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Probation Service

Volume 555: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2012

As Minister with responsibility for probation, I have had the opportunity to see the hard work and dedication of many probation officers and I do not think the probation service always gets the credit it deserves for helping to keep the public safe. Probation officers will continue to have a key role. However, reoffending rates are still too high and we need to explore new ways of delivering rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.

I am sure that the Minister is aware of the most recent report from the inspectorate of probation, published today, which shows that vulnerable and troubled young people are not being adequately supported by the care or probation system. How will the Minister respond to the serious resource issues raised in that report?

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to that report, which deals with the interests of children who have been in care. We will study it in detail and respond accordingly, but the report makes the point that this is not simply about money—it is also about attitudes. A great deal of work needs to be done to ensure that we meet our very important responsibility to those children who have been in care, who have particular requirements. We will consider the report and respond accordingly.

One of the particular pleasures that I had as Minister with responsibility for probation was to attend the awarding by the British Quality Foundation of the gold medal to the probation service. I know that the Minister and his colleagues are preparing exciting proposals with great opportunities for the development of probation as a profession, but further measures will be needed to support that, which I hope he will consider alongside the proposals that he will announce in due course.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows of what he speaks. The important point is that we need to recognise the achievements and the contribution of probation officers, alongside making sure that we introduce new and good ideas into the process of rehabilitating offenders. I will consider carefully what he has said and we will look at what we can do along the lines that he suggests.

Will the Minister confirm that it is his Department’s intention to brief the press this afternoon at 4 o’clock on possible privatisation of the probation service, a day in advance of advising the House?

The right hon. Gentleman will have to wait and see exactly what we propose and exactly when we propose it, but what he has just described is not going to happen.

Does the Minister agree that the new court and probation service delivery model, by which probation staff have to provide a statement on the day that a plea is taken, ensures that we get a swift, transparent response on the day?

I certainly agree that we want to ensure that justice is swifter and that where possible the probation service produces reports as quickly as it can. My hon. Friend will know from his experience of practising in the courts that probation officers often produce reports in very short time frames, which I am sure is of great assistance to the courts and to be commended.

I echo the words of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt)—there cannot be many times when I have said that—and the Minister who commended the probation service for its fantastic work, which was recognised last year by the British Quality Foundation gold medal for excellence. Can the Minister confirm that the much delayed probation review will not be announced this week, as mentioned by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), and will not lead to the break-up of the excellent probation service or its privatisation?

This is a good time of the year for patience and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to be patient. It will be important in what we do, first, to recognise the key role of the probation service, as he says, and secondly, to do better than we have done on reoffending. When, as now, 50% of those released from prison reoffend within 12 months and a third of those on community orders do the same, we must look at ways of doing better.