existing system? If that training cannot be delivered, security in prisons cannot be delivered.

Mr. Gerrard

There is a serious issue about training. I attended a meeting yesterday evening that Martin Narey addressed. The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan), who is on the Opposition Front Bench, and the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) were also at that meeting. Training was mentioned. There is not enough training in general for prison officers; there is a nine-week training period for prison officers. The training period for probation officers is much longer. I hope that that will be addressed. If we expect prison officers to be much more involved in rehabilitation, dealing with reoffending, education provision, drug testing schemes and so forth, there is a case for there to be much more training, regardless of what is happening with the restructuring of the organisation.

There is a lack of clarity about what the plans will mean for staff in other respects. There are issues to do with governance, employment status, collective bargaining and the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981. A part of the proposals involves what is now called contestability. That is a new word that I had not come across before I studied these proposals; some of my hon. Friends might have something to say about what it means. That has serious implications for the employment status of current staff. Naturally, there are concerns about that in prisons—there are suggestions that groups of prisons will be put out to tender—and in other parts of the service.

I was struck by a comment by the Probation Boards Association about the impact on staff. It commented as an employers' organisation on the industrial relations issues that it would need to deal with, particularly during the transition period. It said: An agitated workforce, already threatening industrial action over workloads is in danger of becoming demoralised by the proposals to disband its service and jettison its name. Of equal concern is the likely loss of senior managers who, seeing no future in the new structure, may look for alternative employment at a time when they are most needed to deliver the changes. Clearly, employers in the probation service believe that, if staff in the service do not receive the reassurance that they need, there may be serious consequences over the next year, before we reach the point at which the new structure should start to operate.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman is introducing and laying out his case extremely well. Does he agree that one point made to us by representatives of prison officers is that pay is on average 24 to 32 per cent. lower for those employed in the private sector than for those employed in the Prison Service, and that pensions are between 10 and 13 per cent. more valuable in the public sector than in the private sector? There is real concern among prison officers and their families about the implications of what may be happening with so-called contestability and about the lack of consultation.

Mr. Gerrard

That is absolutely right. When considering pay levels in the different sectors, people will naturally be concerned about what may happen to them if the prison in which they work becomes part of a group of prisons that ends up in the private sector. I understand clearly the rationale for involvement of the not-for-profit sector when we are dealing with community-based sentences, but I am far less convinced by the case for putting large sections of the service out to tender. I remember being involved in such arguments in this place 10 or 12 years ago, when the then Government embarked on the privatisation of prisons.

Another issue on which we need to be clear is the need to create a level playing field, so that public sector bidders are not disadvantaged. The Probation Boards Association stated: The government will need to create a level playing for voluntary and not-for-profit organisations to … enable them to participate. The association also made a rather technical point when it said that the current Home Office re-charge system for probation property would seriously disadvantage an 'in-house' bid in probation areas with low commercial property costs. Those issues must be addressed, so that a level playing field is created. Another point, which is not part of NOMS in a sense but is critical to its success, is what happens on sentencing. Martin Narey, as head of the service, will be an observer on the Sentencing Guidelines Council, which I think has had its first meeting in the past two or three weeks. However, he will not be a member of the council. If the council does not work and does not lead to changes in sentencing, we will face serious problems in the new structure—indeed, in any structure.

Perhaps the Minister will comment on what messages will be sent about sentencing, because that is the key to bringing prison numbers down. In particular, people should not be in prison doing short sentences that could be dealt with as community-based sentences. One message that came out in the meeting that some of us attended yesterday evening concerned the futility of many short sentences, because people going into prison for a short sentence do not get into drug treatment programmes, education programmes and so on. They end up doing very little while they are in prison. That message needs to be got across, particularly in magistrates courts, where there has been an enormous increase in the use of custodial sentences over the past few years.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Coop)

I declare an interest as a member of the Magistrates Association. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister and his colleagues should consider carefully custodial sentences for offences such as shoplifting? The number of people in prison now compared with 10 years ago, when I was last sitting actively, has increased by a factor of 10. That is astonishing. Surely something needs to be done.

Mr. Gerrard

My hon. Friend is right. If I remember correctly, about 1,400 people are in prison for shoplifting, whereas a few years ago there were 100 and something; the numbers have increased by a factor of 10. That is not the only kind of offence that is relevant. Many people are in prison because of unpaid fines and motoring offences. We accept that there are some very serious motoring offences that should lead to a prison sentence, but whether everyone who is in prison for such offences should be there is another matter.

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con)

The best kind of contestability may be to ask magistrates and judges whether they have seen any studies on whether the person they are considering sending to jail would be better disposed of in the community. The one thing that I suspect we all favour—it is one of the purposes for which NOMS was created—is seamless care and control of the person who has been convicted. We all have examples in which someone has come out of prison and the probation service has not managed to look after them. That is as big a concern as having people in prison who should not be there in the first place.

Mr. Gerrard

That is absolutely right. We also need to get the message across that community-based sentences are not necessarily soft touches. I am not sure whether that needs to be communicated to magistrates, but it certainly should be got across to the public. There is an image that, if people are given a community sentence, they are being let off, whereas such sentences can—and should in many cases—be fairly demanding to do. I know that many hon. Members want to speak, so I will make my final points. With regard to parliamentary scrutiny of the process, it does not appear at all certain that legislation will he involved unless the role of probation boards changes substantially. Another area of uncertainty concerns what will happen to probation boards, which are currently the employers and managers of staff. There are some issues for us about how Parliament will examine the profound changes that are taking place in the rapid reorganisation. The lack of clarity about the detail is causing concern among a number of hon. Members. We do not want to repeat the mistakes that were made in other reorganisations.

As I said at the beginning of my contribution, we all want to see cuts in the number of people in prison and success in preventing people from reoffending. We want to be certain that the new structures being put in place will do that. We do not want to end up with confusion about responsibility, and over-centralisation of services such as the probation service that have been developing well at local level. I hope that the Minister will reassure us on those issues.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is advisable to remind hon. Members that, in these 90-minute Adjournment debates, it is customary to commence the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before conclusion. Five hon. Members have indicated to the Chair that they want to contribute to the debate, and another two have added themselves to the quest to catch my eye. That makes seven, and we have 41 minutes left. That means that, if I am to squeeze everyone in before 10.30, hon. Members will have to be very careful about the time that they take in making their contributions, and about allowing or responding to interventions. I ask all hon. Members to bear that carefully in mind.

While I am making announcements, I should say that I would be remiss in carrying out my duties if I did not remind the Chamber that, when any of the four senior Chairmen of the Chairmen's Panel occupies this seat, they are to be addressed as Mr. Deputy Speaker. That was the decision of Mr. Speaker.

9.50 am
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

I speak as a great supporter of the probation service, who has 30 years' experience in the criminal law—not as an offender, I might add. The probation service and its independence should not be interfered with, because if it ain't broke, why fix it?

In these days of the big conversation, I cannot understand why there has been so little consultation on such a fundamentally important change. As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), whom I congratulate on securing the debate, the changes appear to breach the Government's own commitment on consultation in the Cabinet code on written consultation.

As the hon. Gentleman said, there does not appear to be a mechanism for any real parliamentary scrutiny of these wide-ranging changes. The National Association of Probation Officers has been told that legislation will not be required unless the role of probation boards, which manage staff locally, alters substantially.

The changes are profound, and the role of probation boards will be altered. I understand that the new service will have the power to affect the professional livelihoods of all staff currently employed in both services. That is a fundamental question, worthy of full parliamentary consideration.

The other question that I have to ask is whether the open market is appropriate for administering punishment and justice. There is a long list of unanswered questions about the detail of NOMS, including whether the national probation directorate will continue to function and what role, if any, local probation areas will have. Of course, such detail is vital and should have been consulted on properly.

NAPO considers it totally unacceptable that there should be no information about what the new structures will mean for the employment status of staff: in other words, terms, conditions, collective bargaining, trade union rights and the implications of TUPE. Many believe that the reasoning behind NOMS is flawed. A key purpose, apparently, is to reduce the projected prison population for 2009 from 93,000 to 80,000. It is difficult to see how the new structures will do that.

I fully endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about non-custodial sentences being useful. Indeed, in many cases, they lead to less recidivism. They are not a soft option, but a labour-intensive option, which is, I suspect, why magistrates tend to send people to prison rather than impose further burdens on the probation service, which, as we all know, is overburdened as it is.

We are looking at a very difficult position. NOMS is to increase co-operation between prison and probation staff—nothing wrong with that. However, that might be better achieved by other means: for example, by an increase in targeted resources, sentence planning in and out of prison and an increase in support.

Many believe that the reorganisation is an effort to cut costs. It is obvious to all who know anything about criminal justice that the prison and probation services need more resources on the front line. The probation service is in financial crisis, with probation areas facing a compulsory 2 per cent. underspend for this financial year and a further real-terms standstill budget next year. Therefore, it is of great concern that those two under-resourced services should be asked to improve performance and to implement a further layer of bureaucracy without there being a commitment to additional funding.

As has been mentioned, the last restructuring was in April 2001. Many people do not think that the changes have had time to bed down properly. The first half of "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" praises the work of both prison and probation services: Would it not be better to build on that expertise and encourage closer working relationships without including further layers of bureaucracy, which always drain resources from the front line? The progress made does not logically point to a need for the wholesale reorganisation of both services.

In "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives", there is a list of achievements. Considerable achievements have been made; it would be wrong to deny that. There has been an increase in literacy programmes for offenders, greater enforcement of community orders, a reduction in the number of escapes from prison, the launch of the custody to work initiative, the effective roll-out of drug treatment and testing orders, effective assessment of need and of risk to the public, and the establishment of multi-agency public protection arrangements, to name but a few achievements.

"Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" does not refer to the fact that the probation service was substantially reorganised in April 2001, under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. The number of services was reduced from 54 to 42, and a national service and directorate were created. Many of the new combined services, particularly the service in London, have not yet bedded down. As a consequence, the changes are yet to come through properly. The national probation directorate increased its number of employees from about 90 in 2001 to 460 in November 2003. In the same period, however, there was no commensurate increase in the number of field staff.

When the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service came into being, many of us warned that its introduction was rushed and not thought out properly. We have seen the result: it has been an absolute disaster. Much as I respect those who work in the field, they cannot be asked to do a 48-hour job in 24 hours. Many commentators assumed that the growth at the centre was a precursor to an increase in capacity in the field.

The conclusion that one draws is that there has been a failure adequately to resource prison and probation services. Both services are ill equipped to deal with yet another reorganisation and further layers of bureaucracy. The projected national offender management service could be an organisational disaster, compared to which the problems faced by the Criminal Records Bureau will pale into insignificance.

9.57 am
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby) (Lab)

I am grateful for the conveniently labelled plan before me, so that I know in what terms I should talk.

I want to concentrate on the speedy way in which the change has been brought in. It has been produced out of the blue and imposed without consultation. There has been far too much of that in Government policy in recent times. One of the Prime Minister's policy advisers gets a bright idea on, say, foundation hospitals or top-up fees and suddenly it becomes Government policy. We workers and peasants in the party—looking around, it seems it is the old lags in this case, and some young lags, too—are asked to vote it through without being convinced of it. That seems to be happening again in this case.

The Leader of the House has promised that we will not do that kind of thing any more, and has said that the Government will consult thoroughly before new policy initiatives are announced. However, here we have another policy initiative, again coming from the No. 10 policy unit and the Government's all-purpose privatiser, Mr. Carter. It was rushed through—the Government's response was announced on the same day that the report was published. Looking at the document, I can see that there is no necessary link between the stated aim, which is to reduce the increase in the prison population, and the merger, at national and regional levels—and eventually totally—of the two services. Prison numbers, as hon. Members have said, are a response to the panic climate of the "bang'em up" culture, produced largely by the clamour of theDaily Mail, but responded to by Ministers and Departments. That culture says that the only way to deal with the increase in crime is to send more people to prison. We face a very retributionist mood. If that is the real cause of the increase in the prison population, I cannot see that the merger of the services will have any bearing on it. The hon. Member—I forget which constituency he represents now.

Peter Bottomley

Worthing, West.

Mr. Mitchell

I thank the hon. Gentleman. He said that we need a seamless service. However, carving out chunks of the service by privatisation will not produce that seamlessness. It will produce a fragmented service in which it is difficult, if not impossible, to follow things through. Therefore, merging the services will not produce anything that will reduce prison numbers, or achieve better treatment for prisoners. This is a question of more resources and more staff, particularly in the hard-pressed probation service, which is under considerable strain, as I can testify from representations that have come to me locally. It has just had a reorganisation, which has not quite settled down yet and has disturbed the service. It has been given tight financial targets and it is under-staffed and under-resourced. The answer to the problem is better staffing and better resources.

Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough) (Lab)

Would my hon. Friend suggest that Home Office policy is being dictated not by the needs of the nation but by the demands of certain national newspapers? That applies to the asylum issue as well.

Mr. Mitchell

That is exactly right. It is a panic situation, to which the Home Office feels it necessary to respond. The national press, particularly theDaily Mail—this also goes forThe Sun and other Murdoch papers—experiences a hackneyed fear of crime. That produces a retributionist sentencing culture on the part of magistrates who are panicked into it. The way to deal with the matter is to staff the services better and to fight against that culture, rather than submitting to it by introducing this kind of proposal, which works against staffing improvement. It seems that there is a hidden agenda to cut costs and that is why there is talk of privatising chunks of the service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made a point about contestability. I remember it in New Zealand in the 1980s under a Labour Government there. It is a contest that the public sector always loses, because its costs are inevitably higher. It is maintaining the system and along come people—the Minister has gone to America to try to interest prison providers there—who offer a much more glamorous and exciting prospect. They are often given contracts on preferential terms, or they have been in the Prison Service, and in the glamour stakes they win. Therefore, it is not real contestability—it is a contest that is loaded against the public sector.

My basic point is that this is a question of money and resources and not one of this type of reorganisation, where so many questions have gone unanswered. I have a long list of questions, which I would like to put to my hon. Friend the Minister, but time is pressing. We do not know how many additional staff will be needed or what the role of the offender manager will be at area level. We do not know about the relationship between the local areas. A business case has not been presented to us. We do not know how the continuity of offender supervision will be maintained in the interim period. All those questions have been unanswered.

However, I cannot see any answer to the central question. The one principle of bad government is that, when things go wrong, order a reorganisation. Things are going wrong in terms of prison numbers and a reorganisation has been ordered. Perhaps the Minister can convince me with his charm and his honeyed words that this restructuring, merging of the services and opening to privatisation of chunks of the service will tackle the fundamental problem of reducing prison numbers. I do not know, but I always hope, in tense excitement, that I can be convinced.

10.5 am

John McDonnell(Lab) (Hayes and Harlington)

I will be brief. We have had compulsory competitive tendering, market testing, the public-private finance initiative, public-private partnerships, better value and now we have contestability. In reality, all paths lead to privatisation, so we may as well call it that. It is straightforward privatisation.

The origins of NOMS go back to November 2002, when the then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Benn), announced a review of the correction services. Seminars were held in central London to discuss the wider functioning of the two services. As has been exemplified before, in February 2003, suddenly and without any consultation, the policy and the review were taken over by No. 10. Without any consultation with stakeholders, Patrick Carter was appointed to head the review. It became apparent what the review process was about: the answer to the problems of the probation service and the Prison Service was not increased investment but privatisation.

It is extremely worrying that the concept will not be the subject of legislation. We will never have the opportunity on the Floor of the House to debate any measure to implement the supposed reforms. Therefore, there will be no detailed parliamentary scrutiny. The probation service works increasingly closely with the police service and the Prison Service on public protection issues, and the House should, through the legislative process, not in Adjournment debates, properly discuss whether the market is the appropriate vehicle for delivering these services.

The Government envisage that the state of contestability should be achieved by 2009. Under that arrangement, national offender managers. supported by 10 regional offender managers, will purchase prison places and community supervision from a range of public, private and voluntary providers. I reiterate that our concern is not necessarily with the voluntary providers. We understand the role that they can play, but we are worried that a market is being introduced, and it is difficult to envisage how it will work. Many tasks undertaken by the services are already multi-agency—for example, public protection panels—and could not be the subject of tendering in competition, as we have seen elsewhere.

The 101 hostels in England and Wales provide 2,500 residential places, primarily for ex-prisoners. More than 40 per cent. of the hostel places are taken up by sex offenders and others known to local multi-agency protection panels. If public confidence is to be maintained in the service, it is essential that the public sector, in conjunction with the police, monitors those ex-prisoners to minimise the risk to the public.

Let us look at the prison experience. The main sector from which non-public organisations could recruit would be the probation service, which is already understaffed and under-resourced. The unions feel that one consequence would be that wages would be depressed and service quality would suffer. The trade unions' experience of the market and of the public finance initiative in the justice system in the past decade differs starkly from what the Home Office has told us on successive occasions.

For example, prison officer pay is on average 24.6 to 32.4 per cent. lower in the private sector than in the Prison Service. Pensions are between 10.5 and 13.5 per cent. more valuable than pensions available to those employed by the private sector. The Prison Service offers between 5 and 28 per cent. more leave than the private sector and limited competition from the few firms bidding means that in many instances there has been only one bidder for the tender.

David Taylor

Will my hon. Friend comment on the recent merger between Group 4 and Securicor and the ability of the much vaunted market to respond in such circumstances?

John McDonnell

What is happening throughout the process is that cartels, or monopolies, are being formed, which reinforce their ability to drive down wages and suppress conditions. There is a general lack of transparency. Information is withheld, in particular from trade unions, on the ground that it is commercially confidential. Many of the questions tabled by MPs have been unable to elicit the information required to make a proper judgment of the process of privatisation at a prison or elsewhere. Consultations with the unions on the planning and procurement processes have been negligible.

Judging from recent experience, private sector involvement in the probation service has been pretty disastrous. In 2002, the national probation directorate privatised hostel facilities, including cooks, cleaners and maintenance staff. The contract was awarded to Morrison's and costs subsequently rose by 62 per cent. In 2003, the NPD decided to privatise the management and maintenance of probation premises. The increase in costs in that case was less—35 per cent.—but still outrageous.

The situation is becoming a comedy of errors, almost merging into a combination of "Fawlty Towers" and "Porridge". Staff in probation hostels have reported a catalogue of problems bordering on the farcical. I will not detail the numerous examples with which we have been supplied but there have been several complaints about standards of hygiene in kitchens and environmental health officers have been called in. People have asked how many private contractors it takes to change a light bulb in a hostel—usually only one, but it will take about four days with consultation. One hostel in Sheffield has had no regular cleaners for 12 weeks. A London hostel needed its boiler switching on and Morrison's sent a carpenter from Portsmouth. Costs build up through the inefficiencies and incompetence of the private sector.

Is it still the case, as we believed in opposition, that profits should not be made from incarcerating people, or is that now the Government's policy? It is difficult to see how the market will improve offender supervision and how it will not have the same results as we have seen in prisons of demoralising staff and driving down conditions of employment and wages. There is a real fear that the purpose of centralisation and of the review is to act as a forerunner to the wholesale privatisation of the service. That would lead to fragmentation of the service, erosion of local accountability and the failure of quality standards.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There are 18 minutes remaining and four hon. Members seeking to contribute. Please bear in mind the remarks that I have made.

10.12 am
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op)

Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall certainly bear in mind what you said and I shall not re-cover old ground.

I have been greatly influenced by my discussions with two probation officers in Gloucestershire, initially Gill Mackenzie, who went on to national prominence, and more recently John Carter. The fact that we do not know with who or what Mr. Carter will be replaced concerns me. I am meeting a representative of NAPO on Friday—I know that she will read the debate and will no doubt express her concerns to me.

I want to talk about something that has not yet been mentioned but is important, which is how the probation service interfaces with employment, housing and health authorities. I shall deal with the last of those three first. The Government are, according to their rhetoric, decentralising the health service, and I support that. There is an important element of discourse with the different health authorities, particularly primary care trusts, to try to get them to spend more money on caring for offenders, many of whom will have a drug problem.

However, while we appear to be decentralising the health service, we are nationalising the probation service and dividing it between a potentially more unaccountable set of bodies. I do not understand that logic. It would make sense to bed down some of the other changes, such as those to criminal justice boards, in which probation should play an important part. Unless I have understood incorrectly, those boards are based along county lines. I asked a parliamentary question to elicit who would sit on my local board, and they were all worthy people from Gloucestershire, including the chief police officer and people from the county council. I do not understand why we are taking what appears to be a contradictory approach, and that might matter for the other side of probation community service. With the best will in the world, no national body will be able to find employment that people who are serving their sentences in the community need to have found for them.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assuage some of my fears. From all the evidence, including that from my friends in the probation service, I know that this is a period of uncertainty that comes on the back of another reorganisation, which has yet to bed down. I hope that the Minister will consider how we assess whether this reorganisation is the appropriate way forward. If we are to have a genuine national probation service, I want assurances that that will not be pushed into the market, or removed from local accountability.

10.16 am
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab)

I am pleased to speak in today's debate because I am a past member of the South Glamorgan probation committee, which preceded the present board; I was a local authority representative on that committee. As my background is as a social worker, I have worked closely with probation officers in south Wales and discussed this issue with them. I can confirm that there is anxiety and concern about the proposals.

I, too, am concerned about a change so soon after the previous change in 2001. In my area of Cardiff, three probation services came together in 2001—mid, south and west Glamorgan—to become the south Wales probation service, coterminous with the police and court boundaries. We supported those changes. However, this new change, along with the change in chief officer, has caused a great deal of uncertainty and worry. It is far too soon to launch another change so swiftly after other big changes. I will be interested to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister about the future role of probation boards. I hope that he will respond to that uncertainty.

I regret the probation service becoming even more of a correctional service than a social work service. That is a move in the wrong direction, and we cannot overemphasise the good that can be done with the traditional method of advising, assisting and befriending. The document entitled "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" states: Believing that offenders in the community will reduce their re-offending through occasional interviews with probation officers is also naive. That belittles what probation officers have managed to do with offenders over the years. They have been a great success, because they have been people whom the offender can turn to and trust.

The points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) pertain especially to Wales, because the probation service will be moved away from all the agencies with which it should work closely, such as local government, social services, housing departments and drug and alcohol services. With the existence of the National Assembly for Wales, another dimension causes difficulties. The probation service needs to be fully involved in the crime and disorder partnerships and the community first partnerships set up by the Assembly. It is difficult to get probation involved at the moment; certainly, prison is not involved at all. Things will become even more difficult when the service becomes national. When problems arise, it is important that young people in particular are seen as a part of the local community and that solutions are found in the community.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud said, we are moving away from the Government's commitment to localism towards a more national structure. That is going in the opposite direction of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which is being devolved to Wales. Can the Minister say whether Wales will be classed as one of the 10 regions? Will there be an all-Wales manager? I draw his attention to the response of the Probation Boards Association, which asked: In a regionalised structure would the NOMS function in Wales become the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly?

I should be grateful if the Minister commented on the role of the Welsh Assembly, which is not being taken into account in these proposals. It is so important that probation services operate at a local level, for reasons of employment and links with the voluntary sector. If contestability happens in Wales, not many people will put their names forward because we do not have much of a private sector, although we have a voluntary sector. The proposals are not at all suitable for the climate in Wales.

The other issue to take into account is the Welsh language. It is already difficult to deliver a service in Welsh. How will the devolved service and the competition for jobs deal with that sensitively? I should be grateful if the Minister addressed those points in his response.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Nine minutes and counting.

10.21 am
Jim Knight (South Dorset) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing this debate. I echo his opening comments on the improvements to the Prison Service under this Government, as well as many of his other comments. I should also make it clear that I see some benefits of joining up the prison and probation services. We need a clearer pathway from prison through rehabilitation to resettlement for prisoners to become law-abiding citizens again, and it is possible that the proposal to create NOMS will achieve that.

I represent three prisons, all on Portland, which has a residential population of about 12,000 voters, and a prison population of 1,500. Some 300 people are employed in those prisons. One of them, the young offenders institution, had a £3 million custody to work programme funded by the Government, which shows that reoffending can be reduced if accommodation and employment can be found for young offenders on release, so that they have a pathway to a decent and secure future outside. As for the problem of overcrowding, there are young offenders in that prison from as far away as Newcastle. The notion that officers working in those prisons can develop relationships with local authorities all over the country is very difficult. That reflects the importance of developing a regional approach, so that there is a limit to the number of agencies with which prisons have to liaise in order to secure that pathway.

I obviously welcome the aim of reducing the prison population that is implicit in the proposals, but I must reflect the concerns put to me by the chair of the Dorset branch of NAPO, Avril Harris. The Minister must answer the main questions that have arisen from this debate. A number of good questions about contestability were articulated, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). If there is going to be a transfer to the private sector, we must secure the pay and conditions of all those officers working in the service on Portland. If their pay and conditions are cut to the extent that has been described in this debate, that will have a noticeable impact on the economy of the island. There are exceptionally valid questions about contestability. Why the hurry, and why the need for another reorganisation after 2001?

There is also the question of probation service funding. There is a potential vulnerability in merging the two services, especially if the Government were elected on the basis of "Prison works", rather than "Probation works". When I have had conversations about crime and antisocial behaviour in my constituency, my constituents tell me that they want to see tough community sentences, but they do not see necessarily that the answer is prison, which too often becomes a university of crime.

Problems have been created by the national probation directorate's £20 million overspend, which has been devolved to local probation services. In Dorset, it meant cuts in funding of 2 per cent. this year and 8 per cent. next year, and the 14 current job vacancies will become 14 job cuts. That is a serious diminution in the service.

I have taken note of your comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall conclude. I am not instinctively against the proposals, but in the absence in particular of proper consultation, they raise too many questions at best and considerable opposition at worst. To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell), it is time that this Government learned not to impose new ideas or to bounce us into agreeing to new policies without proper consultation. They would have a much easier time if they relaxed, took their time and ensured that we all understood what they were doing before we had to agree to it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There are five minutes remaining for the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Clark).

10.25 am
Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough) (Lab)

I shall shed half my speech and be as prompt as I can.

I do not believe that the case has been made for a further reorganisation of prisons and probation, primarily because of the recent changes to the service and the achievements that the Government acknowledge have been made since 1997. Those developments should be monitored, evaluated and built on rather than made the subject of further disruptive change—that that is my view about many other strands of current Government policy, particularly in the field of home affairs.

The substantial reorganisation of probation service structures implemented in April 2001 should have been monitored and independently evaluated prior to the introduction of yet further structural changes. If we had had such sensible and careful evaluation, we might have concluded that the creation of the national offender management service was not needed.

It is vital that the probation service is close to the community that it serves. I welcomed the 2001 reorganisation, which established coterminous boundaries for police, local authorities and the Crown Prosecution Service. That process is continuing, as the reorganised court structure will also be coterminous by spring 2005. Many hon. Members have praised probation, and it plays a key role in representing the local community, particular ethnic minority groups such as those in my constituency.

The Prime Minister talked about centralisation in hisThe Guardian lecture. He said: When central government becomes too big it sucks up resources that should be at the front line. It runs the risk that ministers and officials try to intervene even when there is little value they can add. We must create a centre that is streamlined and focused, developing strategic frameworks, for example the thinking the Home Office is doing on how different kinds of criminality—organised crime, repeat offending, anti-social behaviour—require different organisation and policy responses. A centre that acts as a resource for best practice, that sets and monitors minimum standards, that intervenes in the front line rarely but in the case of failure doing so swiftly and effectively. I agree with that. I am not an advocate of change for the sake of change. We need to build on the foundations that we have to create public confidence in such essential services and home affairs policy in general.

10.28 am
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing an important debate.

The Minister may leave this debate thinking that there is a measure of disquiet on the Government Benches about his proposals and that he needs to provide some reassurance. I share some of the concerns expressed. The key question on the issue of the service being correctional, or one that provides social assistance to offenders, is whether it protects the public and reduces reoffending. That is the test that needs to be applied to the reorganisation.

Any sensible person would argue that there is a case for better integration of the Prison Service and probation service. Inherent in some of the Government's other policies such as custody plus, which we have welcomed, is the aim of ensuring a seamless transition between different elements of sentencing policy. I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow that there have been some improvements in the management of offenders in the present Prison Service and probation service. I sometimes think that those improvements are slightly over-advertised and that there is an awful lot to do in terms of prison education, dealing with health—particularly mental health problems—and women in prison. Those are still real issues. Nevertheless, there have been improvements.

The major problem faced by the Prison Service is that we send too many people to prison and we have not got the accommodation to meet their needs. That problem will not go away as a result of a structural reorganisation of this kind. More consideration must be given to better fine management as an alternative and the use of the Sentencing Guidelines Council (Supplementary Provisions) Order 2004 to provide public confidence in the alternatives to prison and ways of sentencing offenders. That leads, incidentally, to much higher visibility for non-custodial sentences, so people feel that something is happening in their community to those who have offended against it.

I have the highest regard for the probation service, which comes from way back in the days when I was working with it as leader of a county council. The service is facing huge problems, as the hon. Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight) said. The problems of financing the probation service are becoming an almost unbearable burden on its effective operation. I have heard nothing from the Minister or his colleagues that suggests that that funding crisis is being addressed. We have a structural change, but the immediate problem of not being able to provide a sufficient number of officers in the probation service to do the job that we want them to do is not being dealt with. That has knock-on effects for the police, the court system and, of course, most immediately for offenders and their families.

The financial crisis in the probation service is made worse by an absurd system of target management, whereby fines are imposed on probation services for not meeting the targets that the Government have set. I understand—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that 37 of the 42 probation services have been fined a total of £4.3 million in the past year for failing to meet their targets. There is a correlation between a target-based approach and a failure of the service.

The reorganisation is yet another aspect of the restless change that is endemic in the Home Office. There is an almost permanent state of revolution in the area of home affairs, which, uniquely, is rallying to the standards raised by the leader writers of theDaily Mail. That is not an attractive aspect of the Government's programme. Hon. Members have already drawn attention to that. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) mentioned the analogy with CAFCASS and the fact that it was a mess because the Government did not take the time to get the measures right in the first instance, but rushed through a reform and repented at leisure. That must not happen again.

On looking at the parliamentary answers to questions asked about the national offender management service, I find all too often that the Minister says that it is too early to say what the answer is to a particular question. We must start getting those answers, and we need them quickly if the speed of change envisaged by the Government is to continue.

There is so much uncertainty occasioned by that vagueness on the final outcome that inevitably it causes concern among practitioners in the service, who simply want to be able to do their job more effectively. It is not an easy change. As I said when it was first announced, we are melding two organisations with a different ethos and different ways of doing things. If anyone imagines that the transition will be effortless, they are wrong. Much careful thought needs to be applied to the process, and I have no confidence that that has yet been done. One of the greatest worries for all of us is that, in implementing the proposals, we will lose some of the essential elements of inter-agency working, which is so valuable in that area of work.

We know of the concerns that have been expressed by probation officers and prison officers. Some of those concerns have been have been raised in the debate by other hon. Members, so I shall not repeat them. Probation officers and prison officers look at the process, which has been rather grandly labelled "metamorphosis"—with a fine disregard for both Kafka and Ovid in its implications—and know that it follows on from a process that was, equally absurdly, labelled "a new choreography". They wonder at what point the new choreography becomes the metamorphosis, and how those processes overlap. They consider their terms and conditions, which are perfectly proper considerations for those working in the service, and wonder where the process is going. They also examine the new concept of contestability—I wonder how many more euphemisms Governments, whether it be this Government or the previous right-wing Government, will find for this essential process of privatisation. I think that it was the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) who read out a list of terms that have been applied to what is essentially the same process. We now have a new term, contestability, and we must see how it works. There are benefits in the process for some aspects of the Prison Service—I will not take a rigid ideological view—but I wonder how it will be applied in any valuable way to the work of probation officers.

I seek an explanation from the Minister on the regional dimension. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) tabled a written question about whether the national offender management service would work closely on a regional level with the complementary services, including the police. The Minister's reply was that the supervision of offenders is best managed at regional level where effective links can be forged and joint strategies developed with complementary services including police, health, education and employment."—[Official Report, 9 February 2004; Vol. 417, c. 1269W.] Have I missed something there? We do not have regional police forces. Police forces are based on police authority areas, which are coterminous with the present probation boards. We do not have regional education services; we have local education authorities. Health is no longer organised on a regional basis; the trusts, which are not regional bodies, are now the prime operatives for health. What is the regional co-ordination that the Minister says will be improved by the new structure operating on a regional basis?

I am concerned that we will lose innovation at local level through seeking consistency, which may be of value in some cases, but too often will be a dumbing-down of the process. I am also concerned that there is insufficient parliamentary scrutiny of the process. I return to my initial point. The test is whether the proposal will reduce reoffending and protect the public. The Minister must persuade his hon. Friends and the country at large that the changes will achieve that. Assertion will not do it. There must be a fully rounded strategy that demonstrates where the added value in the process lies.

10.39 am
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing the debate. Many of us, having heard some of the comments about the NOMS proposals, decided to apply for such a debate, and I was glad that he led the charge on this occasion. Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. If there were contestability for the role of the speaking clock, I know whom I would back.

Rarely have I heard so much disquiet expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber about a Government proposal. I am sad to hear the concern expressed by all hon. Members this morning, not least because, in the short time that I have been speaking on prison matters for my party, I have seen some of the excellent work that is being carried out in our prisons and some first-class work that is being carried out by not-for-profit agencies. Many individuals in the probation service, the Prison Service and the voluntary sector do sterling work in this difficult and sensitive area. We should set our debate today against the background of that excellent work and the current chronic overcrowding in our prisons.

I appreciate that the Minister will have only 10 minutes in which to wind up and that he has another debate on prisoners this afternoon, but today's debate cannot pass without taking into account the fact that more than 75,000 prisoners are now in custody and there are fewer than 200 places available before we have meltdown in the service. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that. Can he confirm that women prisoners are being moved out of Winchester and Edmunds Hill to other accommodation? How many of our police forces are on standby for Operation Safeguard? We have a Prison Service that is in crisis as we debate this matter.

I want to congratulate the Government because I have rarely seen such speed. Patrick Carter presented his report to the Prime Minister on 11 December 2003. In the intervening period, we had Christmas but on 6 January the Government were able to produce "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives", their response to the Carter report. That breaks all records for a Government response. It is a miracle what can be achieved over the Christmas period when one sets one's mind to it.

When we see how rapidly the Government responded, all the alarm bells start ringing. We heard them today. The Home Secretary proudly declared that this was the next phase of the Government's strategy to improve the criminal justice system, a system that he acknowledged needed attention when he spoke of the deep disquiet about it. We never expected him to have a ready-made response on the drawing board before the Carter report was presented, so that it could be whipped out at the beginning of the year. The debate has highlighted the concerns of the probation service, the Prison Service, the unions and politicians on both sides of the House. The Minister will have a difficult time answering the massive amount of questions that have been raised by hon. Members. I hope that he will not try to produce all the answers in his allotted 10 minutes but will write to each and every hon. Member who has participated, whether in an intervention or in a short speech. He has to start putting the flesh on the bones of these proposals and to come out with the detail.

Like many of the organisations that have been cited today, I was surprised that the proposed changes required no parliamentary scrutiny. I should be grateful if the Minister confirmed that he still does not plan to allow any parliamentary scrutiny at any stage other than through the medium of Adjournment debates or questions. Does he consider that adequate, bearing in mind that he is creating a completely new service that will take over the employment of thousands of people and responsibility for the entire downstream part of the criminal justice system? Victims of crime, offenders and people who work in the criminal justice system are concerned because, again, we appear to be seeing the creation of a centralised monolith, to say nothing of the budget that it will command. People need to see that there is parliamentary scrutiny and accountability.

The response of the probation boards to NOMS sums it up. They say that they are dismayed that the Home Office appears to have taken far-reaching decisions without public or parliamentary scrutiny. They raise further questions, reflecting the surprise that, after the major and costly reorganisation of the probation service less than three years ago, the Government now propose to dismantle the service with little or no evaluation of the effects of the original reorganisation. Can the Minister say why no business case or costings have been available on NOMS and, in particular, what the implications are for the investment that has already been made in the probation service's reorganisation? Is that an investment that the Government are now prepared to write off?

NAPO has registered fundamental concerns about the proposals. It does not hold back on the questions that it asks and the criticisms that it makes. It believes that the proposals have been hurriedly announced and that they appear to be ill thought out and lacking in detail. Following a meeting of NAPO's national executive committee on 29 January, representatives from its 37 branches unanimously passed a motion to oppose the introduction of NOMS as currently proposed. That took place some time ago, and I am sure that it has been communicated to the Minister.

I hope that the Minister will address the concerns that have been expressed and say how he will handle the obvious problem that is developing with the unions. They have concerns with the timetable, and they make the point that the Government's own code of practice requires a standard 12-week period of consultation, which does not appear to have taken place in the case of NOMS—they are disregarding the code on occasions. I want the Minister to explain why, or to announce that he will reorganise the timetable, so that we have longer to consider the implications of these changes and the way in which they can be brought about.

Many speeches have reflected the high degree of uncertainty that probation staff and NAPO members have about their future. That will have serious consequences for recruitment and affect the functioning of the probation service. There are some alarming statistics on the numbers of prison officers who have joined and left the service over the past few years. During the past three financial years, 3,647 prison officers have left the service and only 2,245 have joined. The Minister must address the uncertainty among staff. That is also reflected in the figures that show the differences between remuneration packages in the private sector and in the Prison Service.

The logic behind the Minister's creation of NOMS escapes everybody. We all appreciate that changes need to be made to the service. I have been acquainted with this area a short time, but it seems that nothing much has changed since I started visiting prisons as an articled clerk just a few years ago. There still does not appear to be a seamless service between how offenders are treated in prison and how they are reintegrated into the community when they come out. People have been trying, but there has been continual failure. Everyone would support the proposals if NOMS could create that seamless service, so that we could reduce reoffending. However, it is difficult to understand how the reorganisation, as it is currently proposed, will help to achieve those aims.

Last night, the hon. Member for Walthamstow and I listened to Martin Narey. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) will be interested to learn that Martin Narey made much of the fact that he is intending to save money over the period that he is in charge of the reorganisation and merger of these two sides of the criminal justice system. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how much money he is anticipating saving on those budgets, because the cat is out of the bag now and we need to know that.

There are 1 million questions, and I hope that the Minister is becoming familiar with them. The proposals will affect a large number of people. Many believe that they are panic proposals. That has been articulated today. There is little confidence in the process and a distinct absence of detail. We are looking to the Minister to provide us with an explanation and enlightenment on the handling, logic and uncertainty that exist around the creation of NOMS.

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

Ten minutes is not a long time in which to respond to all the questions that have been asked. I will do my best in the time available, but I will write to all hon. Members who have participated in today's debate to ensure that they receive a full answer.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) on securing the debate and thank him for doing so. There was an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he made his statement to the House in January, but this morning's debate has provided an opportunity for a more thoughtful discussion, having had the chance to reflect on the document that was published at that time. This thoughtful debate is built on the tremendous amount of experience that all hon. Members who have participated in it have of the correctional services.

There are three key reasons why the proposals in "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" are so important. First, there is the day-to-day experience of the people who operate our prison and probation services. We all know, because we talk to those people, that there are still many gaps in the service—too many cracks in the system—through which offenders can fall back into crime. Although I know full well from my visits to prisons and the probation service that there is a lot of anxiety about the impact of changes on individual members of staff, there is a recognition that joining the two services together as we intend will provide a more effective service.

Secondly, Patrick Carter provided a powerful assessment in the correctional services review. Hon. Members have had the opportunity to read the document. I shall refer to a number of key points that it contained, such as the sentencing drift. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) referred to custodial sentences for shoplifting. The fact is that people are three times more likely to receive a custodial sentence in a magistrates court for that now than 10 years ago, and twice as likely in a Crown court. The prison population increased from 55,000 in 1996 to 66,000 in 2002, and is 75,000 today. That inexorable rise does not reflect an increase in criminality.

Patrick Carter identified regional disparities. For example, someone who is convicted of an assault in Lancashire has a one in 50 chance of going to prison, whereas in parts of London the chance can be as high as one in three. Patrick Carter's projections were that, if we did nothing to the correctional services, by 2009 there will be 93,000 people in our prisons and some 300,000 people on community sentences. He concluded that, even if we allowed that to happen, it would not be an effective way to reduce reoffending. Accordingly, he advocated greater use of financial penalties and called for a more effective use of community sentences, not least using electronic surveillance, which is increasingly available.

Patrick Carter called for a new role for the judiciary, particularly the Sentencing Guidelines Council—looking not just at what is an appropriate punishment but at what is effective. His conclusion was that, if we could rebalance the correctional system with more people out of short-term prison sentences and on to community sentences, and more people fined, rather than given probation, we could have a stable prison population of about 80,000 by the end of the decade. Such matters would all have to be underpinned by effective case management of individual offenders.

Thirdly, there is the Criminal Justice Act 2003, within which we are creating the new generic community sentence and, perhaps more important, new sentences of custody plus and a new arrangement whereby people on determinate sentences of more than 12 months will serve half their sentence in prison and half in the community under supervision. In other words, no longer will we have prison sentences for some and community sentences for others—we will have increasing numbers of sentences that combine the two elements. Therefore, it is essential that we bring the prison and the probation services together.

My hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) said that change occurs when there is chaos and when there is crisis. That is far from the case in respect of the matter under discussion. As hon. Members from all parties have said, much has been achieved in our prison and probation services in recent years, of which we should be proud. We are now spending £3.2 billion on prisons and probation. That is an increase of £900 million in real terms. There have been 11,000 additional members of staff, and some 5,000 of them have gone to the probation service over the past six years, so I do not recognise the description of that service as being denuded of staff.

Hon. Members have paid tribute to the achievements in terms of education, detoxification and drug treatment in the Prison Service. That there have been achievements is equally true of the probation service, which has been rebuilt, having dwindled under the previous Government, when no investment was made in training, and there was very little public commitment to it. That service is now putting new sentences into place, such as the drug treatment and testing order and the intensive control and change programme. That is real innovation, and provides the effective alternative to prison that so many hon. Members have called for.

Mention has been made of the speed of implementation. The correctional services review was announced in the "Justice for All" White Paper published in July 2002, so it was not a surprise that a review was taking place. "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" is the Government's initial response to the Carter review, and gives an indication of the direction in which we go. It will take at least five years from the implementation of the national offender management service in 1 June for the new system to be fully operational.

I want the process of moving to that service to be inclusive for the staff delivering front-line services. I offer the Chamber an assurance that that is how I intend the reform to happen. For example, I want staff representation on the board of the national offender management service, so that there is interface and dialogue between the Home Office, Ministers and senior officials in the Department and those who provide front-line services.

Mention was made of training. There will be a continued commitment to appropriate training. The training offered to a prison officer in a high-security establishment will be different from that offered to a probation officer working with drug treatment and testing orders and responsible for the supervision that they involve.

The word "contestability" was used. We are talking about contestability, not privatisation. Contestability is about getting the best value out of the investment that the taxpayer makes. We have seen from the contestability applied to the Prison Service that there is much to be gained from it, certainly in terms of an improved service and better value for money. I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby that the public sector does not always lose. Blakenhurst and Buckley Hall, two prisons that were in the private sector, are back in the public sector, providing better value than the private sector could offer. I want a contestability philosophy in correctional services that allows us to include the best of the public, private and not-for-profit or community sectors, the latter of which is so important.

On staffing issues, I understand that there will always be anxiety among members of staff when their service is to be reorganised in a way that may impact on them. I pledge, as I have done throughout, that there will be full negotiation with the relevant trade unions and staff if there are to be any changes to staff's terms and conditions.

I have been asked about parliamentary scrutiny. If there were to be a change to the employing body for probation officers and a change to the local area boards, that would be subject to legislative change, and there would be the usual parliamentary scrutiny associated with that. If the prison population is to be stable when it has increased by 5,000, and if probation officers are not just to provide intervention but to become the offender managers of the future, what with the additional capacity required to implement the Criminal Justice Act, there will be a role for every prison and probation officer in the service, and more besides. That is because we need to do more, with ever greater numbers.

My final point is that, in the end, the reorganisation is not just about rearranging the furniture; it is also about reducing reoffending. That has to be our overall objective.

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