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Probation Service

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 13th December 2005.

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Photo of Austin Mitchell Austin Mitchell Labour, Great Grimsby 9:30 am, 13th December 2005

I wish I knew. I am no expert in that form of psychology, but my hon. Friend makes a telling point. Nor am I am expert on the reasons for this process of restless change. As soon as something settles in, it is changed without evaluation. That is why I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to tell us what evaluation has been done. Just how bad is the service? He must tell us when winding up. We need to know before we can comment on the new framework. Will it improve matters or not?

It is a process of restless change. Unfortunately, it is not untypical of the Government. We have the blue skies thinker, Lord Birt, in the stratosphere; and we have the grey walls thinker, Lord Carter, who is incarcerated behind the grey walls of the House of Lords. They come up with bright new schemes for changing everything.

We face another bout of change, but is it necessary? It will effectively abolish the national probation service. Indeed, there are indications that the national probation directorate is already being run down. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will deal with that. It will be changed under the proposals set out in the consultation paper "Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-offending"; I have at least touched it, if not read it in detail. It is another product of the restless process of change. That, too, is typical of the process. Again, none of the views on which the paper is based has been thought through or researched. They are assertions, not demonstrable proof of an ability to remedy failings in the existing system. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a maxim I believe in politics. I think that the Labour party is a more conservative party and that should be our maxim. Why, then, is there this restless change?

The paper argues that contestability is better than local co-operation based on the existing structure; co-operation with the police, the magistrates and the community. On the argument that contestability is vital, a unified service will be replaced by fragmentation into business units, and local co-operation will be replaced by contestability. Contestability must mean value for money and the introduction of the profit motive into this judicial service.