Prisons and Probation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:40 pm on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:40 pm, 14th May 2019

Let me develop my points, and I will give way in a moment.

My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has proposed a radical, evidence-based approach to put rehabilitation truly at the heart of our prison and probation services. I am delighted to be joining his team, and it is right to pay tribute to and congratulate my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer who has taken her place—it was my place for many years—as the Solicitor General.

This has been a wide-ranging and informed debate. It included speeches from distinguished members of the Justice Committee, on which I served for four years with some Members present, and I am grateful to them for their considered, eloquent contributions. The debate moved away in a welcome manner from the rather false dichotomy of public good, private bad, or vice versa, because the truth is that neither is true. We are seeking a genuinely mixed approach that works whether in the south-west or north-east of England. We want an approach that keeps rehabilitation and reducing reoffending at the heart of our deliberations.

I want to take this opportunity—my first such opportunity—to pay tribute to the biggest single asset in our is prison and probation services: the people who work in them. I have been in professional contact with these people since the early 1990s. Prison officers work hard to prepare important pre-sentence reports. Prison officers work tirelessly, often on the frontline of potential harm, to make our prisons civilised and safe places. I am thinking, too, of the volunteers who work alongside them—the prison chaplaincy, has been mentioned—and the healthcare staff and charity workers. Of course, we should not forget the offenders and former offenders who work hard to help their peers, and the listeners trained by the Samaritans to help prisoners who are struggling to cope. The system just would not work without all their dedication, skills and bravery, and it is my task to champion their work and to give them the resources, tools and conditions in which to excel.

A lot has been said about the need for a clear evidence base. As a lawyer, of course, I naturally support that, and it is right to support it because I think we can agree that blind ideology, whether in favour of an overweening state or in favour of a mythological free-market paradise, is not the right answer for our prison and probation services.