Wednesday, House of Commons, Opposition Day debate took place on the probation service.

Opening the debate Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan said that the Opposition welcome the Government’s moves to introduce supervision for those serving less than 12 months and that the debate “is not about status quo versus change” but about “good, evidence-based, tested change versus ideologically driven, untested, reckless change.” He argued that the Government’s “half-baked plans” are “a gamble with public safety” and argued that any changes should be “tested first to see what works and what does not work.”


He drew parallels between the Government’s probation reforms and the Work Programme, arguing that the Justice Secretary cannot be trusted to implement a payment-by-results programme in probation because when he did so in welfare to work it “led to billions being spent on a Work programme that performed so badly that someone who was unemployed stood a better chance of being in work after six months if they had not been on it.” He also argued that in the Work Programme “the big boys cherry-picked those who were easy to get into work” and raised concerns that the hardest to help offenders, those who “have problems with mental health, alcohol and drug-dependency, or with numeracy and literacy”, will not be adequately supported by “the big boys that the Justice Secretary wants to give the contracts to.” Other MPs who compared the Government’s probation reforms to the Work Programme included Shadow Small Business Minister Toby Perkins who argued that the Justice Secretary, as the Minister who “was responsible for the shambolic Work programme”, should “show a little caution before ripping up a service on which so many people depend.”


Responding to the Shadow Justice Secretary’s criticism of the Work Programme and its parallels with the probation reforms, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling argued that his “comments about the Work programme were complete nonsense” and highlighted that under the Work Programme the voluntary sector was supporting about 150,000 people” into work, making it “by far the biggest voluntary sector programme of its kind ever seen in this country.”


There were also a number of MPs during the debate who spoke about the impact of the Government’s reforms on existing probation service staff. Gavin Shuker (Lab, Luton South) raised concerns about staff retention and the ability of the remaining staff in the new National Probation Service to manage the case load of high risk offenders. Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan also raised concerns about retaining experienced staff and suggested that under the reforms there is no obligation for private provider to ensure their staff are trained or experienced in dealing with offenders. Elfyn Llwyd (PC, Dwyfor Meirionnydd) also spoke about the impact of the reforms on existing probation staff, highlighting that “currently 18,000 staff face uncertainty about their future.”


Responding, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling stressed that existing probation staff “are not prohibited from bidding” for contracts under the new system and argued that the Ministry of Justice “are hoping to see members of our current team take this opportunity, win contracts, and go on to make a real difference.”


The Opposition motion was put to a vote and defeated by 289 votes against to 223 in favour.


The full transcript of the debate is attached; please distribute to all members.