House of Lords
Legal System: Translation and Interpreting Services
To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the provision of translation and interpreting services for the legal system in the United Kingdom.
Baroness Coussins: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and I declare interests as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Modern Languages and honorary fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Ministry of Justice has been looking at this matter for some time and has identified a number of issues that call for change. They include the limited number of linguists available for use, an inefficient and costly booking process, and concerns over the quality of service and complaint investigation. The ministry has therefore announced that it will be moving to a framework agreement with a single supplier. We anticipate that this will resolve current problems while saving the taxpayer at least £18 million a year on current spending.
Baroness Coussins: I thank the Minister for his reply, but would he be prepared to review the framework contract in the light of an independent study commissioned by the Association of Police and Court Interpreters, which predicts that the new arrangement is unsustainable and, far from saving £18 million a year, could end up costing £200 million a year? Secondly, is the Minister aware that more than half the existing number of qualified interpreters have refused to sign up with the new single supplier and take very substantial pay cuts, and that this situation could well result in the employment of less competent interpreters, to the detriment of witnesses, defendants and victims?
Lord McNally: No, we will not review the framework or the agreement that we have made. We have looked at the report-which, in any lobbying exercise, is quite legitimate-and examined the figures in it, but we do not believe that they stand up. We have always been clear that translation and interpretation services of the appropriate quality should be available, where they are required, for all those who come into contact with the justice system, while obtaining value for money for the public. Let us see how it settles. There are many threats and ideas that people are not going to sign up or that it will not work out. Obviously the noble Baroness is far more expert than me on this issue, but there is no doubt that the present system was not working, which is why the previous Administration initiated the inquiry, which has now culminated in this decision, as far back as 2009.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, in designing the new system, why was it decided to ignore existing professional qualifications and to sideline the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, with its established system of registration that requires not only an appropriate degree-level qualification but 400 hours of proven public service interpreting? Does my noble friend think that it is fair to make experienced and qualified interpreters and translators go through the hoops and pay for a new accreditation procedure that assumes that they have just come out of the sixth form?
Lord McNally: My Lords, we are not doing this for fun. We are doing it because the present accreditation system was not working and there was a lot wrong with it. That is why we set up a new register. There were faults in the old register in the quality of assessment and we believe that, starting as we are with a new system, a new register is the most effective way of guaranteeing quality.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, no one is arguing for simple maintenance of the status quo. When over half of the qualified people in this profession have made it clear that they are unwilling to register with a new body under the new framework because it implies cuts of up to 70 per cent of their incomes, does the Minister not think that the Government are taking a huge risk by pursuing this course without further review and that it will result in loss of quality, compromise justice-which is worst of all-and could end up ultimately, as the professionals warn, costing much more and not reducing costs?
More here: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/111101-0001.htm#11110170001449