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Offender Management

Volume 698: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What are the implications of the announcement of 29 January on the reorganisation of the National Offender Management Service, and of recent reports of difficulties in introducing the National Offender Management Information System, for the concept of an integrated system of offender management in England.

My Lords, the reorganisation of the National Offender Management Service will bring NOMS and the Prison Service together to improve the focus on front-line delivery and improve efficiency. The rescoped NOMIS programme will ensure that staff in both prisons and probation have access to information required to support offender management.

My Lords, I declare a strong interest, as one of those who laboured on the Offender Management Bill last year. Some of us were never entirely convinced that the Bill was rational and worth while—and nor are we convinced, from a succession of stories that are now coming out, that it will be implemented. Can the Minister assure us that the destruction of the National Probation Service, which is part of this, and the continual disruption of a very important service that keeps people out of prison, will not be exacerbated by the failure to put in place the offender management system that we were promised in one of the many Carter reports so many years ago?

My Lords, I do not agree with any of those rather pejorative descriptions of our proposals. The Probation Service has to be part of an integrated offender management system. We will ensure that it continues to play an incredibly important part. We are committed to the offender management programme and that is how we will have an integrated system. It means that we will be able to continue our efforts to reduce reoffending, which are at the heart of everything that we seek to do.

My Lords, if the Minister is going to accuse the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, of being pejorative, can I be a little more pejorative and say that the Minister and his department have blown something like £1 billion on a totally unnecessary attempt to reform this system? Does he agree?

My Lords, no—absolutely not. This figure of £1 billion is the product of great confusion. Most of the resources given to NOMS are for the bread and butter job of running prisons and probation services. The central cost of NOMS this year is £271 million and much of that goes to direct services, such as payments to the Department of Health for the pool treatment budget. Of course we want to ensure that out of these changes we get further efficiency savings. That will also contribute to our being able to put more money into front-line services.

My Lords, the Minister talks of the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Service coming together. We know about the Prison Service and the Probation Service and what they are there to do, but what is the National Offender Management Service—what does it do and what is it there to do? If the other two are doing all the work, why do you need something else?

My Lords, the Minister may not agree with my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, but would he not accept that there have been substantial changes to the idea of the National Offender Management Service since it was first mooted? Would he confirm that we are now dealing with the final version and that the service will have the resources, in terms of both manpower and structure, that it requires?

Never say never, my Lords. It is our intention that the changes being made should be entirely consistent with this approach. They are consistent with the overall changes which have occurred in the Ministry of Justice as we have taken on all these new responsibilities and which are part of the review by our new Permanent Secretary. The emphasis is on strong policy direction and strong operational management. One should acknowledge the success of NOMS over the past few years, looking at the reduction in reoffending rates, the other programmes that have been developed within the Prison Service and the expansion of probation services. There is much to recognise in terms of achievement.

My Lords, the Minister referred to some confusion over figures. Can he explain why all statistical information has been removed from the website of the National Offender Management Service?

My Lords, I cannot but I am sure that it is part of ensuring that the figures are as accurate as possible—something to which my department is absolutely committed. In the light of the noble Lord’s question, I shall ensure that full information is sent to him and placed in the Library.

My Lords, is there still a director-general of HM Prison Service? Is it the same person as the chief executive of the combined Prison Service and National Offender Management Service, and, if not, who is it?

My Lords, final agreement on the management structure is still to happen. I think it better that we have final agreement and I will then make it available to the House. I assure the noble Baroness that, as I said, we wish to see integrated leadership, strong management within the Prison Service and certainly an identified leader for the Probation Service.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a very good indicator of the success of NOMS would be a reduction in the number of people in prison? Does he accept that we can judge the success of the National Offender Management Service by whether the numbers in prison continue to rise or start to fall?

No, my Lords, that would be a very misleading assumption. The reason that more people are in prison may be that we are catching more criminals who are being sentenced to prison. We have to ensure that prison is reserved for those people who need to be there and, at the same time, we need a very strong focus on community sentencing and other diversions where appropriate. That is the policy of this Government.