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Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the distressing aspects of this case was the way in which journalists hounded Mary Bell and her daughter, who was under age? Is that to be part of the PCC investigation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my reference in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, about a decent respect for privacy and family life was directed to the daughter of Mary Bell, who is wholly innocent of any wrong-doing and has had her life irredeemably damaged. Whether or not the Press Complaints Commission will consider that aspect I do not know. However, knowing the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, as I do, I think it more likely than not that it will.

Electronic Tagging: Contracts

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we have selected four companies to bid to operate electronic monitoring services for home detention curfew and other uses throughout England and Wales. Geografix Limited did not score sufficiently highly in comparison to the other expressions of interest which were evaluated against financial and technical criteria designed with the new contract requirements in mind. This decision is in no way a criticism of the service which the company has delivered during the trials of electronically enforced curfew orders since 1995, which has been excellent. But the needs of the new contracts are different from those required for the trials.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that at a conference of probation officers in November, the Home Secretary singled out Geografix for high praise for the quality of its work, and more particularly, for its offender management practice, which achieved an unparalleled 90 per cent. compliance with curfew orders? Will the Minister say more as to why a company with such a remarkable track record, which has been so effective and successful, was rejected and why the criteria for selection were inconsistent with the information pack issued and signed by the Home Secretary?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe that the criteria were inconsistent. I repeat with great pleasure that the performance of Geografix has been extremely good. What we did properly and in the usual way was to advertise openly for expressions of interest. The noble Baroness shakes her head. We advertised for expressions of interest in the Official Journal of the

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European Communities. In fact, 11 companies submitted expressions of interest and four have been invited to submit bids. Geografix was not one of them because it did not do sufficiently well on the assessment of criteria which were specifically designed not to discriminate against smaller companies.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, whoever provides the electronic tagging equipment, can my noble friend say how greatly its use is to be increased and what effect it will have on the horrendous increase in the number of people in prison?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I believe my noble friend will know, under the Crime and Disorder Bill presently going through Parliament, a home detention curfew will be introduced. At any one time that is estimated to produce a reduction in the number of prison places required--and I stress at any one time--of about 3,000. Thereafter, if sentences are developed to include a curfew or a tracking element, then it is open to the courts, whose discretion it is, not to pass prison sentences but to use the alternatives which will be available.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister agree that electronic tagging will play a very useful part in the early release scheme for inmates? Is he aware that there is a drawback in the sense that those who do not have a home to go to will not benefit? There are a number of groups of people in prison who may not necessarily benefit. Will the Minister ensure that there is some kind of contractual arrangement provided by those who are contracted to produce electronic tagging to show that such facilities are available in voluntary hostels and probation hostels so that vulnerable groups will also benefit from the early release schemes?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, are valid. There has to be a risk assessment before a prisoner is released. If a prisoner has somewhere settled to go, I would have thought that that would feature in the balance. There have been over 1,400 curfew orders made and a gratifyingly high success rate of 80 per cent. successful completions.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister tell us how many of the companies are British? What are the implications in accepting one of the estimates for British employment? Will it increase employment prospects by a certain number of jobs or will there be a loss of jobs if the successful applicant is not British?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, from their descriptions and judging by their names, the majority of the companies appear to be British. Obviously, I cannot know immediately as to where the holding company may lie. If it is of assistance I shall research all 11 companies and find out exactly in which jurisdiction

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the holding company resides. I do not know that at the moment; but I shall certainly do what I have said and write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, perhaps I may come back on that. I understand that none of the four companies which finally submitted bids is British. I shall be very grateful if the answer can be given to me in due course.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I shall do better than that. I shall research all 11 companies. I believe that two at least of the four are British. I shall obviously check that with care and cast the net wider than the noble Baroness has asked.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I believe the noble Lord said that 11 companies expressed interest initially and that from them a list of four was selected. That sounds very good practice. However, what happens in the case of a company which has not tendered before but which has a specific interest in putting in a tender? Will such a company have any difficulty getting on to the list? To close the list, even if it is a long one, has inherent dangers in it.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Government have to adopt prudent commercial practice. If one advertises and asks for expressions of interest and there are 11 replies, and that number is whittled down to four, it seems to me that that is a proper way to behave and also a fair way if the opportunities have been publicly advertised.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister spoke about drafting the specification in such a manner which would allow smaller companies to tender. That is very welcome. Is he aware of certain anxieties that contracts have been awarded preferentially to some of the bigger companies in the past thereby reducing the amount of competition in the future? Is he satisfied that the procedures for tendering are now such as to ensure that all government tenders do not finish up with a few companies?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I repeat that one has to put the matter out to advertisement. We did that. One has then to wait for expressions of interest, and we did that. Thereafter we used criteria which do not discriminate against small firms. Four have been invited to tender. In due time, bearing in mind the respective interests, the best of those four will be chosen. I believe that to be fair.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I find the noble Lord's answers somewhat surprising. We have heard that Geografix is already doing this kind of work. It has been praised by the Home Secretary for the work it has done. Surely it would have been fair to allow that company to move from the list of 11, on which, presumably its name

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appeared, to the final shortlist of four so that it could have another chance of proving, as it has done already, that it can do the job.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, no. We advertised and asked for expressions of interest. There was then a careful assessment in the public interest--bearing in mind that public funds are involved--to see which companies should move from the 11 to the four. The mere fact that Geografix did extremely well on a limited basis and in a limited geographic area is no guarantee nor an overwhelming indication that it would be one of the best companies to get on the list of four companies.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, there has been some concern expressed about parts of the criminal justice system being privatised. I believe that that is now accepted. Can my noble friend advise us whether those parts of the system which are in the private sector will be owned and controlled within British jurisdiction at least?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I have already indicated to the noble Baroness that as regards the 11 companies I shall research her questions. I cannot say that forever and a day all aspects of privatised activity in the prison estate are bound to be within the ultimate control of a company within this jurisdiction.

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