HC Deb 19 May 2004 vol 421 cc272-94WH

2 pm

Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab)

I am pleased to have succeeded in securing the debate, which I applied for following a lobby by staff who work in the probation service and live in my constituency. That lobby was held only last week, so I am pleasantly surprised to have succeeded so quickly.

In January, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary published the report "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives", which is designed to modernise and reform correctional services. That report is the Government's response to a report, by Patrick Carter published at the same time. The consequences of the report for the probation services in Reading caused my constituents to visit me, and thereby me to seek the debate.

In 2001, the Government set up a national body to manage the probation service. There are also local boards, which cover the devolved, local management of the service. The boards were established on the same boundaries as those of police authority and magistrates court areas. That meant that in the local service there was an amalgamation of the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire services to form the Thames Valley service.

At the time, the amalgamation was said to be a three to five-year process. That relates to the first concern that staff raised with me. Having just gone through one reorganisation, as well as all the stress and difficulty that that causes, they were understandably concerned about being plunged into another so soon. What evaluation or monitoring of the effectiveness of the previous reorganisation was carried out before the new changes were proposed? Is the further reorganisation even an admission that the previous one failed? Certainly, in the Thames valley, that is not the evidence provided by the staff's performance. I shall give a few examples.

Despite an increase in the target number of drug treatment and testing orders and what the staff describe as the complexities of drug funding in the Thames valley, they have met the target. The target for contact with victims has been exceeded throughout the past two years. The service has exceeded the target set for basic skills for the second half of the year. Nearly 450 offenders have successfully completed an accredited programme in the Thames valley—double last year's number and significantly more than the target set for the service. The service is on track to meet the target of a positive proposal in 90 per cent. of pre-sentence reports on black defendants, which is an important indicator to ensure that black defendants receive as good a service as their white counterparts. That has been of quite serious concern over the years.

Enhanced community punishment has been implemented on time and is on target to meet the number of starts required this year. The latest figures on enforcement within 10 days—for March—were the best achieved, including 100 per cent. for community rehabilitation orders, 93 per cent. for community punishment orders, 75 per cent. for community punishment and rehabilitation orders and 100 per cent. for rehabilitation. That improving performance has seen the Thames Valley service rise up the national performance table in the past year, from 32nd to 29th to 26th to 24th. The staff and I are hopeful and confident of further progress up the performance table. That seems to be evidence that the previous reorganisation is beginning to bear fruit in Reading.

The concern about the need for another reorganisation so soon after the previous one feeds into a further concern. What is the rush? The changes were announced in January, but the national set-up is supposed to be in place by June, with the local set-up in place by next year. The preferred model for the structure of the National Offender Management Service was published only last week, on 10 May, and is open for consultation until Friday 11 June—a rather short period. How does the rush to establish NOMS sit with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 29 January at the summit on public services convened byThe Guardian? He said that policy first and explanation later is not the way to do things, and this was the problem with the way the debate on university finance happened. Some MPs felt that university finance measures were sprung on them with too little explanation and too sparse a tilling of the ground of debate and argument about the nature of the problem.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)

I very much agree with what the hon. Lady says. Is she aware that the proposals to replace local probation boards in Wales with one all-Wales board have caused similar concerns? Does she agree that one of the great anxieties is what happens to jobs? Those who are pushing the reorganisation need to ensure that the spread of jobs continues and thereby ensures the delivery of criminal justice services throughout Wales, including rural areas. She represents a largely urban constituency, but it sounds as though the same problems are arising everywhere.

Jane Griffiths

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman's point is relevant everywhere in England and Wales. My constituency, unlike his, is urban and densely populated. Jobs are an issue, whether that means recruitment and retention, which is a problem in the Reading area, or the scarcity of jobs in parts of his constituency.

How will the Home Office avoid the mistakes made with the establishment of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service? The Chair of the Lord Chancellor's Department Committee said: The committee found that many of these problems stem from serious failings in the establishment and management of the new service. Too little time was allowed for its establishment, leaving the organisation at a disadvantage from the start. Once established, CAFCASS failed to make proper use of the preparatory work that had been done, compounding the difficulties. Incidentally, I note that an issue of the staff magazine, "Metamorphosis", referring to the changes, states that the legislative timetable prevents a protracted consultation period on the overall shape of the National Offender Management Service. Will a Bill be needed to make the proposed changes to the structure of those services, or can they be achieved through secondary legislation?

That is important, because it feeds into another concern of the staff in Reading, who are worried that changes to the service have been introduced but have not been subject to parliamentary scrutiny. If a Bill is needed to introduce the changes, it will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and those anxieties will be addressed. However, if such legislation is required, what is the position of people being appointed to posts in the new structure? I would be grateful if the Minister cleared that point up.

What legislative timetable is there for the structure? If it needs primary legislation, will appointments be made before a Bill completes its parliamentary process? Can the service realistically take shape if that does not happen?

Staff who talked to me are concerned about there being another reorganisation so soon, as they are just bedding down the previous one. They are worried about the speed with which the changes are being introduced and concerned that to date the changes have not had parliamentary scrutiny. I would be grateful if the Minister also addressed those concerns.

I spoke earlier about the progress the probation service is making in the Thames valley in some areas covered by the service in Reading. That is not unusual for a complex town such as Reading, which hosts a wide variety of activities. In the Home Secretary's response to the Carter report, the yardstick for success is identified thus: Clear integration of effort, spreading of best practice, and coherent management". The Government's response states that they will put the individual management of offenders at the centre of a single system rather than falling in the gap between two different services. A member of staff in the probation service in Reading asked me this:

If there is a value in a single, coherent service to deal with prisoners, why is the same logic not applicable to offenders in the community, where they pose the real risk of reoffending, and why is the probation service to be broken up between purchasers and providers? That brings me to another concern raised by the staff: splitting up the service into purchasers and providers. I was a councillor in the 1980s and 1990s and I experienced compulsory competitive tendering. under which we were forced to split the council into purchaser and provider. Staff working in the public service were forced to compete against other contractors. Again, that was for competition, which we were told would lead to efficiency, yet on the election of a Labour Government in 1997 we rightly repealed the legislation.

Councils have now put back together the service management with the people employed to provide the service and, in most cases, have found it more efficient. Similarly in the 1990s, a purchaser-provider split was introduced in the health service to provide greater efficiency through competition, and on their election the Labour Government removed it.

The example that staff mentioned to me was the split introduced in the railways. They do not want to become the Railtrack and Jarvis of the criminal justice system. Although we are not taking the railway system back into public ownership as such, although I wish we were, we have moved to reduce the number of organisations and groups playing a part in it. The staff are concerned that the split is a move towards the privatisation of the service. That is again reminiscent of local government in the 1990s, where rather than hear talk of privatisation of local government services, we heard other euphemisms used. In this case, the word is "contestability".

Probation service staff have seen the consequences in the Prison Service. Again, this is familiar from local government in the 1990s. Any profits and savings are made as a result of worsening the pay and conditions of staff working in the service. Prison officer pay is 24.6 to 32.4 per cent. lower in the private sector than in the public, while a Prison Service pension is 10.5 to 13.5 per cent. more valuable than pensions available to those in the private sector. The Prison Service offers 5 to 28 per cent. more leave than the private sector. The fact that few firms are involved in tendering has limited competition, at times leaving just one company bidding.

Staff have also seen the consequences of putting the ancillary services at hostels out to tender. A constituent told me one story that strikes me as highlighting madness. Previously, when a light bulb in a hostel blew, one of the staff went to a convenience store with 58p from the petty cash, bought a new light bulb and put it in. Now, I am told, when a light bulb needs replacing in the Reading hostel, someone in south Wales gets in a van and drives to Reading to do it. If that is true, we must do something about it. Why, when we have moved to remove that split in other services and when we prefer to have people working together for the best service and efficiency, are we introducing such a division in the criminal justice system?

My next point has been debated in the House before. In fact, I was the first MP since 1997, and perhaps before that, to raise in the House of Commons the problems facing public service workers in the south-east as a result of the high cost of living and, in particular, the cost of housing. The probation service in Reading has been no different from the other public services in the town; staffing has always been a problem. There were packages in place to help to recruit and retain staff, but they were lost—unintentionally, I am sure—in the last reorganisation, which introduced the move to the Thames Valley service. Staff also feel that the situation was worsened by the removal by the then Home Secretary in 1996 of the added value of a local training route at Reading university. That had allowed access to local training for local people for the first time.

The result is that the Reading service runs on a staffing level of about two thirds. The impact of that for risk management of the most dangerous offenders, along with the other important jobs carried out by the service, is obvious. Local staff feel that any difficulty in providing coherent services to prisoners relates much more to the fundamental national shortage of probation staff than to the structure of the service. In many cases, there are no staff available until within weeks of a prisoner's release.

The Reading service has 120 unallocated resettlement cases and it views that as a result of lack of staffing. It rightly feels that the skills of probation officers are in demand. They can move elsewhere in the country and receive the same pay, so staff frequently move on to other things or other places—perhaps to rural Wales, who knows? As an example of that process, 12 out of 17 officers in the Reading office were new to the team. Imagine the consequences for the work of the office of having two thirds of the staff with less than a year's experience.

I am pleased to have secured the debate so soon after the lobby of Parliament, and to have had the chance to raise the concerns brought to me by the staff who work in the probation service in Reading. I have asked a number of questions of the Minister about what is happening. I know from yesterday's sitting that he responds positively to matters raised in Adjournment debates. I hope he can do so today.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Frank Cook)

Order. We have about 44 minutes left in which to accommodate six contributions from the Floor. We must start the first of the three winding-up speeches 30 minutes before conclusion, as these who are familiar with proceedings in this Chamber will know. I ask hon. Members to bear those constraints in mind when making their contributions and when accepting or responding to interventions. I call Mr. Burns.

2.17 pm
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con)

Thank you, Mr. Cook.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. When sanctioning proceedings in this Chamber, the House determined that occupants of the Chair should be addressed as Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Burns

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall certainly keep to your ruling, because I understand that many hon. Members want to speak.

I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing this timely debate, particularly as it comes so shortly after the lobby, during which I had the privilege of meeting several of my constituents who work for the Essex probation service. I am sure that the Essex service is not unique in this country in that it is a first-rate service. I know that it looks after the interests of my constituents and others in the county of Essex. In 17 years as a Member of Parliament, I have never received a single complaint about the seamless service that it provides in the county, which I believe is reflected elsewhere in the country.

The Government's document "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" lists many achievements of the probation service an increase in the literacy programme, greater enforcement of community orders, the timely recall of offenders to custody where the rules have been broken, the effective roll-out of drug treatment and testing orders, and so on. For that reason, I find it incomprehensible that the Government want—yet again—to bring in more changes after a relatively short period, and in this case bring in radical changes that will completely transform the whole concept and edifice of the service.

I note with interest the comment, which has already been alluded to, made by the Prime Minister in January. I agree with him on this point, and he rightly said that policy first and explanation later is not the way to do things, and this was the problem with the way the debate on university finance happened. We are experiencing the same problem in relation to the probation service. The service is working very well and it provides a seamless service, but the Government want to tear it all up, go back to the drawing board and introduce a new system with the Prison Service. I find that unbelievable.

In light of the Prime Minister's comments and Government rhetoric over the past seven years, I find it extraordinary that there has also been no consultation whatever on the issue. If the Government thought that the system was not working, but everyone else believed it was and experience showed it was, one would have thought that at least there would have been consultation on the best practical changes that could be made—if they were warranted at all, let alone on such a scale.

I only hope that this is not a crude, cost-cutting exercise to save the Treasury money, and I trust that the Minister will address that point. It would be unforgivable if the Government were to cause so much damage to the existing regime and service simply to gain filthy lucre for the Treasury coffers.

Why has there been no consultation? I would have thought that its absence means that there has been a failure to conform to the Cabinet Office code of practice on written consultation, which, if the Minister is unaware of it, recommends that consultation should take place with key stakeholders before decisions are made and that there should be a standard 12-week consultation process. That has been totally ignored in this case, and I would like to know why.

The hon. Member for Reading, East raised the question of parliamentary scrutiny. It would seem that the proposals are being rammed through from start to finish in little more than six months, and that there will be no proper scrutiny in the House as well as no way to debate the proposals in detail when one might seek to amend, improve or, if it were the will or the House, reject them outright. That seems odd, and I would like to know why there is to be no adequate parliamentary scrutiny, save for Members raising the issue in Back-Bench debates here, or perhaps in another place.

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

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is also rather peculiar that the measures have been rushed through so rapidly when there is the potential for legislation on the probation service? If it transpires that the changes require legislation, are we not putting the cart before the horse? There is experimentation with the entire probation service and Prison Service before the legislation has been discussed or scrutinised in this place. Is that not incompetent government?

Mr. Burns

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. It certainly seems that the Government are putting the cart before the horse. I was going to say that I find it peculiar that the Government are behaving in that way, but frankly, nothing that the Government do surprises me at all.

It is also interesting to read the comments made by the Home Secretary when he launched this whizzy new scheme in January: I am not interested in reform for reform's sake". That is the most extraordinary statement, because it is apparent to me and many other people who have examined these cockeyed proposals that that simply is what he is undertaking: reform for reform's sake, with little justification whatever.

If one analyses the probation service's performance in England in the last year for which figures are available 2002—one will find that its record is fairly good. It supervised 117,000 people on a criminal case load, and a further 78,000 on pre and post-jail supervision; some 60 per cent. of those on community orders completed their sentences successfully; 18 per cent. of orders were breached because of new offences; a further 10 per cent. of people failed to comply with the conditions of their order; and another 8 per cent. of orders were terminated due to good progress. The statistics also show that 90 per cent. of those placed on licence or parole completed their period of supervision successfully. I will not go through the entire list of achievements, but it shows how the probation service has carried out its duties efficiently and effectively.

I will not claim—I suspect that no one in this Chamber would—that everything is fine and that there is no scope for considering, or indeed need to do so, ways of making improvements and necessary changes that would make the performance and the service even better. However, my basic point is that I do not agree with the wholesale tearing up of the existing regime, merging it and bringing in a new system in little more than six months with no scrutiny or consultation with those directly affected. Those people are worried. They are also fearful for their job security and about whether the service is going to be subject to—to use that extraordinary new word—"contestability", which I think is a polite term for potential privatisation.

All those factors are causing confusion. They are demoralising members of the probation service and making their job more difficult. That is wrong. I would like the Government to extend the time scale that they have set, so that they can consult the probation service and other interested parties, and, in the light of those consultations, be prepared to make changes to what they seek to do.

I am not confident that the Government are prepared to do that, but I see that the Minister is listening intently, so I hope that in winding up the debate he gives consideration to the concerns raised by hon. Members and shows he is prepared to go away with an open mind and have a long, hard think about what his Government and Department are proposing. I think that the proposals are wrong and that they will do more harm than good.

2.27 pm
Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow) (Lab)

I will try to be brief, because I had the opportunity to speak in a debate on the National Offender Management Service not long ago. Many things have moved on since then, however, and I hope that the Minister will be able to address them.

Last week, I was involved, with about 1,200 probation officers from throughout the country, in a lobby of Parliament. After the last debate that we had on NOMS, I received letters from probation officers throughout the country, echoing many of the concerns that had been raised. Something that came across to me clearly in speaking to probation officers last week was a degree of demoralisation. People feel extremely insecure about their future, and there is a danger that we will lose experienced staff who have been in the service for a long time.

It is difficult to think how the probation service will be able to recruit, train and retain staff if it is going to be a year until the final arrangements are in place. The degree of uncertainty is a serious problem. Change is happening at national and regional level, but many people have little clear idea where it is going.

I tabled an early-day motion on the subject, which has received more than 100 signatures from across the House. That shows the concern that many Members feel about what is happening. I suspect that many people who signed that early-day motion did so because they believe that they need to know more, and there has not been enough discussion of the changes in Parliament.

I shall concentrate most of my remarks on the latest Home Office paper, issued by Martin Narey on 10 May, which asked for responses by 11 June. The paper talks about being driven by the legislative timetable, but—I am sure that the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—my understanding is that there is no need for legislation on reorganising service delivery. If the Home Office wanted to change the structures of the probation service and the Prison Service, or to put them together, it would not need legislation to do so.

Legislation is required to deal with some of the management structures, such as probation boards. The abolition of probation boards will be one of the key features of any future legislation; I am not clear what else might be included. We do not necessarily need legislation to deal with some of the structures on the ground.

The implication of what is happening is that by the time we get to debate a Bill, which may be later this year, with a Second Reading in the new Session of Parliament, in November or December, we will have reached a point at which, whatever has happened to the structures on the ground, the regional management structures will already be in place. People will have been appointed as regional offender managers and someone will have been appointed as the national offender manager. We will have a management structure that does not fit with what has been happening, and Parliament will be presented with a fait accompli. I suspect that many Members of this House will not be too pleased about that. Whatever they feel about the Bill, they will be being asked to endorse something that has effectively already happened.

The paper asks for responses to quite a number of questions, and some of those raise even more questions. The structure shows a purchaser-provider split. The whole of the Prison Service is in the provider part, but a 70–30 split is proposed for current probation officers. Roughly 70 per cent. would go into the purchaser side, and about 30 per cent. would be on the provider side, although the purchaser side as it stands would include things such as human resources, finance and back-office support. I have seen comments suggesting that people in those parts of the service, at least, have no guarantees that they will remain on the purchaser side for ever.

I can certainly see the worries for people who think that they may end up on the provider side. Who will they compete with, and on what terms? Might we not even end up with competition between some of the people on that side, who all now work in the public service? For instance, some of the people who are now in the Prison Service might want to put in bids to do what is currently regarded as probation service work.

One of the things that I learnt from dealing with compulsory competitive tendering—and in this case, we are dealing with something much more complex and difficult than a local authority converting to CCT—is that the exercise of drawing up specifications and writing contracts is not neutral. The terms and conditions in contracts, and the specifications, have an enormous effect on who can bid for those contracts and win them. The areas covered, the geographical areas and the size of the contract can all have an enormous impact on who can win the contract. There is also the question of whether the contract is written in a way that makes it possible for in-house staff to bid and successfully win it.

People have been asked for views about the liaison arrangements below the regional tier, how work is carried out with local authorities, and the structures that currently exist. Questions about what should be happening at local and regional level should be answered in the paper, not asked.

We all accept that more needs to be done, although much progress has been made in the probation service. I ask the Minister to think again about the pace of what is happening, the level of consultation, the worries of staff, and parliamentary scrutiny.

2.34 pm
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC)

The hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths), whom I congratulate on securing time for this important debate, referred to contestability. The process is, of course, privatisation by other means. One must ask, for example: who will be the probation officers' employer in the long term? What will probation officers be called—"punishment officers"? What safeguards will there be to protect their terms and conditions? We already face a severe recruitment crisis: more people are leaving than joining the service, and there are 1,000 vacancies. What impact will that have?

There is no doubt that the service is currently underfunded, under-resourced and, as we know, was ordered to give back 2 per cent. of its budget to the central directorate last year. It must pay its fines when targets are missed from an ever decreasing budget. For example, 37 services paid £4.3 million in fines for missed targets last year. That is not a criticism of those at the coal face; there are simply too few people doing too much work with too few resources. Some pretty ridiculous targets are now being imposed on the service. The work load has increased by 30 per cent. in the last 10 years. Probation officers no longer have time to rehabilitate people, and in many cases, supervision is an administrative process of getting people to sign a book.

This will be the end of the probation service as we know it. The ties with communities, which have always been recognised as essential to a successful probation service, are going. Local probation boards play a key role in representing local communities, particularly ethnic minority groups. The proposed regional and central structure would jeopardise such contact—and it certainly does not appear to be in line with what the Prime Minister said at a recent summit on public services organised byThe Guardian:

Our strategy for continuous improvements through giving power to people involves greater choice, greater voice and more personalised services. But there is one more key element. As you will know, public services are a partnership. Parents are key partners in the education of their children. The co-operation of local communities is vital in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour. Under the new arrangement, there will be 10 regional offender managers, purchasing prison places and community supervision from a range of public, private and voluntary providers. It is difficult to envisage how that would work in practice. Many tasks undertaken by the probation service, such as public protection panels, are multi-agency, and could not be the subject of tendering and competition.

The National Association of Probation Officers—I am pleased to say that I took part in its lobby last week—is firmly of the view that such privatisation will be disastrous. Individuals will be forced to compete for their own jobs if it is felt that they are under-achieving against a recently imposed target.

Private sector involvement in the probation service has not been very successful hitherto. In 2002, the national probation directorate privatised hostel facilities, including cooks, cleaners and maintenance staff. The contract was awarded to Morrisons and costs rose subsequently by an average of 62 per cent. In 2003, the directorate decided to privatise the management and maintenance of probation premises, which led to an immediate rise in costs of 35 per cent. Both privatised projects have been characterised by a fall in service standards, and staff in hostels have reported a catalogue of problems, including numerous complaints about standards in kitchens.

I shall cite some examples. A Brighton hostel was forced to call in environmental health officers because of the state of the kitchen. There had been no full-time cook for a long time, and when one was eventually supplied, there was no food, so the area manager, who is based in Peterborough, had to buy food at a local supermarket and deliver it to the hostel. In a hostel in Sheffield, there was no regular cleaner for 12 weeks. A London hostel needed a boiler switching on, and Morrisons sent a carpenter from Portsmouth. In contrast, one of the Sheffield hostels needed its roof mending and a boiler man was sent. A call-out from a hostel in Newcastle resulted in a contractor travelling from Chester to mend a broken toilet. If all that were not so serious, it would be an absolute farce.

In principle, the National Association of Probation Officers believes that profits should not be made from the administration of incarceration or of the justice process, and I entirely agree. NAPO believes that there is an overwhelming case for keeping the service public, and I fully support that. The Government's own document, "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives", which has already been referred to, praises many of the achievements of the service. I shall not go through them all, because they have already been mentioned. Indeed, I shall now draw my remarks to a close, because of the number of hon. Members who wish to speak—but I will finish by saying something that has been said many times before, in various Chambers and various debates, which I believe is germane to this debate: "If it ain't broke, why fix it?"

2.40 pm
Mrs. Helen Clark (Peterborough) (Lab)

This is the third time that I have spoken recently on this subject. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing the debate. As has become clear today, there is a great deal of cross-party concern about the Government's proposals, the way in which they have been introduced, their likely effects on the management of offenders and on the morale, pay and conditions of service of staff in the Prison Service and probation service.

I am glad to have this further opportunity to speak on the matter, and I hope that the Government are listening. The National Offender Management Service proposals should not have had to be debated in Adjournment debates. They should have been given proper parliamentary time and scrutiny. NOMS will take over the employment of thousands of people and will also take over a large part of the criminal justice system. One would expect that parliamentary debate on such a matter should depend on more than a tombola or lucky draw.

In the Adjournment debate on this matter in March, the Minister promised inclusiveness for staff delivering the new service. He said: I want staff representation on the board. He added: 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. He also reassured those concerned about the speed of implementation by saying:

It will take at least five years from the implementation of the national offender management service on 1 June for the new system to be fully operational."—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 17 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 92–3WH.] As I said last week at the rally organised excellently by the National Association of Probation Officers, it is better for there to be some representation and consultation than none at all, better to have the promise of negotiation than to have none, and better for there to be a slow implementation than an unrealistically rapid one. However, we should not be starting from that point. It is the wrong way round: there should have been full consultation first. The consultation is not about whether the new organisation is a good idea, or whether the structure is likely to be able to deliver. It is about implementation of decisions that have already been taken. These changes will occur on top of earlier changes that have barely settled in.

I should like to know how much of the next five years will be spent in sorting out the inevitable mistakes and muddles. That is not just pessimism, bad-mouthing or mealy-mouthing; my view is based on experience of another ill-thought-out, hastily introduced, over- centralised system of which I have had much experience in my Peterborough constituency. That system was also introduced by the Home Office, and hon. Members will not be surprised when I say that I am referring to the National Asylum Support Service.

NASS is operated from Whitehall, has no regional structure, let alone front-line staff and, for the first two years of its life, it had inadequate resources. Its introduction caused huge problems for local authorities and voluntary organisations in the areas to which asylum seekers were allocated and much hardship and misery for the individuals themselves.

I had to introduce two Adjournment debates before we began to achieve any recognition of the reality of the situation on the ground—on the front line where people work or attempt to access the service. It therefore makes me especially sad and angry that we seem to be going down exactly the same road with NOMS. There has been a similar reaction in haste and, sadly, there will probably be similar repenting at leisure.

In the earlier debate, examples were cited by hon. Members of other new organisations and services that were set up without adequate consultation and planning and that have also run into serious difficulties. Reference was made to the Criminal Records Bureau, and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. The question must be asked: why are changes being introduced in this way?

I believe that we all share the avowed aims of the NOMS reorganisation, which is to reduce reoffending. However, to paraphrase the Minister in the earlier debate, unless it is done correctly, it will simply involve rearranging the furniture. Certainly it will not be done correctly without adequate resourcing.

All the concerns mentioned so far would be enough without those raised by the proposed privatisation. I will not go over ground covered by other hon. Members but I certainly agree with the comments made in the earlier debate by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell). He said that profits should not be made from incarcerating people I also share his concerns about the effects on probation hostels, particularly given the high proportion of sex offenders in such hostels. He said that 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".—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 17 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 80–1WH.]

Only yesterday, I was here in this Chamber debating the issue of sex offenders in such hostels. I was extremely heartened by the Minister's response. Surely if public confidence is to be maintained in the service, it must be retained in the public sector. The tasks undertaken by MAPPs should not be the subject of tendering and competition. Yesterday, the Minister said that he had noted the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East and by me about the connection between sex offenders in probation hostels and the proposed National Offender Management Service and was looking forward to further discussions about the wider issues. My remarks today have been necessarily brief, but I hope that the Minister will be able to include those matters in his response.

2.47 pm
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab)

I will aim to keep to six minutes. I am grateful for the chance to take part in this debate and I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on the way she has supported her constituents. She has plainly done that very well. I also wish to support my constituents today, and not just because they are constituents. A number of probation officers whom I have met are ex-colleagues. One or two are friends. I have told those friends—and I say to some hon. Friends today—that a great many of the proposals in "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" are excellent and should be followed through.

We clearly have a long way to go in the management of offenders in this country. We have a severe problem with the large number of people incarcerated in prison. The figure was 74,000 in December. There is also a huge recidivism rate. We have real problems with the coordination of services between prison custody and the community. We need to manage successfully some very dangerous, difficult and troubled people in the community if we are to keep our communities safe. There are growing pressures on the services. It is a positive step to aim to join up the Prison Service with the community service.

I disagree with the Government over many aspects of youth justice policy, but I am pleased with the developments that have been made over the sentencing of adults. Innovations such as custody minus and custody plus will be extremely helpful. Drug treatment and testing orders are vital and need to be developed further. Drug treatment is another very important aspect of work that needs to be integrated between the Prison Service and the community service. We also must ensure that people in prison who need help with improving basic skills, housing, mentoring and employment get co-ordinated support when they go back into the community.

Multi-agency public protection has already been mentioned. Again that is a crucial area, and I know that you have a personal interest in the subject, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We must recognise that the treatment of sex offenders is a crucial child protection issue. We need a network of treatment centres across the country and effective liaison with health agencies to deal with sex offending. We must view protection from sex offenders as vital public health and public protection matters. There are huge issues to be addressed, arid they can be addressed only in an integrated way.

I have no real qualms about what other people have referred to as privatisation. This is not about privatisation. I approve of the commissioning structure that has been put in place and the regional structure that is being established. They should result in services being developed in local communities that meet the needs of those communities.

Mrs. Gillan

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dawson

No, I am sorry. I would love to debate the matter further but I just do not have time.

My constituents have raised legitimate concerns about resources and the ethos of the probation service, which must be developed. The probation service needs to change, but its ethos is being lost within the ethos of the larger Prison Service, which certainly needs to change as well. A great deal of work has been done to develop the national probation service, and people are concerned that the effort that has gone into that may be lost. There are huge concerns about bureaucracy and legitimate concerns about the pay and conditions of staff. I regret to say to my hon. Friend the Minister that the light bulb nonsense occurs in Lancaster as well; that is not simply an apocryphal tale.

My hon. Friend the Minister and the Government must involve the dedicated, experienced staff in the process of change far more effectively than at present. They should be allowed to inform and enrich the process. By building on what is in "Reducing Crime—Changing Lives" and with the full involvement of the people on the ground who know what they are doing, we can have a much better service that really addresses the serious issues.

2.53 pm
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on obtaining this debate. I, too, have had the opportunity recently to speak twice on the proposals, and this is a chance to raise again some questions that have not yet been answered. I hope that they will be answered to allay the anxiety of the vast number of probation officers who came to Westminster last week to attend the rally in Methodist central hall. There is a mood of depression among probation officers because their future is so uncertain.

My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that the reorganisation is taking place so soon after a previous one. Does my hon. Friend the Minister consider the 2001 reorganisation a mistake? I do not believe that there has been any evaluation of it.

My second concern is over local accountability. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), I have grave concerns about the reorganisation and the proposed structure. I was a member of the South Glamorgan probation committee. I know how many people from the community were involved when I was on that committee and that the South Wales board brings local accountability to the service in the area. It is particularly good—this has already been mentioned—at ensuring that ethnic minority voices are heard on it, which is a major part of delivering a criminal justice system.

I understand that Wales will be one of 10 regions, and I assume that one board will cover Wales. Will the Minister give more details about the position in Wales? I would be concerned if there were no smaller bodies providing local accountability. If we are to get rid of local probation boards, as is implied, how will one probation board covering the whole of Wales link into the different communities represented throughout Wales? There are specific issues relating to rural communities, Welsh-speaking communities and urban areas, such as my constituency. How will one board address those issues? Will there be structures below that board in which local people can be involved? It is important to hear answers to those questions.

Social services departments are managed at a local level, as are links with employees and housing departments—it is important for offenders to get good supported accommodation. How will those local links be developed? Some links have been built up over many years and it is important to ensure that the offender is dealt with in their community, because that is where they will live. Even if an offender receives a prison sentence, they will eventually end up in their local community. It is essential that structures enable work to happen in and with that community.

One aim of the reorganisation is to reduce the prison population, and I completely agree with that. There are many people in prison who should not be there. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre said that the prison population is 75,000 and rising rapidly. I am concerned that the number of women in prison is rising enormously, because that means misery for families. According to a recent statistic, only 5 per cent. of children whose mother goes to prison stay in their own home. Issues of inappropriate sentencing must be tackled. We should tackle the huge size of the prison population through sentencing policy; that is the way to reduce prison numbers. In particular, we must tackle the issue of female offenders, and I am pleased that some probation programmes are designed particularly for them.

Will the Minister give us more information on the introduction of contestability? Staff in the service who have approached me are concerned that contestability may apply to accredited programmes, such as drink-driving programmes, sex offender programmes and the thinking skills programmes, which are running well in the South Wales and Gwent probation services. Drug treatment and testing orders are effective and above the Home Office targets.

Another concern among probation officers is that low-risk offenders may come under contestability. In the probation service, low-risk offenders can be transferred between probation officers, dependent on the qualifications of the officers. More experienced officers can take on low-risk offenders who become a higher risk. How could we deal with that under contestability?

Concern has also been expressed that resettlement units could be open to contestability. Some of my constituents work in the neighbouring Gwent probation service and they tell me it is meeting 100 per cent. of the Home Office resettlement targets. Staff work from the time of the custodial sentence until release—working closely with the Prison Service, taking part in reviews in prison and considering treatment programmes. They believe that they are effective in protecting the public when the offender is released, and they often deal with high-risk offenders. Probation officers are very concerned about the work they do, which is already of such a high standard in parts of the country, but the way in which the proposed reorganisation has been handled so far has caused them to be undermined—they have not been part of the debate or the proposals.

I hope that we can move forward and that my hon. Friend the Minister gives us some reassurance that the good work in the probation service will not be undermined, but can be part of the forward programme. I hope also that we tackle the real, hard problem of prison overcrowding and other issues as soon as we can.

3 pm

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing the debate. As has been pointed out, it has similarities with the 17 March debate, which was initiated by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). Many of the same cast are present, and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were in the Chair. It is tempting, therefore, simply to refer people to the speeches made then, as little has changed.

The Minister said: Ten minutes is not a long time in which to respond to all the questions that have been asked…I will write to all hon. Members who have participated in today's debate." — I have not received a letter yet, but he is an assiduous Minister, so I am sure that one is on the way to answer the points that were raised. If 10 minutes is not a long time in which to answer questions, nine minutes is probably not a long time in which to ask them, so we must rely on the postal service eventually coming up with some answers.

Since that debate, there has been the mass lobby of Parliament by probation officers, which was effective. It sometimes felt like a mass lobby by Members of Parliament, too, given the number from all parties who went across to Methodist central hall to show solidarity and express views. It was right that we did that.

The problem faced by many of us is that, as so often with the Government, they ask some of the right questions and come to some of the right conclusions, but implement the conclusions so cack-handedly that they upset the very people who asked for those things in the first instance. Any sensible person would want integration of management of offenders between probation services and the Prison Service. Any sensible person would seek to reduce our overcrowded prison population and to remove the inconsistencies in the management of offenders. However, I have referred before to the constant revolution in the Home Office. I fear that the Claudio Ranieri of the Home Office, who has to tinker with everything and take off his best players just as they are about to score a goal, has struck again—a potential crisis is developing when we should have a success.

Let us be clear: we have a crisis in the probation service now and a problem with the funding now. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred to the point on the fines system that I think I made in the previous debate. What nonsense it is to introduce a target system that reduces the effectiveness of the service one is trying to improve.

First, let us deal with the crisis in the probation service. Secondly, let us not try to airbrush the probation service out of existence or out of history. The probation service is one of the achievements of the first great radical Government of the 20th century, led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. I shall stick up for Sir Henry and his achievements, because the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 created something of enormous value. When I read that we are no longer to have probation officers, but will have public sector intervention staff, my heart drops. We had a public service intervention in the main Chamber earlier today. That is not what we are looking for; we are looking for good, experienced and professional probation officers, doing their job effectively.

Mrs. Gillan

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed that we now have a director of public service interventions, which shortens to DIPSI.

Mr. Heath

The hon. Lady knows that acronyms are proliferating in this area, and people are now calling probation service officers "GNOMES". That does no one any good, so let us have a bit of dignity and common sense.

We have a process of change that is remarkable only for its rapidity. As has already been pointed out, we have had two reviews—"A New Choreography" followed by "Metamorphosis". I have said this before and will say it again, but my memory of O-level biology is sound, and metamorphosis usually starts with something fairly ugly turning into something fairly beautiful. In this case, there is a great concern that something rather beautiful—the probation service—may turn into something rather ugly. We must prevent that from happening.

There is also a lot of open-endedness and uncertainty. The Minister can still not respond to questions put to him, either in debate or as written questions, with anything other than, "It has not yet been decided." So much has not been decided, but the whole process is proceeding at pace. I say "at pace"; some institutional and organisational changes are happening at pace, but in the 17 March debate he said: It will take at lease five years from the implementation…on 1 June for the new system to be fully operational." —[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 17 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 90–92WH.] What does that mean? How can we change to a new organisational system when operability will not be effective for another five yeas? Where is, to use a cant phrase, the road map for the transition? Was that not developed before the Government went ahead with the changes? It seems not, because change is proceeding without direction, and that worries me.

We also have the issue of contestability. There must be someone in the Government, probably in the Cabinet Office or No. 10, who searches the dictionary of synonyms for different words for privatisation. Every now and again, they must come up with a new one and run into the office, jumping with joy, to say that they have found another way to persuade Labour Back Benchers that what the Government are doing is not privatisation by another name, but a completely different process. However, that is what contestability and the purchaser-provider split is all about, and we know the effects that privatisation has on public services. Sometimes there are elements of benefit, but more often than not it simply creates people who run around trying to produce contracts that do not work and effectively hands over public services to the private sector with no advantage to service operation.

Mr. Dawson

The probation service has a fine history of working with voluntary organisations. Will contestability not cement that and allow better and more innovative developments from voluntary organisations?

Mr. Heath

If it did, I would be happy, but if that is happening already, why do we need a new system to cement it? I am sorry, but I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's argument.

I want the Minister to respond to this point, because he did not in the previous debate. What is this nonsense about the regional basis? We have it in his written answer 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.] However, our police service is operating on the basis of police authority areas, our education service is operating on the basis of local education authority areas and our health service is operating on the basis of primary care trust areas. None operates on a regional basis, so where is the advantage in forging joint strategies within a regional structure to which none of the complementary services works? The Minister needs to explain what he means.

We need a debate on the proposals. They are far too serious to be discussed in Back-Bench debates or responses to statements. They are a serious issue for the management of offenders. There should be two objectives: to reduce reoffending and to protect the public. My concern about the proposals and how they have been introduced is that there is a real danger of losing the professionalism, enthusiasm, commitment and unique skills of probation officers, which many of us believe to be extraordinarily valuable in our communities. It would be a tragedy if all that were thrown away to pursue—too quickly and without direction—a process of change for its own sake. There can be a sensible objective and strategy, but the Government have not yet produced that.

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

I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing the debate. It gives us an opportunity, once again, to spend a little time considering what are gargantuan proposals to change the probation service, the Prison Service and the way in which they operate. I also congratulate the Minister, because he is, at least, staying in his post, and has been in it for longer than the average prisons Minister. I hope that we get continuity at ministerial level, so that he can deal with the problems.

There is a unique point about this debate and the last one: almost all the speeches—irrespective of the political platform of the Members giving them—have been interchangeable, so I make a serious request to the Minister to listen hard to what we are all saying. There is a theme running through every presentation that has been made to him—whether informal or formal in the form of an Adjournment debate—and it points in one direction: stop, think and slow down.

The lobby that stimulated the debate was one that we all participated in. I was delighted to be invited to speak from the platform, because I think that I became one of the first Conservative MPs to speak to such a meeting for about 20 years—I believe since Willie Whitelaw last addressed one. As somebody close to the Minister said, I was conscious of my position in history. I was also pleased to share a platform with Tony Benn. It is unusual for him and me to see eye to eye, but that again shows, as I hope the Minister understands, that there is a meeting of minds among those on the other side of the fence to him.

I was also delighted when members of Buckinghamshire probation service came up to lobby me. Despite speaking at the lobby, they came into the House of Commons and, in a meeting room below Westminster Hall, I listened at first hand to their concerns, and concerns there are. To introduce the National Offender Management Service with such indecent haste is, I believe, causing concern, whether in the Prison Service, the judiciary, the voluntary sector or the myriad other organisations that are involved in this complex part of our life in this country.

Indeed, the 10 regions, as well as the managers who are in the process of being recruited, are, structurally, causing concern among the people who will have to operate in them. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) would not let me intervene when he was discussing the local nature of the probation service. I cannot see why 10 regions are better than 42 boards. It seems to me that that means taking the service further from the community, rather than bringing it closer, which is what he argued for.

That phenomenal change will affect thousands of prison officers and myriad voluntary organisations, as well as the private companies that run some prisons. It will affect more than 75,000 prisoners whom the Minister has incarcerated, leave alone the 18,000 probation staff and—give or take 10,000 or 20,000—the 250,000 people who go through the probation service every year. We are talking about not a small constituency, but a very large one.

The budget for that organisation is enormous—it will be some £3 billion—and one man, Martin Narey, will handle it all. He has been put in place and appointed, although I do not believe that there was any contestability for that post. I will let the Minister intervene to correct me if it was advertised, but I do not believe it was. Some appointment mechanism was used and Mr. Narey will be in charge of £3 billion of taxpayers' money being spent on an area that is of great importance to every citizen of this country because it involves public protection. This is about protecting my constituents and those of every Member from criminals.

I am very worried that we have someone in place to run a £3 billion budget who has not been recruited in the same way as the managers of the 10 regions. Their positions have been advertised—put out to competitive tender. I ask the Minister to clarify at some stage the qualifications and expertise that Mr. Narey brings to managing an enormous £3 billion budget.

There is only a very short time in which to raise important issues, and the way in which the National Offender Management Service has been implemented is undermining morale tremendously. The latest letter from Mr. Narey contributes to that. The Minister knows about the 7 May letter, which requires responses by 11 June—a point to which other speakers have alluded. I read it quite carefully and there are points that I would like him to address. The document says: Martin Narey, the Chief Executive of NOMS will be accountable to Ministers for reducing re-offending and delivering other agreed outcomes from NOMS, including the preservation of security, order, control and decency in all prisons. "Including" and "delivering other outcomes" lead me to form the impression that Mr. Narey has other targets already set by the Minister, so I would like him to set those out, over and above reducing re-offending and preserving security, order, control and decency.

Mr. Narey, the document continues, will also ensure that there is increased contestability in the provision of correctional services. One of his aims and objectives is without doubt to ensure that there is much more contestability. How much more? In what areas? When will contestability kick in? Can we have more explanation of the language in the document?

The document goes on: The Chief Executive will also be responsible for raising the public profile and reputation of NOMS". We do not need to raise its public profile much higher for the simple reason that everybody is worried stiff about what will happen to NOMS. As far as protecting its reputation goes, that has already been damaged, and I want to know the Minister's proposals to ensure that we restore the reputations of our first-class probation service and Prison Service, which are rapidly going downhill.

The next paragraph of the document says: Within the Service there will be a National Offender Manager…reporting directly to the Chief Executive, who will be responsible for the target to reduce re-offending and have control of the total budget for managing offenders. Exactly how much of the £3 billion budget will the national offender manager be responsible for, or is responsibility for the budget in fact passing from Mr. Narey down to the national offender manager?

Some responses to the questions in the consultation paper are ridiculously short, which shows just what chaos the Minister is in. The questions address not only the fact that the Government do not know what to call the organisation—public sector interventions are not the DIPSI to which I referred in my intervention on the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath). More frighteningly, the consultation asks: Does the model provide a rational and cost effective means of delivering the NOMS reforms while reducing bureaucracy? As the Minister is introducing NOMS on 1 June, the Department should have discussed, examined and consulted on that already.

The lack of consultation, the shortness of time and the urgency with which the paper was sent out are all indicators of chaos, and uncertainty is felt across the board. This is a very serious matter because the public must have confidence in the Home Office, but it is fast ebbing away. Articles in the newspapers have reflected that feeling in the probation service.The Guardian article to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) referred was headed, "Staff use one word to describe the service: 'Chaos'".

I appeal to the Minister to consider the timing and to rethink the passage of the proposals. It is obvious from the covering letter that legislation is expected, because Mr. Narey said that he was working to a legislative timetable. That means that the Minister is pushing him for short deadlines because he knows that measures on changes to the probation service are proposed.

I ask the Minister to come clean now. Tell us when the legislation is coming and when we will have the opportunity to discuss it, or say that there will be a rethink or even pilot studies in one or two areas, rather than bringing in the proposals across the country and creating more chaos.

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

I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Jane Griffiths) on securing the debate. This is another valuable opportunity to underline the important work undertaken by the probation service and to update the House on our progress towards implementing the National Offender Management Service.

We have heard an impressive mixture of passion, well-informed opinion and experience this afternoon. I do not want to try the patience of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), but I apologise for not writing to him after the last debate. If, as I suspect, I will need to write to hon. Members after this debate, I shall ensure that everyone's questions are answered fully.

Yesterday, we debated the role of approved hostels and discussed the success of the multi-agency public protection panels in assessing and minimising the risks posed by violent and sexual offenders. Probation staff are central to our strategies for crime reduction and public protection. Rather than making cuts to the budgets of the correctional services, this year the Government will spend some £900 million more in real terms on correctional services than in 1997. That is helping—

Mr. Burns

Is that prisons?

Paul Goggins

In response to that sedentary intervention, the total for all correctional services—prisons and probation—is £900 million more in real terms, leading to the employment of an additional 5,000 staff in the probation service compared with 1997.

Despite that increased investment, and the dedicated hard work and professionalism of probation staff, far too many offenders continue to be sent to prison for short periods in circumstances where a community sentence would be much more appropriate and effective. However, the reduction in reoffending rates is not what it should be for the £3.5 billion that we spent on correctional services in the current year. We need to do better.

A single National Offender Management Service is needed to ensure better links between those providing services and to help to rebalance the system so that those who commit the most serious crimes are in prison while less serious offenders are dealt with in the community.

Probation has done much already to build up the credibility of community sentences through a range of new programmes and an increasingly rigorous approach to enforcement, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East gave evidence from her constituency. Almost from a standing start, 9,000 drug treatment and testing orders were delivered last year, and we expect that 13,000 will be given out this year. The intensive control-and-change programme, piloted in 11 areas, will be extended further this year, leading to a full roll-out across the country.

Probation is an expanding service that plans to recruit a further 2,600 staff in the next two years to help to build up the capacity to respond to the new sentences in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. It is worth pointing out that Patrick Carter estimates in his careful analysis of correctional services that, if we rebalance the system, we will be dealing with 240,000 people under supervision in the community by the end of the decade. That is 60,000 more than are currently managed, So there will be no shortage of business.

I am able to set out with some confidence in this Chamber the details of the Government's past investment and their intentions for the future. However, like hon. Members who have participated in the debate, I also visit local probation areas—indeed, I have done so across the country in recent months—and am aware of the financial pressures on the service. As I meet the staff, I see the difference that they make. It is absolutely essential that we keep up the momentum of the improvements they are making.

As a result of those visits, I contacted Martin Narey, chief executive of NOMS, who was appointed to his new job by the Home Secretary. He was previously commissioner for corrections and has effectively managed the £2.5 billion Prison Service budget. I asked him to review the correctional services budget to determine what additional help could be found, and I am pleased to announce this afternoon measures that will give immediate additional financial help to the service, particularly front-line staff.

I am announcing an extra £16.1 million for front-line services in the current financial year There will be an additional 1 per cent. for all areas and an average increase of 1.5 per cent. for the metropolitan areas, in effect restoring part of the metropolitan allowance that had been removed. Provided an action plan is produced that can deliver the service improvements that are still needed, the London probation area will receive an extra £2.3 million.

Mr. Burns

Will the Minister give way?

Paul Goggins

I must make progress. I need to say a few things before I move on to questions that have been asked.

The increase will be in addition to the £1.3 million share of the extra metropolitan allowance—enough to clear the outstanding deficit for the year. I want to make it clear that that offer to London is a "something for something" settlement.

Mrs. Gillan

Will the Minister confirm that last year the Treasury clawed back £10.2 million from the budgets and that 37 areas missed their targets and were fined £4.3 million? He is giving back what he took away.

Paul Goggins

I ask the hon. Lady and other hon. Members to take this absolutely at face value. I have listened to descriptions of the pressures on probation staff as I have gone around the country and I am responding by announcing a package worth an additional £16.1 million. I hope that it will be seen as another indication of how the Government invest in rather than reduce support for the probation service. The debate will finish shortly, so I must make progress.

The Government are keen to continue communication and debate with hon. Members and with the staff and trade unions. So far, there have been seven regional events on the development of NOMS, which were attended by 1,500 front-line staff. We will continue to make such sessions available. I hope that all who represent work force interests and whom I have invited on to the National Offender Management Board take their place on it. All the responses so far have been positive. That, too, will help communications.

I could comment on many other points, but let me say that the consultation document has gone out. It is in the Library, and I am glad that hon. Members have taken the opportunity to study it. The closing date was set for 11 June, and it would be helpful if replies were submitted by then, if possible, but I make it clear that if any interested party wants to make a contribution but is not able to do so by that date, we will listen to and include in the formal consultation any contribution made up to the end of June.

It is vital that we listen; I am committed to that. I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East and to other hon. Members that if there is a need for legislation, there will of course be the normal full parliamentary scrutiny. If there is a change in the organisational structure and we remove local area boards, primary legislation will be needed.