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Probation System

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 2 July 2013

We will open up rehabilitation to a diverse range of organisations and introduce new payment incentives for providers to focus relentlessly on reforming offenders. We plan to commence the competitive process for our new providers at the end of this summer. We will also create a new national public sector probation service, which will work to protect the public.

It is a myth that there is no learning already available to the Government on payment by results; learning is available across government activities, and a number of pilots within the probation field have begun. Not all of them have been completed, but, as the hon. Gentleman will recognise, it is possible to learn something from a pilot even if it is not completed. We are confident that payment by results is the right way to approach this matter. It is also the right way, of course, to release the savings we need to pay for an additional 50,000 offenders who currently receive no supervision. If he has a better way of doing that, we look forward to hearing it.

The Minister is in the unusual position of wanting to both privatise and nationalise the probation service at the same time. Will he explain to the House why the probation service is to be trusted with the supervision of the most dangerous, but will not be allowed to bid to work with less serious offenders?

We think that a combination of approaches will work best. We think that the probation service has particular skills in dealing with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders, so we want to give it the opportunity to concentrate on those offenders. We also think that there is a huge range of innovation and good ideas among bodies of all sorts, in the voluntary sector as well as in the private sector, and we want to bring those ideas to bear on what has been an extremely intractable problem—driving down reoffending rates.

Despite record spending on prison and probation services, reoffending rates are still far too high. Will the Minister give an assurance that the new probation reforms will seek to address that issue, while also delivering value for money for the taxpayer?

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. She is right to say that reoffending rates are far too high; 50% of those released from custody reoffend within 12 months. That is unacceptable, and people within the probation service know that. We need to bring those rates down, and the best way to do so is to unlock the innovation I spoke about a moment ago and to have a system where, if people succeed in driving down reoffending rates, they receive the maximum reward and if they do not, they will not.

One of the biggest weaknesses of the criminal justice system has been a failure to engage with short-term prisoners. Does the Minister therefore agree that probation assistance with that group of offenders is vital to curb reoffending rates?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. He puts his finger on a big gap in the system up to this point in that those offenders who receive a custodial sentence of 12 months or less receive very little or no supervision at all. It is very important that they should, because that is the group with the highest rates of reoffending. Some 60% reoffend within 12 months. We need to address that and we will do so.

Highly respected former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham has called on the Justice Secretary to withdraw his plans for probation as they are too complex to be achieved safely. Concerns about public safety meant that not a single Cross Bencher voted with the Government on his amendment in the Lords. The timetable is unrealistic, the IT is not ready and the Department’s risk assessment states that the proposal is unlikely to work. Is it not time for the Government to take stock and rethink before they waste any more resources on this rapidly unravelling plan?

The hon. Lady will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with her. This is an important and urgent reform. She must recognise that every single year 600,000 offences are committed by people who have previously committed an offence. Until we start to address reoffending effectively, that number will not come down and we will not avoid the creation of tens of thousands of new victims every year. That is why this is urgent. As far as I understand the position of the hon. Lady’s party, she agrees that reoffending rates are too high, that something must be done about that and that there is a problem with the group with sentences under 12 months, yet we hear nothing from her about what she would do about that if it was not what we propose to do. If she has an alternative, let us hear it.