Prisons and Probation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:29 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:29 pm, 14th May 2019

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, who raises important points on staffing, on the two-tier workforce and on staff morale, which has also been impacted. Time does not permit me to go into detail on that today, but the 4.5% pay gap between those who work in the private sector and those in the national public service illustrates the massive difference between them.

The privatisation of probation has proved to be not just a disaster but a costly one, with the taxpayer being forced to stump up a total of £467 million to bail out private probation companies in what is nothing short of a reward for their damning failures. In return for this bumper payment, the public have received no guarantee that the services delivered by probation companies will improve and no certainty that they will make any investment to achieve that. And all the while, the Ministry of Justice remains happy to continue to throw good money after bad. Despite this colossal bail-out, the financial difficulties of probation companies remain, with a number forecasting losses and with Working Links collapsing and Interserve entering administration earlier this year. The financial failure and collapse of a probation provider, a key component of the justice system, should be unthinkable, but under this Government’s privatisation agenda, that is exactly what is happening as they erode key functions of the state that should remain in public hands and hand them over to private companies.

We have also heard today about the failings in the private prison estate. Victoria Prentis, my hon. Friend Ellie Reeves, Simon Hoare, my hon. Friend Melanie Onn, Vicky Ford, my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), Wera Hobhouse and my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) and for St Helens South and Whiston (Ms Rimmer) all made important points on this. One of the important things about this debate is that Members on both sides of the House have made pertinent and important points highlighting the serious emergency and the dire situation in our prison and probation systems at the moment. It is disappointing that the Secretary of State opened his speech by referring to the shadow Secretary of State’s contribution as “simplistic, dogmatic and bombastic”. We have an emergency in our prisons, we have a safety issue in our prisons and we have a crisis in our probation service, yet the Secretary of State comes to this important debate and uses words such as those. I find that quite disappointing.

The issues in our prisons were most recently brought to the fore by the prisons inspector’s highly critical report on HMP Birmingham, which has been mentioned a number of times today. The fact that conditions there were so bad and the prisoners so violent forced the removal of G4S as the private operator of the prison. Many Members have referred to individual prisons today, including those in their own constituencies, with particular reference to safety. The Ministry of Justice’s own statistics show that private prisons are disproportionately more dangerous, with 156 more assaults per 1,000 prisoners in private prisons compared with those run by the public sector, and that three private prisons appear in the list of the 10 most violent ones. That highlights the points being made by hon. Members today.

As we have heard, the Government know about the huge problems associated with private prisons and they are aware of their failings, yet they are pressing on with opening two new prisons, at Wellingborough and Glen Parva, which will be operated by private companies rather than public sector operators. If the Government are so confident of the ability of private companies, why will they not allow HMPPS to bid to operate Wellingborough and Glen Parva, rather than burying the evidence on why they have not done so? The Prison Officers Association has repeatedly asked for the HMPPS estates and transformation report, but it has repeatedly been denied access to it. This shows that the Government’s plans are driven not by a desire to deliver the best benefits for the public but by ideology, and we are seeing a complete failure by the private sector to stand on its own merits when compared with the public sector.

In conclusion, this debate not only demonstrates the colossal failure of the Government’s privatisation agenda, but represents a staggering row about the Government’s plans for further privatisation in our prisons and to hand larger contracts to the same private companies. There can be no half-measures in the Government’s actions. They must commit not only to ensuring that Wellingborough and Glen Parva are run by HMPPS, not private companies, but to bringing probation back into public control for good. The Ministry of Justice says that it has learned its lessons, so now is the time to prove it. I urge Members to support our motion today.