Thursday 21 October 2010
[Anne Main in the Chair]
Cutting Crime (Justice Reinvestment)
[Relevant documents: First Report from the Justice Committee, Session 2009-10, HC 94-I, and the Government response, Cm 7819.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mr Crispin Blunt.)
I am pleased, Mrs Main, to serve under your chairmanship, and to have the opportunity of debating this report, which has been around for some time. It is from the 2009-10 Session, and represents the culmination of an extensive inquiry that took place over two years. It was a unanimous report, and I pay tribute to the members of the Select Committee who took part in it. I particularly single out the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael), who is here this afternoon and looking ready to take part in our proceedings. He has a lot of experience in this area, and made a major contribution to our deliberations, as did many then members of the Committee.
I also pay tribute to the Committee’s staff, who gave us such excellent support in producing the report, and to the many organisations and individuals who were witnesses in person, who submitted memorandums, or who took part in e-consultation. We received a lot of evidence, and we gave it a great deal of attention. The report was extremely well received by many organisations working in the field.
I shall remind hon. Members of the context. The previous Government had announced that their solution to prison overcrowding, likely further demand, and the use of police cells was to increase capacity to 96,000 prison places by 2014. The Committee was worried that a predict-and-provide approach to the problems was not sustainable in the long term. That was the approach that Lord Carter had recommended in his December 2007 review of the use of custody, but we thought it was short-sighted and could not be maintained.
We wanted to consider whether committing further resources to prison building represented the best possible way to improve public safety, and to reduce reoffending in the context of a fall in recorded crime rates and under-resourced probation services. Interestingly, there has been another fall in the recorded crime rate today—an 8% fall and a 4% fall in the British crime survey figure. I am not claiming that that is success for the coalition Government, any more than I supported the claims that the previous Government sometimes made about the fall in crime. Movements in crime statistics respond to all sorts of things, and have a curious way of being similar throughout neighbouring countries, and indeed throughout much of Europe. We are sometimes in danger of exaggerating our impact on total crime figures, although the system, through the good work of good people, is having a significant impact on the lives of many people who become involved in crime. I pay tribute to those who work in the criminal justice system and whose efforts have turned people away from crime, thereby saving other people from becoming victims of crime.
The fundamental issue is that the first duty of the state is to protect its citizens and keep them safe. We spend well over £5 billion on the criminal justice system in England and Wales, and billions more on policing and the social, health and business costs of crime. We owe it to taxpayers to calculate whether we are spending all that money in the way most likely to prevent them from suffering the effects of crime, but the reoffending rate of ex-prisoners is so high—two thirds of prisoners go on to reoffend—that it seems that we are not. Some offenders are so dangerous that they must be kept in prison or in secure mental institutions for very long periods, but for many, custody is an expensive way of not solving the problems that they present.
A number of things have happened since we produced our report. The previous Government published their response, which accepted much of our analysis, but did not accept or were rather lukewarm about the route that we had identified to deal with the problems. That might be attributed in part to the pre-election atmosphere, but it also reflected the strongly held views of the previous Lord Chancellor.
The situation has changed dramatically for several reasons. First, we have a different Government with a Lord Chancellor who holds different views from those of his predecessor, and is never slow to express them. Secondly, there is a very serious financial crisis which both Government parties and the Opposition recognise requires substantial cuts in public spending. They may disagree about precisely how much and precisely where, but there is common ground between the parties. That has caused the coalition Government to shelve plans that the Committee criticised for a 1,500-place prison, and to make deep cuts in the departmental budget of the Ministry of Justice, which will affect spending on probation and other services that provide alternatives to custody.
The Committee was not unaware of the difficult financial situation. In the report’s summary—we are talking about December 2009—we said:
“Public expenditure generally is under pressure in all areas in the worst economic climate since the Second World War. The Ministry of Justice is no exception, being tasked with finding £1.3 billion worth of cost savings over the next three years.”
The situation was bad then, and cuts had to be made, but it is recognised that the position is worse now and even more demanding. There are two differences: the change of Government and an even more serious financial situation. The third is that the Government are developing ideas such as payment by results and social impact bonds, which we did not examine and which were not part of our report. They are new elements in the discussion.
In our report, we concluded that after the election the Government would face a choice of risks: to muddle through with the previous plans to build more prisons in the hope that commitments made under the predict-and-provide model would prove to be affordable and not merely to be a self-fulfilling prophecy; or to make more radical decisions and investments, putting the system on a sustainable footing in the longer term by shifting resources away from incarceration towards rehabilitation and measures that prevent people from becoming criminals in the first place. It is far better to spend our taxes on preventing suffering from crime than on housing and feeding more and more people who have committed crimes and caused great suffering and distress in the process.
The report highlighted the fact that, although the prison population has increased as a direct result of the introduction of longer sentences and better enforcement, rather than an increase in crime, there were other contributory factors. They include the press, perceived public opinion and political rhetoric. Paragraph 36 states:
“Wider factors, such as the media, public opinion and political rhetoric, contribute to risk averse court, probation and parole decisions and hence play a role in unnecessary system expansion. … A good deal of media comment assumes that sentencing is below the level that the public expect, whereas the evidence suggests that the public—when asked to make a judgment—set out expectations that are close to the levels that are actually being set by the courts… The Government should lead a public debate on the aims of criminal justice policy, and seek to influence, as well as to be influenced by, the public response…In basing arguments for reform on the best use of taxpayers’ money, the political argument could be shifted away from notions about which party is ‘harder’ or ‘softer’ on crime and criminals to questions about the most effective use of scarce resources…It is time for an objective consideration of what is in the best interests of society”.
I welcome the fact that the Lord Chancellor has recognised the importance of rational political debate and has tried to stimulate it. That is precisely what he did in his speech at King's college at the end of June, and I hope that we will see a move away from the numbers game that he said characterised the penal policy of the past 25 years. The key messages in the Committee’s report were reflected in the Lord Chancellor’s inaugural speech and those of other Ministry of Justice and Home Office Ministers. They have moved on from the previous assumption that a high and rising prison population is inevitable.
Even without a deliberate policy shift, yesterday’s spending review made it clear that the financial situation made change unavoidable. In its report, the Committee drew attention to clear precedents that proved that it was possible to reduce the prison population and public spending without compromising public safety.
Finland successfully reduced its prison population over two periods in recent history when it decided that it could not afford to build more prisons. When we were in Finland some time ago, we questioned officials on why and how they had embarked on a substantial reduction in the number of prison places and people in custody. We expected a deep philosophical answer from the thoughtful Finns, but they said, “Well, the Ministry of Finance told us that we couldn’t have any more money for prisons.” It is remarkable how economic circumstances can sometimes create policy changes. Those changes did not result in any increase in crime in Finland, as some in this country might fear such a policy.
Some American states have become more sophisticated than England and Wales in their thinking about whether prison represents the most appropriate use of taxpayers’ money, and they recognise that the expansion of imprisonment can come at the expense of new hospitals and schools. Those states faced the same choices as we do now against a background of historically high rates of incarceration.
Several US states have adopted “justice reinvestment” approaches. That term refers to criminal justice policy reforms that are designed to reduce prison spending by redirecting resources from inside and outside the criminal justice system towards more productive, locally-based initiatives to tackle the underlying problems that give rise to certain kinds of criminal behaviour. Hon. Members know the sorts of problems involved, such as unemployment, mental ill health or drug and alcohol dependency. Such initiatives are targeted at the populations that are most at risk of offending and reoffending.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for the work that he has undertaken over a number of years. The report on justice reinvestment has been long in the making and it is good to bring it to light. I know that there are a number of cricket supporters in the room, so early in his innings, I would like to bowl my right hon. Friend a full toss to whack away to the boundary. Does he agree that it was disappointing that the Government sought to compartmentalise their response by suggesting that the Committee overestimated the benefits that could accrue from moving towards a justice reinvestment approach, by distinguishing between less serious and more serious offenders when looking at the impact of early intervention and prevention? Plainly, early intervention will have an effect on whether a person ends up as a more serious or less serious offender. If we can get there early, we will save taxpayers and victims a lot of damage.
It must be remembered that that was the response of the previous Government. I found that part disappointing because it got into a circular situation. If we simply look at the present prison population, we are looking at the failures of the past. If we do not change the policy, the situation will continue. I will return to that theme later in my remarks. Catching people early is of vital importance. The people who initially commit relatively minor offences sometimes go on to become those who, through drug dependency or something else, get into more serious offences and become subject to repeat custodial sentences because of the ever more serious or frequent crimes that they commit.
In 2007, the Texas state legislature rejected plans to spend $0.5 billion on new prisons in favour of a justice reinvestment approach. Half that money was spent on expanding the capacity of residential and out-patient treatment for substance misuse and mental health, community-based sanctions for offenders and post-release support to prisoners. Parole revocations were reduced, and the increase in the prison population was 90% smaller than had been predicted. Significant savings were made within two years, because the costs of increasing the capacity of treatment and residential facilities were significantly less than the cost of increasing prison capacity.
The Committee gave a great deal of detailed consideration to how justice reinvestment approaches could be applied to the system in England and Wales. We believe that the system as a whole should be revisited through a lens that looks at crime as a problem to be managed in a cost-effective way. A longer-term rational approach must be taken to policy and the diversion of resources. That would enable prisons that are currently stretched to deal more effectively with those for whom incarceration is necessary for public protection, and prevent the need for continued expansion in the number of prison places. Few hon. Members in the Chamber will not have visited prisons and seen the pressures under which prison officers work. Such officers desire more time and opportunity to devote to rehabilitative work. Ideally, they would work with smaller numbers of prisoners who need that kind of support, and they are anxious to provide it to them by using the skills that they have built up over the years.
We also suggest that probation services should be able to pay greater attention to those offenders who represent the greatest risk to the public. Lurking at the back of that is a problem to which I will refer later. We must find a way other than imprisonment to signify society’s disapproval of crime. For some, community sentences can be more demanding than prison. The week before last, we took evidence from four ex-offenders during our work on the probation service. Two of those offenders said that they had committed offences in order to get back inside, because that was easier than the community sentence on which they were engaged. In one case, the sentence did not seem to work well, because the daily supervision requirement prevented the person from taking a job. In both cases, people had committed offences that they knew would put them back in prison, which was the easier option. That is not often recognised by the public, who see prison as the only way of saying that society will not put up with crime. We must demonstrate that community sentences can fulfil that function, as well as reduce the risk of reoffending.
A priority for the Government is to find a mechanism to overcome the fact that we treat prison in the system as a “free good.” If the sentencer—judge or magistrate—has an offender before them, they may consider whether some form of rehabilitative treatment such as intensive supervision or a course of drug treatment, residential or otherwise, would be the right thing. Inquiries must then be made into whether that is available. If the sentencer says “prison”, the van pulls up outside the door and takes the person away. The prison system and the National Offender Management Service recognise that it is their obligation to take whoever the court sends. However, there is an imbalance between the automatic availability of prison, and the uncertain availability of an alternative, which might be much better in a given case.
We thought that the most promising way to deal with that issue was probably the devolution to local agencies and communities of resources that are spent on corrections. The first step would be to look at how money is currently spent on offenders across the system in Government Departments and statutory agencies. We felt that a business case could be made to move resources from a significant part of the prison building programme, if the numbers entering or re-entering the system could be reduced by a sufficient margin before contracts were signed for new prisons.
The Washington State Institute for Public Policy looked at the cost of imprisonment to the state, and developed an alternative model of investment that primarily involved investing in rehabilitation programmes that would break even over five years and yield considerable savings thereafter. It is therefore possible to reap significant rewards by adopting justice reinvestment approaches over a 10-year period.
Fundamental change in the pattern of public expenditure is entirely appropriate during times of economic difficulty. When is it more necessary to look at how we are spending money than when we realise that we have not got as much as we would like? That requires the Government to recognise that change must be facilitated by some movement of money and spending in other areas. When changes cut across departmental boundaries and involve transfers between central and local government budgets, it is rarely an easy process. We are looking not only for justice disinvestment but for justice reinvestment.
In order to release resources in the medium term by halting the prison building programme, investment is required in the shorter term. We must identify where resources are currently being wasted or duplicated, and where quick wins could be achieved by reducing the prison population if that money were reinvested. The amount required for reinvestment is relatively small when compared with the resources that would have been committed to building and running 96,000 prison places.
The Committee’s proposals are in line with what the previous Government sought to do—and significantly achieved—in diverting women away from crime. That explicitly linked the reduction of expenditure on women’s prison places with the funding of new initiatives to improve community provision. For two years, £7.8 million per year was committed to provide additional services in the community for women offenders who were not a danger to the public. That was an attempt to reduce the female prison population by 400 by 2012, as recommended by Baroness Corston in her 2007 report. Those initiatives have already borne fruit in reducing the number of women in prison. The investment required was a tiny sum in the context of spending on prisons.
The previous Government had some similar success in reducing custody for young offenders. We may no longer need a free-standing Youth Justice Board, and it is going, but we should recognise that it helped to achieve a sharp reduction in custody as a way of dealing with young offenders.
In both cases, the significant element was that there was a commissioning process, which created the opportunity to change the mix of custody and alternatives to custody that were available to sentencers. We argue that similar approaches should be adopted to deal more effectively with other groups of offenders, including low-level but persistent offenders, who frequently have problems with drugs, alcohol or mental health, or some combination of those things. The severely mentally ill could be dealt with more appropriately in the health care system.
Local services such as housing, drug agencies and mental health trusts, which could help to prevent people from reoffending when they are no longer in contact with the criminal justice system, are often under-resourced. Targeted investment in the areas where offenders and victims are known to live could ensure that services were more readily available, without having explicitly to prioritise access to offenders, whom the public would regard as a not particularly deserving target in themselves.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth brought to the Select Committee his knowledge of what was happening in Cardiff and the work done by an accident and emergency consultant there. I hope that he will find an opportunity to refer to that in the course of this afternoon’s proceedings.
It is just possible.
I am giving the right hon. Gentleman a prompt, but I am sure that he does not need it.
Short-sentenced prisoners frequently end up in custody after repeated community sentences. There is a need to examine why community sentences are breached and why some offenders continue to offend. We concluded that that was partly because the sentences are under-resourced. There are waiting lists for offender behaviour programmes and assessments for mental health and treatment. Probation officers typically have extremely large case loads, and often we are talking about people with completely disorganised lives who just do not get up in the morning. What they need is not a very short prison sentence but someone to bang on the door and get them out doing the community programme that they are supposed to be carrying out. They need someone to exercise some authority.
In the course of the inquiry on probation, we have spoken to ex-offenders, and what they said was very illuminating. They made it clear that they needed probation officers to challenge them, not simply to offer friendship and a cup of coffee, however desirable it is to establish a relationship. They needed probation officers to challenge them because, as they openly admitted, their behaviour needed challenging. Their unwillingness to do some of the things that they needed to do to turn their lives around needed someone with authority to challenge it.
The right hon. Gentleman will recall that a fortnight or three weeks ago, we visited the Lambeth project—the so-called Sapphire project. In that project, if a person did not turn up for the unpaid work part of the probation order, he was visited by a police officer to get him out of bed. That is not a bad idea, in the circumstances.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to focus on what we saw in practice. The Committee has tried to make it its business to get out and look at what happens in practice and what works. I commend the reports of our public evidence sessions and our future report on probation, which I hope will be as valuable in its own way as I think the report is that we are considering today.
Of course, we know what happens in the United States. When the federal Government want to do things, they offer money to states to do them. They do not have the power to make them, so they offer them money. They can use the grants system under the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Act 2009 to support or persuade state and local governments to analyse criminal justice trends to find out what is driving the growth in their local jail and prison populations; to develop tailored policy options to reduce corrections expenditure and increase the effectiveness of current programmes to make communities safer; and to measure the impact of those changes and develop accountability measures.
We found evidence of the potential for geographically targeted local initiatives to reduce expenditure if such partnerships and the agencies that make them up, including probation trusts, are free to use resources more flexibly. That is in line with the Government’s emphasis on localism and the withdrawal of ring-fencing from local government. The first reaction of some people involved in the services is horror that a ring-fenced grant might now be used by the local authority for some purpose other than that for which it was originally introduced, but unless we give agencies, including local government, some freedom to move money around between different projects, innovative policies will not be developed. In this area, if agencies can work together and move money around a bit to where it is most effectively used, we can make progress.
We talked about needing to get in early. The Government made announcements yesterday in relation to school funding and pre-school education for disadvantaged children. That is a crucial area. Not just the criminal justice system but many other parts of our system are crucial in determining whether some youngsters get involved in crime. Giving youngsters a better start is a key way of reducing the likelihood of their being drawn into criminality. The concept of justice reinvestment includes the concept of early intervention. The child who has to be excluded from school has stepped on to the escalator that can lead to repeat offending and regular imprisonment in the future, so such initiatives are very relevant to justice reinvestment.
However, there is a risk that the financial climate will threaten existing initiatives that are proving promising. There is the Diamond initiative. I am trying to remember whether Sapphire and Diamond are the same scheme or two different ones, but obviously jewels are thought a good way of illustrating the fact that these are very valuable initiatives.
So we are talking about the same one. The Diamond initiative is delivered jointly by the Metropolitan police, local authorities and the London Probation Trust. Built on the principle of justice reinvestment, it has reoffending rates of 28% within six months of release from custody. That compares favourably with the 43% figure for those who have not received that intensive support and monitoring.
However, under the previous Government, there was a decline in crime reduction funding through local area agreements to local community safety partnerships. Those intensive options require partnership commitment and resources, which may be less readily available following yesterday’s comprehensive spending review. I am anxious to hear what the Minister can say by way of reassurance on that. Until the Green Paper is published, it is unclear how the new Government will enable those partnerships to fulfil their statutory responsibility to reduce reoffending under the Policing and Crime Act 2009.
We proposed that if the Government could identify moneys that could be used to create a national justice reinvestment fund, there would be an incentive for local partnerships to think creatively about ways of reducing crime and the use of imprisonment, pooling resources at local level and spending money in geographically targeted areas using the results of justice mapping. That technique, which was pioneered in the US and has been tried out quite a lot in Gateshead, for example, measures local needs and the existing flow of resources to particular communities.
The Government’s aspiration to introduce payment by results draws on the experience of Kansas in implementing justice reinvestment approaches. It is not clear whether the Government will go about it in the same way, but some of the options that the Committee has been suggesting could be accommodated in the sort of programme that the Government are talking about. The national investment fund could be part of the big society bank, for example.
If the Government are to place greater emphasis on evidence-based, targeted approaches, determined at local level, means need to be found to provide practical support to local areas in analysing trends, devising new policies and programmes and measuring their impact. A cross-disciplinary centre of excellence, like the Social Care Institute for Excellence, could provide robust economic modelling of what is effective in reducing crime and inform the development of a national justice reinvestment plan. I hope that the Government consider that cross-departmental approach.
All of this has implications for sentences. There remains a great deal of geographical disparity in the consistency of sentencing, to which the Lord Chancellor drew attention in his King’s college speech. Youth courts in some parts of the country are up to 10 times more likely to impose custodial sentences for certain crimes than their counterparts elsewhere. That cannot be explained by social and demographic factors alone.
It is often said by the judiciary that the sentencing of individual offenders should not be driven by the availability or otherwise of resources. In practice, of course, it is, but that is usually because of the scarcity of suitable alternatives to custody in a given area. Prison is always there; alternatives are not always there. It is nevertheless necessary to find a way in which recognition of scarce resources is built into the sentencing process.
We are concerned that sentencing policy, and the Sentencing Council, does not address the need for sentencers to have regard to the available resources and the relative costs of their sentencing decisions. There are few other public servants who are not required to be accountable to the taxpayer in relation to the value delivered for the money that they spend. In order to have such regard, however, sentencers need data on the cost-effectiveness of their decisions and on the outcome of sentences. We have been surprised at how little information comes back to the judiciary about the overall impact of the sentences that they pass.
I spoke earlier about the media and about the public debate on sentencing. The public rightly see prison as a necessary means of dealing with extremely dangerous people who would be a threat to public safety were they not in custody but, in many cases, public safety is not the major issue. A custodial sentence and its length seem to have become the only means that the public and the media feel they have of asserting the seriousness of the offence. That is why we see so many headlines in the press saying, “Yobs only got six months,” or “Con man got less than a motoring offender.” The relative significance of crimes is measured by the sentence length. When the community or victims want to assert that they will not tolerate a crime, they look for a way of expressing that abhorrence, and a longer custodial sentence seems to serve that purpose, even if it is of little or no use in ensuring that the offender does not commit further crimes.
For offenders who do not need to be in custody, we need strong community sentences to be recognised as a punishment—not as a soft option. For some offenders they already are, but there is a media obsession with custody that is not justified by custody’s record in reducing reoffending. We are in a new situation, and there is a real chance to change things in a way that could reduce reoffending and make people safer from crime, at less cost.
In conclusion, we need to know three key things from the Minister. First, are Ministers ready to continue what the Lord Chancellor has started, by openly taking on the “prison works” argument and demonstrating that for many offenders custody is too costly and too ineffective to contribute as much to public safety as well-planned alternatives can? Secondly, how will a shift from the use of custody in appropriate cases be achieved, given that changes in sentencing principles will not work unless alternatives are widely available and the judges and the public are confident in them? Finally, and most important, how will Ministers prevent cuts in the Ministry of Justice budget from putting a roadblock in the way of the reforms that the Committee has advocated and to which the Government are now committed? What will be the impact of yesterday’s announcements on the ability of Ministers to deliver the policy shift that they have signalled? I hope that the Committee, in its work, has provided an underpinning of substance and intellectual coherence for what I see as a radical policy shift of real potential value to the safety of the people of this country. I am very interested to know whether the Government will be able to continue that initiative.
I have letters from seven people who are hoping to catch my eye during this debate, and I also want to give the Minister and the Front-Bench speakers plenty of time for considered response. I hope, therefore, that everyone will keep that timing in mind.
It is a pleasure to sit under your supervision today, Mrs Main, and I hope that I do not strain your patience too far.
I join the Chairman of the Committee, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), in paying tribute to all our colleagues across the four parties who were members of the Committee. I say four parties as an MP for the Co-operative party, which is the fourth-largest party in Parliament. We do have to remind everyone that we are here, some of the time. The partnership we are in is an open and honest pre-election one, which has lasted for many decades, and so it is worth drawing it to the attention of the House. I also join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the staff of the Committee—Fergus Reid and his team—and particularly to Gemma Buckland who gave enormous good service to the Committee by being good not only at producing evidence and thoughtful contributions, but at challenging members when we got a bit carried away, as we did on occasion.
I thoroughly enjoyed—if that is the right word—my three years on the Committee, and I pay tribute to the consensual way in which the Chairman sought to tackle some major issues. I have now gone on to try different pastures on the Home Affairs Committee, but the complementary nature of the agendas of those two Committees is something that we overlook at our peril. I am certain that the Justice Committee is safe in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman.
The point about justice reinvestment is that it is not an academic concept but a deeply practical one. It is not about being soft on crime—I underline the Committee Chairman’s comments in that regard—but about being effective. It was interesting to discover the clinical approach in the USA, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, which rather goes against the general image of how justice is dispensed on that continent.
There are two exemplary initiatives that the previous Government pursued—not without some challenges—and the right hon. Gentleman referred to them both. One was the previous Government’s success in reducing youth offending at the same time as reducing youth custody, and the second was dealing with women in the criminal justice system. The numbers involved in those two groups are lower than the overall prison population, but we should take very much to heart the lessons about what worked.
In his conclusion, the right hon. Gentleman offered three challenges to Ministers, including whether Ministers are ready openly to take on the “prison works” agenda. We could ask a wider question: is Parliament ready to take on the “prison works” agenda? To my mind, it is only if the consensus on the way forward that developed in the Select Committee is reflected across the Chamber that Ministers will have the authority to do that. I hope that we will provide that sort of supportive opposition in the coming years. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman was certainly right to say that there is a big challenge to ensure that the alternatives are available, and I shall come back to that in a moment. Thirdly, the really big challenge is ensuring that the cuts do not put a roadblock in the way of applying common sense to how we deal with criminal activity.
I want to focus on a small number of points. The first is the use of methodology in analysing crime, to find ways to prevent it. Crime mapping and the methodology of analysing crime has not been applied with the consistency that we might desire. Crime reduction partnerships have been a success, but the methodology has not been driven consistently at every level. The right hon. Gentleman referred to Jonathan Shepherd, who made the point that
“more imaginative use could be made of existing local data without extra cost, if it is collated by the partner agency electronically, anonymised”—
as has happened with health information in Cardiff—
“and passed on to someone with the capacity to analyse it.”
Since that was stated in the report, an appointment has been made jointly by the police and the health authority, so that data could be analysed properly and productively, without having to be transferred. It is striking that not only did the initial work of analysing data lead to steps that helped to reduce crime, but progressively it has been possible to drive crime down further and further.
The implication of some of the evidence that we received was that the skills of mapping and analysing crime are bedded in within the police, but not within other agencies. I rather suspect that there is a difference in methodology, in that local authorities are probably better at doing the longer-term mapping and projections and the police are rather better at taking the incident and asking, “What does this tell us that we ought to be doing today or tomorrow?” Ideally, the combination of that immediacy and that longer-term mapping ought to be a virtuous one, but I rather suspect that some of the time they rub up against each other and that that is one reason why the approach is not as effective as it should be. The approaches should complement each other, and it seems that they do in places such as Manchester and Liverpool. Where the partnership works it is immensely powerful, as the Home Affairs Committee heard from representatives speaking on behalf of the Local Government Association on Tuesday, primarily in relation to Liverpool and Merseyside.
The right hon. Gentleman rightly suggested that I might refer to Jonathan Shepherd’s work, and I want to say why I think that that work is so important. Professor Shepherd came to see me at a surgery about 15 years ago. He said that, as a surgeon, he had discovered that he had, in effect, two in-trays. One was for those who had been injured in car accidents and the other was for those who had been injured in violent offences. He was struck by the fact that the in-tray for car accidents was getting smaller year on year, while the in-tray for incidents of violence was getting bigger, and he wondered why that was. Could it be that science and engineering skills are being applied to understanding motoring injuries, leading to developments such as air bags, seat belts and improved tyres and brakes, but that we are not applying the same skills of analysis to crimes of violence and driving policy forward logically?
The answer came when Cardiff’s new crime reduction partnership tried an experiment. Professor Shepherd supplied a nurse scientist, the local authority supplied a victim support worker and the police supplied a police officer. All the incidents that resulted in people going into hospital were properly analysed. Two things came out of that. First, we thought that the statistics would be pushed up, because many offences were not being reported. In fact, that did not happen. The gain was fairly immediate. Secondly, we thought that the experiment would confirm what we already knew, which was that offending was by and large random across the city centre, but it did not. Instead, it proved that a couple of small locations and one large one accounted for a totally disproportionate number of the injuries that led to people putting a burden of cost, time and effort on the national health service. The benefits of the partnership’s work were enormous in terms of reducing victimisation and the number of people who needed to be taken to court, with the consequences that that has for prison numbers.
We need to return to the methodology put in place in the crime reduction partnerships in the first instance. If that methodology is applied consistently, with requirements being centrally driven, but actions and decision making being local, we will have the best of both worlds. The methodology involved analysing crime and disorder; including the public’s view, as well as police statistics, in analysis; setting priorities; developing a joint strategy that is clinically precise in targeting identified problems—there are a few words there that need unpacking fairly carefully if we are to understand their true significance; setting targets that are jointly measured; undertaking annual evaluation and recalibration; and returning after three years to renew the audit and the strategy so that the link between the facts, the community and the strategy is renewed.
The benefits are local targets and clear understanding. In that way, we have success at a local level driving national success, instead of targets being set under a more top-down system. Generally, the approach that I have described has been a success story, but immense benefits could be gained if the methodology were emphasised more clinically.
As a new member of the Justice Committee, may I say what an absolute pleasure it is to listen to former members, who did so much incredibly good work in the report, revisiting these issues and making an impassioned case for similar pieces of analysis to be carried out in the future? I wholeheartedly support that view. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree, however, that the one piece missing from the list of valuable items that he gave us is accountability? Before the election, I was lucky enough to be involved in work on the Conservative party policy on the rehabilitation revolution. One thing that really struck me—
It is not an individual who needs to be accountable, but the system. The way to ensure that that happens is to have the facts out in the open. It is tragic that, 12 years on, I still cannot get proper local analysis and information on trends in wards in my constituency. I know that the police are analysing the information they get and using it to inform their activity, and I know that the local authority and the police are working in partnership and sharing information, but it is not out there for individual members of the community. This is not about one individual—it does not matter whether they are an elected mayor, the chief executive of a local authority, a chief constable or whatever. Anything that depends on just one individual is doomed to failure; indeed, if I may say so, anything that depends even on one Minister is of limited value. It is a question of having transparency so that there can be proper accountability. To that extent, I agree with the hon. Lady. I am very much describing a system that allows proper accountability and transparency.
I referred to the work of Professor Shepherd in Cardiff because many lessons have been learned from it, but the real lessons—about applying a proper methodology and having transparency—have not been learned adequately or transferred to other bodies. Targeted policing has reduced licensed premises and street violence, as well as reducing violence-related A and E attendance in Cardiff by 40% since 2002. That is a 40% reduction in the number of people going over the A and E threshold for treatment. That is a much more effective measure than any of the general police or criminal justice measurements. That endorses some of the evidence from the British crime survey.
There is a second big point that I want to make. One reason why there is a muddle is that we are still not totally clear about the purpose of the criminal justice system. We need to be much clearer that it has a single purpose, which is consistent with what the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice said in recent evidence to the Home Affairs Committee and with what Sir Robert Peel said when he gave his reasons for establishing the police service: the criminal justice system is meant to prevent offending and reoffending. If every agency focused on its contribution to that objective, rather than intermediate objectives, we would reach the point we all want to reach, with fewer people becoming victims.
I mention victims because we keep talking about their interests, and it is right to do so, but let us be clear about what we mean by that. I have been enormously struck by the clarity that has been offered on more than one occasion by Victim Support, which has said that what victims want, other than not to become victims of an offence in the first place, is to know that they will not become victims again. They want to know that something has been done about the activity that led to their becoming victims so that such things are less likely to happen in future.
One positive development in recent months has been the establishment of the Sentencing Council, which I welcome. I sat on the Committee that dealt with the legislation that introduced it. We should go a stage further by being much more precise about the council’s purpose, and I tabled amendments at the time that I would have liked to make to the legislation. The council’s purpose should be to analyse what works so that when sentencers take their decisions, they are fully cognisant of the likely impact on lessening the likelihood of further offences.
The report specifically refers to these issues. The Committee says:
“We believe that the role of the Sentencing Council should be to ensure that sentencing practice succeeds in reducing offending and re-offending.”
We talk about the need for the council to be
“well-resourced to enable it to perform its research function.”
We mention the time that it has taken for data to be adequate to inform decision making. We ask for the council to be told to
“consider how sentencers can be given a better understanding of what works in terms of reducing offending and re-offending”.
Ensuring that judges and magistrates understand the implications and likely effects of their sentences would help the whole criminal justice system and be very much in Ministers’ interests. I could develop that point, but it is fairly clear and simple, and the report’s recommendations are clearly set out.
The right hon. Gentleman is right about the paucity of information that is available for sentencers. It is worrying that we rely on the public spiritedness, intelligence and inquisitiveness of judges and magistrates to determine the problems in their localities and reflect them in local sentencing, but there is no system to give them access to proper objective evidence and information. I am grateful that the right hon. Gentleman has highlighted that point.
We went through a period when sentencers were almost discouraged from going to see what was happening. In my time on the bench, which was quite a long time ago, I used to spend time, particularly with respect to youth justice, going to see where we were sending people. That included community as well as custodial disposals. It was invaluable. Under the previous Government, we moved back to encouraging sentencers to engage in an understanding of the places where people were to go. However, it is clear from work done by charities that more could be done, and that not enough is known, particularly by judges, who have a disproportionate influence, through the training programme, on the decisions of magistrates. They set the tone. A lot needs to be done in that area.
Incidentally, the issue of purpose arose elsewhere. The Committee also undertook an inquiry into the role of the prison officer, which overlapped with the later stages of the justice reinvestment work, and I want to draw attention to one of our conclusions:
“The aim of imprisonment should be to reduce re-offending, while treating prisoners with humanity and keeping them appropriately secure.”
That clarity of purpose should be reflected in the aims and objectives of the prison service, and in the way in which its activities are measured. If lots of other things are used as measures they get in the way of that overall objective.
It is important for us to mainstream the objective of reducing crime and reoffending. In the report on justice reinvestment we said:
“We are concerned that there has been low take-up of crime-related indicators in local areas and we believe that local strategic partnerships should better reflect the priority given to crime as a matter of public concern both nationally and locally.”
That is something that local MPs and councillors have, in my experience, always considered important, because it is important to their constituents. Therefore it is not impossible, if the information and data are adequate, to achieve coherence. There is a need for coherence across several Departments—we refer in the report to the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and others—to ensure the most appropriate allocation of resources to reduce crime. The report states:
“A considerable amount of management information about offenders is held locally by prisons, probation areas and other providers which, if captured centrally, would provide a wealth of material to support the case for cross-departmental reform.”
The idea that reform should be cross-departmental is important, because most of the resources that affect offending, for good or ill—the resources that, if applied in the right way, lead to a reduction in reoffending, or, if not properly applied, lead to a likely increase—lie outside the criminal justice system. That, too, is highlighted in the report.
One of the things that worries me most at present is the decision made in rather too much of a rush by the incoming Government to cut the support for, and the pledge to, unemployed young people. I do not say that just to be oppositional. I came into national politics because I worked with unemployed young people and saw their hopelessness. It was what led me to decide we needed to change things nationally. That is going back to the 1980s. I believe that the end of the pledge was foolish and short-sighted, but, more to the point, in relation to the criminal justice system, it may turn out to be a very expensive step. It was meant to save money, but I believe it will prove expensive. The drivers of offending and reoffending, or the things that can reduce them, are education or the lack of qualifications, basic skills and employment-related skills; drug rehabilitation or its inadequacy; mental health—we know that mental health problems are the trigger for the activities of many people who end up in prison; and housing. Those are the four drivers of the apocalypse of reoffending, so to speak. There is a need somehow to connect those four areas of provision and efforts to reduce reoffending.
If I were to include a fifth element it would be relationships. We underestimate the extent to which relationships or their lack, or failure, drive offending and reoffending. There is a connection between those things and the other four drivers. I suggest that, for instance—and this came out in the report on prisons—trying to turn prisons into learning establishments where prison officers and prisoners share the sense of the importance of learning opportunities would make an enormous difference. I heard on the “Today” programme a couple of weeks ago a reference to a protest in America, where local people objected to the fact that prisoners were being given greater educational opportunities than prison officers. The result was that educational provision for the prisoners was reduced. The obvious thing would have been to increase the educational opportunity for prison officers and turn that into a shared preoccupation. I have certainly come across prison officers with a passion for education and a wish for learning, who care about what they are doing. I suggest that that approach would make a great difference.
My other particular concern at present is last week’s announcement of the ending of the Youth Justice Board. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that he hoped its work would continue elsewhere. He acknowledged that the work of the youth offending teams, bringing the different professions together in tackling youth offending, has been quite successful. My worry is about the fact that the expertise on youth offending and what can work in tackling it does not lie in Departments. It is not the sort of thing that civil servants do well. They are good on policy development, and so on, but from ministerial experience, I would say they do not have the professional expertise that the Youth Justice Board provided in support of the youth offending teams. We need that expertise somehow to be reinstituted, or the Minister may find that the effectiveness of work with young offenders starts to move backwards.
Justice reinvestment is not about massively increasing the resources that we put into the criminal justice system. Indeed, it is potentially about reducing them by using the available resources in a much more targeted and effective way. It is therefore an approach that should be attractive to the Government, just as it provoked a positive response from the previous Government. Does that mean that we have a boring consensus across party lines? No, I think that we had a very exciting convergence of views in the Select Committee, driven by the evidence rather than by the media. That is in the public interest, for three reasons: first, it is in the interest of good administration and governance; secondly, it makes the best use of available resources and stops demand for them getting out of hand—and we have seen how great the risk is, under successive Governments, of the demand for prison resources in particular getting out of hand; and thirdly, it delivers on the victim-centred agenda of reducing the likelihood that people will become victims a second or third time.
The Justice Committee’s report is the product of remarkable consensus among Members of Parliament in the four main parties. The members of the Committee put in a considerable amount of time. That was true not only of the Chairman but also, on the Conservative side, the new Chairman of the Treasury Committee—there should be an ally there—the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), and on the Labour Benches myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). When we came to the writing of the report we expected we would be up against it. We expected a degree of cross-party controversy. However, perhaps it says something about the quality of the evidence and about the considerable investment of time in the inquiry over two years, as the Chairman of the Committee said, that we found ourselves in passionate agreement at the end.
I revert to comments by Professor Jonathan Shepherd, cited in paragraph 309 of the report, who
“advocated offender management schools and institutes in research intensive universities, similar to the police school model, and argued that such institutions can be cost-neutral.”
In analysing crime—what causes crime and what can drive it down—methodology is absolutely crucial. That is central, as well as a proper understanding of the actual experience of crime at a local level. The way forward is to put correct methodology at the centre, then trusting people to apply it locally, understanding the needs of their community and communicating those needs and the methods with which they are approaching them. That is precisely the approach to transparency and accountability that the hon. Member for Devizes (Claire Perry) asked me to underline. The justice reinvestment report offers an agenda that it would be wise for Government and Opposition to support in the coming months and years.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this timely debate, bearing in mind not only yesterday’s announcement but the ongoing nature of the debate on an important area of public policy.
The judiciary have had strong views about this area of public policy for a number of months, if not years. It is no secret that for some time prison governors had expressed their concerns about what they regarded as the overuse of short-term prison sentences, namely those of 12 months or less, because they are ineffective in managing offenders in the prison estate and at dealing with the all-important statistic of reoffending within six months of release from sentence. That is where the public interest lies, which is what I was delighted to hear other speakers, such as the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), Chair of the Committee on which I now serve, emphasising. The public rightly demand protection, certainty and reassurance that the system is doing everything that it can to manage out reoffending.
We are moving away from talking about targets and more towards talking about outcomes, but no matter which word is used, the reoffending figures are where it is at. The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) got it almost right with his reference to the Diamond project—he was with me at an interesting session a couple of weeks ago. The preliminary evidence from the Diamond project is dramatic—“preliminary” was stressed, because the work is ongoing, with the pilot due to end in March next year. Figures of 28% reoffending are extraordinary, bearing in mind the depressing litany of statistics with which we all are familiar. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the Lord Chancellor for having brought into the full glare of publicity the concerns of the judiciary, prison governors and everyone—such as me until my election—who is heavily involved in the criminal justice system.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth is absolutely right: there needs to be a consensus, even at the risk of that being dull. I would go further than him and say that the old debates about toughness and softness, which have plagued the issue since about the mid-1990s, have really had their day. Instead we should be talking about whether we are being smart on crime or stupid—dumb, if preferred—on crime. That is where the debate should be, where the battle lines should be drawn and what we need to be focusing on.
I was not a member of the previous Committee, which produced the report, but I have read its recommendations and the Government response carefully. The Government response, although I accept that the current Minister is not responsible for those utterances—I am sure he is glad that I remind the Chamber of that—represented a missed opportunity. The report was from a Committee of the House that included senior Members and former Ministers, such as the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth, who could use not only their experience in office but their experience of many years in the House and in their constituencies.
However, I am delighted that Cardiff was mentioned, because I practised for many years as a member of the Bar in that city, in the Crown court, and know intimately the problems and challenges facing the constituents of the right hon. Gentleman and others.
I was disappointed that, instead of a frank owning up to some of the deficiencies in the system, we had an over-defensive approach in the Government response.
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend, whose constituency of South Swindon is next door to mine, for giving way.
There is so much evidence of interesting, innovative programmes, which we have discussed in Committee. Is my hon. Friend aware of the Vision Housing project in London, which aims to house ex-offenders and which is delivering the most extraordinary reduction in reoffending by providing one of the very things mentioned by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael)—stable housing upon release for ex-offenders? What is the opinion of my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon as to why, with all this evidence for and cross-party commitment to making changes in the system, we still seem to be stuck in an old model with the National Offender Management Service and the Prison Service? We are not prepared to embrace the innovation that we all see out there every day.
My hon. Friend hit on an important point about NOMS. While we welcome the dedicated and hard work of members of NOMS, some of us wonder whether the synthesis between dealing with offenders in the prison estate and offenders in the community was ever achieved by NOMS. That was one of its purposes. It was to look in an overarching way at the whole system, and to provide some synthesis which, frankly, has not happened.
Tempting as it is to lament the rise and fall of various quangos—some speakers referred to this but, with respect to them, that misses the point—their best point, which the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth mentioned, is that we must not lose the expertise and knowledge of the people who worked so hard within those bodies. The Minister, I am sure, has taken that point very much on board in the case of the Youth Justice Board.
I make the point now, I hope clearly, that we must remember that youth justice ought to be treated in a discrete, separate way. It is not appropriate to meld the system of youth justice in with that of adult justice. They are two different beasts, which require two different approaches, and we must not forget that. At the same time, the issue of transition between the youth justice system and the adult system can be difficult—practically, for sentences, in terms of the gymnastics that they have to go through in remembering which particular regime fits what. My point is that the public interest is best served, when it comes to young offenders, by the sort of focused, early-intervention approach that I know everyone in the Chamber and in the wider community supports.
My point is about the public interest and how it is best served. I have talked about reoffending rates, but will now look in some detail at the part of the report that dealt with confidence in community sentences. That has been the issue about which politicians have danced for many years. They have worried about weak community sentences being poorly monitored and implemented, resulting in higher rates of reoffending.
The question of confidence is key here, but how do we achieve that? We have already been shown several important pointers, such as the Diamond project. The right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed referred to the issue, but it is important that we reiterate it. Community sentences will fail if they are not properly policed, and they will be ineffective if they are not adequately monitored. There are some good examples of community sentences that work. For example, the drug rehabilitation requirement sentence, which is a high-intensity sentence, involves a regular review—it can be monthly or it can be held at less frequent intervals—by a Crown court judge or magistrate. Under such regimes, judges will see defendants on a regular basis and open up a dialogue with them. They will challenge the defendant if the requirement is not being met and assist them if a particular issue needs to be addressed, such as non-compliance because of work restrictions or requirements or problems with a methadone prescription if the defendant has been convicted of possessing or supplying a controlled drug. Such sentences are having a really positive impact on not only the individuals themselves but the communities in which they live.
The power to review sentences regularly already exists in section 178 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Government, in their response to the Committee, referred to their piloting of the use of section 178 in a range of different orders. I am interested to know—I will forgive the Minister if he does not have an answer today—the results of that pilot. I want to know the extent of it and the different types of orders that were used. It seems that if we give judges more involvement in the policing of community sentences, it will have a greater impact on the offender and go a long way towards promoting confidence in our sentencing regime.
The Diamond project used a range of mechanisms to enforce compliance with the order. Police officers or community support officers regularly knock on the doors of the homes of offenders to ensure that they attend the community project. We were looking at unpaid work in Lambeth the other day. We discussed how the scheme worked and we met offenders and former offenders who were working in the project. The input of former offenders—the euphemism nowadays is service users, which is relevant in this context—was vital, because they had gone through the system, come out successfully and were not reoffending. They were, I suppose, setting an example to those on the current order who, at times, were having difficulties or issues. It was wonderful to see people of experience assisting those who were on the order.
We spoke to some of those on the unpaid work scheme. Most of them understood the purpose of the order. They knew that it was not just about them and their rehabilitation but about their punishment. One gentleman I spoke to—I will not quote him out of court—did not quite get that point. It is important to hold such conversations because it helps us to understand the nature of punishment in our society.
For many years, the role of punishment in the criminal justice system has been hotly debated. Many protagonists say that punishment has no role in the criminal justice system, but, with respect, they entirely misunderstand where we are with punishment now. Their view of punishment comes from the 19th century, and we have moved on a long way since then. Punishment encapsulates not just custody and loss of liberty but a range of approaches that can be taken within the community. The example I would give is the one alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed when he mentioned one of the witnesses who gave evidence before the Justice Select Committee last week. The witness talked about her wish to be challenged by probation officers. Challenging people’s behaviour and facing up to them is a modern form of punishment. I am talking not about having a cuddly cup of tea but about saying, “Look, what you are doing is wrong. The way you are behaving is inappropriate. What are you going to do about it?” That is challenging the individual to face up to what they have done, to understand why they did it and to move on to be a better citizen.
It is wholly artificial to divide punishment from rehabilitation and public protection. The truth is that they all elide to. In many ways, getting the punishment right will ensure that the offender is rehabilitated and the public are protected.
I come back now to the point that I made at the beginning of my address, which is that the public interest is best served by a system that results in a lower rate of reoffending. That is why justice reinvestment is common sense. It not only saves the Exchequer massive amounts of revenue and protects the public but makes better citizens of those people who end up in the system.
The right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth made a vital point about access to information about local rates of offending, where the hotspots are and what the problems are. It is vital that sentencers—the judiciary and lay magistracy—have full access to the hard facts, because it will help them reflect local sentencing priorities. I am not saying that Cardiff has a particular problem. In fact, it is very well managed by Jonathan Shepherd, the University Hospital of Wales and the local police. There are other parts of the world in which crimes of violence are still a huge problem. The public of those particular towns or cities demand, quite rightly, that sentences be passed to reflect those problems.
Although I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says, there is another side to the coin. If people see the correct trends—what is actually happening—that can inspire more confidence, too. For example, St Mellons had very high burglary levels at one period. Much was done and there was a massive drop. If we hear that there has been a slight incremental rise in the area, and we look at it against a 10 or 15-year perspective, we see that it is only a slight ripple rather than a major increase. It is just as important to give the good news to local communities as it is to identify hotspots.
Absolutely. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting the matter in context. I have been talking about the end result—clearing up the spilled milk—but a lot of the targeting work is all about intervention to manage out the problem. That is a very important point here. A lot of the work that the Committee did was about not just looking at the end result of sentencing but intervening at an earlier stage to get it right and to avoid having to rely on a criminal justice system that does not always deal with problems appropriately, particularly when it comes to young offenders. The restorative justice concept is a prime example of the alternative approach.
I will end by reminding the Minister of the meeting that we had some weeks ago in Birmingham with key players in mental health. It was a very productive round-table discussion, hosted by the National Centre for Mental Health. We were lucky to be joined by senior consultant forensic psychiatrists and the mother of a young man who, as a result of serious drug problems, ended up with a mental health problem and was treated inappropriately by the criminal justice system.
I make this plea—I hope that the Minister will forgive me for making it because he has heard it from me before, but I make no apology for that—that we must get the diversionary therapies and methods absolutely right when it comes to mental health, not only in the Crown court and the magistrates court, in terms of making it easier for sentencers to pass mental health treatment conditions as part of a community order, but at the police station too. That means ensuring that if a desk sergeant or even a duty solicitor or any person who comes into contact with an arrested person, an accused person or a suspect is able to have recourse to community psychiatric nursing help—[Interruption.] I do not know if the person who is in charge of the amplification system wanted me to make that point more clearly. [Laughter.] However, I am happy that it has been amplified and made more clearly.
The intervention of community psychiatric nursing at that level and the professional input of mental health services will go a long way to ensuring that people who have genuine mental health problems end up being treated appropriately rather than in a criminal justice system that far too often fails them, resulting in inappropriate prison sentences being imposed and in the alarming statistics that we are all depressingly familiar with regarding the number of people in our prisons who have mental health conditions.
At the top end of the scale, I would argue that the Mental Health Act provides very important and valuable services for those people with acute mental health problems. However, it is more towards the middle and the bottom end of the scale that the system is, I am afraid, quite simply deficient.
It is very much a question of commissioning. The Minister will agree with me that collaborative work with the Department of Health is essential if we are to get the mental health services that we need. So I urge him to do all he can as a member of the new Government to ensure that, by the time we get to the new commissioning regime next year, mental health services are at the top of the list when it comes to new provision.
On that note, I conclude my remarks, Mrs Main, and I am very grateful to you.
Order. Before I call the next speaker, I want to say that we are having the sound issues tackled. I also want to say that I will call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson at 4.50 pm, followed by the Minister. Can those Members who wish to speak before then be mindful of that?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) who, like me, is a new member of the Justice Committee. I was not a member of the Committee that produced this very important report and I congratulate everyone involved in it, including the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) who, as well as being the Chairman of the present Committee, was the Chairman of the Committee that produced the report.
The report is a very thought-provoking piece of work and a very useful contribution to the discussions about criminal justice that we inevitably have in this place—and obviously we should be having those debates. [Interruption.]
According to a Ministry of Justice letter leaked last Friday, 14,000 MOJ jobs will be lost, 11,000 of them from the front line. If we are to believe the letter, 60% of those reductions must be made within the next two years. The cost of the redundancy drive will reportedly reach £230 million. Although 85% of that reduction is estimated to be voluntary, it will no doubt be as voluntary as walking the plank.
Meanwhile, 50% of the redundancies are expected to be achieved through natural wastage. Where exactly do we expect those workers to go? The National Offender Management Service will lose 9,940 jobs: 760 from its headquarters and the rest, presumably, from the prison and probation services. Delivery of restorative justice seems like pie in the sky when we consider the bleak road ahead. By March 2014, the justice budget will be cut by 23%, which seems to undermine once again the opportunity for justice reinvestment.
We hear that in the face of those cuts, the Ministry of Justice also wants to cut prison places. The Ministry’s aim is to reduce receptions into custody by 18,000 a year by 2014—indeed, the package of cuts is predicated on a reduction in the number of prisoners—but how can that be achieved? I am afraid that it is more likely that the cuts will lead to an increase in the number of prisoners, especially when slashes in staff numbers are combined with cuts to courts, prosecutors and clerks. The same number of prisoners will be held on remand, but probably for longer.
The premise of the cuts is therefore flawed, and the cuts may well undermine the worthy and proper notion of justice reinvestment. Equally, there are logistical problems with the time scale, as the cuts are expected to come into play by 2014. I spoke yesterday to Mr Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers; I see a wry smile on the Minister’s face. I have no doubt that the Ministry of Justice expects that the new infrastructure will be put in place by 2014, but NAPO’s opinion is that it will take at least five years to be anywhere near ready. However, that is a matter of debate. The time scale for the cuts is not practicable and risks undermining and damaging our justice system.
We also hear that a large proportion of rehabilitation work will be outsourced to voluntary and private organisations on the basis of payment by results. Where exactly are those volunteers meant to come from? Magistrates courts committees have complained that court orders cannot be made out to private companies. I think that that is true. What would happen in the event of conflicts of interest? On Tuesday, I met Mr John Thornhill and other representatives of the Magistrates Association. If short-term prison sentences are to be avoided, they are concerned that personnel will not be found to oversee defendants.
Although I agree that the Lord Chancellor is right to attempt to avoid the overuse of short prison sentences, that cannot be done without a substantial direct investment in the probation service. When I first qualified as a lawyer in the early 1970s, the local town of Dolgellau had three probation officers. We now have one for half the county. Need I say more? Furthermore, as I said to the Lord Chancellor in a recent sitting of the Justice Committee, the private concerns that receive payment by results will inevitably be profit-driven. They will not want the awkward recidivist cases, that is for sure. That is where I believe probation officers’ skills should come into play.
I understand that many departmental settlements were finalised only a few hours before the announcement of the spending review yesterday. How can we discuss justice reinvestment properly, even in theory, when community reinvestment is being cut? We are expected to set up a private system that we do not agree with, which will take years, while cutting back on probation staff. I am afraid that those drastic cuts have not been properly thought through. As was said earlier, this might be an opportunity missed.
In its report, the Justice Committee presented the case for various essential reforms, which now seem further away than ever. The report tasked the Government with committing to a significant reduction in the prison population by 2015. That is the reduction on which the cuts are predicated, yet ironically, the cuts render such a reduction less practicable. Following on from the Corston report in 2007, the Committee report also tasked the Government with implementing Baroness Corston’s recommendations on reducing the number of female prisoners. A reduction in the number of prisoners whose crimes were driven by mental illness is also overdue. The CSR mentioned those goals, notably in pledging to introduce proposals to invest in mental health liaison services at police stations and courts in order to intervene at an early stage and divert those suffering from a mental illness into treatment. That is welcome, but will the Minister expand on it? Will related pledges to target the causes of female incarceration be honoured?
The Committee report warned that spending more on rehabilitation will not work while the prison estate is overcrowded. How timely that warning now seems. We cannot expect the criminal justice system simply to work out its problems by itself. Time and investment are needed to reform how the sector functions. As I have said, we cannot merely expect the number of prisoners to decrease as if by magic while cutting staff numbers across the piece.
The report noted that a coherent strategy must be developed by the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and other Departments to target the allocation of resources and reduce crime. I agree, of course. Targeting the causes of crime is essential to reducing the number of people in prison. We must build on and improve the community sentencing structures already in place and seek the advice of probation staff who know the area thoroughly and professionally.
For too long, probation officers have been undermined and marginalised in the NOMS set-up. Instead of making cuts and outsourcing to voluntary organisations, we should focus on improving the probation service that we know and respect by reducing the paperwork that probation officers must do and increasing the time that they spend with offenders. Currently, probation officers spend an average of eight minutes a week speaking to people under their orders. That is ridiculous. What can be done in eight minutes a week? I have no idea.
I have a suggestion. It might be radical, but I have seen it in practice. A few weeks ago, I went to Buffalo, New York, which has a veterans court. Veterans who have offended are referred to the court and come under the watchful eye of Judge Russell. Typically, they have committed high-grade misdemeanours or low-grade felonies and are facing perhaps 18 months in prison. They are given the opportunity to attend the veterans court. If they take it, they are assigned a probation officer and, crucially, an ex-service mentor. For 18 months or less—it is sometimes 15 months or in very rare cases 12 months—they are expected to go to court every three weeks to explain how they are getting on. They are drug tested every fortnight and if they are clean and sober—to use the words they use in the States—at the completion of the course, they graduate. They are given a glowing character reference and any reference to the offences is scrapped. If they are not already in work, they are given work, and they are treated with respect for how they have handled themselves during those months.
I was absolutely struck by the whole thing. I went to the States thinking, as a lawyer, that everyone should be equal before the law and questioning why veterans should have a different course of action—although I have been campaigning for them and will continue to do so for those veterans who unfortunately are in prison, often for reasons beyond their control. The scheme is predicated on having a volunteer mentor who is an ex-serviceperson and a probation officer—or the American version of that—who can put in the necessary time to deal with the offender.
I have just mentioned the result of that scheme to hon. Members. May I tell them what the reoffending rate is? Courts at the federal level are looking at that district court because of its success. For the past three years, the reoffending rate has been 0%. If that is not something to consider, I do not know what is. I submit that the scheme could be adapted to what we are talking about today. It does not have to be a veterans court; it could be any other form of court. The scheme is labour intensive, but if we weigh up the savings to society, the taxpayer and everyone—and indeed to the individual who has his or her life turned around and is back in the mainstream—it is remarkable and worthy of study.
Is the hon. Gentleman familiar with the work of Alan Lilly of the Cheshire probation service? I saw him last week in Cheshire—he is a friend of mine and we served together—as I am interested in the work he is doing there on a veterans scheme. I am particularly interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the American experience. We will try to draw those two experiences together.
I am grateful to the Minister for that very positive response. I shall send him a booklet—if one exists—about the scheme. I know Mr Lilly; I serve on a committee with him. Indeed, under the auspices of the Howard League for Penal Reform, I went to the States as a member of a panel and am due to report to the Government. I am happy to send the evidence to the Minister, because it is remarkable and worthy of thorough investigation.
As I said, I went to the States with a preconception that I would not approve of the veterans court. However, other courts refer to that court as a means of disposal. Other courts deal with ex-service people who have committed such offences, and if they think that the person concerned would benefit from Judge Russell’s assistance, they are referred for disposal to the veterans court. In effect, it is not a twin-track system for any class of society, but it is a different disposal. The scheme is well worthy of examination.
The problem cited by the Minister is a lawyer’s problem, rather than a practical problem. There should not be too strict an adherence to the tariff as anything other than a starting point for sentencing. The tariff should be calibrated according to what will work in the particular set of circumstances, as well as according to the nature of the offences. That is a much more intelligent way of approaching these matters.
I realise that the right hon. Gentleman has a great deal of experience in the field of sentencing and I take on board what he says. I commend the set-up I have mentioned to everybody here today, because it is well worthy of examination and it could be adapted for use in England and Wales.
We also need to change the way in which we approach punishment, particularly in respect of less serious offences. The Committee wisely said:
“We are concerned that an unthinking acceptance has evolved of punishment—for its own sake—as the paramount purpose of sentencing, and as the only way of registering the seriousness with which society regards a crime.”
In my view, there is a one-eyed approach to the matter, which may be a product of tabloid mania over the issue. It is very difficult to have a reasonable and reasoned debate about the issue without being drowned out and dictated to by the unwelcome drum beat of the tabloid press. The key elements of sentencing have always been and still are: punishment, deterrence and rehabilitation. All three are vital to a humane and purposeful sentencing strategy. Sadly, at the moment, scant time is paid to rehabilitation, which is key if we are going to get away from the revolving door scenario, which plagues society, the taxpayer and all of us.
If we take a different line regarding justice, we must consider the proposals in the report, which suggests shifting resources towards rehabilitation services, not cutting them. It also suggests investing in what it calls “prehabilitation”—in other words, preventing more crimes from taking place. That would mean pouring extra resources into areas outside the criminal justice system. Social exclusion, low educational engagement, substance misuse, mental health problems, unemployment, the lack of social housing and other issues must all be tackled.
People who fall into the criminal justice system are often caught in a vicious cycle, particularly those incarcerated on short-term sentences. Evidence shows that people serving short-term sentences are far more likely to reoffend and that they do not learn anything from their experience in prison. A vicious cycle can be interrupted and can become a virtuous cycle. Improving preventive measures, such as effective investment in housing, employment and alcohol and drug services would reduce the burden on the Ministry of Justice’s purse. Such an approach would also involve local and central agencies proving that we can work together in a big society—or whatever the term might be.
Evidently, the impact of the spending review on these plans will be fundamental and possibly uncompromising. Reinvestment is simply not possible if there is no money to reinvest. How can we know where the money will be after 2014? Considering the negative swing we will see as an effect of the cuts to probation, clerks, court clerks and court services, the burden on the prison estate will only become greater by 2014. I hope that I am wrong, but the cuts have been rushed. They have not been properly thought through and the position has possibly been compromised because other Departments have been given preference—although I do not know whether that is the case. Such an approach is simply not going to work. I desperately hope I am wrong, because we all know that justice is essential to the well-being of our communities.
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): I have the fifteenth largest constituency in the country. It has approximately 85,000 adults, which is equivalent to the number of people who will be banged up tonight as part of the English and Welsh prison population—85,000 people is equivalent to the whole of one very large UK constituency. Such a situation is costing us a fortune. Half of all adults and almost three quarters of young people are reconvicted within one year of being released, and the National Audit Office estimates that reoffending by all recent ex-prisoners costs the taxpayer up to £13 billion a year. That is a huge amount. We ought to see the change in Government spending as an opportunity to get to grips with viewing the deprivation of liberty as a punishment and the purpose of prison as an opportunity for ensuring that people do not reoffend.
I want to make a couple of points. I am conscious that the more Poujadist elements in the press often attack the Secretary of State when he talks about a rehabilitation revolution, but he has made it clear that, unlike previous Governments, he will not release prisoners early by executive decision. Instead, we must ensure that our prison population shrinks through reduced reoffending.
Some in the media characterise my right hon. and learned Friend as being a soft touch, but someone who is certainly not a soft touch in that respect is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. I commend to Members the report, “Locked Up Potential”, produced by the Centre for Social Justice’s prison reform working group; I do not have time to quote from it at length, but it can be found at the centre’s website, www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk. My right hon. Friend states in that report that the fact that a well-developed country like the UK should be satisfied that two of every three released prisoners are returned to prison within two years is an indictment of public policy. The purpose of prison, he argues, should not just be incarceration, but ultimately reform. Sadly, that is something that the Prison Service does not do. Everyone pays as a result, through higher taxes, more crime and wasted opportunities to mend broken lives.
It is absolutely right that those who commit offences that deserve a prison sentence go to prison, but some work is needed on sentencing. For example, I recently appeared in the Court of Appeal to represent some men who had been convicted for an offence of riot and who certainly deserved to go to prison, but prison sentences are determined according to tariffs, and they received a sentence of six years. I cannot for the life of me see how society is better served by those men serving six years, rather than four. We have had to calibrate the seriousness of crime in years, so we have got into a situation in which the length of the prison term is often the only way in which the court can indicate the seriousness of an offence. If the Justice Secretary is to deal with the reform of sentencing, he must give some thought to the question of tariffs.
Whenever I visit Bullingdon prison in my constituency, I am struck by the fact that huge numbers of those serving sentences are functionally illiterate and/or suffering from drug or alcohol substance abuse. There seem to be two things that we desperately need to get to grips with in prison if we are to reduce reoffending. One is prisoners’ education. I commend to Members the submission by the Prisoners Education Trust to the all-party group on penal affairs, in which some sensible points are made. The submission states that
“many prisoners do want to learn, and…education in prison gives prisoners not just real achievements in terms of qualifications, but a hunger for learning that may be even more valuable in an economic climate in which jobs can no longer be guaranteed.”
The more prisoners who acquire skills and qualifications in prison, the better. That will require a complete rethinking of what happens in prison. Instead of being banged up for 22 or 23 hours a day, it would be far better if prisoners were in the classroom, learning skills and gaining qualifications. In the days of distance learning and IT, and with the ability to communicate and acquire qualifications over a period of time, that must surely be possible. It will mean that we will have to have a prison regime in which prisoners are not moved frequently, because it is frustrating when a prisoner must discontinue a course they have started because they are moved to another prison, and it is frustrating for governors and prison staff that prisons are overcrowded, because that makes it much more difficult to ensure that out-of-cell activity can take place. I say to the Minister that the whole test of whether we can successfully reduce reoffending is directly related to our ability to encourage projects such as the Toe by Toe literacy scheme, the Open University’s activities in prison, the ability of the Prisoners Education Trust to continue to deliver training in different subjects and at different levels and access to a range of specific courses at varying levels.
Also important to the acquisition of skills and qualifications in prisons is the opportunity for prisoners to work. Those of us in the House who are pretty gnarled know that it is rare for Ministers to receive any praise at all, so I was encouraged to read a letter from Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, rightly commending the Secretary of State for Justice and colleagues in the Ministry for his announcement that prisoners will be turned into taxpayers and enabled to work. Frances Crook observes that that
“will be a huge challenge to prisons that are currently offering only a handful of hours out of cell.”
She observes that the Government’s announcement that real work will be brought into prisons is one of the most important reforms in two centuries. Everyone will gain from prisoners being given work to do, and it will enable them to contribute to their families. For example, a birthday card for a son or daughter can cost £2, and until now prisoners have been unable to buy them with their meagre allowances. For the first time, prisoners will be able to support their families, which will help to keep families together and could even reduce the benefits bill for the taxpayer. Prisoners will contribute to the common good, which could have a phenomenal impact on reducing reoffending.
That proposal is commendable, and the more we can do to ensure that prisoners have the opportunity to work, the better. As the Howard League for Penal Reform observes, that would not necessarily undercut external employers, as one of the ways it could be done is to bring back operations that are currently outsourced overseas to the UK and carry them out in prisons.
There is considerable cross-party support for efforts to reduce reoffending, as the Committee report demonstrates and today’s debate makes clear. Ironically, the comprehensive spending review may now provide the catalyst to enable the Secretary of State to introduce the rehabilitation revolution that the prison system needs. I understand that he has today indicated that he hopes to reduce the daily prison population by 3,000 over the next four years. I suggest that that is a rather modest objective. I hope that, by reducing reoffending rates year on year, we can reduce the overall prison population more substantially and, in so doing, reduce the overall cost to taxpayers. Probation and community sentences will of course have a role in that, but a key part will be reducing reoffending by those already in prison. That will depend largely on giving them the skills, qualifications and incentives to work, getting them off drugs and making sure they are free of alcohol abuse. It will depend on supporting them when they leave prison and trying to ensure that they can lead decent lives thereafter. If that can happen, we can have a rehabilitation revolution.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) for securing the debate and allowing me, as a new member of the Justice Committee, an opportunity to speak.
The report talks about a crisis of sustainability. The previous Government expected the criminal justice system to find £1.3 billion of savings over three years. The report argues that such cuts would put the criminal justice system under increased pressure, a sentiment with which I am bound to agree. I am extremely concerned that the savings expected under the coalition Government are double that figure. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced yesterday that the Justice Department will have to shoulder the largest burden of the cuts: 6% over 5 years, which equates to £2.5 billion in the existing budget of £9.5 billion. The Lord Chancellor will have to make 14,000 of his staff redundant, including 10,000 prison and probation workers. A Ministry of Justice memo made it clear that
“the front line will bear the brunt”.
Such deep and savage cuts are not inevitable. The Labour Government accepted that efficiency savings had to be made, and cuts would have come.
This Department seems to be taking the brunt. A number of cuts had already been made, and many of my former colleagues in the legal profession believe that the system has been pushed too far. A Labour Government would have squeezed the system hard to make savings but they would never have taken the huge gamble with the justice system that this Government are about to take.
The Chancellor spoke yesterday about bringing the economy back from the brink. I believe that cuts of 30% to the Department will push some aspects of the system over the edge. Expecting volunteers to take up the slack and replace trained, accountable professionals such as probation officers is a gamble, and he is gambling with the safety of our communities. I am extremely concerned that the chairman of the Prison Officers Association has stated that as a result of the situation there will be
“dangerous people on the streets”.
However, we are where we are, and it is down to the Lord Chancellor, his colleagues and his team to wield the axe in the Department. I urge him to focus resources and to reinvest in key areas of the criminal justice system to deal with offending and reoffending, and to concentrate on the principle that prevention is better than cure. The Labour Government were initially tough on crime and the causes of crime but did not get everything right. They may have lost focus on tackling the causes of crime.
The report comments on many areas of reinvestment in the criminal justice system. The areas that I want to concentrate on did not feature heavily in the report, but I believe that they are key areas for reinvestment. Community-based services must be funded to prevent offenders from reoffending and returning to the criminal justice system. Unless services are properly funded, the prison population will continue to rise. We must focus on women in the prison system and those whose criminality is driven by mental illness and substance addiction. Local community projects and trained rehabilitation professionals must be given backing and the initial investment necessary to achieve success. Such initiatives will result in a reduction of the prison population and achieve long-term savings across the Department.
Women’s offending is different from men’s offending. In general, they pose less of a risk to the public. Only 36% of women in prison committed violent offences, compared with 55% of men, and female prisoners are more likely to have mental health problems. Many of those women need help in overcoming abuse, alcohol or drug problems, and many of them have dependent children. The impact on families and, therefore, communities if a mother goes to prison can be catastrophic. Prison damages the lives of vulnerable women, who are often incarcerated miles from their home and family. They lose their home, and their relationship with their children is damaged for ever. Prison should be reserved for the most violent offenders; for non-violent offenders, there are better options. By tackling the root cause of women’s offending behaviour, we will be better able to rehabilitate them.
Under the previous Labour Government, implementation of Baroness Corston’s report, which was championed by my hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), had begun to have an impact on reducing the number of women in prisons. The Corston review recommended a substantial reduction in the number of women in custody, and the creation of small custodial units to replace the existing women’s prison estate for those women who need to be in custody, alongside improved support services in the community for women offenders and women at risk of reoffending.
Investment in that part of the judicial system has come a long way since the Corston report, but we must not lose momentum or focus. We must build on the excellent work that has been done and continue to invest in community-based projects. Rehabilitating vulnerable women and keeping them away from a life of crime means that they can return to our communities and make a positive contribution to society. The previous Government made that a priority and appointed a Minister who was specifically responsible for it. It concerns me that this Government have not done so.
A high proportion of people in the criminal justice system—up to 90%—have some form of mental health problem. Most have common conditions, but one in 10 have a more severe condition such as psychosis, and about two thirds have a personality disorder. Lord Bradley suggested many ways to improve the treatment of people with mental health problems in the criminal justice system and to tackle their over-representation in prison. His report stated that offenders are rarely required to attend mental health treatment as part of a community sentence, and confirmed the need for a greater use of diversion, which is a process to ensure that people with mental health problems who enter the criminal justice system are identified and provided with appropriate mental health services, treatment and any other support that they need.
The focus should remain on diverting people with mental health problems from the criminal justice system to more appropriate services in the community. The process of diversion ensures that people with mental health problems who enter the criminal justice system are identified and, where appropriate, diverted away from the criminal justice system. Custody can exacerbate mental ill health, heighten vulnerability and increase the risk of self-harm and suicide. Although I recognise that diversion has been a priority for previous Governments, it has always lacked a nationally guided strategy. As a result, there are inconsistencies in the system. Given that the health service budget has been largely protected, I urge people in the Justice Department to speak to their colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that adequate funding is streamlined specifically for this service so that people with mental health problems who enter the judicial system can leave it.
I recognise the vital role for volunteers in our society—they play a crucial part—but they cannot take up the slack if the Department’s budget will be cut, as it seems clear it will be. I would ask the Lord Chancellor to direct reinvestment to full implementation of the Bradley report.
Substance addiction is extremely common among offenders, with more than a half of people entering prisons being problematic drug users. The evidence suggests that drug and alcohol treatment is effective in reducing and cutting offending and reoffending. However, while there is some excellent work going on in many prisons, the criminal justice system is still failing fully to rehabilitate offenders with drug and alcohol addictions. The Labour Government invested in that area and recognised the need for treatment. However, there is still a great deal to be done. There remains a shortage of appropriate and effective drug treatments. Short prison sentences and transfers for drug users make structured drug treatment programmes difficult, and short sentences tend to add to problems linked to drug and alcohol dependency such as mental health issues and homelessness.
Links between treatment in custody and continued treatment in the community are already difficult to maintain. I am worried that reductions to the probation service will exacerbate the situation—75% of prisoners who say that they had a drug problem before custody go on to reoffend within a year of their release. Alcohol treatment in the criminal justice system is also limited and can be ineffective. There is no dedicated funding available in the system. Despite the cuts, the Ministry should invest. Investment in drug and alcohol services will save money across Government. The NHS report, “Review of the effectiveness of treatment for alcohol problems”, found that treatment is effective and saves money in the longer term. For every £1 spent, £5 is saved on costs to health, social and criminal justice services. I accept that evidence supporting the cost effectiveness of drug treatment programmes is unclear, but the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse argues that for every £1 spent on treatment there is a saving to society of more than £9.
The Lord Chancellor will now have to wield the axe internally in his Department. If fewer prisons are to be built in the next Parliament and he believes that shorter sentences do not work—I agree with him to some extent—he must reinvest savings made from these policies in prevention policies, not cure policies, reducing the number of women in prison and ensuring that offenders with mental illnesses are identified at the earliest opportunity and diverted to the appropriate services.
Funding community-based projects is vital to reduce the number of people in prison. Although volunteers play a role in such projects, it would be a mistake to expect them to fill the black hole in public funding that was created yesterday. If we do not fund prisons, police and the probation service, there is a real risk that we will have criminals on the streets.
It is a great privilege to participate in this debate and to follow so many right hon. and hon. Members who are experts on this issue. I am grateful that, although the report was published almost a year ago, the House has delayed the debate until now, giving me a chance, having been elected, to put congratulations to the Justice Committee on the record.
One can tell, just by looking at it, that this report is an excellent, thorough piece of work. It confirms many of the views that Liberal Democrats have long held on justice policy. I am sure that that is in no small measure due to the Committee’s excellent chairmanship.
I also pay tribute once again—not for the last time, I am sure—to the excellent work of my predecessor, David Howarth, who was a distinguished shadow Justice Secretary and one of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee. David would applaud, as I do, the comments of the Secretary of State for Justice, who mentioned the “astonishing” number of people in our prisons. Liberal Democrats believe that once a criminal has been caught, the punishment that they are given should be aimed at helping them turn away from crime. As Winston Churchill had it, the first real principle that should guide anyone trying to establish a good system of prisons is to prevent as many people as possible from getting there at all. That might seem a pretty uncontroversial principle and some might even call it common sense, but for so long Government policy has run counter to that.
We were told that prison works. Successive Governments competed to build more and bigger prisons and to please the Daily Mail. Now, under a radical coalition Government, we are beginning to see a change towards rational, evidence-based solutions to this costly problem. Those solutions were set out in the Justice Committee’s report. I want to focus on just a few of them today.
We have been talking about the comprehensive spending review, which was published yesterday, in which the Chancellor calls for better value for money from the justice system. The state of the public finances means that times are hard for every Department, and the Ministry of Justice is no exception. But as the Chancellor said in his statement yesterday, we must not allow that to stop us from reforming our public services. I share the Justice Committee’s concern that an assumption has been created that punishment is the paramount purpose of sentencing. By pandering to that assumption, the previous Government showed not only weakness but a lack of rationality.
By contrast, the assumption at the heart of justice reinvestment is that all people, even convicted people, are part of a family and a community. Far from the polarising rhetoric that demonises all criminals and siphons money away from impoverished communities, justice reinvestment argues that society would benefit from a shift away from negative expenditure—processing and punishing people—to positive expenditure, investing in facilities for people and communities. The question is how we can achieve that radical switch away from prison numbers that spiral upwards towards a local, stable and community-led justice system.
The Government have signalled that they want significant reform in the justice system. The Justice Committee recommended that the prison population could be safely capped at its current level and then reduced by a third. We are awaiting proposals for sentencing reform, which will give a stronger focus to rehabilitation. As a Liberal Democrat, I am encouraged by the report’s references to community penalties. All the evidence suggests that short-term prison sentences do not work. Hon. Members will have heard the figures bandied around: some 60% of those on short-term sentences reoffend within a year of release. I welcome the noises made by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary on this subject and encourage them to produce evidence-based and cost-effective proposals. I also urge them to consider and review the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974—I have already spoken to the Lord Chancellor about it—which continues to punish people long after their sentence is over and contains so many anomalies, including cautions and absolute discharges never being spent. That is not right. That Act should be reformed as soon as possible.
I have long been interested in restorative justice. One benefit of some community sentences is that they bring criminals face to face with the people they have abused, creating a direct link between criminal and victim. The previous Government’s failure to go far enough fast enough on such schemes was shameful. We Lib Dems have long advocated innovative ideas such as neighbourhood justice panels, bringing victims and offenders together to foster dialogue, shared decision making and shared understanding.
Neighbourhood justice panels have had tremendous results in reintegrating criminals, restoring relationships and reducing reoffending. One such panel in Somerset has had a 95% success rate. Surely it is time that the Government developed a national strategy for introducing such panels across the country. The Justice Committee called for precisely such a strategy in its report. That would reduce the burden on our courts, contribute to a decrease in prison numbers and bind communities together.
I refer the Government and the Committee to the evidence on this subject, particularly work by Larry Sherman, professor of criminology at the university of Cambridge, who has done extensive studies on restorative justice showing that it is cheaper and reduces reoffending more than jail, and that it is preferred by victims. I urge hon. and right hon. Members who have not contacted him to do so. He would make an excellent witness in future sessions.
I want to say a little bit about young offenders, because we need to pay more attention to them. The report makes this point strongly:
“It does not make financial sense to continue to ignore the needs of young adult offenders.”
If we are to prevent young people from becoming the recidivists of tomorrow, we must look closely at locally-based teams designed specifically to deal with 18-25 year olds. We should also consider a multi-agency approach, bringing in expertise from the criminal justice system and local authorities. Investment in community facilities also has its part to play. Positive investment—giving young people places to go and things to do—is the best way to safeguard public safety. That was demonstrated in my constituency, in the ward that I used to represent, where the construction of a new community centre had a significant effect on the criminality in the area. Young people are often the most affected when they are confronted with the damage they have caused to others. That is another compelling reason for the introduction of neighbourhood justice panels.
Many other recommendations in this report are well worth looking at. Ironically, I have not done the justice report justice. But I hope that hon. Members from all parties will agree that the previous Government’s response was unacceptable: they were not sufficiently supportive of the needs that are highlighted in the report.
We face an uncertain time. We know the extent of the cuts faced by the Ministry of Justice, for example, but the case for many of the report’s recommendations is overwhelming. These proposals are evidence-based, will save the Ministry of Justice money and will improve our communities and our public safety. The time for tough talk is over. The time for a sensible, rational, liberal approach has arrived. I urge the Secretary of State for Justice and his Ministers to seize the day.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Main.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to welcome the Justice Committee’s report. I congratulate Committee members on producing what all hon. and right hon. Members have agreed is a thoughtful, considered study. In the 19th century, the Quakers were in the lead on penal reform, but it seems that the Methodists are in the lead in the 21st century.
The criminal justice system has several distinct objectives: to protect the public, to deter crime, to punish offenders, and to reform and rehabilitate them. All those objectives must be taken into account in the criminal justice system. At times they may be supportive, and at other times, they may seem to conflict, but I do not believe that any should be pursued to the exclusion of others. That is what makes the task of running the criminal justice system so complex and difficult.
The Committee’s report concentrates on the importance of diverting people from entering the judicial system, and improving support and guidance offered to those who commit custodial offences to prevent reoffending. The report argues that two key challenges—prehabilitation and rehabilitation—need greater attention, and it is clear that greater success in those areas would have a major impact on cutting crime and improving our judicial system.
I welcome the report’s emphasis on providing community-based solutions and improving the interconnections between local services. I agree that, wherever possible, prisoners should be detained in and remain in prisons near their family and local community, because clearly that can help offenders after release.
I am glad that the report emphasises the need to reduce young adult offending, and to divert more young people from the prison system. I first worked on that issue about 10 years ago when I was at the Children’s Society, and I am particularly pleased that the Committee took evidence from the society in its project with young people.
I also believe that justice mapping is an approach with great potential, because when thinking about how different parts of the criminal justice system inter-relate, it is important to remember that some communities, notably poorer communities, tend to suffer most from crime and its consequences. The criminal justice system must work in those communities, which must have confidence in it.
Before I comment further on the report’s specific recommendations, I want briefly to address the wider issue of prison numbers, which has received considerable attention this afternoon, and in recent days and weeks. Everyone would like there to be fewer crimes, fewer criminals in our communities, and fewer people residing at Her Majesty’s pleasure and at taxpayers’ expense, but it would be wrong to set an arbitrary ceiling on prison numbers, or to identify an optimal size for the prison population. Yet that is precisely what the report does by suggesting that the prison population should be capped, and then reduced to two thirds of its current size.
The comprehensive spending review statement yesterday made it clear that the Government are planning to cut the prison population by 3,000 over the next four years. Given that that includes offenders on short sentences, will the Minister tell us how many people will not now go to prison who otherwise might have done? Is the figure about 6,000 a year, or is it higher? Plans to put back the prison-building programme will result in 10,000 fewer places in the estate than under previous plans. That suggests an even greater reduction in numbers. I have several questions, and if the Minister cannot answer them this afternoon, I shall be pleased if he will write to me and other Committee members.
The plans reveal that what may seem to some Committee members to be a small reduction would in fact have a radical influence on how the criminal justice system is run. How will the reduction be achieved? The Times today seems to be considerably better informed than Parliament was yesterday, and listed the following options: those pleading guilty early on, those on indefinite sentences, some remand prisoners, a lower level of recall, drug addicts and foreign prisoners. Can the Minister disaggregate reductions into those categories? Perhaps most important, does he believe that the reduction in the prison population will take place against a background of rising or falling crime rates? Given that, is he confident that he can guarantee public safety?
Of course. I shall come to that in a moment.
The overriding point is that we are not convinced that it is for politicians, civil servants or committees—even the Justice Committee—to decide what the prison population should be. It is for the Government of the day to provide prison places in line with need because the justice system is at heart a process. If justice is to be done and seen to be done, people must be confident that it is not subject to artificial constraints. I am worried that setting a target for prison numbers and then adjusting sentencing policy and conviction rates accordingly is putting the cart before the horse, and may do nothing for public confidence in the judicial system,
There seems to be an implicit assumption in what the hon. Lady is saying that sending people to jail is a good way of reducing crime. I am worried about that. She is also talking about setting conviction rates to suit, and I do not where she got that from. I am not aware of any suggestions that people would be found guilty or not guilty based on prison availability.
My overriding point is about a target for the prison population irrespective of what is happening to crime rates. I agree that crime rates have fallen, and they did so in large measure because of the Labour Government’s excellent policies over the past 13 years. The hon. Gentleman is laughing, but the truth of the matter is that if policy has an impact on behaviour, that is as true of the policies that have been pursued over the past 12 years as it is of any that may be in his mind.
We are in danger of losing track of the key point because of the slightly partisan approach. Surely, as my hon. Friend says, setting arbitrary numbers is not what will bring success in reducing offending or prison numbers. Doing the right things will reduce offending and reoffending. I suggest that that is the key point of the report.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am grateful to him for digging me out of that hole.
What is really valuable in the report is the clear emphasis on reducing reoffending, improving rehabilitation services for people with drug and alcohol problems and mental illnesses, and the demonstration that alternatives to custody can be cost effective. Without lower reoffending rates, it will be difficult to make progress in reducing prison numbers, and I would like to echo the Committee's contention that it should be a guiding principle of the judicial system that each offender should be less likely to reoffend after they complete their sentence than they were before. There is likely to be strong agreement on that point on both sides of the House, and I am pleased that polling shows that 72% of the public also believe that more should be done to rehabilitate offenders. Providing appropriate training and education and alcohol, drug and mental health support are all absolutely central to cutting reoffending rates. Although one would not know it from the crude depiction by the Justice Secretary and other hon. Members of the prison system under the previous Government, Labour made real progress, and the report acknowledges that.
I remind hon. Members that today’s crime statistics show an 8% fall over the past year, as well as rising confidence in the criminal justice system. Reoffending rates have fallen by 16% since 2000, and overall crime fell by more than one third over the lifetime of the Labour Government. During that time, funding for drug treatment programmes saw a fifteenfold increase, and there was a 26% rise in the number of offenders who successfully completed rehabilitation courses. We trebled spending on prisoner education programmes, and our response to the Bradley and Corston reports showed our commitment to improving mental health treatment for prisoners and the position of women offenders.
Given yesterday’s statement by the Chancellor and the savage cuts to the Department’s budget, will the Minister assure us that funding for those programmes will not now be cut? I echo the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) and the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd). If cuts are to be made, will that not undo our good work and make serious problems even worse?
We know that the number of front-line staff will be cut by 11,000. That will mean 15% fewer prison staff and probation officers, although the number of prisoners is projected to fall by 4%. Will it be possible to do more work with offenders and cut reoffending rates? The documents published yesterday said that people with mental health problems will be diverted at an earlier stage, and many hon. Members said that that would be a positive development. It will be a positive development if people in the Ministry of Justice have agreed it with their colleagues, and if the NHS has made provision for the additional resources needed. That is another point on which I would like to hear what the Minister has to say, either today or later in writing.
The report also warns that the Government should not move away from contracting probation and rehabilitation services to small organisations with a strong track record. Will the coalition’s plans for payment by results not have precisely that impact, with larger groups with good cash flows being better positioned to win contracts and squeeze out smaller competitors? The Government will not be able to make a success of their policy to reduce numbers in prison if they do not redirect resources into tackling the social exclusion that lies at the root of much criminal activity. They must provide the rehabilitative services that offenders need, particularly at a time when we can expect unemployment, and consequently acquisitive crime, to rise.
Much of that spend is outside the Ministry of Justice, but cuts to housing and youth services are likely to be a particular problem. Ministers are clearly using the well-intentioned and prudent proposal to reorientate spending as a smokescreen for cuts in spending on prison places, while failing to invest in the support services that are desperately needed if a more community-orientated approach is to prove effective.
The policy outlined by the Government of cutting spending on probation, rehabilitation and preventive services at the same time as there are significant funding cuts for prison places, is not coherent. As the Committee warns in its report, front-line spending cuts for prisons and probation would
“undermine the progress in performance of both services.”
In short, it would simply exacerbate the problems that the report seeks to remedy.
We need coherent, joined-up responses to the proposals that will allocate resources for our prison population and support the investment in prehabilitation and rehabilitation services that we need in order to reduce long-term offending and reoffending rates.
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) who is sitting opposite me. We have followed a similar path from our respective Whips Offices to Front-Bench responsibility, and I congratulate her on becoming a shadow Justice Minister. I notice that she did not spend an enormous amount of time defending the record of the previous Administration, which was probably wise.
In recounting the record, she commented on the number of courses that people have completed, and the expenditure on programmes. I want to draw attention to one way in which things are changing by saying that those are inputs. We are not going to measure inputs; we are going to measure outputs and what is achieved by the system. We will give those who operate the criminal justice system and in whose charge offenders are placed, as much professional freedom as we can to enable them to exercise their best professional judgment and effect the rehabilitation revolution that we so badly need.
I would like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a passage in his contribution where he talked about methodology. I was trying to write his remarks down, but he went through that part of his speech rather too quickly. He said words such as “the requirement of that methodology”, “centrally driven”, “clinically measured”, “setting targets” and “evaluated annually.” I recommend that he go back and look at such passages in his speech, and imagine what that language is like for someone who is on the receiving end of the methodology and targets that flow from it. That is the system we have inherited.
I have talked to professionals in the field, particularly the youth offending teams who are overseen by the Youth Justice Board. The leaders of the youth offending teams spend far too much of their time looking upwards to respond to the oversight that they receive from the Youth Justice Board, rather than looking downwards to deliver their services. If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, that is an example of where we have got the balance wrong and where changes are needed. It is the same for the probation service and the performance measurements and targets that are imposed on it. We must move to a system that gives professionals more freedom to exercise their judgment in the best interests of the people in their care.
I am grateful to the Minister for generously admitting that he was not keeping up with my explanation. It had nothing to do with the work of the Youth Justice Board; I was pointing out that the simple methodology of partnership working by local people in a local area who work together to identify the problems and produce solutions, has worked through the crime and disorder reduction partnerships over the past 12 or 13 years. The problem with the youth offending teams is not that of looking upwards or at centrally-set targets. The issue is about whether the professionalism exists in the Minister’s Department and the Home Office to support that sort of work. I suggest that it does not.
Elements of the functions of the Youth Justice Board will be brought into the Ministry of Justice. It is not as though all the people who work for the Youth Justice Board will suddenly disappear in their entirety and we will do without them altogether. That is a highly incorrect caricature of the position. I do not want to get drawn into that argument; in introducing my reply to the debate, I was making a general point about the approach that will differentiate this Administration from their predecessor. Evidence will be used to pursue policies that will focus on what is achieved and what outputs are delivered, rather than a policy that mandates inputs and targets and oversees professionals in the way that we have seen over the past 13 years. In the end, that has enervated people’s professionalism and detracted from the important task that we give them in offender management.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland asked about prison places. She seemed to be under the impression that we had announced the construction of 10,000 fewer prison places. That is not the case. The only announcement that we made was the deferring of the first of the prisons in the new prisons programme, which was to produce a net increase of only about 2,000 places. It is a new-for-old programme. It would have created five 1,500 place prisons—that is 7,500 places—and would have seen the removal from the estate of 5,500 of the older and less efficient places elsewhere in the system, so the figure is not 10,000; it is 2,000. That decision has simply been deferred, and in any event those prison places would have been highly unlikely to come on-stream during this spending review period. As they were proper privately financed schemes, they will continue to be assessed and there may well continue to be an economic case for them. However, given the other changes that we shall now have to examine in prison capacity, we are looking at closures of other prisons to arrive at a position whereby we can accommodate, in our estimate, about 82,000 prisoners at the end of this Parliament.
We need to remember that we inherited in May a position in which it was anticipated that there would be 96,000 prisoners by the end of the Parliament. There have been some changes to the number of people now being sent to prison. We are trying to identify why the trend has not been rising as steeply as one would have expected through the summer and autumn months. That may have something to do with the change of climate that has come with the end of the political arms race on this issue.
At this point, I should like to draw attention to the Select Committee’s report, which stated:
“If we are to avoid a continuation of the ‘arms race’ on being ‘tough on crime’, which dates back to the early 1990s, means must be found for encouraging and informing sensible, thoughtful and rational public debate and policy development on the appropriate balance and focus of resources.”
I think that we would accept that the Lord Chancellor has led that change of view, and both he and I now enjoy the warm appreciation of certain sections of the media for having done so, but what is welcome is that the bipartisanship between the two coalition parties now seems to have extended to the principal Opposition party with the election of the new Leader of the Opposition, who specifically endorsed the criminal justice policies of the new Administration in dissing the inheritance of his own period in government as implicitly the wrong approach.
Now that we are having a more rational political debate about criminal justice policy, I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues will do what they can—we will certainly do what we can—to encourage a more rational debate in some sections of the media. We found when we talked to people in other countries, including Germany and Finland, that the media in those countries did not present the arguments about crime in the way in which they are presented in some sections of the media here, where the argument is always that the sentence should have been longer. In other countries, the issue is debated much more responsibly.
If my right hon. Friend can find a way of pulling off that piece of alchemy, it would be extremely welcome. It would certainly be a very welcome development in intelligent policy making. As the right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Alun Michael) said, this is a question not just of the Government changing the rhetoric but of Parliament addressing the issue, and now we are in a position to do so because in essence all three main parties are in the same place on going for evidence-based policy making. That is a welcome change from policy-based evidence making.
One of the glories of the coalition is that some of our colleagues are wondrously optimistic. The reality is that certain sections of the press never report this issue fairly. Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that what we collectively have to do is to accept that as a given and press on regardless? The proof will come at the end of the day when we have reduced reoffending rates and, as a consequence, reduced the amount of money that we have to spend on prisons. However, the idea that the Poujadist press will suddenly wake up and see that that is good news is away with the fairies.
I counsel the Minister that now is the time, when there is still something of a honeymoon going on, for him to build bridges across the Chamber as well. Contributions that are a little less partisan and some recognition of the considerable achievements of the last Government would help to create the consensus across the Chamber that will be very important for Ministers in future, as well as for good practice in Parliament.
I can well understand, given the quality of the inheritance that we received, why the right hon. Gentleman would be anxious for me to pursue that line.
Let me comment on some of the other contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) made the point that we can be either smart or stupid about our attitude to crime. He spoke about the need for confidence in community sentences, to which I want to return.
The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) was kind enough to take interventions from me in relation to his experience of a veterans court in the United States. I re-emphasise that I shall want to consider the evidence that he provides to me in that area. I just caution him to be slightly careful, in terms of commenting on leaks, numbers of job losses and everything else, about taking the opinion of some trade unions in this area too directly. Their record of accuracy is not highly precise. The National Association of Probation Officers over-estimated the number of veterans in the justice system by about a factor of three.
With respect, I can answer that straight away. NAPO estimated that about 8,500 service veterans—9%—were in prison. The Government scoping exercise excluded those under 21, reservists, of whom there are many in Afghanistan as we speak, women and those who served in Northern Ireland. If we process them back in, the figure is 9%.
I fear not. A very careful study by the Defence Analytical Services Agency assessed the number at 3.5%, but let us not be diverted by that. I was making a wider point about the reliability of the people whom the hon. Gentleman was adducing in evidence. I think that as the position becomes clear with regard to the consequences of the spending review, the probation service will realise that the Lord Chancellor has batted for it in a particularly effective way. If we are to address issues and change the balance in relation to short sentences—we do not expect any savings in terms of the prison system if there are changes in patterns and fewer people being given short sentences—the first thing to say is that we will not end the capacity of the magistracy and the judiciary to use short prison sentences if they feel that that is necessary, but we would obviously hope that their use would be reduced. That means either community sentences or longer sentences. Those are the two alternatives that arise from it, so it would be unwise to assume any reduction in the overall number of prison places required, as a result of a change in policy in that area, because some of the changes will involve people going to prison for longer so that they can be effectively rehabilitated within the safety of custody.
The other point that I want to make to the hon. Gentleman is that the public sector is not the only source of money. I commend to him the social investment model that has begun at Peterborough; it is a model that we will wish to widen. If we can get external investors to invest, so that savings can be made—that is much at the centre of the principle of the justice reinvestment report—it frankly does not matter where that extra capacity comes from.
In the end, this is not about just money; there is an enormous capacity in the community. In the voluntary sector, the charitable community and the private sector there are people who want to give their services, in whatever form, to the Ministry of Justice and to the state, to help us with the task of rehabilitating offenders. At the moment, our system is not very good at making it easy for those people to give their services, or to sell them to us, on a not-for-profit or indeed a for-profit basis, to grow this country’s capacity to deliver rehabilitation. The responsibility that sits on me now, in terms of designing the policies—on rehabilitation in particular—that we will present in the Green Paper, is to create a system that will make it that much easier for us to draw on the capacity that is sitting out there in the country; to ensure that in co-ordination with the existing state services, in probation and elsewhere, we can deliver a much more effective rehabilitation package than we do today. This is not about replacing those services but about adding to them.
The other half of that process is to ensure that all the existing state services, particularly those delivered at a local level, are co-ordinated that much more effectively, to deliver the interventions that are needed to address the multifaceted problems that normally afflict most people who are on a cycle of reoffending and who need particular help to break free from that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) referred to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and to the very good report that he oversaw as chairman of the Commission for Social Justice. Early intervention is not about just the criminal justice system but about what I have described as the entire life cycle of the offender and the potential offender, and that is why I have a place on the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend, precisely to start making interventions earlier and earlier in the process. It is about trying to keep children out of care. It is about looking at the whole business of family intervention programmes for when the indicators start arriving, such as when children are excluded from school and are sent to pupil referral units. Good work was done by the previous Administration, and I happily acknowledge that, but we have to encourage a culture in which we invest early to prevent problems later. At the same time, we are of course left with the responsibility of dealing with the problems that we have now, which is why it is essential to create extra capacity, in whatever form we can.
The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who I think will make a welcome contribution to the work of the Justice Committee, acknowledged that the previous Administration were perhaps not as tough on the causes of crime as they might have been. When the then Leader of the Opposition coined the slogan, “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime,” that slogan was empty, as is now clear in his own diaries and in his account. The policies to deliver on that had not been developed when the slogan was coined in 1994, and that is one of the dangers of dealing in rhetoric without there being the reality underlying it and—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth is chuntering. The policies began to be developed from that point on, but at that point they did not exist. One has to be careful about the catchphrase that sounds great but does not have the policies—
There is, however, much in the Committee’s impressive report that resonates with this Government’s plans for overhauling our approach to the rehabilitation of offenders. We share the concern that the size of the prison population is not just a numbers game, and we want to target investment where it is most needed. Most important, we know that we need to place successful rehabilitation at the heart of the criminal justice system, so that we can prevent people from becoming the victims of tomorrow. The forthcoming Green Paper on rehabilitation and sentencing will set out our plans for bringing about real and enduring changes in our approach to reducing reoffending. It will also bring much-needed clarity to the sentencing framework. I hope that members of the new Justice Committee and the right hon. and hon. Members here this afternoon will find much in the Green Paper that reflects and addresses the concerns raised in this debate.
We face huge challenges, and we will clearly work closely with other Departments. I have been asked on more than one occasion about our relationship with the Department of Health on the issues of mental health and addiction, and I am very pleased to be able to report that the Ministry of Justice is getting great commitment and interest from the Ministers and the senior officials in the Department. I am extremely hopeful that we will be able to build significantly on the position that we inherit.
The excellent report that we have debated this afternoon has already informed the thinking of the new Administration, and I suppose that that is hardly surprising. The report is consistent with the direction of travel in criminal justice, and we will present our views in the Green Paper. But again, it is a Green Paper, and we look forward to my right hon. Friend and the members of his Committee making a contribution in response. There is no monopoly on wisdom in this area, and we are open to listening to evidence as it comes in and to trying to find ways of ensuring that successful approaches to widening rehabilitation can be adopted by the whole criminal justice system. If the new Justice Committee is as well informed and authoritative as the report of the previous Committee, I am quite sure that it will do a signal service to our country during this Parliament.
I can assure my hon. Friend that the new membership of the Committee is every bit as compelling as the old in its determination to work hard on these issues, and it has a great range of experience and ability. We have had a very good debate today and I want to thank right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part, bringing considerable experience to our discussions. Speaking as a Back Bencher leading a Back-Bench Committee, I want to say to the Front Benchers, “Come and join us in the consensus,” because I think that the consensus is there. We all have our points of partisan disagreement, which the Front Benchers perhaps tend to emphasise, but the basis for consensus is there.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) on taking up her new responsibility. I know her well and am sure that she will do a very good job. She has an opportunity, I think, to develop policy, and there is a need to do so, because if we stick with the predict-and-provide approach there will continue to be a weighting in the system in favour of custody, and alternatives will be neglected. Although numerical targets are not the answer to the problem, I really believe that if we do not set ourselves some objectives and remain with the predict-and-provide approach, we will not be able to make the kind of developments that are necessary. I welcome the Government’s willingness to do that, but we will be watching very carefully to see whether in a very difficult financial climate the Government and the Ministry of Justice are able to put in place the means to achieve what I think we now agree needs to be done.
Question put and agreed to.