The Justice Select Committee secured a debate on the financial situation of the Ministry of Justice – the most cut department in Government.
Over my speech I covered the abysmal failure of the part-privatised probation service – brought in by Chris Grayling MP – the cuts to prison officer numbers, the rise in violence in prisons and the crumbling infrastructure of our Victorian prisons.
This debate wasn’t just about where we have been and what mess the Government has placed our prisons and probation system in, it was a debate about how do we solve these problems created after eight years of neglect.
Following the scandalous report into the safety of HMP Liverpool the Justice Select Committee used its powers – powers we have not used in many years – to demand the appearance of contractors, ministers and the officials who run our prisons.
I focused much of my questioning on the outsourcing of maintenance to private firms. Amey – the company who undertook the contract to run maintenance at HMP Liverpool – has obviously failed to fulfil its contractual agreement with the Government. I wanted to know what penalties they faced and who is responsible when they fail.
What we learnt was that they had been penalised for their failings, but the Chief Executive of HM Prisons and Probation, Michael Spurr, was not satisfied with the effectiveness of contracts across the whole prisons estates. He went onto note the failings of Carillion and how contracts across the estate are not working.
2018 has shown us that many firms who take on these contracts neither have the expertise or the resources to fulfil them. We have seen this at Oakhill Young Offenders Institute – run by G4S – we have seen it with the collapse of Carillion and now we have seen it with the failings of Amey at HMP Liverpool. We now need a root and branch investigation into government contracts to make sure that the services being provided are in the public interest.
During our final Justice Select Committee hearings of 2017 we were able to question the Justice Minister on the recent fiasco that was the Government changes to Employment Tribunal fees. You may have recently heard that the Supreme Court found against the Government in their restrictions to access for Employment Tribunals. Now that ruling has been passed the Government needs to roll back its previous decisions which I warned at the time would restrict access to justice.
At the time of the measures being introduced by the Government I asked the very minister before the Committee to undertake a cost/benefit analysis before any changes were implemented. The Government refused at the time, then when it became apparent that they needed one they refused to share with the public. I pressed the minister once more on this failure of due process and he tried to say he wasn’t responsible. I was quick to quote back to him his own words to my question on the floor of the House of Commons.
This issue may seem complex but the simple truth of it is that the Government has tried to restrict access to justice for people wanting to file a claim at an Employment Tribunal. They were found to be in breach of the law by the Supreme Court and now they are having to clean up the very mess that Labour pointed out to them when they proposed the changes.