With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement on the Government’s plans for the future of probation services in England and Wales. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the commitment and hard work of staff in both the national probation service and the community rehabilitation companies who have jointly risen to the challenge of covid-19 in swiftly adapting to the new restrictions, and who have continued to deliver critical frontline services during this difficult time.
Beyond the immediate changes to our ways of working, however, covid-19 also presents an ongoing challenge to the implementation of our ambitious programme of probation reform. Probation services are currently split between the NPS, supervising high-risk offenders, and private sector CRCs, supervising low and medium-risk offenders. Those changes were made as a result of a 2010 manifesto commitment to end the situation where short-term offenders received no support after their release from custody. That commitment was the right one to make and, of course, it still stands. The current CRC contracts will come to an end in June next year, and last year my predecessor announced plans in this House to replace the current CRC contracts by moving to a unified model. This will see responsibility for the supervision of all offenders transfer to the NPS, while each NPS region will have a private sector partner—a probation delivery partner—responsible for providing unpaid work placements and behavioural change programmes.
Covid-19 does not change our ambition to cut crime, to keep the public safe and to tackle reoffending so that fewer people become victims of crime. Strong and reliable probation services are essential in realising that ambition. However, given the significant operational impact that covid-19 has already had and the uncertainty it brings for the future, it is right that we should reassess our plans. Protecting the public is my and the Government’s absolute priority. For that reason, I believe it is essential that we continue to deliver changes to how offenders are supervised by June next year as planned. However, the disruption caused by covid-19 makes delivery of other parts of our plans considerably more complex, and looking ahead, it is vital for public and judicial confidence that we have the flexibility to deliver a national response to any future challenges that covid-19 presents. For these reasons, I am today setting out changes to streamline the reforms, giving priority to unifying the management of offenders under a single organisation by June next year as planned, while giving us greater flexibility to respond to an uncertain picture across the criminal justice system and beyond.
Under those revised plans, we will end the competitive process for probation delivery partners. The delivery of unpaid work and behavioural change programmes will instead be brought under the control of the NPS alongside offender supervision when the current CRC contracts end in June next year. This will give us a critical measure of control, resilience and flexibility with the services that we would not have had were they delivered under 12 contracts with a number of organisations. We can reassure the judiciary and the public that, whatever lies ahead, offenders serving community sentences will be punished and make their reparation to society, and that programmes to address their behaviour will be delivered.
In making these changes, we cannot forget the role of specialist and voluntary organisations, which are vital in providing rehabilitation and resettlement support to more vulnerable individuals, such as women being released from prison or serving community sentences. They have also shown great innovation in continuing to deliver critical services during this challenging time, for which I commend them and express my deep gratitude. I am determined to preserve a role for these types of organisations, as well as the private sector, in the delivery of probation services. In the future system, we will, therefore, retain a dynamic framework for specialist rehabilitative services, but we must take account of the pressures that the market is currently facing. We will therefore prioritise the delivery of those specialist resettlement and rehabilitative services that are most needed in order to build a solid foundation that can be delivered within this timeframe and later built upon. We will be opening the dynamic framework for eligible organisations to register their interest in the coming days, and I encourage all organisations with an interest in providing rehabilitative services to register.
The unified model for probation delivery will ensure that we make the best use of the talents and skills in the public, private and voluntary sectors. For staff currently employed by the CRCs, the arrangements will mean that they will be in scope to transfer into the national probation service or to dynamic framework providers once CRC contracts expire in June 2021, depending on the work that they do. As we adopt a whole-system approach to criminal justice reform, it is vital that we continue to work together in partnership.
The Government remain fully committed to a mixed market in delivering custodial services, including our private sector partners, who run a high number of high-performing prisons in our estate. We are currently running a competition to operate the new prison that we are building at Wellingborough, which is due to end shortly, followed by a further competition to operate another new prison at Glen Parva. Our private sector prison partners will thus continue to play an important role in the custodial services sector, including as we deliver our ambitious programme of prison reforms, investing up to £2.5 billion to transform our prison estate and to create an additional 10,000 prison places.
I am confident that the changes I have set out represent the most sustainable approach for probation to deliver justice and to cut crime in the face of an unprecedented crisis. This approach will allow us to gain a critical measure of control over their recovery from covid-19 and to ensure that we are best placed to respond to any future disruption. I believe that these changes will also support our proposals to reform the sentencing framework, as I set out to the House last October. We have already made significant progress as a Government in delivering that agenda, including longer prison sentences for serious, violent and sexual offenders, but there is much more work to do if we are even better to protect the public and restore fuller confidence in the justice system. As part of this package of reforms, I want to deliver robust community penalties that offer an appropriate level of punishment while tackling the underlying drivers of offending.
These changes to the probation structures will help us to realise that ambition by giving us greater control over the levers necessary to strengthen community sentences. My officials will work closely with current providers, stakeholders and staff to ensure a smooth transition during this challenging time, ready for the new unified model to come into effect in June next year. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. I, too, want to give my thanks to the National Probation Service and for the work of our CRCs, particularly at this challenging time. The Opposition welcome the U-turn that the Government are announcing. It is a U-turn that we have called for for many years. Anyone who looks at Hansard for debates in this Chamber and indeed looks at successive Select Committees will be aware that the Secretary of State has made an important announcement.
The playwright Alan Bennett wrote that the probation service is about the
“remedying of misfortune…which…has no more to do with profit than the remedying of disease”.
The probation service may seem abstract to many who have had lives of privilege. Unlike the health service, most of us will never come into direct contact with it, but every Member of Parliament knows that a properly run probation system is essential. At its best, it can be the national service of second chances: offenders rehabilitate, former criminals become good citizens and people are allowed to make up for their past mistakes.
Just as our national health service must be publicly run, so, too, must probation services, but the Conservative Government’s part-privatisation of the probation service was the deepest privatisation that the criminal justice system has ever experienced. The reforms led by the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling)—it is such a shame he has not made it to the Chamber—transferred 70% of the work done by the public probation service to private and voluntary sector providers. Coming in 2015, in the middle of a decade of austerity, these were, in essence, cost-cutting measures. The Government were warned, but, as we have seen with so many of their attempts to cut corners through underinvestment, ultimately these measures have cost much more in the long run. Since the reforms, reoffending rates have climbed up to 32%. Members of the public and victims of crime across the country would not have been subject to the trauma they were put through had this privatisation not been introduced in the first place. One service provider, Working Links, was found to be wrongly classifying offenders as low risk to meet Government targets. Profit was put before public safety, ethics were compromised and lives were lost. It does not matter what language the Secretary of State uses in this House, he should apologise for that mistake made by his party.
The Government cannot say that they were not warned about the devastation that their part-privatisation of the probation service would cause. Trade unions, including Napo and Unison, have been campaigning for probation services to be fully publicly run for seven years. The Labour party, too, has warned this House of the dangers of these reforms again and again. The chief inspector warned that the use of private firms to monitor offenders serving community sentences is irredeemably flawed. Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, even produced an interim report on how the Government can best return the services to public hands.
The Opposition welcome the Government’s U-turn today, but the obvious question is why the Government tried to make profit out of probation in the first place, and why it took so long for them to realise their mistake. More than a year ago, the Justice Secretary’s predecessor announced that the system was not working. He outlined that offender management would be renationalised, so why did the Government fail to renationalise the second pillar of the private probation service then? Why were unpaid work programmes and accredited programmes still put out for private tender? When the Government knew that their model was broken, why did they only go part of the way in fixing it?
As we move towards the return of the probation services into public hands, this Opposition will scrutinise every detail seriously. Probation services are too important to be messed around with again, so what is the timescale for reintegration of all probation services into the state? Can we be assured that this will not be used as an excuse for any more cuts? Will all the savings from not renewing private probation contracts go towards an improved, better staffed, trained and managed National Probation Service? Keeping expertise is vital. How will the Government ensure that private probation staff will be encouraged to continue their work? Local probation services must be able to draw on the voluntary sector and create connections with local employers, adult education colleges, health authority and jobcentres. How will the Government ensure that the National Probation Service is organised so that there are those strong local links?
Many prisoners are released without suitable accommodation, so the connection to local authorities is absolutely vital. Ex-offenders need to be helped to find a home from which they can start a better life. The Government want to frame these reforms as purely down to the coronavirus, but we all know the truth: the problems are much deeper than that. Let this momentous U-turn be the end of the assumption that the private sector always knows best. The Government outsourced school dinners and we ended up with obesity and turkey twizzlers. The Government outsourced the cleaning of hospital beds and we ended up with the highest rates of the superbug. The Government outsourced probation and we ended up with higher reoffending rates. The private sector is not the answer for everything.
However, probation is founded on the idea of second chances. It is in this spirit that we are open minded to the Government as they try to atone for their past sins. Will the Government commit to making these changes part of a broad, coherent strategy for investment in rehabilitation and greater safety for the public? The Government should not just try to put the clock back. They should work with the Opposition, work with our unions and work with our non-governmental organisations and other experts to build a better probation service than we have had before. This is how they can make up for their past mistakes.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He talked about turning the clock back, and in some of his remarks I felt as if the years had fallen away and we were back in the 1980s in some sort of ideological death struggle—public good, private bad. Let me reassure him that I take no ideological view as to what works. I will follow the evidence, and when the facts change I will change my mind. I make no apology for doing that today. He will of course acknowledge that the course was set last year, when the announcement was made by my predecessor and I, as the Minister of State, very much supported that decision. This is a necessary adjustment in the way in which we are going to deliver the new service.
I am not going to dwell for too long on the rhetoric; I will deal with the substance of what the right hon. Gentleman asked, and he asked a number of questions. [Interruption.] Well, rhetoric has its place, but we are talking here about the lives of people we are under a duty to protect and to support. I can tell the Opposition that I spent the best part of 30 years working with probation officers and with the probation service, reading hundreds of pre-sentence reports and respecting the professionalism of probation officers in court, both as counsel and as a part-time judge, so I do not need noises off to tell me what I know or do not know about the probation service, with the greatest of respect.
This is a service, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that is unsung. Its work is vitally important, but often goes unnoticed, unheard and unobserved. That is something that I am doing my very best to put right, and I can reassure him that those dedicated public servants who are working in the CRCs will have the opportunity to transfer, as I said in my statement, to the NPS, when the time comes in June next year. That is the timescale that we have kept to.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the need to focus on the reduction in reoffending. He will be glad to note that in last year’s spending review I secured an extra £155 million for probation services—one of the biggest rises and cash injections that the service has seen in many a year—and it is my aim to keep annual expenditure well over £100 million for each of the next several years. That is our ambition, and it is matched with investment and with a bold agenda on embracing technology. This is a service that will not only be able to keep pace with change, but be very much in the vanguard of it.
I am proud to be at the helm of a Department that has such a set of dedicated public servants. This is the right decision at the right time. I make no apology for it whatsoever, and I look forward to a non-ideological future in which the right hon. Gentleman and I can genuinely work together in support of the probation service that he says he values.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I will do my level best, but I was the probation Minister between 2010 and 2012. One of the proudest moments of my time was attending a dinner where the Princess Royal presented the British Quality Foundation’s gold award to the National Probation Service. The reforms that subsequently were done to probation service would not have been done by me. They were visited upon the Department to a degree by some whizz kids—bright people—some of whom are now very senior in the Government.
There were two faults. The first was that the companies were too large and did not equate with the geographical area of the police force. I would have given them, had I done it, to the police and crime commissioners, saying that they were responsible for the input and the output. A very good point was made by the shadow Lord Chancellor about engaging local authorities in all the services we have to bring to an offender for there to be a decent chance of getting them rehabilitated.
Secondly, I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that, attractive as going back to the position of 2012 might seem to me, we were trying to find the opportunities to make sure that we can get the charities, the private sector and everyone else engaged in the great work of rehabilitation of offenders. We are in many ways back to square one, but there is a huge opportunity to be grasped.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to the work he did as a Minister in the Department. I can reassure him that this is not a return—a “back to the future”—but a new departure. He is right that I will focus relentlessly on the need to harness the smaller organisations; we are going to do that. At force level, we will do it by working with PCCs. I have already engaged with them on several occasions about the need for co-commissioning. Where we have PCCs working together in reducing reoffending boards, I see that as another vehicle for the commissioning of truly localised services. I hear my hon. Friend, and we are going to act on it.
I am pleased that the Government are recognising what Labour Members and many others have known—that privatised probation is a flawed system that enables companies to put profit before people. I would like to thank my trade union, the Public and Commercial Services Union, as well as Napo and Unison, and their members, for highlighting the failures of privatisation. How will the Secretary of State improve morale in the profession, particularly after many experienced and highly skilled probation staff were lost as probation services were part-privatised?
I am sure that the hon. Lady would seek to qualify her remarks by paying tribute to the ethos that I have seen among the CRCs and their teams in terms of their dedication to the public service approach to probation that we all believe in. I do not want to ignore that for one moment, and I pay tribute to them for their work. With regard to morale, she will be encouraged to know that it is my aim, as a result of the increased funding we are providing, to reduce the workload of individual probation officers by about 20%, and to mix that workload so that they are able to manage it in an even more effective way. That will, I believe, help to increase morale and a sense of value. I hope very much that we can attract new talent, and indeed bring back talent that has left the service. That is something that I am very, very focused on.
In Kent we have an excellent community rehabilitation company. I am pleased that the Lord Chancellor has confirmed that the staff can transfer across, but can he also reassure me that their expertise overall will not be lost, and that there will be no disruption to the offenders they manage?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who has long taken a keen interest in these issues. She is absolutely right to highlight the good work of that particular organisation—in particular, its specialised work with regard to stalking and the victims of stalking, which is very much on my mind. I want to harness the best of that in the future with the dynamic model, and dedicated staff would indeed be able to transfer across.
One of the biggest causes of reoffending has been the failure to ensure properly effective through-the-gate services. We know that suitable housing, stable employment and strong family relationships all help to reduce the risks, so will the Government now ensure that the last few months of the custodial sentence are devoted to creating that foundation, and involve third sector organisations in that work?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. She will be glad to know that last year we invested a further £22 million in through-the-gate services in England and Wales. I have seen for myself how probation officers working in prison on offender management in custody really creates a cohesive approach where the prison officers, together with the probation service, are working weeks or even months in advance of release. That is very much part of our ethos. We are going to increase our emphasis on that and use tools such as release on temporary licence in order to make the transition as smooth and as safe as possible, not just for the offender but for the public.
I very much welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the involvement of voluntary sector organisations in the delivery of rehabilitation. As he has recognised, private sector organisations have played a role in the criminal justice system and its central challenge of reducing reoffending over many years, under Conservative Governments and Labour Governments. Does he agree that it is important now not to denigrate the efforts of anyone who has worked hard to reduce reoffending, whatever the correct shape of probation services in future, just because they have a private sector employer?
I am very grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, who served with distinction in the Department I now lead. He is right to make that point that this is not about blind ideology, but about people and the shared values we have across the sector. That is very much within the CRC. I will make this point, and he will remember this: it was this Government who finally created licence and supervision periods for people on short-term prison sentences. That was a singular omission from the system that the previous Government failed to address.
Two years ago, the Justice Select Committee, on which I served, produced its highly critical report, “Transforming Rehabilitation” on the performance of the privatised probation service. One of the criticisms was how those contracts were measured on outputs, not outcomes. Will the Secretary of State confirm that sufficient funding will be available to tackle the issues of heavy caseload, poor IT systems and the need to work with specialist services and the voluntary sector to ensure that probation officers can deliver a decent service and help reduce reoffending?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has a long interest in these issues, but I remind him of what I said a few moments ago about the £155 million uplift in this current financial year that we secured as part of the highest increase in the Ministry of Justice revenue budget in more than a decade. We will continue to match that in the years ahead with more investment, and he can be confident that that will translate not only into reduced workloads, but increased sophistication and development when it comes to the harnessing of new technologies and better ways of working. We have learned a lot from the current crisis about how we can do things even better.
I regret to say that I am worried by the statement that my right hon. and learned Friend has made this morning, for the simple reason that I have seen probation services for my constituents improve over the past few years, with more people given the second chance that the shadow Secretary of State referred to. He has just praised the work of the Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC, as he has done in the past from the Dispatch Box, so can he give me some reassurance that with this statement today he is not in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I can give him that reassurance because, as he reminds us, we are talking not just about a service, but the people who deliver that service. Those dedicated public servants will be able to transfer across to the NPS, and I want to retain the ethos that they have and the specialisms that they bring, so that we can enhance the probation service and make it even better in the future.
This has been a sorry episode, and it is a sobering reminder of what happens when we let ideology push ahead of the evidence in public policy making. That is something I hope those on the Government Benches will reflect on, but frankly it is something for all of us to reflect on. Secretary of State, you have a real opportunity as you build your unified model. There is so much talent in the NPS and those CRCs, so will you commit to getting staff around the table, finding the best of their experiences and building on them?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes a keen interest in these issues. Perhaps I will emphasise the second part of his question. I thoroughly agree about the need to harness that experience and talent. That is what we are going to do. We will work with the unions and all the representative bodies to make sure that as we emerge from June of next year, we will be in an even better position to reduce reoffending.
Having been a non-executive director of HMPPS before my election to the House, I was privy to some of the challenges that have perhaps contributed to the decision today. With that perspective in mind, the timetable for reintegration seems tight, and I wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend has considered further extending the CRC contracts, as is permitted, by six months, to enable that to happen smoothly. When that transition does happen, can we make sure that we keep the ethos of innovation, flexible staff and empowered staff so that we bring the very best back into the public sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He knows that I value the work that he did prior to his election to this House very greatly indeed. He is right to outline some of the options that were before me. I looked very carefully at that option among others. I could not see that bringing real value in time or space in order to make the necessary changes. The Government rightly committed to June or to the spring or summer of 2021 as the time by which we had to make these reforms. I thought that we needed simplicity and clarity, which is why I have elected to take this course.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement this morning—it is an important discussion area. Brixton prison sits in the neighbouring constituency to mine and I used to be the ward councillor for that prison. I will always remember the first time I visited and my conversation with the governor and his staff members. They said to me that short sentences do not work because the reoffending rates are so high. Will the Secretary of State consider the fact that to get those reoffending rates down, there needs to be a link with the local community? Will he look at ensuring that local links are formed with colleges, other education provision and local employers to make sure that we work to get those reoffenders back on track?
Like the hon. Lady, I have visited Brixton prison. I know the current governor well and I know a lot about the importance of having those establishments within a community. The hon. Lady makes a powerful point about the need to link community education facilities and structures that provide a support network for released prisoners or people on community orders. My ambition is to ensure that community sentences are so robust and effective that, when it comes to decision making by judges and magistrates, they will be the default choice as opposed to very short sentences that can frankly do more harm than good.
I commend everyone at the Ministry of Justice and in our Prison and Probation Service for their hard work at this challenging time. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the debate about the creation of new, modern prison places should focus on the need to create better educational, training and rehabilitation outcomes?
My hon. Friend has put his finger on it, as usual. He is absolutely right to talk about the focus and purpose of the prison and probation environments. We must relentlessly think about the future: what will be the outcomes? How do we reduce offending? I always say that there are three things: a home, a job and a friend. If we can get those three right, we will do right by the community.
I am very pleased that the Secretary of State has had the good grace today to admit that the ideological experiment has failed. What can he say to residents in my constituency who feel that the regime that his Government brought in lacked accountability in places such as the Beverley Road spine in Hull, a large area where many ex-offenders lived? What accountability will be put in place by the Secretary of State’s measures?
I know that the hon. Lady will be familiar with this: the structure will be regional, within the national framework of the national probation service. The accountability will then of course be through Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and ultimately me. Locally, it is important to get that link with police and crime commissioners—the “and crime” bit of commissioners should come into play. That is why I want to focus on more localised commissioning. I want to get a sense of responsiveness and more than that, get ahead of trends in local areas such as Hull. The hon. Lady makes a good point, which we understand very well.
Education, health and social policies are key to supporting the work of the probation system. What does the Secretary of State make of the findings of the Thomas Commission on Justice in Wales? In particular, does he agree that the devolution of responsibility for the probation service would allow for better integration with Welsh health and education policies, thereby improving rehabilitation outcomes?
The hon. Gentleman makes a thought-provoking point and links the Thomas commission to it. Of course, the Welsh Government must respond to that, but we are ahead of the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, in Wales, the probation service was unified from the end of last year and is already supporting the people of Wales. The unified service, headed by Amy Rees, an outstanding civil servant, is delivering that integrated service that the hon. Gentleman so badly wants. We do not need further devolution or a separate jurisdiction.
I would like to think that private enterprise has no greater friend than me on this side of the House, but I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s announcement because we should follow the facts, and there are a great many benefits in the statement in terms of unified leadership, clear accountability and mobilising resources.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. These decisions are never made lightly or easily, and I can assure him that they are made on the evidence and not as a result of ideology, which, I am afraid, still seems to infect some of the comments of my friends in the Labour party.
I welcome this announcement, because probation privatisation has failed, and a cohesive outcomes-led rehabilitation strategy is key. The Secretary of State spoke about links with the police and crime commissioner, but how will he ensure that accountability is improved in probation services? Is there an enhanced role for devolved English authorities such as the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, where the Mayor has PCC powers?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He knows that there is already an agreement between my Department and Greater Manchester to devolve more powers and to work on a commissioning basis, to allow the authority to commission the sort of services that he and his residents want to see. I am extremely driven towards that model, and I am working with PCCs across the country to help deliver that flexibility.
It is deeply worrying that young men from the black community are disproportionately likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Will the Secretary of State encourage the probation service to engage intensively with that cohort so that we can ensure that all offenders have the chance to move on from their past mistakes and make a success of their lives, whatever their background?
My right hon. Friend raises an important point. She will be glad to know that a lot of work is being done to improve the training of probation officers, particularly as regards the preparation of pre-sentence reports, which are vital documents for judges and magistrates to make decisions—in other words, to be more informed about black and minority ethnic issues, the services that might be available and the alternative ways of dealing with matters for members of that community. I would also make the point that, when it comes to the delivery of services, we are extremely privileged to have higher than average BAME representation among the probation workforce, which is a really good example to the rest of our community. However, it is about more than just getting people; it is about getting that ethos right and making sure people understand the alternatives that are available.
Probation services have without doubt suffered immensely because of deep Government cuts and the increasing fragmentation and privatisation of the service, as highlighted again and again by Napo, PCS, Unison and the Labour party, so I wholeheartedly welcome today’s momentous Government U-turn. However, will the Secretary of State establish a strategy for the resettlement of offenders, to link all the aspects of probation together—from through-the-gate support, planning and assessment in prisons to more frequent contacts and relationship building with offenders?
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that that is precisely the approach I take. I have a strategy—it is called reducing reoffending. He will know that that means bringing together all agencies—not just criminal justice. Frankly, they have more of a role to play, whether that is public health, education—which has been mentioned—housing or other vital local services. We cannot do this on our own. The criminal justice system is often the repository of failure caused by other factors. Unless everybody puts their shoulder to the wheel and realises that all parts of public service have a criminal justice dimension, we will not achieve what we need to achieve for our communities.
I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. Can he confirm that a key element of the future probation service system will be focusing on reducing the £18 billion cost to the taxpayer of reoffending?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to highlight the stark figure for the financial cost of reoffending—of course, it does not deal with the emotional, physical and mental cost of reoffending. Reducing reoffending means fewer victims of crime. We have succeeded in reducing it in certain parts of the criminal justice system, but I am afraid there is still a lot of work to do, particularly with offenders on short-term sentences. The focus will be very much on reducing reoffending levels among that cohort in the years ahead.
I want to stand up for the Lord Chancellor, who is being attacked from both sides of his own Benches today. Either it should not have happened at all, or the renationalisation should not be happening now. Why have we waited until now, when most of the service was taken back in-house last year? Does he want to take credit for that? As he is known—perhaps more than some of his colleagues—for his candour and thoughtfulness, will he admit that this privatisation has been an unmitigated disaster from start to finish?
As ever, the hon. Gentleman is the champion of the leading question, and I am not going to fall for that old trick. As he knows, I do not take an ideological view of this. There are aspects of the last few years that have brought much new learning and experience that we will incorporate into the National Probation Service. I am talking about the people who have delivered for the CRCs on the ground. There are plenty of examples of local best practice that we want to hold on to and propagate and that we will expand through the dynamic framework.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his statement. One of the frustrations I see in magistrates courts in Cheshire and Merseyside, particularly for victims, is when probation staff cannot conduct stand-down reports on the day, which means that justice is delayed. How will the steps he has announced today improve efficiencies in magistrates courts?
My hon. Friend asks a very pertinent question. There is a tension, as I think he would acknowledge, between the need for swift justice and the value that properly crafted and prepared pre-sentence reports can play in the sentencing process. Where the ground has been prepared before the hearing and the options are very clear to the court, there should be no obstacle to the passing of a swift sentence. I will pray in aid the value of pre-sentence reports. I want to see more of them used, but with the eye to case management that delivers the swift justice that he and his residents want to see.
Short prison sentences do not work, especially for women, because the whole life of that woman and her dependants falls down. What can the Ministry of Justice do to instil confidence in the whole system that alternatives to prisons, such as women’s centres, work?
The hon. Lady will be glad to know that, as part of the female offender strategy that we agreed in 2018, we are making investments in organisations that work in that specialist sector, and we have also announced that we will fund a new centre in Wales, which will be delivered by the end of next year. It is a smaller unit that will cater for more localised sentencing and will support women effectively, albeit in a secure setting, but in a way that aids rehabilitation rather than the cycle of reoffending.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is correct for any Government to try different mechanisms for delivering the best outcomes for service users and for the taxpayer? Leaving the word “ideology” to one side, is it not right to follow in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who introduced independent sector providers to the NHS?
My hon. Friend, who speaks for the residents of Dudley so powerfully, is right to remind us about those ideological experiments indulged in by a Government of which the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) was a member not so many years ago. It pays us all to focus on the evidence, rather than the ideology.
I want to thank the Government for finally doing the right thing and ending privatisation in the probation service. Let us hope that this is a catalyst for bringing detention centres, prisons and other criminal justice services back within public hands. Most of all, I would like to thank the probation unions Napo and Unison, and their members, who have waged a hard-fought seven-year campaign against this wasteful and ideological experiment. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to those unions and encourage all workers across the UK to join a trade union?
I am always happy to encourage free association of workers. It is part of who we are as a civilised society. The hon. Lady represents the great city of Durham, so many of her constituents will be public sector workers in Durham prison and Frankland high-security prison, which is not too far away. We should value that ethos of public service, wherever it comes from, and I am sure she will join me in paying tribute to those CRC members of staff—we hope they will make the transfer to the NPS—who have been serving the public diligently, even though they have been in the so-called “bad” private sector.
I think it is morally right to harness whatever we can to help us deal with not only offenders, but the causes of offending. That will often be Government-led and state-led, and that is right—we have a duty under law to do that—but there will be plenty of occasions when the genius and talent that might be in the voluntary and private sectors should also be harnessed. So I do not accept this suggestion that somehow there is a moral difference between the mixed approach that I want to take and one that rigidly sticks to an ideological position that I do not really think the hon. Gentleman believes in.
Places such as Eden House in Bristol provided an important alternative to custody for vulnerable female offenders, but the services were slashed under privatisation. Will the Minister commit, based on the work of my predecessor in this place, Baroness Corston, to making sure that services such as Eden House are returned to full capacity, so that we can fulfil that agenda of trying to keep women out of prison and providing a safe alternative for them?
I pay tribute to the work of Baroness Corston, which has informed policy over many years. I know that she would welcome the female offenders strategy, which enjoyed cross-party support in 2018. We are now putting that into implementation. I have announced a centre in Wales, which will really help to provide that small-scale residential but secure environment. I am keen to try to replicate that wherever possible. I have to work within a budget, but, as I have announced, it has seen an overall increase, and I want to make sure we can drive that forward in a way that I think the hon. Lady will applaud.
The Secretary of State has acknowledged today, as he did last year, that the employee-owned CRC in Kent is an example of good practice and innovation, and it has rightly received national and international recognition. Given the ambitious timetable that he has set out, will he confirm that he remains committed to a mixed market, so that the likes of our employee-owned CRC can continue to make a positive contribution to delivering services that matter in terms of keeping my constituents safer and helping to change lives?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has consistently raised these issues in the past year to 18 months. She is right to hold me to account on that need to maintain a mixed economy approach, to harness the excellent work of the employees that she talks about in the new structure and to make sure that that initiative—that sense of personal ownership of the programmes—is not lost as we make that transition. I am grateful to her.
In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the House for three minutes.
Virtual participation in proceedings concluded (Order, 4 June).