Committees give MPs a chance to scrutinise, in-depth, the UK Government’s policies away from the more political arena of the House of Commons chamber. This week’s Justice Committee was a perfect example of this.
We had officials from HM Prisons and Probation and the Ministry of Justice in front of us which gave us the opportunity to delve deep into the policies they were enacting on behalf of the UK Government. I wanted to know what action was being done to measure prison standards. It was disappointing to hear that currently officials do not believe that the estate is good.
£50 million is how much the UK taxpayer has lost because of a poorly constructed contract with the collapsed firm Carillion. This was the answer I got from the minister of prisons towards the end of my questioning in the Justice Committee.
I wanted to know how much the UK taxpayer has lost because of the terrible contract signed. The minister tries to say that the taxpayer hasn’t lost the money, but if we are now having to pay an additional £50m over the lifetime of the contract I would say we have lost this money.
This is becoming a running story with the Ministry of Justice. They have signed up to contracts to run our prisons, building maintenance and other services without doing the due diligence to make sure that we are not losing out. We’ve seen it in Liverpool prison and we have seen it around the rest of the prison estate.
Away from the House of Commons I am also a member of the Justice Select Committee. These committees delve deep into government policy and scrutinise the running of the country. Sometimes we focus on extremely detailed and technical matters and this week we turned our attention to the National Disclosure Improvement Plan.
This plan has been designed to ensure that there are safeguards in place to ensure that the police follow all reasonable lines of enquiry, whether they point towards or away from a suspect. Prosecutors must provide the defence with any material that undermines the case for the prosecution or assists the case for the accused. Proper disclosure is vital for a fair trail to take place.
Disclosure problems with police forces have been identified by Richard Horwell QC in a recent report and I wanted to know what the Policing Minister will be doing to monitor this situation.
One particular question I had for the minister was if in six months time he would be able to tell me how many of the 120,000 police officers have completed the non-mandatory training created by the college of policing. I pointed out my worries that this training was not mandatory and that the Home Office may be reluctant to provide figures – as they usually do.
The Inspector of Probation gets paid in excess of £140,000 a year. For that she is expected to evaluate the Government’s performance and handling of the probation services. An important job as this is vital in ensuring that ex-offenders are rehabilitated and do not commit crimes again.
I recently discovered that Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Inspector of Probation, is now working two jobs: one for the Ministry of Justice in her current role and the other advising Michael Gove MP in DEFRA. I was informed by the Departments involved that Dame Glenys will be giving up 2 days a week in her role as Inspector and still receive the same pay and conditions.
I was shocked at the responses I got to my questions, as were the whole of the Justice Committee. It is clearly wrong that someone undertaking such an important job is now only working on it 3 days a week. Even the minister, when pressed later on by myself, agreed that this was not the best situation to be in.