Probation Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:12 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 12:12 pm, 11th June 2020

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He talked about turning the clock back, and in some of his remarks I felt as if the years had fallen away and we were back in the 1980s in some sort of ideological death struggle—public good, private bad. Let me reassure him that I take no ideological view as to what works. I will follow the evidence, and when the facts change I will change my mind. I make no apology for doing that today. He will of course acknowledge that the course was set last year, when the announcement was made by my predecessor and I, as the Minister of State, very much supported that decision. This is a necessary adjustment in the way in which we are going to deliver the new service.

I am not going to dwell for too long on the rhetoric; I will deal with the substance of what the right hon. Gentleman asked, and he asked a number of questions. [Interruption.] Well, rhetoric has its place, but we are talking here about the lives of people we are under a duty to protect and to support. I can tell the Opposition that I spent the best part of 30 years working with probation officers and with the probation service, reading hundreds of pre-sentence reports and respecting the professionalism of probation officers in court, both as counsel and as a part-time judge, so I do not need noises off to tell me what I know or do not know about the probation service, with the greatest of respect.

This is a service, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that is unsung. Its work is vitally important, but often goes unnoticed, unheard and unobserved. That is something that I am doing my very best to put right, and I can reassure him that those dedicated public servants who are working in the CRCs will have the opportunity to transfer, as I said in my statement, to the NPS, when the time comes in June next year. That is the timescale that we have kept to.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the need to focus on the reduction in reoffending. He will be glad to note that in last year’s spending review I secured an extra £155 million for probation services—one of the biggest rises and cash injections that the service has seen in many a year—and it is my aim to keep annual expenditure well over £100 million for each of the next several years. That is our ambition, and it is matched with investment and with a bold agenda on embracing technology. This is a service that will not only be able to keep pace with change, but be very much in the vanguard of it.

I am proud to be at the helm of a Department that has such a set of dedicated public servants. This is the right decision at the right time. I make no apology for it whatsoever, and I look forward to a non-ideological future in which the right hon. Gentleman and I can genuinely work together in support of the probation service that he says he values.