Interpretation Services (Ministry of Justice)
John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)
I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. That is a common issue that has been raised with me by interpreters around the country, in England and in Wales.
When one adds in the additional disincentives of no pension, holiday pay or sick pay, as well as no job security and no increase in interpreters’ rate of pay since 2007, it is unthinkable to assume that these proposed rates of pay and costs are suitable. It also seems perverse that the new framework agreement encourages the use of an interpreter’s car rather than public transport. Currently, standard-class fares are reimbursed in full, while the car mileage rate is 25p a mile. A higher rate of 45p a mile, which is more in line with the true cost of running a car per mile, along with parking costs, is payable only if the interpreter can show that there was no public transport option. However, under the new arrangements all calculations will be based on the use of a personal car and public transport costs will not be covered—not much of an incentive for interpreters to reduce their carbon emissions and travel on public transport.
One of the stated aims of the framework agreement is increasing the number of suitably qualified and vetted interpreters to meet the demand. There are currently around 2,300 interpreters registered with the national register of public service interpreters. Applied Language Solutions claims that 1,000 linguists have signed up to its Linguist Lounge recruitment website. That means a cut of around 1,300 qualified interpreters available to the courts system, assuming that all 1,000 are NRPSI-qualified. If they are not, the cut in qualified interpreters will be even greater. The failure of ALS to reach agreement with at least 1,300 qualified interpreters shows the level of opposition to the proposals, in spite of evidence to suggest that ALS has sought to pressurise interpreters into signing up, with thinly veiled threats that the registration is closing soon. Does the Minister think that that is appropriate behaviour for a company purporting to implement the legal interpreting and translation register, which surely must be consistently open to applicants as a public resource?
Does the Minister also think that closing the list when more than half the NRPSI-qualified interpreters have refused to sign up will increase the availability of suitably qualified and vetted interpreters? Of course, it will not. We should look at the evidence from where outsourcing has already taken place and at its impact on the quality and availability of interpreters. The Ministry of Justice claimed on
“concerns that NRPSI registration does not necessarily guarantee quality. The evidence for this is anecdotal, but has been consistent enough to warrant action.”
I would prefer to rely on hard evidence, and there is significant evidence that the outsourcing of interpreting services by police forces has resulted in the use of unqualified interpreters.
When Cheshire constabulary outsourced to ALS, only 34% of the interpreters provided by ALS were on the NRPSI. In Lincolnshire, outsourcing led to a reduction of registered interpreters from 68% to less than 30%. Where outsourcing has taken place there has been a significant reduction in the number of registered interpreters being used—clear evidence that the quality and availability of interpreters is reduced.