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

I cannot, because time does not permit me to do so. I am under some pressure and I wish to deal with Members’ contributions.

My hon. Friend Simon Hoare was right to mention the excellent performance of his local prison, Guys Marsh. It is a good example of a prison that has had past challenges but, with excellent leadership, is turning around. We are working closely with Guys Marsh to identify the problems of drug issues and of rural recruitment. Indeed, there is a £3,000 income supplement for people who wish to work at that prison.

Melanie Onn, in an interesting speech, talked about prisoner welfare and self-harm. I can reassure her that that is taken extremely seriously, with the rolling out of new training on suicide, self-harm and mental health to more than 14,000 staff who have completed their training. That means an improvement in the way in which vulnerable prisoners are assessed and supported. Further work has been done with the Samaritans, which supports the listener scheme to which I referred.

Mohammad Yasin talked about his local prison. We are taking robust action to respond to that urgent notification by appointing a new and experienced governor and additional operational managers, by making sure that staff undergo intensive training, by increasing the number of searches and by seeking support from national and regional specialists to support a safer regime in that prison. I know that he will be holding me to account and keeping a close eye on that.

May I deal with the role of the private sector and the evidence of the current chief inspector of probation? Dame Glenys Stacey is retiring shortly, and I want to pay warm tribute to her. Her evidence was more nuanced than perhaps has been suggested. In the body of her evidence, she acknowledged that the private sector has brought benefits to the service, particularly with regards to the delivery of IT and training, and innovation in rural areas, where local communities’ needs have been recognised. In her evidence, she acknowledged that a mix of the public, private and voluntary sector working together is indeed a viable and appropriate way forward.

I have answered Wera Hobhouse, who challenged me about the pledge of my predecessor, and I have answered in the words of Mr Frank Sinatra.

Thangam Debbonaire made an important and interesting speech about the vicious cycle involving coercive control, abuse and perpetration. I want to work with her to improve our understanding of that, because we have done some excellent work in the field of women’s offending. The number of women in prisons has reduced, as a result not just of some target exercise but of increased understanding of the particularly vulnerable position of women, who are often the victims of domestic abuse. I am grateful to her for raising those important points.

Ms Rimmer reminded us all eloquently and clearly to respect and support justice and the rule of law. I could not agree with her more, and that is what I intend to do throughout my tenure.

It was suggested that the words of the former Cabinet Minister and my friend, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, were in some way a condemnation of government. May I assure this House and all hon. Members that, ultimately, the deprivation of liberty is always the responsibility of government? How that is administered is a legitimate place for the voluntary and private sector to be involved. As I have said, based on the evidence, I believe we can continue the work that is under way, not only to make our prisons safe, decent and secure, but to make sure that there are viable community alternatives. I look forward to the work ahead and am grateful to the House for its indulgence.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
notes HM Chief Inspector of Probation’s recent conclusion that the privatised probation system is irredeemably flawed and that public ownership is the safer option;
recognises that the Public Accounts Committee concluded that probation services are in a worse position than they were in before the Government embarked on its reforms;
further notes the Government’s decision to return HMP Birmingham to public ownership following repeated failures under G4S;
is concerned by the Government’s plans for at least two new prisons to be privately run;
and calls on the Government to end its plans to sign new private probation contracts and contracts for new privately-run prisons.