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Ministry of Justice

Volume 460: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

Today I am delivering a statement that the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will make in another place at 3.30 pm. Today is the first day of the Ministry of Justice. Creating our new Department is the right thing to do; it is the logical next step, after decades of constitutional and criminal justice reform, in delivering what I believe will be a world-class justice system that has the protection of the public and the reduction of crime and reoffending at its heart.

The independence of the judiciary is paramount to the success of any justice system and vital to the well-being of our nation. I will continue to uphold that independence, as is my constitutional and statutory duty, and so, too, will my successors. The Ministry of Justice deals with all justice issues, in conjunction with other criminal justice Ministers. The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are engaged in fighting crime and protecting the public, and the two Departments will continue to work closely together to deliver that. Appropriate working arrangements will be put in place at official level to ensure that that happens, particularly on criminal law and sentencing policy—areas in which the relationship between the two Departments will be vital. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a new Cabinet Committee on criminal justice and crime policy, which he will chair, and on which my right hon. Friends the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General will sit. In addition, the Ministry of Justice has responsibility for the family and civil justice systems, which remain vital.

In this first statement from the Ministry of Justice I want to address and set out our approach to penal policy. Copies of the document, “Penal Policy: a background paper” are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office. The Government have made significant progress in tackling crime since 1997. Over the past decade, according to the British crime survey, crime has fallen by 35 per cent. Offences brought to justice are up by nearly 40 per cent. since 2002. Ineffective trials have more than halved in the Crown court since 1997. Fine collection is at 91 per cent., up from 74 per cent. in 2003-04. The Government have continued throughout to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims and the community.

The creation of the Ministry of Justice offers a significant opportunity to build on that success with the following three-part programme. First, we will continue to protect the public by ensuring that we provide prison places for people whom the courts determine need custody. The Government have already built 20,000 new prison places over the past 10 years. That is an increase of 33 per cent., and those places were built faster than ever before. Some 8,000 further places will be built by 2012. We want to examine the question of how to modernise the estate to provide more cost-effective facilities that are better equipped to reduce reoffending. We also want to identify whether the resources in our estate can be used to finance new accommodation, whether that be new large state-of-the-art prisons, or smaller local provision for women and young offenders.

My noble Friend the Secretary of State for Justice has asked Lord Carter of Coles to provide an assessment of the plans for the 8,000 prison places and of the longer-term issues affecting the estate, including the interrelationship between prisons and the rest of the Ministry of Justice estate, to ensure that we have a coherent strategy. Our prison building programme will therefore continue to ensure that we have capacity to lock away the most dangerous prisoners for as long as they are dangerous, and to enable sentencers to send people into custody whenever they think that that is required. The new indeterminate sentence for public protection is now in place, ensuring that the most dangerous prisoners are released only when it is safe for that to be done. Over 2,200 such sentences have been issued so far.

The Government have always recognised that prison must be used for those who need it, and that sentences should be designed to reduce reoffending. However, over decades we have learned that some short custodial sentences are not effective in reducing reoffending. That is why we want greater use to be made of the best community sentences where evidence shows that they reduce reoffending and offer more effective punishment than custodial sentences of less than 12 months. Sentencing policy must support the use of our resources in such a way as best to protect the public, punish offenders and reduce reoffending. Prison should be used to protect the public to the extent and for the periods necessary to deliver the statutory aims of sentencing in accordance with the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with alternatives to custody used when they are more effective in reducing reoffending and providing payback to the community.

We will ask the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review whether its guidelines fully reflect the principles set out in the 2003 Act. We will ask it, too, to look at its processes to ensure that it can operate in the way that it considers best enables it to produce effectively such guidelines as are necessary. We will ensure that where serious and dangerous offenders breach their licence conditions, the punishment is a swift return to custody, for as long as is necessary. For non-dangerous prisoners, we will propose new arrangements for them to be recalled to prison for 28 days. We propose, too, that suspended sentence orders should apply to more serious offences, as we originally intended when they were created in 2003, not to summary ones.

Secondly, we need to increase confidence in community sentences and to support their greater use where they are more effective in reducing reoffending. Offenders will be required to undertake programmes to stop them reoffending, and training to equip them with the skills to get back into work. They will also be required to carry out unpaid work in their local community, organised by the best available providers, whether in the public sector or the private sector—or, indeed, in the voluntary third sector. They will be subject to packages to restrict their liberty and movements, to make them face up to the consequences of their actions, and to pay back to the communities that they have harmed. The individual being punished, the community, and the sentencer all have to understand that if the penalty is breached, punishment will follow, with custody if necessary. We will ensure that prison places are available for that purpose.

Thirdly and finally, we will renew our commitment to delivering in line with the vision set out in the Carter report of December 2003, including end-to-end offender management and public service reform. There is excellence in the public, private and voluntary sectors in the delivery of prison and probation services, and we want to build on that to reduce reoffending further. In particular, that means commissioning the most effective interventions that will best support the management and rehabilitation of offenders, and making use of the fullest range of providers.

I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and the ministerial team present today have put in place the framework, the people, the programmes and the knowledge to make a massive difference to the way in which we deal with crime and protect the public in this country. We must make sure that that investment pays off. Above all, that means the right punishment, for the right length of time, for as long as necessary, with the right interventions and the right level of supervision for each offence to prevent reoffending. I commend the statement to the House.

I start by congratulating the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) on assuming his new duties after his spell in Northern Ireland—seemingly quite a successful spell. I also congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who is responsible for prisons and has joined the team. I thank the Minister of State in the usual way for giving me early sight of his statement.

The Opposition have repeatedly said that to put prisons and the courts into a single person’s hands is potentially a recipe for constitutional crisis. The Lord Chancellor has tried cajoling judges about sentencing, and he has tried threatening them; now he will simply be able to dictate to them, on the basis that if too many people go to prison, the budget for the courts will be cut. The Lord Chancellor has a constitutional duty to uphold and protect the independence of the judges and the rule of law. However, it is now his Department that poses a threat to the judiciary.

It is no surprise that on 29 March, when the Home Secretary announced that he was donating his problem areas to the new Department, it was the Lord Chief Justice himself who said:

“The announcement raises important issues of principle…Structures are required which will prevent the additional responsibilities of the new ministry interfering with…the independent administration…of the court service.”

A working group has been set up with the judges, but it is clear from the Minister’s statement that agreement has not been reached. Will he tell us what areas of agreement there are regarding those important assurances, and what has not yet been agreed by that important working group? He must tell us, because it is absolutely vital that the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law is protected.

The background to the statement is the continuing problem of prison overcrowding. The Lord Chief Justice also said that

“there is a risk that the new Ministry will be faced with a situation of recurrent crisis, or judges will be placed under pressure to impose sentences that they do not believe are appropriate.”

I believe that the word “pressure” puts it far too lightly. It was the Lord Chancellor himself who, when he was a Home Office Minister, said:

“it is unwise to comment on prisoner projections…as they always turn out to be inaccurate”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 2 June 2003; Vol. 648, c. 1046.]

One thing is for sure: the Government have always underestimated the need for prison places, given their home affairs policies. Given that they have passed so many criminal justice Acts—there are now 3,000 extra offences—it is not surprising that they need more prison places. Everyone predicted that, yet the prison places to which the Minister referred were ordered in the time of John Major. We therefore need a bit more joined-up thinking from the Government.

How can those duties be passed to what remains of the Department for Constitutional Affairs—from one failing Department to another? The Magistrates Association says that it is impossible for magistrates courts to perform adequately at present. London’s most senior county court judge, Judge Collins, described the county court as being in “chaos”. The verdict of the Constitutional Affairs Committee on the legal aid changes was that

“the Government has introduced these plans too quickly…with insufficient evidence.”

Who advised on those changes? Oh yes, it was Lord Carter. And what is his job now? He is going to review prisons. My goodness, the prisons should watch out.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs was responsible for all those problems, and for electoral administration; it was the Department in charge of postal voting and electronic counting. Is it really right that these important functions should go from the Home Office to this failing Department?

The last time the Lord Chancellor tried to encourage judges to keep the prison population down we ended up with a convicted sex offender being released on bail. What guarantee can the Minister give that proper safeguards will be put in place to protect the public? What sort of offences will no longer lead to short custodial sentences? What sort of offences will no longer attract suspended sentences? Are we really going to let off sexual offenders, shoplifters who are drug addicts, and people who have committed offences of violence such as assault occasioning actual bodily harm? On the recall of serious offenders, are we really saying on the one hand, “Short custodial sentences are no good”—that is what the statement said—and on the other hand, “Oh, but with serious criminals, we can recall them from licence for 28 days,” which is a short custodial sentence? None of that adds up.

The Minister said that he would ask the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review its guidelines, but why is he going to do that? Is it because he thinks that sentences are too long at the moment? What guarantee can he give that prisoners are not going to be released early from prison, as everyone expects? We have hundreds of prisoners in police cells. The prisons are full. It is the Government’s fault, but what is the Prime Minister doing about it? He is moving the deckchairs on the Titanic. That is what the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said. The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor are here today and gone tomorrow. What assurance can the Minister give us that the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the new Prime Minister—goes along with any of this? And as for the Home Secretary, as so often, he is cutting and running, leaving a problem for someone else—talking tough but leaving criminals on our streets.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome to me in my new position, following the success in Northern Ireland. I am grateful also for his welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who has done a sterling job in the Home Office on these issues.

The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice), the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State are a new Department and a new team, taking work from the Home Office and from the Department for Constitutional Affairs and putting together a new Ministry of Justice to tackle the tasks that I hope the hon. Gentleman would want to tackle—reducing reoffending, ensuring punishment for reoffenders, and ensuring that we make Great Britain a safer place for our constituents and our communities. That is the purpose of the Department, and if we are judged on it, my right hon. and hon. Friends will welcome that.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the judiciary. That is an important issue, and I know that there are concerns about that, from which I will not shy away. We have a statutory duty to ensure the independence of the judiciary, to ensure that it is funded properly, and to make sure that it is accountable to the House of Commons and another place. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman that we will not shirk those statutory duties. We are willing to continue engagement with the judiciary. There will be discussions over the next few weeks. I assure the hon. Gentleman that that independence will not be compromised, nor will the resourcing. I hope that the judiciary have a shared objective with the Government to reduce offending and ensure the protection of our community.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about prison places. During my party’s term of government—which, as I recall, now amounts to 10 years—we have built 20,000 new prison places, and 8,000 prison places are planned between now and 2012 at a cost, through the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, of some £1.7 billion-worth of capital expenditure—expenditure to which I doubt whether a Conservative Government would be able to commit, as they are committed to putting in place tax-cutting policies for the future. When HMP Kennet opens in June this year with 350 places, and when new prisons are opened at Belmarsh West, Maghull and Rochester in years to come, I will remind the House that they were paid for by the Government, whereas the hon. Gentleman’s party opposed every cent, and would not have been able to deliver.

There are issues to do with a range of matters—the penal policy document is published today—but I have every confidence that the Ministry of Justice team, under the Lord Chancellor, our Secretary of State in another place, will deliver to ensure that we reduce offending and provide greater protection for the public. I am willing to debate with the hon. Gentleman, on any occasion that he wishes, in a friendly and joyous manner, the effects of our penal policy on the prison population and on reoffending. Our job is not to put people in prison, but to discourage reoffending. I believe that the community sentencing that we have proposed today, and the extra prison places, will meet the needs of the public.

I warmly welcome the creation of the Ministry of Justice and the new ministerial team that has been assembled, and wish them well. However, I have two concerns. First, as regards the judiciary, I do not think that my right hon. Friend has dealt with the matter properly and adequately today. It is our unwritten constitution, not the Government, that is the guarantor of our liberties. Lord Woolf was very specific: he had deep concerns about what the Government were proposing. Has my right hon. Friend met Lord Woolf, and what has Lord Woolf said, subsequent to the decisions that have been made? As for the choice of Lord Carter of Coles for the prison inquiry—he was the man who completely mucked up our legal aid system. Putting him in charge of the prison system was the wrong decision. If that is what the Lord Chancellor is proposing to do on prisons, he is in for a rough ride.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his contribution. He will understand that having been appointed some 12 hours ago, I have not yet had the opportunity to meet Lord Woolf.

My right hon. Friend will understand that on the first morning in office, we have important duties to undertake. I intend to meet the judiciary, as does my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State. I am willing to engage in discussions with members of the judiciary over the next few weeks and months. I know that they are meeting next Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss their response to the proposals for the Ministry that were published today. I give my right hon. Friend the reassurance that I believe, as my right hon. and noble Friend will emphasise in another place this afternoon, that the judiciary is independent, will be safeguarded by the Department, and will be fully resourced. I know that there are concerns, and with my right hon. and hon. Friends I am happy to meet representatives of the judiciary over the next few weeks to discuss still further the concerns that they have. I hope they will share an agenda with us, and I hope and believe that in due course they will come to welcome the creation of the Ministry of Justice today.

On behalf of my colleagues, I welcome the government’s interest over 10 years in improving the criminal justice system. We welcome the creation of the Ministry of Justice and we welcome the right hon. Gentleman and the the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) to the team. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that he and his colleagues will have to work hard to reassure the public that the decision to create the Ministry has been fully thought through, and in particular to explain how the constitutional and electoral matters fit comfortably in a Ministry of Justice dealing with justice and the criminal justice system?

Can the Minister give an assurance—this picks up some of the questions that he has been asked already—that the new Ministry will have the resources that it needs for the jobs that it has to do? It needs money for the probation service and adequate money for the Prison Service, and must ensure that there are no cuts in courts that are needed around the country, in addition to the many that we have already, or further holding back of the money for legal aid, which has been hugely criticised, not least in the recent report of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to review the policy on legal aid, and take the advice from around the House that another contract with Lord Carter to do another job for the renamed Ministry will not add to anybody’s confidence in the new team?

On sentencing, there was a welcome recognition in the Minister’s remarks that many short custodial sentences are not effective, and that community sentences are under-used. Can he tell us whether, when he introduces his new legal proposals for sentencing policy changes and for sentencing guidelines policy, sentences will in future mean what they say, which is what the public want above all? Do the Government accept, by implication, that their prison policy has failed? Either we have in England and Wales the most criminal population in western Europe, which I do not believe can intrinsically be the case, or there is no logical explanation for 80,000-plus prison places and building, because reoffending prisoners come back so often.

Finally and importantly—a topic picked up by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald), on the Conservative Front Bench—there is a welcome commitment to the independence of the judiciary, who are not yet fully on board with the new plans. Can the Minister give an absolute pledge from the Front Bench that during his time in office and that of the Ministry, no Minister in any Department, including the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. and learned Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), will criticise judges, and that they will be allowed to do their job free of political criticism by the Government of the day?

I am grateful for the support from the hon. Gentleman and the Liberal Democrat party. There is in many ways a synergy with the policy objectives that we seek, and I hope we can consider a range of sentencing options which will provide a greater menu for the judiciary to examine. One of the key issues that the hon. Gentleman alluded to was that of community-based sentencing. Yes, the objective in all this has to be punishment, and we need to have strong punishment even in community-based sentencing, but we need to have it with the objective of preventing reoffending. We must ensure that individuals learn from their experience in the community, get better trained, recognise, through reparation work, the damage that they have done, and return to the community as better citizens as a result.

With regard to the financing of the Department, the hon. Gentleman will know that we are in the middle of a comprehensive spending review settlement. I can assure him that the resources from the Home Office and the DCA are there on the table for this year, as planned. Obviously, that will be subject to negotiation. However, he can take the reassurance that the Government are committed to reducing crime, and one of the main methods of doing so will be the work of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State and my other colleagues in the Ministry of Justice. I very much hope that the CSR settlement will reflect that.

The hon. Gentleman said that we wish sentencing to mean what it says. Obviously, we want greater clarity in sentencing. There will be options to ensure that, as with indeterminate sentences, those who are a danger to the community spend longer in prison, until such time as they are deemed not to be a danger to the community. That is a solid basis for the policy.

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on the question of the Labour Government’s “failure” on prison policy. I do not agree with his statement. We now have an option to look at a wider range of sentencing policies. The 20,000 prison places that have been built over the past 10 years and the 8,000 that are being built between now and 2012 will make a difference. However, at the heart of our whole criminal justice policy must be the objective of preventing reoffending.

Lastly, let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I hope that I have made it clear to the House that the independence of the judges is paramount, and it is part of the role of a criminal justice Ministry to ensure that that independence is maintained. I can never give a blanket guarantee on the issues that he examined, but I would say that our role is to set a framework for a sentencing policy and a prison policy that prevents reoffending, while the judiciary’s role is to interpret that on a case-by-case basis. I believe that they do a very good job in the vast majority of cases, and I look forward to working with them to prevent offending still further.

I warmly congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new appointment and on his success in his work in Northern Ireland. He knows that I have an interest in issues to do with local justice in my constituency and throughout Cheshire. He may not yet be aware of the close collaboration that I have had with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), over certain difficulties that we have faced locally. To enable us to get the maximum confidence of all the professionals and the judiciary, particularly the lay magistracy, as the new system beds down, will my right hon. Friend ensure that mechanisms are in place so that proper feedback can come from the people who practise on our behalf throughout the country at a local level? We do not want filter mechanisms that cut out the words of the people at the coalface; we want them to get their words directly to Ministers in positions of responsibility, such as himself.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. We share a constituency border—although there is a large river in the middle of it—and I know his constituency very well. I give him the assurance that through the proposals on the National Offender Management Service, which we are bringing forward as part of the Home Office responsibilities of my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, we are trying to ensure that we increasingly involve the community in these decisions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller) will know that we are looking to establish probation trusts in each of the probation areas and to ensure that we have community involvement in those trusts, as well as involvement from local authorities and elected officials. It will be rocky and difficult, but the potential is there to ensure that we have more community involvement in managing the probation service.

Most of all, I want to ensure that when community reparation is undertaken by people through probation and community services, as it now is in my constituency in Flintshire in north Wales, the community is involved in determining those projects, seeing those reparations made, determining the priorities at a local level, and making it known to people who have committed offences that none the less, the work that they are doing is productive to society at large, and giving them back their self-respect. There are great opportunities there for my hon. Friend, and I welcome his comments.

I welcome the two new Ministers, whom we look forward to questioning in the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs. Why was this important constitutional change rushed through without any prior parliamentary discussion so that some of the concerns of the judiciary, for example, could have been resolved? That was surely the lesson to be learned from the last round of constitutional changes, which was suddenly sprung upon everybody and had to be modified subsequently. Given that there was no significant new policy on prisons in today’s statement, would it not have been better to use this first opportunity to tell the House that the Government are rethinking the proposals that the Select Committee believes will seriously damage access to justice through legal aid?

I welcome the opportunity to go before the Select Committee—although perhaps not today because we have enough on our plates, but certainly in the near future. I am sure that the Select Committee will do what it is supposed to do, namely, to hold Ministers to account and determine input into policy for the House as a whole. The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made a statement to Parliament, as did my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. These are machinery of government changes, as we have made clear. Time will tell how the Ministry of Justice beds in. He said that there is no new policy direction in my statement. I disagree—there are new policy nuances in the direction of policy on supporting reoffending reductions in the community. No doubt there will be a major opportunity to discuss those over the next few weeks and months.

With regard to legal aid, the Under-Secretary, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Redcar (Vera Baird), has taken a great deal of interest in that at the DCA and will continue to do so in the new Ministry of Justice. I am confident that the reforms will create a sustainable legal aid system for the future that is fair to clients, to the taxpayer and to practitioners. It will continue to be an integral part of the criminal justice system. I know that my hon. and learned Friend will also relish the opportunity to go before the Select Committee to have a nice friendly chat about those matters over a quiet glass of water.

Is it not significant that while the first statement from the Ministry of Justice makes passing reference to the independence of the judiciary, the main thrust concerns penal policy, which may end up tying the hands of the judiciary?

On drugs policy, will splitting the Home Office provide a co-ordinated and effective response to drugs enforcement and treatment, stem the tide of drugs flowing into our country and communities—particularly into our prisons—and provide the drugs treatment that our prisons and communities need and deserve?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting a problem of which I think, even though I have been in post for only 12 hours, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is very well aware—drugs policy and how that affects prisoners. A large number of prisoners enter prison with drug problems and continue to have them, and we need to take strong action to help them through that. Unless we stop the drugs problem inside prisons, it will continue to drive crime levels in terms of feeding people’s habit once they are outside and in the community. We have spent a considerable amount of resources on drug treatment. In fact, over our term in government there has been an increase of some 974 per cent. in spending on drug treatment through the criminal justice system, and we want to focus on that for the future.

Although I am only 12 hours into the job, I do not hide from the fact that there is a very difficult issue as regards the prison population. With growing numbers of people in prison and a need to increase prison places, we need to look at how we manage the prison estate more effectively and stop people going to prison in the first place through reoffending. That is a big task for the Government to undertake, but the prison building programme and the changes in offending behaviour programmes that we have discussed today give us an opportunity to do so. I would welcome the hon. Gentleman’s input because there is a common agenda for all parties in this House in ensuring that we protect the public and reduce reoffending.

The Minister said that he wanted to deliver a world-class justice system. However, we clearly do not have a world-class prison system. As my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) said, our prisons are not only full but spilling into our police cells. I saw that with my own eyes when I recently visited Dorchester prison, where not one single cell was spare. Will the Minister elaborate on the way in which we can prevent the dilution of sentencing? More important, when will police cells stop being used for the overflow from prison cells?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the use of prison cells. Under Operation Safeguard, and through the Under-Secretary, we are implementing policies that we introduced in the days of the Home Office to ensure that we use police cells only as a last resort. Sadly, given the prison population, we have had to use them. In several places, police cells are used as temporary accommodation for prisoners. That is not ideal and I want the practice to be reduced and stopped. We need to take action on that.

I believe that the twin approach of increasing proper prison places—as we are doing in HMP Kennet in June, and in Belmarsh West and in Maghull near Liverpool later this year—and considering community-based sentencing to reduce the number of people who go to prison, is important. Frankly, some people can be better served in terms of punishment and rehabilitation by not serving a prison sentence.

I recognise the problem, which we need to tackle, and I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. I hope that, over time, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I can bring better news to the House.

I join other hon. Members in welcoming the right hon. Gentleman to his new role. I also welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), with whom I have had some helpful and positive exchanges in the past few years, to his new position.

The Minister said that the right interventions for offences were necessary. He highlighted the new Cabinet Committee and the new protections that will be introduced at official level for interlinking the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. When the Lord Chancellor recently gave evidence to the Select Committee about the construction of the new Department, he suggested that it would cover new offences. We are expecting new provisions in the Session on violent offenders. Will the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office take the lead on that? If the answer is the Home Office, what role will the Ministry of Justice play in that context?

The new Department is responsible for criminal law in England and Wales and it will take measures on that through the House. That will involve discussions across government, through the Cabinet Committee chaired by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, about identifying the priorities for the Government. It will be up to the Home Office to implement existing legislation on policing and a range of similar issues. It will also be the Home Office’s role to suggest, if it wishes, legislative options for the Ministry of Justice to consider. Our role is to consider criminal law, pilot criminal law measures through the House of Commons and win the House’s support. The Home Office’s role is to implement them in due course.

I add my congratulations to the Ministers. Are the new community punishment arrangements that the Minister outlined his way of describing what is already in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, or does he propose yet more legislation?

Obviously, a considerable amount of activity is undertaken under the 2003 Act. The hon. Gentleman knows that, for example, unpaid work, supervision programmes, drug rehabilitation, alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, residencies, activities, prohibited activities, exclusion and curfew can all be tackled in the community. We want to consider how we can develop that to ensure that, when appropriate—I stress “when appropriate”—and when the punishment fits the crime, we expand the use of the mechanisms in the 2003 Act. We want to ensure that individuals feel punished, but also consider community reparation. To revert to the point that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) made, we also want to prevent reoffending.

In 2006, more than 35,000 items of unpaid work constituted sentences. Some 6.5 million hours of work to the value of £35 million were undertaken in the community. I want that to be expanded for the good of the community and to ensure the objectives that, I am sure, the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey seek: to punish the individuals responsible, but rehabilitate them in the long term.

After the Minister’s enormously positive and enthusiastic contribution in the Northern Ireland Office, he will be sadly missed in Northern Ireland. However, I welcome him and all his team members to their new positions.

The statement is interesting. Given that the new Ministry of Justice has at its heart the reduction of crime and reoffending, why does the statement say so little about the valuable work of the probation services? Does not the Minister believe that they are fit for the 21st century?

I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s comments about my tenure in Northern Ireland. Not only will—I hope—Northern Ireland miss me, but I will certainly miss Northern Ireland. I had a productive and useful two years there and found the friendship and support of not only Members but the people of Northern Ireland welcome.

Offender management and the probation service are key to delivering the objectives that we set in the overall context of the policy announced today. For that reason, I want the Offender Management Bill, which is currently in another place, to be carried in both Houses. I greatly regret the fact Opposition Members voted against it. I hope that they will realise its benefits and recognise that there is an agenda, which I know the hon. Lady shares, of reducing offending, making community-based sentences more appropriate and ensuring that we protect the public at large and reduce crime. The probation service has a key role to play in that and I know that I have the hon. Lady’s support in trying to make that a success.