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Probation Service

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:45 am on 13th December 2005.

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Photo of Fiona Mactaggart Fiona Mactaggart Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 10:45 am, 13th December 2005

Until some of it has happened it is difficult to prove precisely how any initiative will operate. At present some 20 probation hostels and other similar provisions are provided, not by the probation service but by voluntary sector providers. Those play a critical role in public protection. In addition, there is provision in the prison service. Hon. Members have referred to that and pointed out how the privately run prisons are largely modern prisons. That is true. Nevertheless the advantages that they have introduced in the way we run our prisons, in terms not just of the physical space of prisons but of the relationship between prison staff and inmates, have significantly improved the decency agenda in our prisons.

That is not something that everyone predicted would happen as a result of introducing the private sector in prisons, but it has been an important result which has had an impact on the culture of the public as well as the private prison service. It has helped to make our prisons more effective. We believe that the best way for the public interest to be served is to identify what needs to be done, the functions that we expect the probation service to fulfil and the standards we expect. We then must look at the best way that that can be achieved. That might be to invite voluntary, private and charitable organisations to play a role. They already do to some extent. Their role has been kept quite small and frankly needs to be much bigger.

It might be achieved through the private sector which has introduced the more efficient use of technology in supervising offenders. That is not universally efficient and not every change has always been excellent in all respects. That is true of any major public sector reform. There is no doubt that some of the savings that we have been able to make by introducing, for example, tagging on bail have enabled us to run a safer service to protect the public at less public expense.

Why do I want to save that public money? It is not to reduce the spending on this facility but because I believe that we need to reinvest it in further initiatives to improve public protection. The best way to improve public protection is to reduce reoffending further. We have made progress on that, but it has been at a snail's pace. It is quite clear that community sentences—