I beg to move,
That this House applauds the important role of the professional Probation Service in keeping the public safe; recognises that more needs to be done to break the cycle of reoffending; notes that, without parliamentary approval, the Government plans to abolish local Probation Trusts, commission services from Whitehall, fragment the supervision of offenders on the basis of their risk level, and hand over supervision of 80 per cent of offenders to private companies; deplores the fact that under the Government’s plans supervision of dangerous, sexual and violent offenders may be undertaken by inexperienced and unqualified staff and by companies without any track record in this area, without any piloting or independent evaluation, all of which is taking unnecessary risks with public safety; and calls on the Government to suspend the national roll-out of its plans until evidence is made public that its proposals to reduce re-offending do not put public safety at risk.
It is great to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Our probation services work tirelessly below the radar with offenders in prison, with those released from prison and with those given community sentences, doing their best to rehabilitate those people back into lawful life as good citizens in society. Probation, by and large, works, as 128 Members of Parliament agreed when they signed early-day motion 622 last year, praising the probation service for its award-winning performance, including the former Minister with responsibility for probation, the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt), who I see in his place.
The probation service might not work as well as we would all like it to do and we need to do more to reduce reoffending rates, which are still far too high. That is one reason why we support the Government’s moves to introduce supervision for those who receive a prison sentence of less than 12 months, and through the prison gate supervision as well. This debate is not about status quo versus change. This is about good, evidence-based, tested change versus ideologically driven, untested, reckless change. The Government know, as do we, that probation works because those supervised have lower reoffending rates than those not supervised. That is why they are extending supervision to those with sentences under 12 months.
However, we do not believe that what the Government are proposing is the right way forward—abolishing local probation trusts, commissioning services directly from Whitehall, imposing a payment-by-results model on the system, and fragmenting supervision on the basis of risk levels. Implementing half-baked plans in a rushed manner is a gamble with public safety. If something goes terribly wrong or, God forbid, tragically wrong, public confidence in our criminal justice system is undermined. Ministers should not just take my word for it. According to the front page of The Guardian yesterday, in the past few weeks—[Interruption.] I hear the Lord Chancellor groaning because the chairs of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire probation trusts had the temerity to write to him and warn him that he should delay probation privatisation or risk deaths. I remind the House that he may have 12 months’ experience in his job; they have more than 12 years’ experience in theirs. I know who we trust in relation to probation. That is why we should be cautious about making changes to probation. Neither the probation service nor the Opposition have anything against change, but new ways of working should be tested first to see what works and what does not work.
I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument, which I agree with, but does he not find it strange that the Government’s own internal risk register says that there is an 80% risk that the Government’s plans will lead to an unacceptable drop in operational performance? Does he also find it surprising that the Government will not allow us to see it?
Either the risk register says there is an 80% risk, which should alarm us, or we should be alarmed at the Justice Secretary not publishing the risk register so that we can see for ourselves what the Ministry of Justice’s own officials say. The MOJ agrees with us that the proposal should be tested first. Pilots were set up in the Wales, Staffordshire and West Midlands probation trusts. The MOJ’s press release from 25 January 2012 trumpeted, “World leading probation pilots announced” and quoted the excellent then Minister, the hon. Member for Reigate, as saying:
“These ground-breaking pilots will for the first time test how real freedom to innovate, alongside strong public, private and voluntary sector partnerships, could drive significant reductions in reoffending by those serving community sentences.”
The key word, of course, is “could”. This was a test—one could say a ground-breaking pilot—but what did the current Justice Secretary do in the first week in his job, just nine months later? He pulled the plug on the pilots, opting for full national roll-out, declaring war on evidence in the process. As both judge and jury, he decided that the plans will reduce reoffending, without bothering to wait for any evidence. The headlines generated were, in his view, worth the gamble with public safety.
I shall make some progress first.
The Justice Secretary seems to come out in a rash at the mere suggestion that he should pilot the plans. Back in January, when I challenged him on that, he put his gut before hard facts and evidence when he said:
“Sometimes we just have to believe something is right and do it”.—[Official Report, 9 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 318.]
That from the man who brought us the Work programme. He will forgive me if I do not base my opinions on what we should do with a probation service employing thousands, supervising hundreds of thousands and serving millions on his hunch, because his hunch led to billions being spent on a Work programme that performed so badly that someone who was unemployed stood a better chance of being in work after six months if they had not been on it. The Public Accounts Committee’s verdict on the Work programme was that
“providers have seriously underperformed against their contracts and their success rates are worse than Jobcentre Plus”.
Fast forward two years and the same model has resurfaced in probation, but this time the fallout from failure is of an altogether different magnitude—[Hon. Members: “Give way!”] Madam Deputy Speaker, you know that I am extremely generous in giving way to colleagues on both sides of the House. It is just a shame that it took an Opposition day debate to drag the Justice Secretary here to discuss his plans, which we are quite keen to scrutinise. I will make some progress before giving way.
The Economist hit the nail on the head when it stated:
“If the work programme fails, the cost is higher unemployment; if rehabilitation of offenders fails, the cost is worse: more crime. Which is why those now-disregarded pilots were set up in the first place.”
As if that is not criticism enough, the article goes on to refer to the Justice Secretary’s plans as “half-baked”.
I know that we have had a bit of political knockabout, but can we clarify what we agree on? The right hon. Gentleman says that he is in favour of change, but on the previous Government’s watch I did not notice any change in the appalling reoffending rate for short-sentence prisoners, which was some 60%. Does he not welcome the fact that short-sentence prisoners will now have statutory supervision for 12 months to drive down reoffending for the benefit of local communities and, indeed, for offenders?
The hon. Gentleman has some audacity. The Conservative party voted against the Offender Management Act 2007, in which we tried to change how probation works. Which voting Lobby did he go into? Was he with us? No, he was not, so I will take no lectures from him on our plans to reform probation.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted rather selectively from the Public Accounts Committee report—I know because I am a member of the Committee. One of the points we were keen to make was that we were talking about people in a long-term relationship with providers. We had to take a very balanced decision on the success of the programme after two years of engagement with people who had been unemployed for a long time and needed a lot of help. He should look at the Committee’s full conclusions, in which we said that the direction of travel was positive.
The hon. Lady is just wrong. I am happy for her to go and get the report and quote what it says, but I have a copy here and I have read it. I will refer to it again in a few moments, so she can correct me again if she thinks I am wrong, but I know that I am right, because I have the report here.
Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that these changes will lead to increased cherry-picking by the new companies and agencies, which will want to deal with the offenders who are easiest to manage but will park on one side those whose cases are more complex and who have multiple needs?
My hon. Friend has answered the last intervention. What happened with the Work programme was that the big boys cherry-picked those who were easy to get into work, and those who were not had more chance of succeeding with Jobcentre Plus. He is right to remind the House that the probation service works with people who have done poorly outside prison. They might have problems with mental health, alcohol and drug-dependency, or with numeracy and literacy. Those are the people our professional probation service works with who will not be cherry-picked by the big boys that the Justice Secretary wants to give the contracts to.
My right hon. Friend has talked about the importance of partnership working and its success lying in agencies working together effectively. Does he agree that the Government’s proposals go against the grain of everything we know and could not only create artificial divides between public and private providers but freeze out voluntary sector providers who have great and important areas of expertise—for example, in working with women offenders?
I would like to make some progress first, if that is okay with the hon. Lady.
Over the past few days, the Justice Secretary has claimed that the pilots in Peterborough and Doncaster prisons show that his plans work. If he is honest with himself, he will know that that is nonsense. Those pilots are not only completely different from his plans for probation but are nowhere near to finishing, let alone being evaluated, although the interim results show that they are far from being a huge success. He should know better.
We must not let the Justice Secretary pull the wool over our eyes by saying that only low and medium-risk offenders will be in the hands of G4S, Serco and their ilk, as though only those caught stealing chocolate bars will be in their hands. Risk level is not directly related to the original crime committed. Offenders rated low and medium-risk include those convicted of domestic violence, burglary, robbery, violence against the person, sexual offences, and much more. I asked the Ministry of Justice how many offenders would be covered by these ratings and how many would be transferred over. It could not tell me how many of the 260,000 offenders supervised by the probation service are high, medium or low risk. You could not make it up, Madam Deputy Speaker! However, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 is a wonderful thing. Using FOI, we have uncovered that the number of medium and low-risk offenders who will be handed over to the likes of G4S and Serco is 217,569.
That is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman and I am grateful. He spoke about the higher reoffending rates for those sentenced to less than 12 months. Is not that an argument in favour of extending the good practice of the probation service in allowing it to take over that area rather than contracting it out? The probation service is currently meeting or exceeding its targets, so if we let it work in that area as well, it can do equally well there.
One would have thought that because the Justice Secretary is saying that we should extend supervision to those who have received a sentence of less than 12 months, he accepts that probation works and that the probation trusts are doing a good job, but no: he is abolishing the probation trusts and giving the big boys in the private sector responsibility for supervising those offenders. His argument is illogical.
I have met officers from the London probation trust who are most concerned about the arbitrary distinction between serious and less serious offenders. They point out that particularly given the nature of people’s problems, which my right hon. Friend outlined—perhaps mental health problems or drug and alcohol abuse—there is a fluidity between less serious and more serious offenders, with people not easily defined as being in one category or the other. They fear that very serious offenders may fall through the cracks because of that arbitrary division.
The last two interventions have shown that there is clearly more expertise among Opposition Members than Government Front Benchers. Our FOI questions uncovered that in London 29,813 offenders will be given over to the likes of G4S and Serco. In Surrey and Sussex, 7,313 offenders will now be supervised by the experts that are G4S and Serco.
Let me make some progress, if that is okay, and then I will give way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) is right, because compounding this situation is the unnatural carving up of responsibility for offenders on the basis of risk. The public sector will keep the very highest-risk offenders—the Justice Secretary clearly does not trust G4S and Serco with them—and the private sector will have the rest. He does not get it. Again, my hon. Friend is right: risk is not static. In one in four cases, risk levels fluctuate. Each time someone’s risk level fluctuates, bureaucracy and paperwork is involved, but we cannot afford for this to be a slow or cumbersome process, because when risk levels escalate, they tend to do so rapidly. They might stop taking their medication or a relationship might break down, leading to them becoming, overnight, a danger to themselves and others, so the process needs to be swift if the appropriate measures and support are to be put in place.
Can we really see the police working as closely with private companies as they do with probation trusts? Probation trusts often have on-site access to police record computers, which are crucial in assessing, monitoring and supervising offenders. Can we really see the police giving private companies the same access?
Who decides the risk? The Government claim that the decision will be taken by the new national probation service, but the Justice Secretary does not get it. The national probation service will not have a day-to-day personal relationship with offenders, so how will it know? His plans will be clunky, cumbersome and prone to errors, with cases falling between two stools.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He makes the point brilliantly that the issue of low, medium and high risk is one not just of fluctuation, but of staff retention and ability effectively to manage the case load. What will happen in the rumps of the probation services that will be left over—many of whose employees have performed excellently throughout—when they are dumped with the most difficult cases, day in, day out, for 10 or 12 hours a day?
We know what will happen: when those offenders cherry-picked by the private sector do better—which they will tend to do, because they will be easier to rehabilitate—the Justice Secretary will say that the public sector is failing because the offenders who will be more difficult to rehabilitate will not be doing as well. We have seen that happen before.
Does it not strike my right hon. Friend as a bit odd that a Government so hellbent on apparently reducing bureaucracy have come up with a half-baked idea of creating additional bureaucracy by fragmenting the system into two bodies? Does that not create uncertainty in grey areas in which some individuals may get lost in the system?
That is what the Justice Secretary’s own risk register says, but he is not willing to publish it so that we can all see for ourselves that he is refusing to follow his own Department’s advice.
The idea that the national probation service and the private companies will work anything like as closely together under the new system as offender management teams work is laughable. The chief inspector of probation has said:
“Any lack of contractual or operational clarity between the public and private sector…will, in our view, lead to systemic failure and an increased risk to the public.”
The chief executive of Hertfordshire probation trust, Tessa Webb, has said:
“We’re very concerned about separating offenders out between low and high risk. Things don’t work like that. We think there should be a coherent, single organisation.”
Do Members really think that G4S and Serco will hold up their hands if something goes wrong? They did not with electronic tagging or the transfer of prisoners. If anything goes wrong, who will get the blame? The national probation service. There is no risk for the big private companies and no taking of responsibility—just a nice little earner.
There is a risk, however, to the public. As has been said, according to the press, the MOJ’s own risk register raises serious questions about the plans. We would think that the Justice Secretary would want to reassure the public by publishing the risk register, but he is refusing to do so, which in itself raises a number of questions.
Can we just agree that 600,000 crimes a year are committed by people who have already broken the law and that that is of huge cost to all our constituents and costs taxpayers about £10 billion? Does the shadow Secretary of State not agree that something must be done and that, surely, statutory supervision and rehabilitation in the community—for the first time ever—of people who reoffend and have been sentenced for fewer than 12 months must be a huge step forward?
I know that a lot of work has gone into the hand-outs, but let me make some progress.
Another concern is that the big multinationals will dominate, just as they did in the Work programme, because they are the only ones that have financial clout. Smaller companies and charities will be used as bid candy to sweeten the less palatable bids of the big corporations. People should not take my word for it; the deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Ben Kernighan, has said that
“under its most significant public service reform so far, the Work Programme, many charities have found themselves squeezed out by large commercial providers. In the interests of helping ex-offenders who could benefit from charities’ expertise, the government must ensure the mistakes of the Work Programme are not repeated.”
Nothing has persuaded me that those mistakes will not be repeated.
Our concerns do not end there. Another £600,000 a year of the Ministry’s budget will go to companies that have let us down before over electronic tagging, Olympic security, prisoner transport and the Work programme. Those companies will be beyond the scope of freedom of information requests, which will do nothing to lessen the chances of fraud or irregularities.
We are also concerned about the length of the proposed contracts. The Official Journal of the European Union states that the contract lengths will be between seven and 10 years, with an option to extend them to 13 years. The estimated value of each contract is between £5 billion and £20 billion. Imagine what great work the public sector could do if it was awarded similarly long contracts and such stability, rather than having a year-to-year, hand-to-mouth existence.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that local charities in my constituency are doing good work with offenders. However, those charities will not be able to bid for the contracts because of their size and complexity. In the past few weeks, the large companies have tried to sign up the charities as providers. Effectively, the large companies are becoming middlemen in the delivery of the service.
What my hon. Friend describes is a repetition of what happened with the Work programme. Small companies, charities and voluntary groups are used by the big boys as bid candy to get the contracts and are then elbowed out. We saw that with the Work programme and we will see it again in probation.
Do Members know who will be able to bid? G4S and Serco. The allegations against both companies are so serious that the Serious Fraud Office is investigating them, and yet the Justice Secretary is refusing to rule them out of the bidding process. By the way, there is no obligation for the staff of those companies to be trained or experienced in this area. Those companies have no track record of providing such services.
We are not confident in the ability of the MOJ to procure the contracts, given its poor track record. Last year, we had the scandal of court translators under this Government’s watch. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) is busy reading her texts, but I will read what the Public Accounts Committee, of which she is a member, said of that debacle. She can correct me at any stage. It stated:
“The Ministry was not an intelligent customer…The Ministry failed to undertake proper due diligence…The result was total chaos…the Ministry has only penalized the supplier a risible £2,200.”
There is no guarantee that the big private companies will not run rings around the MOJ yet again.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend for being a little late for the debate. Is not the picture that is unfolding of this Government that they are the friends of the private sector who see the state as a golden calf that they can milk when it suits them? This proposal is not in the public interest and it is not in the taxpayer’s interest. G4S wants to be considered, but it has some problems in South Africa at the moment.
Let me make some progress.
The Justice Secretary would like us to believe that the companies will not be paid unless they deliver, as if payment by results means payment only by results. In fact, nearly the whole fee will be paid to the private companies regardless of the results. Private companies are intent on squeezing the fraction of the payment that is dependent on results as close to zero as possible. The Government are so keen to suck up to the big companies that they have caved in. So much for payment by results. No doubt the Justice Secretary will claim that he is doing only what the Offender Management Act 2007—which the Conservatives voted against—gave him power to do. In fact, that Act established local probation trusts, empowering them to commission services locally from whom they see fit. It was not about abolishing local probation trusts or commissioning services directly from Whitehall.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) was at the time the Minister responsible for the legislation, and he knows exactly what it was for. [Interruption.] I can hear some chuntering but do not worry, Madam Deputy Speaker, it is not putting me off. In 2007 my right hon. Friend said that
“there will also be a need for local probation trusts to act not just as service deliverers but as commissioners of services from the voluntary sector, or from others, providing a proper service to help prevent reoffending at local level.”
I feel a slight ownership of this issue as I was the Minister who took the Bill through the House of Commons in 2007. Is my right hon. Friend aware of Pepper v. Hart, whereby what Ministers say at the Dispatch Box counts as legal interpretation? At that Dispatch Box, I mentioned
“trusts remaining public sector-based and delivering services at the local level, and with support from regional commissioners and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.”—[Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 353-4.]
Are the Government using the legislation in a false and inappropriate way?
I have read carefully in Hansard what my right hon. Friend, as well as what the Under-Secretary of State at the time, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe), and Baroness Scotland said in 2007. The Justice Secretary’s power was supposed to be limited, with the Justice Secretary stepping in only when a probation trust failed. It was not to be used to abolish all those probation trusts, and for him to be the sole commissioner, which is what he wants to do—and, by the way, using the Department’s own measure, none of the trusts are failing. There is no justification for the Justice Secretary to do what he is doing.
If the Justice Secretary, his Ministers or his Government said they were abolishing the whole existing probation landscape to save money, there would be a sort of logic to it, but they cannot even say that. The MOJ made an impact assessment of the plans—do hon. Members know what it said? It said:
“The cost will be dependent on the outcome of competition”.
The Government cannot say how much the plans will cost, let alone how much they will save. You could not make it up!
Where are the Liberal Democrats on this? To be fair, 24 Lib Dem MPs signed early-day motion 622, which heaped praise on the work of the probation service just last year. Back in 2007, the Deputy Prime Minister wrote these words, which are worthy of repetition:
“Few public services can be as readily overlooked as the probation service. For the last century probation officers have tirelessly and selflessly sought to help make our society safer and to rehabilitate those who have been drawn towards crime. The role they play is a vital one and it is important that politicians from across the party spectrum recognise this. As the second century of the probation service begins it is crucial that the unglamorous, painstaking yet hugely important work of the probation service is cherished, not undermined, by both Government and opposition parties.”
I say to those on the Liberal Democrat Benches that our motion is a modest one: read it, consider it, support it. If they fail to support our motion, they will be allowing the Secretary of State and his Government to go ahead with their risky plans.
In conclusion, changing our probation service to better rehabilitate offenders is not something that we, the profession, or experts are against. We must do all we can to reduce reoffending, by introducing new and innovative ways of working that are tried and tested before being rolled out. There should be no leaps into the unknown, and no gambling with public safety with half-baked reckless plans. I hope colleagues from all sides of the House will support our motion.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” to the end of the Question and add:
“applauds the work already carried out by probation trusts and other agencies to turn offenders away from crime; and welcomes the Government’s proposals to build on that work to further reduce re-offending by extending support after release to offenders given short custodial sentences, introducing an unprecedented nationwide through-the-prison-gate resettlement service so that offenders are given continuous support by one provider from custody into the community, harnessing the skills and experience of trained professionals and the innovation and versatility of voluntary and private sector providers to support the rehabilitation of low and medium risk offenders and creating a new National Probation Service that will work to protect the public and will directly manage those offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public.”
It is an enormous pleasure to be debating under your chairmanship, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is great to see you in the Chair. The amendment is in my name and the names of the Prime Minister and our right hon. Friends.
The House has sat and listened for the past half hour to a party that has absolutely no idea how to tackle what I believe to be Britain’s biggest crime problem. The Labour party did nothing about the problem in all of the 13 years it was in government. This Government will not repeat that record of failure. We are determined to break the depressing merry-go-round of crime. In this country, we have a cycle of reoffending that has a dreadful impact on the lives of decent, hard-working members of society, and that creates needless numbers of victims in our communities.
I will make some progress before giving way to hon. Members. Let me get established first.
The reality is that crime in Britain is falling, which is good. There are fewer first-time criminals, which is also good. However, increasingly, crime is committed by people who have offended previously, who are going around and around the system. Reoffending in Britain has barely changed in a decade—it rose again in the past year. It is as high as it was five years ago when the trusts were formed and the reforms were introduced.
Just yesterday, we released statistics that paint a grim picture of reoffending in this country. More than 148,000 criminals convicted or cautioned in the past year had at least 15 previous convictions or cautions. More than 500,000 offenders had at least one previous conviction or caution, including 95% of those given short sentences of less than 12 months. That group of offenders—prisoners who are released from short sentences of less than a year—have long been neglected by the system. They are at the heart of what we want to achieve.
I will give way in a moment.
The overall reoffending rates of that group are shocking. In the year to September 2011, nearly 60% of them went on to commit a further crime. Nearly 85,000 further crimes were committed by the group who walk out of prison with £46 in their pockets and get little or no support to get their lives back together and turn away from crime.
It is possible that the Secretary of State is right and that the experts whom he believes are wrong are wrong. However, surely in the interests of democratic accountability, a radical change of the sort he proposes should be debated properly in the House and the other place. Why is he so frightened of proper scrutiny of his policies?
The figures that the Lord Chancellor gives are shocking and, in many ways, a disgrace to our country. Is not one reason for the figures that there is no through-the-gate system from custody to community? The new resettlement prisons—I am glad that Her Majesty’s prison Winchester is part of the proposals—are part of putting that failed system right.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is not against that, but Labour Members have come up with no suggestions whatever on how to achieve it, and did not do so in 13 years in government. This Government will make that difference. The reason is that that group of people—the ones who walk the streets with £46 in their pocket—are being abandoned by the system. Many have deep-rooted problems, such as drug, mental health and educational problems. We currently expect them to change on their own. When we do nothing, they carry on reoffending, which means more victims and more ruined lives. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) has said, it also means a cost, as estimated by the National Audit Office, of between £9.5 billion and £13 billion a year.
Is my right hon. Friend as surprised as I am that the shadow Justice Secretary gave little recognition to the gravity of the problem; that, in his motion, there is nothing—not a single word—on how to reduce reoffending; and that the motion is simply a negative approach to the Government’s proposals?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. All the Opposition are doing is opposing. I hear no suggestions, but we heard no suggestions from the Labour Government. We have heard from the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) on many occasions in the past few months. On 17 July, he said:
“But I also know that the status quo is not an option. Re-offending rates are too high.”
He has also said that we need to target specific groups, such as those who receive short sentences, many of whom are in the revolving door of reoffending. However, we heard nothing about that in his speech to his party conference this year, and there is nothing about it in the motion. The truth is that he has no plan.
Worse than having no plan, the Opposition did nothing in government. They had the chance to tackle the problem of support for short-sentence offenders when they were in office. In 2003, they legislated for custody plus, a highly complex and bureaucratic system, but at least it was trying to address the problem. However, in February 2006, the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who was the Minister at the time, said:
“We intend to introduce Custody Plus in the autumn of 2006.”—[Official Report, 6 February 2006; Vol. 442, c. 934W.]
Only five months later, the then Government said that they would not implement the new sentence of custody plus. In November 2007, the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) said:
“No decision has yet been taken as to when custody plus will be introduced.”—[Official Report, 21 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 946W.]
In February 2010, just before the general election, Lord Barker said in the other place:
“Resource constraints have meant that we have been unable thus far to implement custody plus and there is no prospect of doing so in the near future.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 3 February 2010; Vol. 505, c. 17WS.]
They opted out of their plan to tackle the problem that we are going to solve. They said that they could not do it, and it has been left to this Government to come up with a plan that will deliver real change.
I was a Minister in that Department, and the Lord Chancellor is wrong to say that nothing was done in our 13 years. We created the probation trusts, in the face of great resistance from his party, which voted against the Bill. In the Government’s plans, the multi-agency protection agreements between the police, the probation service and the criminal justice system will be kept in the public sector for the most serious offenders. Why will the rest go to the private sector when the risk register shows that there is concern about those people who go from a low or medium risk to high risk?
Let me address the issue of the risk register. The previous Government produced risk registers, but they never published them. A risk register is an internal working document designed to tell the team working on a project the steps that they need to take to ensure that untoward things do not happen. One of the things that we are doing in planning this project is, of course, aiming to deliver a transition that is as seamless as possible and protect the public. The difference this will make is to provide supervision for those people who are walking the streets and committing crimes, leading to more victims of crime today. That is what these reforms are all about.
Our probation staff are not prohibited from bidding. We have teams of staff who are preparing mutual bids, some of which will, I hope, be successful. They are receiving help from the Cabinet Office to do so, and we are hoping to see members of our current team take this opportunity, win contracts, and go on to make a real difference.
The Government claim that private providers will have the tools they need to assess offender risks, but the proposals refer to a new and untried risk of serious recidivism model. Is the Minister aware of concerns that that could lead to private companies wrongly assessing the most serious cases—those with low risk of recidivism but high on the risk of harm, such as convicted murderers and rape offenders—and will he commit, in the interests of public safety, to proper piloting and external validation of any new tool before its implementation and before the creation of community rehabilitation companies?
We intend to use the same systems across the public, private and voluntary sectors—that is enormously important—so that there will be no question of people using different systems. It will be part of the contracting structure that what the public national probation service, working with the most serious offenders, uses will also be used by contractors.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the Opposition have no right to lecture us on the criminal justice system, as they released tens of thousands of prisoners early, which undermined the public’s trust in the criminal justice system?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, what we hear is a party that has changed completely. When Labour Members talk about the outsourcing agenda, they tend to forget that they were the people who drove the outsourcing agenda. They were the people who said that prisons could and should be run in the private sector. They were the people who said that electronic monitoring could and should be run in the private sector. A volte-face has taken Labour back to being an old-fashioned left-wing socialist party, and they are now pretending that none of that happened, but I can assure them that it did.
Do not the Opposition have a one-sided view of expertise? From my involvement in the criminal justice system as a defence solicitor, I know the expertise of probation officers. That needs to be shared and transferred, and they need to be able to bid for contracts, but we have to recognise that expertise is not just in the public sector—there is expertise in the voluntary sector and the private sector. For example, is anyone saying that St Giles Trust, which supports people into work and housing, does not have expertise? Let us have a balanced view about allowing more people to be involved in the business of rehabilitation.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is what we hope to achieve. This is not about handing probation to big companies, but bringing in the right expertise from the private, voluntary and community sectors to reinforce the work of the public sector, and to bring new ideas and approaches to rehabilitation. The great irony is that in the debate on the Offender Management Act 2007, Labour Members talked about the benefit of bringing together the skills of the public, private, voluntary and community sectors. Owing to the new, union-dominated agenda they are pursuing, they have abandoned all that and are now saying that anything that involves anybody else is simply not good, and that is not good enough.
I will make some progress and then take some interventions.
There has been talk about the categories of low and medium risk, something the right hon. Member for Tooting refers to regularly. The categories come from the current system—it is how the current probation system works. We will build on that in the new system.
We will not do business with anyone who cannot demonstrate the right expertise in preventing reoffending. The hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) made the valid point that there are many good community and voluntary sector organisations doing excellent work in this field. I want more of that work to be part of what we do in the probation sector.
What my right hon. Friend says about the variety of organisations that have something important to contribute on rehabilitation is surely something we all recognise in our own constituencies. Will he confirm for the record that there is nothing to prevent—indeed, lots to encourage—the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire probation trusts from getting together and bidding with a business for rehabilitation contracts?
Not only that; we are encouraging our management teams from trusts. We cannot contract on a payment-by-results basis with ourselves, but the Cabinet Office is investing money to encourage and support teams of staff who want to take over the business, run it and be free to innovate.
The Lord Chancellor is being generous in giving way. Let me make it clear that I believe there is valuable expertise among the many charities that work with offenders on some of the problems he has raised—on mental health, alcohol and drugs—but can he define medium-risk offenders? What offences is he talking about? How does he deal with the point that was raised earlier about offenders who fluctuate between medium risk and high risk? If there is a logic to keeping the management of high-risk offenders in the current system, what is the logic for those who fluctuate between the two?
Let me answer that question specifically. First, the categorisations are existing categorisations—they are not mine—and are part of a triage process within the existing probation system that we will continue to use. Secondly, on moving people from one category to another, it will be the responsibility of a national probation trust to carry out risk assessments at the beginning, or later if circumstances change that require a new assessment to take place. The two organisations will be in part co-located, so it will not be a complicated bureaucratic process—people will be sitting in the same office. The national probation service will carry out assessments when they need to be carried out. I can explain this to the right hon. Gentleman separately and at much greater length if he would like, but that is how it will work.
On voluntary sector organisations, we are making absolutely sure that smaller organisations have a place at the table.
The shadow Justice Secretary’s comments about the Work programme were complete nonsense. When I left the Department for Work and Pensions, the voluntary sector was supporting about 150,000 people. It was by far the biggest voluntary sector programme of its kind ever seen in this country, with organisations such as the Papworth Trust delivering the programme across large areas of the country and making a real difference. I pay tribute to those charities. The story about bid candy is simply not true. In the two years I was employment Minister, fewer than 10 of the 250 to 300 voluntary sector organisations involved left the programme, and all of them did so for reasons unconnected with the programme. So I am afraid he is plain wrong.
Well, I did the job.
Section 3 of the 2007 Act provides a clear and unambiguous power for the Secretary of State to
“make contractual or other arrangements with any other person for the making of the probation provision.”
On Second Reading, the then Home Secretary said:
“The Secretary of State, not the probation boards, will be responsible for ensuring service provision by entering into contracts with the public, private or voluntary sectors. With that burden lifted, the public sector can play to its strengths while others play to theirs.”—[Official Report, 11 December 2006; Vol. 454, c. 593.]
I could not have described our plans better. Furthermore, on Report, the hon. Member for Bradford South (Mr Sutcliffe) said:
“Most services will be commissioned from lead providers at area level, which will sub-contract to a range of other providers.”—[Official Report, 28 February 2007; Vol. 457, c. 960.]
Again, that is very close to the plans before the House today. The shadow Justice Secretary must also know that in another place Baroness Scotland said that the Act
“places the statutory duty with the Secretary of State, who then commissions the majority of services through a lead provider”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 June 2007; Vol. 693, c. 639.]
We have two options. Either the Opposition are not being up front with the House about what they really intended to do in the 2007 Act, or they were so incompetent they did not know what they were doing. The House can choose which is most likely.
The golden thread through the 2007 Act was public sector management of all offenders—low and medium-level and serious offenders—supported by the commissioning of the type of services the Justice Secretary wants on health, mental health and alcohol and drug treatment from the voluntary and private sector, but the public sector has to be responsible for managing offenders.
I repeat, from the 2007 Act:
“The Secretary of State may make contractual or other arrangements with any other person for the making of the probation provision.”
That is clear, to my mind. It might not have been what Labour intended, but it is what the power does, and it is the legal basis we are using for pushing ahead with these reforms.
We will give providers the flexibility to do what works and free them from Whitehall bureaucracy, and the deal is that they get paid in full only for real reductions in reoffending, which is a good deal for victims and the taxpayer. Despite what the shadow Justice Secretary says about the Work programme, it has now helped many hundreds of thousands of the long-term unemployed. He talks about low-hanging fruit—these are people who had been unable to find a job through Jobcentre Plus in over a year.
The Opposition are missing one other important point. The shadow Justice Secretary talked about piloting, but the pilot programme delivering clear improvements in the level of reoffending that is closest to what I want to achieve around the country is in Peterborough. It is so far achieving very good results. It is impressive and I encourage Members in that area to visit. One cannot but feel that it is the right thing to do, but what the Opposition have not admitted is that it was started by Labour. I know it does not want to admit it now, but it started us on this path, and it is a sign of how absurd it has become that it wants to walk us off this path today.
On the point about public protection, the national public sector probation service we are establishing will, of course, be responsible for risk assessing all offenders supervised in the community and will retain the management of offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public, who have committed the more serious offences and who require multi-agency supervision. That is right and proper. An hon. Member—I cannot remember which one—made a point about the working day. I would rather the supervision of highest-risk offenders was in the hands of dedicated experts—and it will continue to be—but having listened to people talk about inexperienced individuals and companies coming in, I think it is worth pointing out that after these reforms, it will be the same teams looking after low and medium-risk offenders as are looking after them now. Only over time will we see the work force evolve so that the expertise in the voluntary sector becomes part of the mix, with former offenders who have turned their lives around influencing young offenders and encouraging them not to do it again.
What I cannot understand is how the transition between low, medium and high risk will work. We all know that people’s circumstances can fluctuate in those situations. If, as the Secretary of State said in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), the changes are not particularly dramatic, why are the Government pushing them through? If, however, they are dramatic, there will be a disjoin. How does the right hon. Gentleman propose to deal with that?
As I have said, it will be a simple process. The national probation service team will be responsible for risk assessment. They will have a duty to carry out a new assessment when a person’s circumstances change, and it will be the duty of the provider to notify the team of any material change of circumstances. They will be co-located, and when an offender becomes a high-risk offender, they will be taken back under the supervision of the national probation service. This is about people sitting in the same office and working together, just as people work together in any office environment.
We have ascertained that Labour accepts the need to bring in other providers to deal with people who are serving fewer than 12 months. The Secretary of State has read out the relevant legislation; it is there in black and white. The Peterborough pilot was introduced by Labour, and we understand that Labour Members are very proud of it. So what does my right hon. Friend think lies behind the outrage being expressed this afternoon at our proposals to drive down the reoffending rates that are costing our constituents billions of pounds?
I can only think that it is because the Labour Government could not find a way to do that themselves, or perhaps because Labour has reverted politically to where we all know it belongs and is now ideologically opposed to this kind of approach. It is a party that used to believe that outsourcing part of what we did could make a difference, but it has clearly changed that view now.
It is worth mentioning the creation of resettlement prisons. If we are to deliver rehabilitation that prevents reoffending, it is really important that we have a proper through-the-gate service. My hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) mentioned the prison in Winchester, which will be one of the network of 82 resettlement prisons in which people will, whenever possible, spend the last few months of a longer sentence, or the whole of a shorter one. Those prisons will provide a proper through-the-gate service that will also prevent reoffending.
We must remember why we are doing all this. The Opposition want us to wait for years before doing anything; they do not want us to take this approach. I have a different view: I think that we cannot afford not to act now. Every day of every week, innocent people are the victims of crimes committed by offenders who have just left prison without getting any supervision whatever, and with wholly inadequate preparation for life back in society. Every day of every week, innocent people are the victims of crimes committed by offenders who could be turned away from a life of crime if only there were someone there to help them to do that. That is a scandalous situation, but there are ways for us to solve it. This should never have been allowed to happen in the first place, but our reforms will change things for the better.
I, too, would like to congratulate you on your election to your new position, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I do not criticise the Justice Secretary for wanting to change, improve or reform our prison and probation services. That is something that we should all want. However, I absolutely reject his assertion that nothing happened during the 13 years of the Labour Government, and I want to explain, drawing on my own experience, some of the things that did happen during that time.
Ten years ago, almost to the day, Lord Carter of Coles presented my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and me with a report, “Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime: a new Approach”. And it was a new approach. Three outcomes from that report were significant. The first was the creation of the National Offender Management Service, which brought together prison and probation services in a way that had not been done before and institutionalised the end-to-end management of offenders in a way that has underpinned everything that has happened since. More controversially, there was a clearer separation between commissioning and providing services, and a greater emphasis on contestability—a belief that by bringing more players into the system, we could get efficiencies and innovation.
Some of that got me into hot water with some of my colleagues, and I make that clear now because I want the Justice Secretary to know that I am not afraid of bringing in competition or of private sector or third sector players coming in to help to reduce reoffending. I share many of the objectives of his transforming rehabilitation strategy. I am deeply concerned, however, that what he is doing is not reforming the probation service, but destroying it. This is a Secretary of State who wants both to nationalise and to privatise the probation service at one and the same time. He wants to end local probation trusts, but to create a new national probation service run out of Whitehall and to award 21 new private sector contracts that will be drawn up and awarded by his Ministry of Justice.
Why is it that successful and effective trusts such as the Northumbria and Greater Manchester trusts will not be allowed to bid for low and medium-risk offender work? Why is it that Greater Manchester trust, which has been commended from the Dispatch Box by the Justice Secretary on more than one occasion and has introduced innovations such as the intensive alternative to custody, cannot be trusted to bid for and to run these services? The only conclusion I can reach is that his motivation is ideological and not practical.
Let me say something about the costs and the lack of transparency—my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) alluded to this—especially in respect of the new arrangements that the Justice Secretary proposes for the supervision of offenders who get short prison sentences. I support the Government in trying to introduce this innovation—I make no bones about that—but let me be absolutely candid about custody plus. Along with many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I wanted custody plus and we legislated for it in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The obstacle—the Secretary of State referred to it—was the cost. But at least I can put a price on what custody plus would have cost. Ten years ago, it would have cost £194 million a year. Interestingly, that was based on an estimate of 50,000 offenders who would have been in the system—precisely the same number as those in his impact assessment report. I can put a figure on it, but he cannot. All we are told is that it will be paid for by the savings generated by the competition for low and medium-risk offenders. Frankly, I just do not believe it. Either that supervision will be inadequate or the existing provision will be weakened and reduced in quality.
I cannot understand the pace of change on which this Secretary of State seems hell-bent. Within one year from now, he will have to award contracts, appoint staff, transfer cases, set up IT, sort out premises provision, renegotiate or even end existing contracts and organise 70 resettlement prisons. Well, I wish him well. If he succeeds in that, I will be the first to congratulate him, but he is setting himself an impossible target that could produce tremendous dislocation within these important services.
I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to trial and test the sort of approach he is taking. We may disagree about the approach, but he should at least trial and test it. How can he work out the balance between risk and reward when he has not tested his own scheme? How can he know how much money to offer as an up-front payment? How does he know how much to pay for the results? Even by his own lights, he is found wanting in his thinking.
My concerns and those of other hon. Members and probation officers are shared by police and crime commissioners, and I know that the Justice Secretary has received representations from them. They criticise him for reducing the local partnerships that probation trusts have been able to develop and they are critical of the fragmentation that will come from this flawed approach to risk assessment. The probation service has evolved much over the last 100 years, but this Secretary of State runs the risk of destroying it.
I join others in congratulating you on your election to the position that you now hold, Madam Deputy Speaker, and wish you all good fortune. I also congratulate the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins). This is not the first occasion on which I have spoken immediately after him in a criminal justice debate. I have always found that what he has to say is full of good sense, and that he thinks a great deal about it beforehand.
Like the right hon. Gentleman, I have form. He has experience as—I believe—a Home Office and Northern Ireland criminal justice Minister, while I come to the debate armed, if that is the right expression, with some experience as a Crown court recorder. I sat as a recorder from 1998 until 2010, when I was appointed a Law Officer. Between 2005 and 2009, when I became shadow Attorney-General, I was the shadow justice Minister dealing with prisons and probation. I like to think that, as a consequence of both those functions, I learnt quite a bit about the way in which we run our probation and rehabilitation system.
I would be dishonest if I did not accept that a number of my constituents who work for the probation service in Leicestershire are deeply concerned about what my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are proposing, but I happen to disagree with them because of what I learnt during my time as a recorder and as a shadow justice Minister. Having visited 65 of the 142 or 143 prisons and other custodial units in the country, and having also visited any number of probation offices and staff throughout England and Wales, I concluded that what we were doing extremely badly was looking after—and I mean looking after—repeat offenders. We were quite good at dealing with long-term offenders who had been given five, six, seven or eight years or life sentences, but we were hopeless at dealing with those who had been given sentences of under a year. Now, at last, my right hon. Friend is pushing forward—admittedly, not with everyone’s approval—a policy that will enable us to look after those people, and looking after them will mean that we look after the victims as well.
When I sat as a recorder, most of those whom I saw were drug-addicted, mentally ill people in the dock, and people who could not understand why they had become victims and, in many cases, repeat victims It was the pathetic story of a carousel of failure, and by the time I had become shadow Attorney-General and, eventually, Solicitor-General, I felt evangelical about it. I am not suggesting that the Lord Chancellor is anything like a saint—he and I have had our differences over all sorts of things—but at last he and I are on the same page, both of us wanting to do something practical about repeat offending.
At Pentonville prison in London, most of the probation work is entirely defensive. Those who go into the prison will probably be there for less than six months, and many are there for a matter of days or weeks. Most of them cannot read, most are on drugs, most do not have a GP, and most do not have a fixed address. The main thing that the Prison Service and the probation service can do in that place is keep them alive. After a few days or weeks, they are spat out on to the street—and what do they do in order to feed their drug habit? They commit burglaries, they commit robberies, and they become street drug dealers.
We cannot continue to permit that. While it is difficult for my constituents who are members of the National Association of Probation Officers and work extremely hard, and very well, in Leicestershire, to accept the structural changes that are required to achieve the improvements that are needed, and while I have great personal sympathy for them, I regret to say that we must do something and do it quickly, because otherwise the situation will simply progress. What people who have been given short and medium-term prison sentences need on release is a job, somewhere to stay, and a strong relationship. Ideally that strong relationship should be with a partner, but it could also be with someone who can supervise and assist them. They need to be caught, not at the gate but before the gate—before they leave prison.
My good friend Jonathan Aitken said the most terrifying and difficult thing for him when he was in prison was worrying about what was going to happen to him when he left, and he was well-off, highly educated and had all the advantages of his class and education. Just imagine what that must be like for a poor drug addict with mental illness. They have a great big cliff to face as they leave prison. Unless we have supervisors, whether in the charitable sector or the probation service, there to catch them and take them to a better life, we will just reinforce failure.
I commend my right hon. Friend, and I urge him and his fellow Ministers to press on with this. Some unedifying remarks will be directed at us by the Opposition, but I say, “Just be strong.” We have got people to save here and it takes courage: get on with it.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier). His compassion for those who need our help does him credit. I have to say I draw different conclusions, however, and that is the argument between us. I am very pleased that the Labour party has chosen the probation service as the topic for this Opposition day debate. May I also congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your election to the post, and say how pleased I am to see you in your place?
This is the right time to be debating this topic. I believe that what the Government propose poses a real risk to the general public—who are, after all, our constituents—and also to the public purse. When the Secretary of State for Justice was making the case for his proposals, he did not say he thought they would save money. I strongly suspect that, if he gets his way, this will not save money; indeed, I think it will cost more money.
There is an overarching consideration in all this: the question of the delivery of public service. I urge caution. I believe the Government should proceed more cautiously and in a more measured way. The criticisms of the Government’s proposals are widespread; there are many people urging caution, although it is my understanding that the Government intend just to press ahead. I believe that the pace of change is too fast, and that the nature of the change—essentially to a payment-by-results contractor system for 70% of the total work load—is too great to roll this out without first piloting the core proposition. Payment by results is, in any event, an untested way of delivering probation and aftercare services and may well turn out not to be a suitable model for delivering such services. The scope for abuse is obvious and the nature of the safeguards the Government propose is not obvious.
Talking about payment by results, 70% of the people who come to Devon and Cornwall probation service with literacy and numeracy issues end up with a qualification, whereas the national average is 20%. Those are the results currently being achieved by the probation service.
Yes, those are the results. We are talking about what is, by and large, a well-run public service that does its job well. Quite some argument is required to make the case in favour of taking the sort of risks with it the Government are proposing in order to justify what is being done.
Not enough thought has been given to the distinctions between high-risk, medium-risk and low-risk offenders. The idea is that all the difficult cases are dealt with in the public sector and those deemed to be low risk are dealt with by private contractors, which is quite dangerous. These categorisations are not static. Even under the present system, 24% of the case load changes categorisation during the period of supervision. Payment by results by its very nature incentivises contractors to minimise the difficult part of their work load, so there are some perverse economic incentives in the Government’s idea.
It is also the case that categorisation can change very suddenly as a result of a significant single event. In theory, this will result in transfers between public and private sectors inside what is, at the moment, a unified public service. The new arrangements will make this more difficult, especially with economic incentives driving the process. There is too much scope for dispute and delay, thus endangering the public. In any event, the private sector contractors will have to be invigilated, with their claims checked to make sure that they are true, and that will cost money. I suspect that the Government are being unduly optimistic about this aspect of their proposals. Indeed, the Secretary of State is already complaining about being overcharged for the electronic tagging arrangements.
I do not understand why the Government are trying to do this to the probation service, which is a good public service. Feeling is particularly strong in the area I represent. A fortnight ago, I presented a petition signed by more than 2,000 local citizens in defence of the Northumbria probation trust, which is rated as exceptional. Of the 35 probation areas, 31 are rated good and four are rated exceptional. In 2011, the probation service was awarded the British Quality Foundation gold medal for excellence.
The Government’s proposals will wreck all that, and the claimed benefits are unproven. The Department’s own risk assessment of the proposals, which was helpfully leaked into the public domain, confirms that. The risk assessment codes a number of the key risks as black, which is the worst rating possible; apparently, there is an 80% chance of a drop in operational performance and up to an 80% risk of failure of implementation. Crucially, there is an 80% risk of the cost savings not being met. Why on earth are we doing this if there is a likelihood of the cost savings not being met? Why would any rational person do this? The risks to the public purse and to the safety of our constituents are unacceptable.
I urge the Government to take a deep breath and to go back to the reasonable compromise proposal to pilot their ideas to test them against the evidence. In parallel, they could, if they wanted to, pilot the same ideas in a public setting and compare the two. Thirdly, it would be reasonable to have a pilot involving voluntary organisations with a special expertise, where they may be able to enhance what is done in the context of a first-rate public service.
Taking a little longer and getting this right is surely the correct way to proceed, rather than rushing at it, getting it all wrong and then coming back to the House saying, “We haven’t saved any money. It has actually cost more. Rather a lot has gone wrong and we are asking the public sector to take over again and to clear it all up.” That would be absolutely disastrous and there is no need to take the risk. There is no need to take the risk with our constituents’ safety and no need to take the risk with the public purse. I urge the Government to step back and to try to come to a more consensual way forward. I would certainly play a part in that if they were willing to do so.
The Liberal Democrats want a rehabilitation revolution. We want to toughen up community sentences and make them a genuine alternative to custody, to embed restorative justice throughout the justice system and to open up rehabilitation services to a wider range of providers to ensure that the most effective and innovative measures are available.
It is clear from the comments of hon. Members from both sides of the House that the justice system, as it stands at the moment, is not working. Nearly half of offenders reoffend, but the figure for short-term prisoners is even worse, at 60% and they are the ones who currently get no help with rehabilitation at all. The result is a huge cost to society and to the economy. We need help for all ex-offenders to enable them to build their lives on release and not fall into the same traps that got them into trouble in the first place. That is why I welcome our current proposals to change the law to ensure that all offenders released from custody, regardless of their sentence length, will receive at least 12 months of supervision on licence. It is to be done by making probation cost-effective, by extending the service to lower-risk offenders on a payments-by-results basis. That additional help that offenders receive should, literally, pay for itself.
I am a member of a Select Committee considering prisoner voting, and I can tell hon. Members that when it comes to the issues that will determine the amount of reoffending, the right to vote, although that is an important human right, is way down the list. The important factors are having somewhere to stay, meaningful work, training and education, supportive personal relationships, a mentor, continuing health care and so on. Ex-offenders will now have the opportunity to access such things through a structured programme of help. The private and voluntary sectors as well as those who now work in probation trusts can bid for the care of those low-risk offenders.
I do not disagree with the hon. Lady about the excellent work done by many voluntary organisations, as I certainly have one such organisation in my constituency. I am being told, however, that such organisations cannot bid for the contracts, as they will not take that financial risk, but, ironically, some of the big private sector companies are asking them to be on the sub-tender list. The idea being suggested is that such organisations will come forward, but that will not be the case.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening very carefully when the Secretary of State made his remarks on that point. I can only concur with the Secretary of State’s comments—they worked for me.
The importance and value of probation officers in protecting the public and helping offenders reintegrate into society should not be underestimated. We are clear that we need to obtain the skills and expertise of probation professionals as we move into the new system, which is why we are establishing a national probation service.
I want to address a phrase in Labour’s motion that is, I feel, misleading. It states that it is a
“fact that under the Government’s plans supervision of dangerous, sexual and violent offenders may be undertaken by inexperienced and unqualified staff and by companies without any track record in this area”.
I believe that the important factor is whether they are “high risk”. The Justice Secretary has explained very clearly how the system would work. The established probation service will handle all high-risk ex-offenders and to imply that they would be entrusted to inexperienced and unqualified people is, in my view, scaremongering. Let us have none of that.
How does the hon. Lady account for the fact that although some individuals might be low-risk or medium-risk offenders, a fluctuating condition might mean that something happens in their lives—as she has said, some of these people often live very chaotic lives— and they suddenly, overnight, become high-risk? That is the situation that we are worried about.
I am sure that the hon. Lady is right that such people live chaotic and fluctuating lives and things can change, but the Justice Secretary explained that the people making the assessments would always be on the job and would be in the same room as the other people who would be involved.
There are some legitimate questions for the Minister. I have seen payment by results work well in job searching and I know that there are good voluntary and private organisations with skill and experience that could be put to good use in rehabilitation. There are also private companies, however, that have failed spectacularly to handle work that has hitherto been carried out by the public sector. Whenever the profit motive comes into play, the desire will be to maximise profit and minimise risk and effort. How will the Government ensure that private companies, in particular, do not simply come along and pick the low-hanging fruit? How will we ensure that a very important Liberal Democrat principle is adhered to—[Laughter.] The right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition Benches are having a laugh, as they say, but a decision on this very important principle was passed at the last Liberal Democrat conference—[Interruption.] If hon. Members care to listen, they will find out what we think is really important. The principle that we would adhere to is that all ex-offenders should receive appropriate help, even when the risk of reoffending is high. So how will that happen, and how will the costs be factored? After all, many ex-offenders will leave prison never to reoffend, all on their own. Will there be some form of incentive to encourage voluntary sector or private providers to take on the hard cases—people with addictions, low educational attainment and poor or even non-existent employment records?
As a member of the Justice Committee, I can tell the House that we are still concerned about the Government’s proposals. We have not formed a view yet but we are returning to the issue to look at the timing of these changes, the structure, and crucially the contractual arrangements. I understand that the Government intend to use the Offender Management Act 2007 as the prime mechanism to abolish probation trusts and create new community rehabilitation companies and the national probation service, but I believe sincerely that the introduction of the transforming rehabilitation programme should be debated in full by both Houses of Parliament. This is far too important a matter to be rushed through without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
In March 2014, 35 probation trusts will disappear. That will inevitably lead to job losses. Currently 18,000 staff face uncertainty about their future. The impact on the public will be shocking; I hope I am wrong. After six months, the remaining 70% of the probation service will be privatised and sold off to the cheapest bidder—another race to the bottom. The Minister disagrees, obviously. Contractors who offer services for the lowest price will be responsible for supervising the low to medium-risk offenders—that is, the precise group most likely to go on to commit further and serious offences. This will include the supervision of those convicted of domestic violence, sex offenders and gang members—groups which require specialist knowledge and expertise.
The National Association of Probation Officers, the probation union, has estimated that nearly 70,000 of the 140,000 medium and low-risk cases that are bound to be outsourced will be offenders convicted of violent or sexual offences.
The right hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Does he share my concern that there is a risk that those private contractors will look at some of those people in their mix and say, “These are a bit difficult. Let’s just pass them back to the public sector and all the costs will go back,” in order to meet their target?
That is precisely what will happen. Once the profit motive comes in, common sense dictates that that will happen.
Private companies will be handling extremely sensitive cases, many of which pose huge risks to the public, with little or no experience of assessing risk. We know that that, too, is a movable feast. They will also be unable to cope with the demands of managing offenders who need encouragement, support and patience—work which the probation service itself is doing very well at present. The Ministry of Justice figures show that all 35 probation trusts are hitting all their targets with good or excellent performance levels. The reoffending rates for all adult offenders on probation supervision are the lowest they have been since 2007-08. In October 2011, as we know, the probation service was awarded the British Quality Foundation gold medal for excellence.
Reoffending by those who undergo supervision by probation has been falling every year since 2000, and two thirds of individuals managed by probation trusts in the community do not go on to reoffend within a year. The service’s high-level performance is continuing. The Government want to fragment that. The highest reoffending rates of 57% are of course found among those offenders who undergo short-term prison sentences—that is, the group who have no current contact with probation trusts. The Government have in the past ruled out the option of handing over responsibility for these individuals to probation trusts.
Probation trusts have made savings of 20% between 2008-09 and 2012-13, despite the fact that the probation budget has fallen by 19% in real terms over the same period. That all goes to show that it is trained and experienced probation workers who keep crime rates down and protect the public from further harm, but the Justice Secretary seems to have little regard for any of that.
These plans represent a victory of dogma over common sense and are yet another example of the Tory mantra that public is bad and private is always good, despite G4S torturing people in South African prisons and, along with others, skimming off millions of pounds of Government money.
I was actually referring to the Secretary of State. Whether the hon. Gentleman fancies himself in that role is a matter for another day.
The MOJ’s internal risk register was mentioned in an intervention on the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan). Both NAPO and the Probation Chiefs Association have expressed grave and well-thought-out concerns about public safety as a result of these plans. That is why the call for pilots makes every possible sense. There is a real risk that communication gaps will occur, leading to delays and endangering the public.
The problems faced by offenders are frequently complex and probation staff have experience and training that helps them know which services offenders should utilise to meet their needs. Work done by the Prison Reform Trust has shown that offenders are 12 times more likely to have spent time in care and 20 times more likely to have been expelled from school than others in the general population. Furthermore, two thirds have encountered problems with substance abuse and 72% have two or more mental health problems. But the Government’s proposals will fragment the local partnership work in which probation trusts currently play a vital role, including youth to adult transitions, troubled family initiatives, women offender institutes and community safety partnerships.
The staff are now being kept in the dark about how individuals delivering probation services will be trained in future, as well as crucial details such as: the terms of voluntary redundancy schemes; what access, if any, will be granted to local government pension schemes, both for existing staff and new recruits; and information on how their roles will change after the reforms have been introduced. In October members of NAPO, for only the second time in its 101-year history, voted for direct action, with more than 84% voting in support on a 46% turnout.
The Government’s plans risk threatening the success of the probation service and pose a danger to the public. The MOJ knows that and has refused to publish the evidence to substantiate that stark fact. The common-sense answer—the elephant in the room—is of course to extend the remit of the award-winning probation service so that it can supervise offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. The Government have chosen not to do that on dogmatic grounds, and sooner or later they will pay for it.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall do my best to encompass all my thoughts within the requisite five minutes.
It was a pleasure not only to be asked to speak in this debate, but to meet a constituent last Saturday whose grandson is sadly in the criminal justice system. He has just had to move to the other side of the country to access the rehabilitation course he requires to get a meaningful job upon release. The consequence is that he can no longer see his family, as they cannot afford to travel to the other side of the country, but he understands the importance of getting a job and having a secure financial base on which to rebuild his life. It is clear to me that this debate is not about the arid structures that Opposition Members have talked about; it is about real people and, most importantly, outcomes.
The Secretary of State is right to point to the appalling reoffending statistics for those serving sentences of less than 12 months. As he said, those with the highest reoffending rates seem to get the least rehabilitation support. Resettlement prisons are clearly a key component of the new landscape, but on the journey there are risks of mixing potentially vulnerable young offenders and older inmates. Will the Minister look closely at what the independent monitoring board has said about HMP Portland, where there has been serious evidence of self-harm and violence because of the inappropriate mixing of populations?
I urge hon. Members to look at the Prison Reform Trust’s report, “Out for Good”, which is about what prisoners want in having a successful rehabilitation in their communities. I declare an interest as a trustee, but it is a very worthwhile read. One of its key points, which I have not yet heard mentioned in the debate, is the importance of stable financial support on release. By this I do not just mean the £46 that people take through the gate, but their ability to have a bank account and to access insurance. Many banks have carried out pilot projects—Barclays has made more progress than most—and the charity Unlock is doing its best to corral the financial services industry in this regard. However, I urge Ministers to try a little harder. Without access to a bank account, which is now such an important part of daily life, or adequate insurance, rehabilitation is made that much harder.
Members in all parts of the House have praised the voluntary sector and the charities that can all play such an important role, but I have detected a slight discrepancy whereby Opposition Members see them as being welcome participants but in a subsidiary role. I am happy to see them in a leading role, and I think they want to do far more. For example, the Clink Charity is a support group for about 1,000 different smaller charities that is actively trying to work with the Government to play a role in this. I urge the Minister to look closely at its recommendations about how we can involve those smaller charities fairly in the commissioning sector. It proposes that some of the up-front financial risk that they have to bear should be transferred to the upper-tier providers of these services, perhaps allowing them to play a much greater role. I would like the Minister to respond to the point made by the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra), who is no longer in her place, who said that many small charities—Hibiscus springs to mind—work with very small segments of the offender population and might struggle to generate the statistical justifications that, in the eyes of the larger providers, enable them to make a contribution.
I recognise the concerns of many probation trust members about their professional future. Will the Minister say a little more about the benefits of mutuals? Will he confirm that any trust that is doing good work at the moment, be it in Manchester or in Sussex—for both are doing excellent work—can continue to do that work if they transfer to a mutual status? That confirmation would be very welcome to those who work in such trusts. Thank you again, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard).
I speak as a trained probation officer and as someone who was perhaps least offended when the Secretary of State talked about ideologues, as I think that ideology often gets a bad press. However, being ideological does not remove from the Government the responsibility to provide protection for their citizens. These dramatic changes within our criminal justice system place the 120,000 men, women and children I represent in this place, as everybody else represents their constituents, under threat, and we must therefore speak out against them.
The stated aim of the Government’s plans—we have heard this articulated several times—is to address their concern about reoffending levels. Recidivism should be of concern to all of us, but up to this point neither the probation service nor anyone else has had any responsibility for the vast majority of reoffenders. Nobody in this House disagrees that petty criminals who leave prison after serving short sentences need extra help and support, and we have already heard how that should be done: extend the remit of the probation service to cover such people. Why abolish the probation service and privatise out of existence the successful group of people who have proved that they have the expertise to make a difference to the lives of those people, and why exclude them from the Government’s bidding process? It is absolutely barmy.
Anyone listening to this debate would not think that crime has been falling for the past 20 years under Governments of both stripes. West Yorkshire probation service deals with offenders in my area, where reoffending is down by 14% over the past five years. The situation is in many ways better, not worse, than it has ever been. The probation service is leaner, fitter, better and more focused than ever—certainly compared with when I worked as a probation officer—so we have the opportunity, should we wish, to extend support to people through a proven organisation.
South Yorkshire, like west Yorkshire, has one of the best-performing probation trusts anywhere in the country and it already works with people who are convicted and serve a term of fewer than 12 months. Is it not the case that all of the probation trusts have said they will do this extra work at no extra cost? The question for Ministers, therefore, is: why on earth will they not back the probation trusts, which are already doing the job and doing it well in most cases?
My right hon. Friend makes exactly the right point, but we know that the reason why that will not happen is ideological: this Government believe that private is good and public is bad. We also know that they are not really convinced that these changes will make any real difference to reoffending rates or save money.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what has happened to reoffending rates over the past 10 or 15 years? Have they got better or worse, or have they stayed the same? If they have stayed the same, does he not agree that something needs to be done differently? Secondly, does he not agree that the high rate of reoffending by those with sentences of fewer than 12 months needs to be tackled urgently?
The hon. Gentleman’s question has two parts and I think we have already answered it. The reoffending rates are static, but the bulk of the problem lies in a group that is not yet the responsibility of any organisation—certainly not of the probation service. What I am suggesting is that if we want to provide support for that group of offenders, we should extend the remit of the organisation that has proved that it has the expertise, skills and ability to make a difference. Instead, the Government intend to move to an untested system of payment by results that is unique throughout the criminal justice world and that will be inhabited by companies that have proved themselves to be not only incompetent, but dishonest in the exercise of previous contracts let to them by this Government.
A problem has been identified, but the system that we are producing will make things worse, not better. The Government are in a fix of their own making. They talk of a revolution in the way that offenders are managed. The hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), who is no longer in her seat, said that the Liberals identified with the idea of a revolution. However, we know that revolutions have a tendency to eat up and destroy those who are central to their genesis.
The Government want to place the supervision of thousands of potentially dangerous and unpredictable offenders in the hands of companies that have no track record in the field and that increase their profits consistently by employing poorly paid, untrained, temporary staff. If we add to that the privateer’s tendency to promote commercial confidentiality over partnership working, which has been central to the progress that has been made over the past 20 years, we have a volatile and frightening prospect.
Had the Secretary of State graced us with his presence until the end of the debate, I would have reminded him, as has happened once already, of the statement that he made in this House on 9 January:
“Sometimes we just have to believe something is right and do it”.—[Official Report, 9 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 318.]
That might be okay for the Secretary of State in his personal life, but he is charged with a responsibility to the public of this country and he needs to exercise it better.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood).
Earlier this afternoon, I had a chat with my father, who was a justice of the peace for many years. When I told him that I would be speaking on behalf of the Dorset probation service this afternoon, he said without any hesitation what huge respect he had for all the members of the probation service he had met in his many years as a JP.
Dorset has 10 probation officers and a small administration group based in Weymouth. They handle a case load of 350 offenders at any one time. The pressure is intense. When I visited the team, I was deeply impressed by their professionalism and dedication. They told me that they were concerned about some of the changes that the Government are proposing. It would be wise for us to listen.
I should emphasise that some of the changes are broadly welcomed by the probation team. They are pleased about the extension of statutory supervision to those who are in custody for fewer than 12 months. We have heard about that proposal today. They also welcome the development of seamless through-the-gates resettlement provision. However, the seamless resettlement service will work only if there is active engagement between the probation officer and the offender for at least three months prior to release. Crucially, family ties have also been shown to be vital to the successful reintegration of offenders into the community.
With the closure of Dorchester prison, which until now has been the dedicated resettlement prison for Dorset, offenders and probation officers must meet at Exeter prison, which is some 90 minutes away. That inevitably reduces the number of times they can meet and the amount of useful time that they can spend together. Furthermore, it takes the offender further away from home and his or her support network. It also affects the probation officer’s ability to deal with the intense work load that they leave behind.
If those changes are due to cuts, as must be assumed, they are a false economy. Spending nearly four hours on the road is not a good use of time or money. It also has a knock-on effect on the service and the courts. If the resettlement is truly to be seamless, we must ensure that Dorset probation officers can spend time with Dorset prisoners in Dorset. I ask the Minister to look again at the provision of a dedicated resettlement prison for Dorset.
There are also questions over the part-privatisation of the probation service that need to be answered. At the top of the list of concerns is the potential impact of the split between the national probation service and the community rehabilitation company. The NPS will be publicly run and manage offenders with a high risk of harm, as we have heard. The CRC will be run by commercial bodies and will manage those who have a medium or low risk of harm through a series of interventions and programmes. The problem is that offenders do not usually remain low, medium or high risk; many factors can mean that an offender moves from low risk to high risk, not least if they revert to a drug or alcohol habit.
The new system would mean an offender being passed from the CRC to the NPS, and potentially back again. Will the Minister comment on the continuity of care under such a scenario? That issue matters because research has shown that the relationship between an offender and their probation officer is crucial to whether—once released—they succeed on their licence or order. That continuity is so important that, as I understand it, a change of probation officer for an offender is investigated by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, and every effort is made to ensure that the prisoner keeps the same probation officer throughout. As a result of the split between the NPS and the CRC, probation officers are concerned that that relationship could be affected, with serious consequences for both the offender and wider society.
The hon. Gentleman is making a good speech and a strong point, about which the Minister was shaking his head. Is it not the case that one in four offenders in any one year moves between medium and high-risk categories? They therefore risk yo-yoing between the agencies, which must involve extra cost, extra bureaucracy and extra risk to the public.
I hear the statistics from the right hon. Gentleman, and on my right, my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), says that they are wrong. I was expressing the concerns of my constituents that there will inevitably be some potential confusion between the two organisations. I have been told by probation officers that what is vital and successful at the moment is the fact that they can keep an eye on someone and there is no need to think, “What happens if they go there? Who is going to deal with that? Will they slip through the net?”
It might help if I clarify the position at this stage. In answer to the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), I was shaking my head because when someone is categorised by the national probation service as moving from medium risk to high risk, they will stay with that service. There will be no passing to and fro when that allocation process has taken place.
I am most grateful to the Minister for intervening.
My other concern is that probation officers are concerned about their careers because when they join they have, as I understand it, a mixed portfolio—some offenders are low risk, some medium risk and some high risk. If the probation officer is a member of the CRC, they will inevitably end up with high-risk offenders all the time. I am told that the pressures on those who look after those offenders—who are potentially dangerous—is immense. At the moment, because probation officers have a mixed portfolio, they welcome the fact that they do not have that continual assault on their time. I would be grateful if when he concludes, the Minister commented on career prospects for those probation officers who will still be in the probation service run by the public sector.
Finally, my probation officers would argue that we should run the probation service for all offenders, rather than arbitrarily dividing them into high, low or medium risk and artificially separating them. We heard earlier that three councils have asked the Government whether the proposals could be delayed for further consideration, and I would be grateful if the Minister told the House whether that is being considered because of all the issues that have been raised, not least in the Chamber this afternoon.
We all know that when probation services do good work most people do not find out about it. On the odd occasions when things go wrong, however, the entire world is made aware. When I visited Derbyshire probation service I was blown away by the commitment, imagination and bravery of our probation officers, and that is why they command such respect across both this House and the country. These changes appear to be lacking in evidence base. They fly in the face of all expert opinion and are so dangerously misguided that they are very worrying indeed.
The fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) had to initiate this debate to allow the House to discuss these changes is a matter of shame for the Government. That the other place had to table an amendment to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill to prevent the Government from making changes to the structure of the probation service until it was debated by this House, and that the Justice Secretary failed to bring that Bill back to us, speaks volumes about his political cowardice and the lack of support that the reforms command.
The Secretary of State tells us that we should trust him because he believes his proposals are right. His approach seems to be this: we have a problem—reoffending rates—and we need a policy; this is a policy, therefore it is right. He has not explained in any way why his intention to extend services to offenders sentenced to less than 12 months must coincide with the creation of a load of new companies and a privatisation. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting asked, why can we not have the extension of those services—it is already happening in some cases—within the realms of the current successful probation service?
If the Secretary of State has confidence that wholesale privatisation is right—it is privatisation not just of probation provision, but of commissioning the services—why did he not let the pilots run their course? Why cancel the pilots and then embark on the policy? If that was because he has an unblemished track record and a Midas touch, Opposition Members might be a little less nervous. However, as my right hon. Friend made clear, the Secretary of State was responsible for the shambolic Work programme, under which people were better off if they were not on it. He was also the man at the heart of defending the operation of the work capability assessments when dead people were found to be fit to work. One would have hoped that, with a track record like that, he would show a little caution before ripping up a service on which so many people depend.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) made a wonderful speech and asked why the time scale was so urgent. However, he missed the point. The Secretary of State is clear that the Conservatives are on their way out and that he has to introduce his proposals before he is out of power, when he will not have the chance. He is rushing through this ideological and dangerous move before he is thrown out of office, as he so thoroughly deserves to be.
The probation service has a limited budget that has to stretch a long way, but it is performing. Every single service is ranked as good or outstanding. Its success is built on partnership working with local authorities, the police, prisons and other services. Many people are worried about that partnership working. The probation service operates as a seamless whole. As we split the service in two, the services will not have the partnership aspect that is so important to its success. The Women’s Work programme in Derbyshire brings together all women who have been in prison, regardless of their sentence. That is exactly the kind of specialist work that will be under threat when the service is split in two.
The implementation of the integrated offender management programme involves collaboration with the police in working with offenders who are at a high risk of reoffending. That often means burglars, thieves and serial perpetrators of acquisitive crime, but not the people who are considered to be at a high risk of causing harm—the sort of people about whom the entire community breathes a sigh of relief when they are banged up. They are capable of creating a spike or a rut in local crime figures depending whether or not they are inside. Those people—walking crime machines—are the sort who are likely to fall through the net because of the changes being introduced.
The changes are dangerous and could create a huge problem. The Secretary of State has said that his proposals are not about giving probation to big companies, but I bet we will see the big companies getting all the services. The idea that the voluntary sector will pick them up is a mirage. The Secretary of State is involved in a dangerous experiment and has a track record of failure. He should stop listening to the voices in his head that are telling him he is right. Instead, he should listen to the wide body of opinion telling him that he is getting this wrong, and protect our probation services now.
I have heard empty rhetoric from Opposition Members before, but this afternoon it is particularly poor. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood) tried to position the debate as a public versus private one. The entirety of my career before becoming an MP was in the public sector. The ethos of public service flows through my veins. We are talking about having effective vehicles to deliver our policy objectives. Whether delivery is public or private is not important; the important thing is that we achieve the outcomes we intend. That is why the instinctive opposition to the proposals from Labour Members is disappointing. As all hon. Members recognise, the rate of reoffending remains stubbornly high, notwithstanding the efforts of Governments of all colours. Unless we show some imagination in tackling that, we will not win the fight against crime and we will continue to fail people who are trapped in the cycle of reoffending. I welcome the initiative and imagination shown by the Government. As we have heard, the National Audit Office has estimated that the cost of crime committed by offenders released from short prison sentences is up to £10 billion. For the sake of those offenders, their potential victims and the economy, we must not allow that to continue.
Let us focus on the outcome we are trying to achieve, not on the inputs or on maintaining a provider-led system that is failing to deliver. I was most motivated to speak in this debate by hearing the comments of the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who desperately tried to pray in aid the Public Accounts Committee to back up his position. The role of the PAC is to assess proposals on the basis of value for money. It is getting increasingly tiresome to hear it being prayed in aid to attack Government policy, because that is not its role. We examine the effectiveness of the machine at delivering the policies.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to highlight the report by the PAC on contract management by the Ministry of Justice, and we never hold back on criticising poor contract management across the public sector. It is well known that Whitehall needs to learn a lot in that regard. One of the things that we did in our earlier report on the Work programme was praise the approach to that particular aspect of contract management, which was based on payment by results so that the private sector providers taking those contracts bore the risk. That is a principle that needs to be read across government, and it is an important principle for the proposals that we are talking about.
I bow to no one in my admiration for the Committee Chairman, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), and the way that she is extremely inventive at spinning our reports to give maximum comfort to the Labour party. It says a lot about the lack of talent on the Opposition Front Bench that she is their most effective weapon.
As I have said, the risks will be borne by the providers. If they succeed in transforming the lives of people who are caught up in the cycle of reoffending, what is not to like? If they succeed, people are freed from the cycle of reoffending. If they do not, they do not get paid. What is wrong with that?
I was delighted to hear about the nature of the blood flowing through the hon. Lady’s veins, but could she address the question of the percentages in the contracts? The latest figures suggest that private companies will get 90% of their money whether they succeed or not.
My hon. Friend is making some extremely good points, and I hope that the Opposition are listening carefully. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood) keeps referring to private contracts, but the Lord Chancellor has confirmed twice today that probation trusts can bid for those contracts in conjunction with someone who can take the financial risk. Does she agree that the hon. Gentleman should stop slagging off the private sector?
My hon. Friend pre-empts my next point. We have been talking about private versus public, but it is not like that. We are not just talking about the Sercos and the G4Ss. We want public servants to come together and create mutuals. We are most effective when we all work in partnership. The “us and them” culture perpetuated by the Opposition does nothing to improve outcomes for anyone, whether in jobs, tackling reoffending or anything else. This stale thinking has had its day. We are in the 21st century, not the 20th.
Police and crime commissioners will have a massive role in bringing together successful partnerships to bid for contracts. I pay tribute to an imaginative approach in my constituency, spearheaded by the police and crime commissioner, working with the youth offending team. The team had to find a new home. One of our police stations had closed. The PCC brought together a partnership between the council and the youth offending team, which enabled the re-opening of the police station, with a front-facing desk, that also provided a secure working environment for the team and its clients. That is a great example of partnership working and of how police and crime commissioners can make a difference. I commend what the Government are doing on this agenda.
I am grateful to you for calling me for the second time today, Mr Speaker, which I know is unusual.
I recently had the privilege of visiting the Dudley office of the Staffordshire and west midlands probation trust. I was impressed with its work. It is currently the third best in England and Wales at reducing reoffending. Of 53,216 ex-offenders in the entire region, just 6.9% went on to reoffend, down 16% compared with 2007. Across all areas covered by West Midlands police, none has reoffending rates above 10%.
That is excellent work, but it is not unusual. In July, the Government’s own report assessed all probation trusts as either good or exceptional. Despite that, the Justice Secretary has criticised reoffending rates for prisoners serving less than 12 months, but the probation service will not be allowed to deal with those people. Despite all the evidence that the probation service is functioning well, the Government plan to hand 70% of its work to private companies.
I support using private and voluntary sector expertise and investment where it works, and I believe that the principles of competition and contestability drive up the quality of public services and can reduce costs, but the Government are planning to invest in a completely untested payments-by-results model and do not have a clue if it will work. First, they have no evidence that it will work in practice. Nowhere else in the world uses a payment-by-results model, and the Justice Secretary cancelled pilot schemes in his first week on the job.
Secondly, the Government have no clue how many low and medium-risk offenders will go to private companies. This is key to the Government’s plans, but parliamentary questions have revealed they have no idea how many of the 260,000 offenders handled by the probation service are low, medium or high risk. We need to remember that low risk does not mean no risk. Figures show that the majority of serious offences committed on probation are committed by low and medium-risk offenders. Those are the basics and they should be absolutely clear. Instead, the Government are intent on splitting the probation service, and introducing bureaucracy and delays that could lead to mistakes.
Thirdly, the Government do not even know if the scheme will save money. They are investing in a completely unproven scheme, instead of tried and tested local probation services. That is not good enough when the cost of failure is more criminals committing crime on our streets. That is exactly why chairs of probation trusts told the Government yesterday that the plans will lead to
“more preventable serious attacks and deaths”.
The truth is that the probation service should be more integrated into the justice system, not less. The first way to do that is to ensure more cases are dealt with by the courts and, where community resolutions are used, probation officers should be involved. Community resolutions are being used more and more extensively: the cases never go to court and the perpetrators do not come into contact with the probation service. I heard about a case where an offender kidnapped his underage girlfriend at knifepoint and raped her repeatedly. He assaulted the girl so severely that she miscarried. Unbelievably, just four weeks before the attack he had been issued with a community resolution for underage sex with the same girl. In another case, the rape of another underage girl was dealt with by community resolution, and in other cases robbery, domestic violence and sexual assault were dealt with in the same way. These people should be going to court and the probation service should be working with them, because there is no other way of stopping criminals from offending again.
Secondly, probation offices and courts need to work together at the local level. In Dudley, the Government are threatening to close our criminal court, which is in the same building as Dudley magistrates. Part of the reason why Dudley has one of the best probation teams in the country is that it too is based in the courts and works closely with them and uses their local knowledge.
Thirdly, probation officers should work more closely with prisons. Investment in prisons without investment in rehabilitation is a false economy. There is normally a small probation team based in each prison charged with co-ordinating the sentence planning and the programmes that a prisoner should be on, in conjunction with external probation officers, but I am told it is not permitted to run offender programmes, which are ultimately the best way of reducing reoffending and rehabilitating offenders prior to release. I am told the team finds it almost impossible to work with prisoners in private prisons in Birmingham and Wolverhampton, because the companies that run them are paid to lock people up and have no incentive to do anything that might ensure they do not commit crimes when they are released.
The Government know that their plans are a gamble—that is why they are trying to force them through quickly and quietly—but we cannot afford to gamble with probation. The cost could be more criminals on our streets and more victims of crime. The probation service is working—we have the evidence to prove it—and we should be investing in it, not selling it off. That is the way to reduce reoffending still further.
I will be brief, because I cannot disagree with anything already said from the Opposition Benches. We have heard the expert opinion of people who really know what they are talking about.
No one thinks there is a silver bullet that will stop reoffending. If we think there is one answer, and that it is either in the private sector or the public sector, we will be looking for it for an awfully long time. As we all recognise, everyone in the House wants to reduce reoffending rates as far as possible, protect society and turn criminals into law-abiding citizens, not just for their own sake, but to save money for the public purse. The big question is: how do we do that? Most people, certainly in the Opposition, believe that the public sector, in the form of the probation trusts, has demonstrated an ability to innovate and make improvements. Certainly, that is the case in Derbyshire, and we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins). There has been some astonishing innovation and really fantastic improvements and results.
Yes, and in South Yorkshire. Obviously, I cover a lot of South Yorkshire as well.
How can we best cut reoffending? We can talk about private, public, a mixture of both, about the involvement of charities and so on, but our big concern, and the concern of the chairs of the probation trusts, including in Derbyshire, is that these reforms are being so hurried—they are to be implemented in one year—that the safety of the public could be at risk. Opposition Members have talked about the amount of work, the staff and buildings and everything that needs to be transferred, and 12 months simply is not long enough, so will Ministers please consider pausing and piloting these changes properly? Why is that not possible?
What would we lose that is working well at the moment? With any dramatic change, there will be things lost that work well. We need to protect those services that are working excellently, not throw them out with the bathwater.
I wish to raise another point that I have got wind of. I understand that two organisations would be in the same location for two years, after which the private or public organisations—whichever they are—could go their separate ways? I do not know if the hon. Lady knows anything about that, but I would be grateful to hear from the Minister about it.
I am going to finish on this point, Mr Speaker. I have a big concern about the organisations equipped to bid for these contracts. We are talking about G4S and Serco, which are the very organisations being investigated over serious allegations of fraud in their current MOJ contracts. Also, why are the probation trusts—not the probation officers—which are providing such a good service, unable to bid for these contracts? That could be a big improvement.
I shall finish now and donate my remaining three minutes to the Minister so that he can answer the question from the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax). I do not understand how the distinction between low, medium and high-risk offenders will work; I do not understand the co-location system; and I certainly do not understand how it will not be a disbenefit to someone who has just come out of prison to go from one probation officer to another as he moves from being a low or medium-risk offender to a high-risk offender. If the Minister could explain, I would be very grateful—and there we are: two and a half minutes donated to him.
Our probation service comprises 35 trusts, staffed by incredibly dedicated, hard-working probation officers, all of whom are extremely concerned about the Government’s proposals. The National Offender Management Service published a report in July this year that demonstrated that the quality of the service was either “good” or “exceptional” in every single probation trust. I am proud to say that the facilities in Rotherham won an award for excellence.
Reoffending rates are not the only criterion for measuring the successes of the probation service. Victim feedback has been positive in 98% of cases. Targets for completions on domestic violence interventions, and for court report timeliness, have been exceeded, and completion targets were also met or exceeded on the vast majority of probation programmes. Moreover, the service has managed to achieve all this while making the considerable budgetary savings expected of it. Given that record, I find it astonishing that the Secretary of State is planning to scrap the trusts in a few months and to replace them with an entirely different system, most of which will be run by the private sector. In an echo of the disastrous Work programme, the Secretary of State intends to impose an untried, untested payment-by-results model on the probation service. These reforms are flawed, rushed and ill-conceived.
I want to focus on three issues. First, the proposals will allow cherry-picking by the private sector and will lead to a downgrading of the quality of support that medium and low-risk offenders get. As the National Audit Office has put it, the proposals
“could encourage providers to concentrate their efforts on the offenders least likely to reoffend and prevent them from working with the most prolific offenders”.
Part of the success of the probation service in reducing reoffending has been its use of more targeted interventions. A good example is how interventions for women are handled. These work well because they are small, local and holistic; they look at each woman as an individual with her own problems and needs, rather than as just another offender. Under the proposals, this type of niche service is likely to be lost altogether as the links between large, prime contractors and smaller local providers either break down over time or do not emerge at all. Crucially, those tailored services are simply more expensive. The proposed changes mean that it will become the probation provider, rather than the court, that decides the activities the offender should undertake. Through commercial necessity, providers are likely to prioritise the cheapest solution, rather than the best.
Secondly, let me turn to the issue of exactly what sort of company might tender to run the new community rehabilitation companies. In July this year, the Secretary of State announced that internal findings in his Department had revealed a
“significant anomaly in the billing practices”
of Serco and G4S. That anomaly amounted to tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money being mis-spent. Those practices have rightly been referred to the Serious Fraud Office, and the Department has also arranged a further, more detailed, audit of the companies’ activities. The results of the SFO investigation are not expected for several months, but I understand that those firms have not been ruled out of the bidding process, and that the pre-qualification questionnaire deadline has been delayed to give them a chance to tender.
Finally, I understand that senior staff in the probation trusts have been formally “reminded” that they have a duty to carry out the will of the Secretary of State. Nevertheless, we learned this week that the chairs of the probation trusts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire had written to the Secretary of State warning of the dire consequences of rushing this reform through. We need to listen to the people who know and understand the service best. Those experts say that
“performance is bound to be damaged and that public protection failures will inevitably increase”.
They go on to say that the current timetable was
“unrealistic and unreasonable...with serious implications for service delivery and therefore increases the risk to public”.
In summary, the probation service of 35 trusts ain’t broke, and the privatisation should not be going ahead.
Forget my speech; I just want to make a couple of points so that other Members can get in. I am the secretary of the justice unions parliamentary group, and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) is its chair. Over the past eight years, that group has enabled us to work with probation officers, prison officers and police officers, as well as members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, to gain some understanding of what is happening in the service. To be frank, I did not vote for the previous Government’s legislation. I know that the intention was not for it to be used to roll out privatisation in this way, but I was worried that it would be.
I went to a lecture at the weekend by Angela Davis, the 1960s radical who is now a university professor. She has done research into what is called in America the “prison industrial complex”, in which every prisoner under supervision is a profitable asset—someone who people can make a profit from. I fear that that is where we are now going with this roll-out of privatisation. As others have said, we are talking about a 70% privatisation of this probation service, which is so successful at present and was about to welcome the roll-out of management of offenders with less than 12-month sentences and was rising to the challenge.
We have looked at how privatisation of the justice system has worked. Perhaps we should reflect on Oakwood prison, where a report last week told us it was easier to get drugs than a bar of soap. Privatised companies have made profits in prisons by reducing wages by 23%. That is the prospect held out to probation officers—professionals who are committed and dedicated to their task. If these people are saying—they are front-line staff who know their job—that the public will be put at risk, for God’s sake let us start listening to them.
Finally, let me send out this warning to Ministers. We have heard so much advice about the risk posed by this privatisation to my constituents and members of my community, so if Ministers go ahead irresponsibly without heeding those warnings, they will be held responsible for every member of the public who is harmed, hurt or murdered as a result of these ill-thought-out reforms. This is a warning from me: if any of my constituents are harmed, I will hold Ministers responsible and I will seek to ensure that none of them ever holds public office again.
I shall keep my remarks short, as most of what I wanted to say has been covered in the debate. I have no problem with a private-public partnership or with businesses coming into partnership, although there has been criticism on both sides of the House when Government Departments do not follow business models. We can learn some things from the private sector, but when 35 probation trusts—deemed good or, in some cases, excellent in a National Audit Office report of July 2012—have won awards for the level of service they provide, what good can come from this change?
I shall focus my comments on short-term sentences. Before this debate, I did some research and wrote an article about such sentences. I learned that 60% of people with short-term sentences who are not given a probation order are likely to reoffend within a year, while 20% will reoffend within three to four years. What does that say? It says that probation is pivotal to stopping reoffending.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) said, there is no magic bullet to stop people reoffending. People are different. By privatising 70% of the probation service, we are turning people into statistics and into profits. Private companies will cherry-pick the best and leave the worst cases on the vine. I think we need to talk more about why the probation service has been so successful and why people have not been reoffending. It comes down to one thing. When I talk to probation officers, they tell me that everybody is different, everybody faces different circumstances and everybody has different needs. Probation officers get to know these people and develop a relationship with them. They understand the barriers and how to stop these people from getting back into a cycle of crime. The probation service has been very good at this, and we should support what it does.
I mentioned some statistics about short-term sentences, which highlight the need for the probation service to get involved. We should be expanding the probation service rather than privatising it. We have heard that we must go with our gut instinct. That is what the Justice Secretary said. Well, let him go with his gut instinct, but the fact remains that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) said earlier, this is a matter of life or death. It is up to the Government, but if they get this wrong, there is nothing they can do to apologise to the victims of crime.
During my brief time serving on the Justice Committee, I have seen this Justice Secretary rolling out disaster after disaster under his stewardship. The outsourcing of translation cases resulted in whole cases being abandoned at huge cost to the courts service and putting at risk the liberty of individual citizens. The Ministry of Justice was repeatedly warned that ALS—Applied Language Solutions—was incapable of delivering a contract of that size, but those warnings were ignored. Although Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service forbade front-line staff to talk to the Justice Committee, the Committee’s investigation resulted in a declaration that the privatisation was not sustainable, even after the intervention of ALS’s parent company, Capita. The electronic-tagging debacle has now required the intervention of the Serious Fraud Office, yet G4S and Serco, which won those contracts, have not been banned from entering bids to run probation services.
The problems do not stop there, however. The damning report of the private, G4S-run HMP Oakwood by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons demonstrates the great dangers of putting private profit above prisoner rehabilitation. Oakwood is an institution in which inmates have died because defibrillators were locked away, and where levels of violence and victimisation are high. The Minister has called Oakwood
“an excellent model for the future of the Prison Service.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 114.]
Well, we saw a snapshot of that future this week in the form of the sickening images from G4S-run Mangaung prison in South Africa—yet G4S will be able to bid to manage the rehabilitation, in our communities, of the very sex offender prisoners whom it did nothing to rehabilitate in Oakwood prison.
There is an organisation that has been banned from bidding for these franchises, despite being superbly placed to do so. It has a dedicated, experienced staff, and it has over a century of proven results in this area. The latest independent reports have praised its competence, and it continues to work with charities and social investment organisations at every level. That organisation is the probation service, via the probation trusts. There is no greater indication that this is an ideological attack on the public sphere than the fact that none of the trusts can bid—not even my own local trust, Durham Tees Valley, which was rated as showing excellent performance. The 8,000 low and medium-risk offenders whom it supervises will now be transferred to private providers—unless, of course, those offenders become high-risk again, in which case the probation trust will have to pick up the pieces. The justification for forbidding probation trusts to bid for franchises is that it would risk public money because of the “payment by results” system. The Minister’s mechanism for improving standards bans the best practitioner right out of the gate.
The Ministry of Justice simply does not have the skills to deal with private sector contracts of this magnitude. In evidence to the Justice Committee, its own permanent secretary, Dame Ursula Brennan, said that the lesson learnt from the previous contracting disasters was this:
“When you have something really big and complicated, biting it off in bite-sized chunks is now thought to be a better way of going.”
Why, then, is the Minister ignoring that very lesson, and proceeding with a radical, hurried, nationwide overhaul?
Notwithstanding the calls for plurality, the current proposals would allow 21 probation trusts to be run by just five companies. Those organisations will have to have the financial reserves that will enable them to wait for results-based payments, and the depth to underwrite any potential losses. In other words, there will be the same old cartel consisting of Capita, Serco, A4e, MITIE and G4S.
It is not the family silver that is being sold off in this instance; it is the foundations of the house. It is madness that the administration of justice—the basic purpose of the nation state—should be sold to the highest, or in this case the lowest, bidder. I urge the Secretary of State to look at the trail of calamities that this dogmatic pursuit of ideology over evidence has caused, and to reconsider before it is too late. With its latest proposal, the Ministry of Justice is not only endangering the public finances, but endangering the public.
I welcome the Secretary of State back to the Chamber. It is a pity that he could not be here to listen to the heartfelt and sincere expressions of concern from Labour Members. We could have filled the time three times over, such is our anxiety about these proposals.
We have heard excellent contributions from Members on both sides of the House. This has been a welcome, if overdue, opportunity for us to debate the Government’s upheaval and sell-off of probation services. It is a pity that the Government themselves do not welcome the House’s scrutiny of their proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) described that as shameful.
My hon. Friends the Members for Dudley North (Ian Austin), for Islwyn (Chris Evans), for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald), for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) presented clear arguments, and expressed deep concern about the Government’s proposals. The lack of evidence and the abundance of haste mean that this initiative has “blunder” written all over it. These plans will see the majority of probation provision handed out to large companies with no experience of probation. They will see offender supervision divided artificially by risk category, in spite of the fact that risk regularly shifts, and the introduction of an entirely untested payment-by-results model. We are told it will be effective, but they cannot tell us how effective, and we are promised it will make us savings, but they cannot tell us, even roughly, how much will be saved. They cannot tell us the cost, and they cannot tell us any of the efficiency savings they hope to make.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) summed it up extremely well. He pointed out the complete absence of costings and called the plans flawed. Few Members are held in as high esteem as the right hon. Gentleman on these issues.
So far, the public have been offered a personal testimony from the Justice Secretary that he thinks the policy will work, but that assurance comes without evidence as the Government have not seen fit to test its effectiveness. Probation is a front-line service that deals with public safety, and it is not good enough for the Secretary of State just to “believe” his proposals are right. We are not arguing for the status quo and, where we can, we have been very clear about our support for the Government on these issues, but untested, uncosted and dangerous upheaval is not the same thing as effective reform, and this motion calls for the model to be piloted and evaluated so that only the good practice gets rolled out.
Pilots that were in place and ready to begin in two trust areas were instead cancelled by the Secretary of State. That scrapped any opportunity to test or improve the model, learn from mistakes on a small scale, and get it right. Instead, inevitable teething problems, inexperienced providers, failures in communication and glitches in the untested IT systems will have to be contended with all at once on a national scale. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown) urged caution. He said risks had not been thought through, and he is absolutely right.
The Government keep referring to the Doncaster and Peterborough pilots. They are prison pilots and are therefore not comparable; nor are they intended to pilot changes for probation—plus, although both pilots showed some reasons for cautious optimism, they missed their targets, which is why it is helpful that they are pilots. The people working on those pilots say they have learned from their mistakes along the way, and of course they have; that is what pilots are for.
In the same week that universal credit is having to be rolled out far more slowly than planned due to serious management and IT difficulties, the Secretary of State for Justice is refusing to learn from the experience of his colleagues. Not only that, but he is failing to learn from the mistakes of his own Department. After the “inglorious saga”, as it was christened by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), of the Ministry of Justice’s language services contract, the National Audit Office recommended that the Ministry should
“implement future contracts so as to minimise transitional problems, for example through piloting and rolling-out new systems gradually”.
That is good advice.
By failing to test, evaluate or improve the model, Ministers are failing to manage effectively the risks that come with their plans. They will not even admit to them and publish the risk register. Our most serious concern is risk management and the fragmentation of the supervision of dangerous offenders. As we have heard from Members—on both sides of the House, to be fair—risk is not static. One in four offenders change their risk category during their order, and they do not always go from low to medium to high; they shift around far more dynamically than that. As the hon. Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) observed in his excellent speech, the nub of the matter is that the Government are introducing a dangerous layer of bureaucracy where an offender, while at their most volatile, will be passed between organisations. There is a serious risk—if this is not inevitable—of information being lost and vital warning signs being missed through this unnecessary divide, yet the Government have failed to pilot it, and check what sort of delays might be caused and how quickly information can be reliably passed on.
The Government have failed to provide any evidence for the benefits of this upheaval, have failed to admit to the inherent risks and publish the risk register, and have failed to provide a realistic or responsible timetable in which to operate. The chairs of three probation trusts have written to the Secretary State this week to ask him to delay his rushed timetable, which is risky, unreasonable and, they say, “unrealistic”. Apparently, those managing the changes do not “just believe” that everything is going to turn out all right. By forcing through a timetable that his own Department has deemed “aggressive”, the Secretary of State, who is having a friendly chat with his colleagues rather than listening, appears to be showing more concern for being a champion of change—any change, it seems—than for safe service delivery.
Serious concerns have been expressed, and not only in the Chamber today, about the Ministry of Justice’s capacity ably to procure and contract quality services. The language services procurement process was described as “shambolic” by the Select Committee on Justice, and the Public Accounts Committee reported that the Department was not an “intelligent customer”. The Justice Committee also found that the Ministry’s naivety in contracting was matched by its “indulgence towards underperformance” after the contracts came into operation. In the past two years, we have had Jajo the rabbit signed up to be a court interpreter; charges for tagging dead inmates; and a new contracted prison in which it is easier to get drugs than soap. When is the Secretary of State going to recognise the need to hit the brakes, build skills and capacity in his Department, and improve on past failures?
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood) summed it up brilliantly. He said, and was backed up by interventions by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), that the Government should trust the skills, experience and expertise of high-performing trusts, which are hungry to take responsibility for short-term prisoners. What a shame that the Secretary of State puts more faith in his inner belief than in evidence and experience.
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken and apologise to some for the fact that I will not be able to deal in detail with what they have said. In particular, I should apologise to the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), because she kindly donated two minutes of her time but some of her Labour colleagues have stolen it back. I am sorry about that, but I will do my best to answer what has been said.
There is no contradiction between two things that have been said in this debate. The first is that good work is being done up and down the country by probation officers. The second is that there is a need for change. I accept that a good deal of good work is being done by probation officers, but they, too, would say that we are simply not doing well enough on reoffending rates, which are far too high; half of those released from custody are reoffending within 12 months, despite our spending 70% more on probation over the past 10 years.
There are two key advantages in what the Government propose to do. The first is that we bring innovation and good new ideas into the management of offenders. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have mentioned good voluntary sector organisations that do exactly that sort of work. We want to see them do more, and it is important to bring them more into rehabilitation work—our reforms will do that. That point was made by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard).
The second huge advantage to what we are proposing is that we bring into the ambit of rehabilitation those offenders who at the moment have very little or no rehabilitation—those who receive sentences of 12 months or less. I detected very little disagreement across the House about that. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir Edward Garnier) summed up the case for doing that passionately and well; we have overlooked those people and we should not do so because it is not in our interests to do so, as those are the offenders with the highest rates of reoffending and it is very important that we deal with them. It is also important that we deal effectively with support through the gate, so that people do not reach the cliff edge that he so well described.
The question, surely, for Labour Members, not least those on the Front Bench, is this: if they do not like our way of doing those things, which they agree are worth while, what is their way? I heard not a word of an alternative solution to the problems they accurately describe, except of course that the probation trusts should do it all themselves.
Interestingly, the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) suggested that we should simply ask the probation trusts to do the work. I was rather surprised to hear that from an ex-Treasury Minister, because it would have an additional cost. I suspect that had I gone to him as a Treasury Minister—he was a very good one in his day—and said that I wanted the probation trusts to do more and wanted the money to pay for it, it is likely that he would have told me to ask the probation system to do better with the money it already received. That is exactly what we are proposing. We must make taxpayers’ money work better; that is hugely important.
Some concerns have been expressed and we take them seriously. I want to pick up on as many as I can. The first concerns the principle of payment by results, which, it seems to me, is perfectly sensible. We want the taxpayer to pay for those things that work and not for those that do not. That is at the root of payment by results. I am confused, however, about the Opposition’s view: is it that we should not have payment by results or that we should have more? Both views seem to have been expressed.
I am confused, Mr Deputy Speaker, about what I am being asked to do. Am I being asked to pay a bigger percentage by results or am I being asked not to do it at all? I do not think that the Opposition know.
I have also been asked whether the system will involve contractors passing back difficult cases. That will not happen for two reasons. First, the decision on whether an offender has become a high-risk offender will be taken by the national probation service—that means public sector probation officers—not the private sector. Secondly, if such a thing were to happen, the individual offender would stay within the cohort for the provider, so there would be no financial incentive to pass them back.
Another concern was whether the cheapest bidder would win and whether quality would not matter. That would absolutely not be the case. We will assess the bids not just on price but on the quality offering. That will include, incidentally, bidders’ ability to work in the partnerships that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) rightly described as important, whether through integrated offender management or other less formal arrangements.
I have been asked why probation trusts cannot bid. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained that we do not see how a public sector body can bid for a payment-by-results contract. That does not mean, however, that people who work in probation trusts now cannot bid for work as part of a mutual, as my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys suggested. We want to see that happen.
There are two major concerns, are there not? First, the Opposition say we are doing this too fast, but I make no apologies whatever for acting quickly in this matter. As long as we wait, new victims will be created by those who reoffend. We can do something about that and we should. Secondly, the Opposition say that the decision is ideological. Let me tell the House what is ideological: saying, “It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are or how effective they’ll be. If you come from the private sector, we’re not interested.” That is the Opposition’s view; that is ideology if ever I saw it. We believe that what works is what should be done. That is what we propose and that is what our reforms have suggested. There is no alternative from the Opposition. I urge the House to reject this empty motion and support the amendment.
Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.
Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the proposed words be there added.
The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).
That this House applauds the work already carried out by probation trusts and other agencies to turn offenders away from crime; and welcomes the Government’s proposals to build on that work to further reduce re-offending by extending support after release to offenders given short custodial sentences, introducing an unprecedented nationwide through-the-prison-gate resettlement service so that offenders are given continuous support by one provider from custody into the community, harnessing the skills and experience of trained professionals and the innovation and versatility of voluntary and private sector providers to support the rehabilitation of low and medium risk offenders and creating a new National Probation Service that will work to protect the public and will directly manage those offenders who pose a high risk of serious harm to the public.