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Probation Service

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2013

The transforming rehabilitation consultation closed on 22 February 2013. Our proposed reforms will help reduce reoffending by opening up the provision of probation services to a wider range of providers and by extending rehabilitative provision to those serving less than 12 months in prison. We will respond to the consultation and bring forward detailed plans in due course.

What estimates has the Minister made of the reduction in reoffending that will result from the changes that he proposes to make to the probation service?

As I said, we will provide the detail of the proposals when we have had a chance to look in detail at the responses to the consultation, but we expect a progressive year-on-year reduction in reoffending as a result of the improvements that we want to make.

My probation trust in south Yorkshire is not alone in being concerned about the proposal to split responsibility for offenders between public and private providers, depending on the level of risk, as that introduces a dangerous artificial divide that fails to take account of the way in which risk fluctuates. Will the Minister tell the House how many offenders on licence saw their risk level change between medium and high over the past 12 months, and how many of them committed serious offences in that period?

The hon. Gentleman is right that one of the major issues that has arisen through this process is the dynamic nature of risk, and we fully appreciate that that is an important subject. None the less, it is important to look at the need to make the best use of the skills of the probation service. There are considerable skills within the probation service in managing the risk of serious harm, which is why we propose that those offenders who pose the highest risk should be managed directly. We also think that it would be good to bring in new ideas from those who work in the voluntary and private sectors to manage the reoffending rates of medium and low-risk offenders. As to the point he makes, it will be clearly crucial for good relationships to exist between the public sector probation service and those providing work for medium and lower-risk offenders, and we will build into the system those safeguards.

The Government’s proposals for the reform of probation offer the prospect for probation officers to be able to deliver rehabilitation in a much more effective, creative and positive way. However, they will be working for a multitude of different organisations, which will mean that all the things that bind the probation service together will have to be strengthened. What proposals does the Minister have in mind for that, if he can say anything before he announces the response to the consultation?

My hon. Friend is right to say that there will be a variety of different organisations providing rehabilitation services for which those currently employed by the probation service might end up working, and I hope very much that we will retain the skills within the system. He is also right that the proposals present the opportunity for increasing the professionalisation of the probation service of which he is a great champion, and we want to ensure that those proposals are not overlooked in the consultation process and beyond.

I commend to my hon. Friend the Minister the response to the consultation from the Northamptonshire Probation Trust, which has an excellent reputation. Although it is supportive in principle of the concept of payment by results, it, like my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), has concerns that large and remote contracts—if the Department goes down that route—will not place sufficient emphasis on the joined-up local delivery of effective probation services.

Again, that is a realistic concern and one that we will address. It is important that we maintain those crucial local partnerships, and we will expect anyone taking on this work to do that. We will also want to ensure that not only the design of the contracts but the management of those contracts and the relationships with smaller and local organisations, particularly in the voluntary sector, are maintained and nurtured. We will look carefully at all bids to ensure that they do that.

I hope that Ministers are listening to the concern that is coming from Members on both sides of the Chamber about the proposals. Last year, 17,000 offenders were recalled to prison by their probation officer, so that is 17,000 crimes that were prevented and victims spared because of decisions made by probation officers. Am I right in saying that in the future private providers of probation services will lose payments for supervising an offender if that offender is recalled to prison?

The clue is in the title. If, under payment by results, a provider gets the right result, they will get a payment; if they do not, they will not get a payment. Let me make it clear to the hon. Lady that under the proposed system, the decisions on recall will be made by public sector probation officers and not by providers, so the responsibility for that decision remains in the public sector where we believe it belongs.