Interpretation Services (Ministry of Justice)
Nick Herbert (Minister of State, Justice; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Leech on securing this debate. I understand his concerns, and this debate gives me a welcome opportunity to address them. There are two points I would like to clarify before turning to his key concerns. The first is that the Government’s reforms do not limit in any way the circumstances in which relevant parties to proceedings are entitled to the services of an interpreter. An interpreter is made available as soon as practicable once an apparent need is identified, irrespective of the language involved. That will not change.
Secondly, I believe that we need to take care in our use of the word “outsourcing”, which has characterised this debate. I am referring not only to this Adjournment debate, but to the wider debate taking place on this matter outside the House. Interpretation and translation services are not currently provided in house; they have always been outsourced. The difference is that, in future, the Government will be outsourcing to a single supplier rather than to individual freelance interpreters and translators.
There is no doubt that, at a time when we are striving to make savings across all public services, there is an opportunity to make savings in this area. Currently, the annual spend on these services is in the region of £60 million across the justice sector, so it is by no means insignificant. We estimate that moving over to the framework agreement will result in savings of at least £18 million a year—significant savings.
The decision to move to a single supplier is not a snap decision. Officials in the Ministry of Justice have conducted a lengthy, thorough and robust procurement process, as required by EU law, engaging with a range of bidders to ensure that we get the best possible service for the best possible price. The single supplier with which we have signed a framework agreement is Applied Language Solutions. ALS will provide a single point of contact, available to staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week, through which the provision of face-to-face interpreting, telephone interpreting, written translation and language services for the deaf and deaf-blind can be obtained.
Under the framework agreement, the Ministry of Justice will sign a contract on behalf of MOJ central functions, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and the Prison Service. Other organisations—for example, individual police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service—can also sign contracts with ALS, but the MOJ cannot mandate this. It is important to be clear that a wide range of justice organisations support the need to make these changes.
The changes will primarily affect England and Wales. However, it will be open to justice organisations in Scotland and Northern Ireland to sign contracts under the framework, although the Scottish Court Service already has its own contract with a commercial supplier.