I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I should like to start by offering an apology to the House and to you, Mr Speaker. I shall not be able to be here for the wind-ups at the end of the debate because, in my role as Lord Chancellor, I have to take part in the formal proceedings of the Lord Mayor’s banquet this evening. I have written to the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and to the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), to explain the position.
I have read with interest the reasoned amendment tabled by the Opposition, and it might be helpful to explain to the House what the Bill will do, and what it will not do. It will make reforms to the sentencing framework so as to bring to an end the situation in which a prisoner can walk out of the prison gates with £46 in their pocket and with no one to meet them, no one to plan for their release, and no one to ensure that they do not return to the same streets and the same people and commit further crimes with no one to try to stop them. The Bill will not make any changes to the probation service.
It is the plans to put an end to prisoners walking out of prison with no support that the Opposition are planning to vote against tonight. They are planning to vote against our plans to end the situation in which drug addicts serving short sentences are simply stabilised on methadone for a few weeks because the prison staff know that they will not turn up for rehabilitation when they leave and therefore think that it is not worth starting it. We also want to put an end to the situation in which a young person freshly out of care finds themselves in our criminal justice system and has no help or guidance to sort out their life when they are released. The Opposition are planning to vote against that proposal tonight.
Despite what is suggested in the completely flawed amendment, which is supported by the Opposition in the other place—and which on one reading would make it impossible for even the current probation trusts to alter their local delivery units without parliamentary approval—the Bill will do nothing to reorganise or restructure our probation services. It is not about probation. The changes that we debated two weeks ago are not part of the Bill. They are about our decision to put into action the reforms set out by the Labour Government in their Offender Management Act 2007, which provides us with the legal basis for our probation reforms. This Bill is not about those reforms.
The proposals contained in this Bill will be delivered within the existing budget for our probation services.
In saying that they want to oppose and destroy the Bill, the Opposition are actually trying to set back for years the task of dealing with our biggest criminal justice challenge. That would simply create more and more victims of crime, which could have been prevented. Their short-sighted wrecking strategy will get them absolutely nowhere.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. I declare an interest in that I published a book last year entitled “Doing Time”. I support the Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the policy being proposed in the Bill was originally put forward in the previous Government’s custody plus programme, which was derived from the Offender Management Act 2007?
My hon. Friend is entirely right. Labour has argued for this, legislated for it and U-turned on it. The shadow Secretary of State has stated endlessly over the past few months that the Opposition now support the principle, but they are going to vote against it tonight. That is a sign of how poor an Opposition they are, how unfit they would be to govern, and how out of touch they are with the criminal justice challenges in this country.
It might assist the House if I started by summarising the issues facing short-sentence offenders. Many need housing; 38% of them need help finding a place to live when they are released. Many are out of work; only 30% have found employment within two years of being released, while 83% will have claimed out-of-work benefits in the same period. Huge numbers of them need help with education, with work-related skills. A fifth had a mental health or an emotional problem, a third self-report as having a drugs problem and 65% have used illegal drugs in the four weeks before going into prison custody. Those are the people who Labour Members want to leave prison with no support at all.
Does the Secretary of State agree that the reforms in the Bill will avoid what happened to my constituent’s son, who after serving nine months in prison was released with £16 in his pocket, a travel card and nothing else, putting him in danger of committing another offence because he lacks accommodation and the long-term support that he needs?
There is one reference in the Bill to the controversial changes to the probation service—found in the new clause 1, which was introduced by our noble Friends up the corridor. Will the Secretary of State reassure those of us who are reassured by that precautionary clause that no change to it will be attempted?
The problems with the precautionary clause are twofold. First, it is worth saying that this House voted for the reforms by a substantial majority last week. Secondly, the precautionary provision would prevent any change whatever to the entire probation service from being made. The clause is completely flawed. It would prevent any kind of restructuring or reorganisation within an individual trust, let alone any other part of what is proposed. I am afraid that we will therefore seek to overturn that amendment in Committee because, as I say, it would make it impossible to run the probation service, even in its current form.
We are talking about people who have offended before, some of whom are often highly persistent offenders, and far too many of them go on to reoffend. In 2011, about 50,000 adult offenders were released from short prison sentences. Nearly 60% of that group went on to reoffend, committing a total of 85,000 crimes. That is 85,000 crimes too many—a depressing merry-go-round of offending, blighting the lives of men, women and children in all our constituencies.
Labour Members have talked about us taking risks with public safety, so let me tell them what really is taking risks with public safety. It is leaving the situation unchanged. Those 85,000 crimes include some of the most serious crimes that our society knows—thousands of them each year, including hundreds of serious sexual and violent offences. Yet we are leaving the people who commit those crimes to go on and on unsupervised.
The probation service, of course, has never been asked or required to supervise that group of offenders before, so is there any reason why the Justice Secretary could not give the public probation service the opportunity to carry out this supervision when the legislation passes?
I refer to what Labour said in 2010—that it could not do that. The hon. Lady and her colleagues said very clearly that they could not afford to proceed with custody plus—the scheme that they brought forward that would enable the probation service to provide supervision for these offenders. We have come up with a way of doing that. Labour said that in 2010—just before the last election. That is the reality of what we are dealing with. We are talking about people who go on and on and on committing crimes, unsupervised. I see that as the real public safety scandal; it is a flaw in our system that I want to solve and Labour Members seem not to want to solve.
Sadly, it is no surprise that reoffending rates for this group are so high. The average time served in custody for that group is only nine weeks—not nearly long enough to tackle these issues while in prison. After that, they are released at the halfway point with £46 in their pocket and little or no support. Some engage with voluntary rehabilitation programmes after their release, but at the moment there is no mandatory period of supervision in the community. That is what this Bill changes. The core of the change in this Bill is the delivery of 12 months of supervision for those people.
The 35 probation trusts across England and Wales have been judged either good or excellent. Why is it not right that they cover serious and persistent offenders who have served short sentences? The right hon. Gentleman feels that this change can be done within the current £8 billion decade budget for the probation service, but how can there be no cuts to probation and such an extension into short-term sentences unless the task remained with the probation service? Otherwise, probation services would have to be cut.
I am afraid that the hon. Lady has not understood what we are seeking to achieve. The Select Committee observed, in a good piece of work, that the present system was far too bureaucratic, and that only a minority of probation time was spent on working with offenders. We are seeking to create a simpler system in which we give much more professional freedom to those on the front line. We want to deliver an environment in which we can mentor and support people, and we want to bring together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors, not only to make the system more efficient but to deliver high-quality mentoring.
The hon. Lady raised the question of performance. The probation trusts are currently hitting many targets, but there is one simple reality at the heart of all this: reoffending is currently increasing, and I do not think that that is good enough.
Let me explain some of what the Bill will actually do. Clause 2 provides for this group of offenders to spend the second half of their sentences subject to licence conditions in the community, like all other prisoners. Clause 3 creates an innovative period of additional supervision, which is added to the licence to make a total of 12 months' mandatory rehabilitation and support after release. I think that that is the least that we should have in our system; it is extraordinary that we do not have it already.
The supervision period is there not to punish offenders, but to help them to move away from crime. We want those who work with offenders to try new, innovative approaches to rehabilitation. I look forward to seeing the voluntary sector, for example, playing a much larger role. We all see good work done in that sector, and I want to see more of it being done in our formal systems.
A range of flexible requirements can be imposed during the supervision period. They are set out in schedule 1, and include participating in rehabilitative activities including restorative justice, being tested for drugs, and attending appointments to address drug misuse. Those requirements are designed to give those who work with offenders the ability to steer them during the months after their release from prison. The freedom to innovate will be critical to the driving down of reoffending rates in this group.
We are focusing particularly on drug use, which is common among offenders who are serving custodial sentences. Two thirds of those who are serving sentences of less than 12 months have used class A drugs, while three quarters have used class B or class C drugs. Drug use among prisoners is also strongly associated with reconviction on release. The rate of reconviction among prisoners who report having used drugs in the four weeks before custody is more than double the rate among those who have never used drugs. That applies to drugs in class A, class B and class C.
Clause 12 expands the current power to test offenders for drugs while they are on licence to include class B as well as class A drugs. Schedule 1 creates an equivalent testing condition for the supervision period that will follow the licence period. All that is an essential part of trying to ensure that when people come out of prison, we do all that we can to move them off drugs as quickly as possible, in a regime in which they are obliged to take part.
Let me now explain what will happen if an offender does not engage with supervision. Breach of any of the supervision requirements will be dealt with by the magistrates courts, and there will be an important new role for lay justices and district judges. Clause 4 provides a flexible set of sanctions that magistrates may—not must—impose if a breach is proved. They can impose a fine, between 20 and 60 hours of community payback, a curfew with an electronic tag, or committal back to custody. There is no “escalator” approach requiring a more onerous sanction to be used if a lighter-touch one has been imposed before.
The Bill also makes reforms to the two types of sentence that are served in the community—suspended sentence orders and community orders. Reoffending rates following those sentences are less stark than those following short prison sentences, but it is no less important for us to address them. Nearly everyone who ends up in our prisons has previously served a community sentence, and many of those people experience problems similar to those experienced by short-sentence offenders: problems involving mental health, alcohol consumption and drug misuse. Clause 15 creates a new rehabilitation activity requirement to mirror the new supervision condition that will be available for offenders who are released from short prison sentences. As with the top-up supervision period created by clause 3, that will provide maximum flexibility for those working with offenders, enabling them to instruct them to attend appointments or participate in activities.
I have a question concerning the flexibility in the new rehabilitation requirements. Can the Justice Secretary give me an assurance about the current 2003 requirements, in particular the mental health, alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements that have not yet come into force, and where there is a real need for the courts to ensure that the orders are carried out? I know from my own experience that, sadly, orders have not always been complied with. Can he assure me that those powers will still remain even though there will be that flexibility?
The powers will certainly remain. What will be different is that having a 12-month supervision period—a period of mentoring—for people once they have left prison, or for those going through a community sentence, will provide much more of a pressure-point to get them to turn up for rehabilitation and go for mental health treatment, because there will be someone working alongside them who gets to know them and to understand them, and who can cajole and encourage them.
It is worth highlighting the experience we have had so far in Peterborough. There has been a huge drop in the relative level of reoffending; the number of crimes committed by the cohort going through the Peterborough trial is much lower than that committed by their equivalents in other parts of the country. The overall reoffending rate has fallen as well. That is a success story we should build on, and we will build on it.
It is not just Peterborough, is it? There is also Doncaster prison, which is the flagship of modern prisons—and I should say that it was set up in its present form under the Labour Government, and rightly so. It has also seen drug-use figures fall. Some 80% of the prison intake was drug addicted or committed drug crimes, and that figure is now down to approximately 30% upon release, under the current programme. Does the Justice Secretary agree that that is a good thing?
I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work being done in Doncaster. There is good work being done in many parts of the prison estate. The Doncaster model is slightly different from what we are looking to deliver across the whole of the justice system, but it is equally delivering reductions in reoffending and that is to be welcomed and supported. Anything we can do to bring down reoffending rates has to be the right thing to do.
My right hon. Friend mentions the situation at Her Majesty’s prison in Peterborough. Is not the moral of the story there that non-state actors can have a very important role to play in driving down recidivism? Indeed, both Peterborough prison as a private prison—with male and female co-located—and the social impact bond in Peterborough were pioneered by the former Labour Government, and it is sad that Labour seems to have engineered a U-turn on what is, and was, a very good initiative.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The sad thing is that a partnership of the private sector and the voluntary sector and the state has been proven to work in many cases. In Peterborough it is working really well. When the Labour Government passed the Offender Management Act in 2007, they talked extensively about the benefits to be gained from such a partnership. It is sad that they are now seeking to block such a partnership in other debates, and today they are using that as an excuse to try to block a measure that they themselves say they support. Frankly, they are all over the place.
The other part of what we are looking to do involves the creation of a proper through-the-gate system. It is a key part of a wider programme to transform how we rehabilitate offenders. The providers that we will bring into the system will offer a resettlement service for all offenders in custody before their release of the kind that is being provided in Peterborough. It is important that we align the prison system and the geographic areas for release afterwards to make sure these reforms can be as geographically synchronised as possible. The changes we are making to our prison system to create a network of resettlement prisons will ensure that, where possible, the same offender manager will work with offenders in custody and continue their rehabilitation work in the community. I believe that can make a significant difference and can help reinforce the measures in this Bill.
There are no prisons for women in Wales. All women offenders sentenced to a prison term serve their sentence outside Wales. How will that be managed if we are looking at offender managers working from prisons and back in the communities? The majority of offenders are men, and the probation service has a proven track record of working well with women. How will the Justice Secretary ensure that the private sector does not just look at offenders as male, but has programmes designed specifically for women returning to Wales?
Clearly, we will see the same level of support provided for women and men. The hon. Lady will, of course, have seen in the document we published recently on women offenders that our direction of travel is clearly towards creating smaller units close to where women live, so that we can maintain the family ties. We are trialling a new approach at HMP Styal in Cheshire, whereby we will have a hostel under the wing of the Prison Service, but outside a prison institution, with open conditions. We are looking to see whether we can deliver a different kind of model for the detention of women offenders that can make a genuine difference to them. Successive Governments have wanted to achieve support through the gate for short-sentence offenders, and we will seek to achieve it for men and women alike.
The model of good practice on through-the-gate mentoring is the transitional support service, the longest-running and largest mentoring service. G4S, which delivers the service, does get a bad name, but when one looks at the results and the evidence from the evaluation, one finds that this is a very effective practice model which works alongside the public and voluntary and community sector organisations to deliver through-the-gate mentoring for men and women. That example needs to be followed in Wales—[Interruption.] This is all about women in Wales. [Interruption.] That is exactly what the transitional support service does.
Of course, new Labour believed in public and private and voluntary sector partnerships, but those days are long gone. Such partnerships can make a real difference. Large swathes of Wales have no prison capacity at all, and this Government are seeking to address that by building a major new prison in north Wales, so that many prisoners currently detained elsewhere can be detained in Wales.
Successive Governments have wanted to achieve support through the gate for short-sentence offenders, and this Bill will finally deliver it. This Bill will provide rehabilitation to a group of offenders who desperately need it; it will give those working with offenders the freedom to innovate and tailor their interventions to what each individual needs; and it will stop the cycle of reoffending that creates so many victims in our communities. Its provisions should command the support of hon. Members from all parties. The fact that the Labour party wants to destroy it is just a further sign of how far that party has moved back to its political roots and away from a world of common sense. If the Opposition have their way, the losers will be victims of crime up and down this country and young people whose lives will be wasted.
Let us finish by reminding Labour Members what they are voting for tonight. This Bill does not reform the probation service—it does not create a new structure for the probation service. It simply provides support for people who get short prison sentences for 12 months after they leave prison. The Labour party has always said that it supported that and has said so all year, but tonight, in this House, Labour Members are to vote against it. I think that that is disingenuous to say the least.
I beg to move an amendment:
“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords] because the implementation of the proposals in the Bill depends on the Government’s proposed restructuring of the Probation Service; believes that this proposed restructuring will see the abolition of local Probation Trusts, the fragmentation of supervision of offenders on the basis of their risk level and the commissioning of services direct from Whitehall; further believes that the Government has failed to provide any costings for their proposals; notes reports that suggest the Ministry of Justice’s own internal risk register warns that the Government’s proposals could result in a high risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance; and further declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds that none of the Government’s proposals has been piloted nor independently evaluated, potentially resulting in an unnecessary risk to the public’s safety.”
We support many of the Bill’s objectives, despite that awful speech by the Justice Secretary. The first part of the Bill, consisting of clause 1, was inserted by the other place because of its concerns about controversial plans to reform and restructure the probation service. Clause 1 requires any change to the structure of the probation service to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. We note that, so far, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) supports clause 1, but we will see as the evening progresses and as the votes transpire how he moves his position, and whether he decides to vote with conviction or do what the Conservative Whip asks him to do. I will return to clause 1 later.
The second part of the Bill, clauses 2 to 13, deals with the supervision of offenders released from short custodial sentences. All offenders released from sentences of less than two years would be subject to at least 12 months’ mandatory supervision in the community. It has always been a ridiculous anomaly that short-sentence prisoners, the group with the highest rates of reoffending, are the ones left to their own devices when released from prison. As the Justice Secretary just read out, the previous Labour Government tried to address that with the custody plus proposals. I will come back to those later—accurately, rather than by rehashing history in the way attempted a short while ago. Nevertheless, extending supervision to those who serve less than 12 months in custody should play a part in reducing reoffending.
The Bill would also put on a statutory footing the requirement to have regard to the special needs of female offenders when making supervision arrangements. We are grateful to Lord Woolf for his important contributions on that matter in the other place. For the avoidance of doubt, we also welcome the introduction of the new drug appointment requirements and the expansion of the categories of drugs that can be tested for. The third part of the Bill, clauses 14 to 18, would amend the community sentencing framework.
As much as the Justice Secretary would like us to do so, however, we cannot read the Bill in isolation. It is a smokescreen for fundamental changes to the way in which probation works in England and Wales. The motivation that the Justice Secretary relies on in public is his frustration that reoffending rates are too high, which he says means that something bold and radical needs to be done. He is in serious danger, however, of doing something that, bold and radical as it is, might make matters worse and increase the risk to the public.
We know that probation works, as those under supervision are less likely than those who are not to go on and commit more crimes. The MOJ’s figures for the most recent full year show that among those who received a sentence of between four and 10 years who were released and supervised by probation, 30.7% reoffended; among those who received a sentence of between 12 months and four years who were released and supervised by probation, 36.2% reoffended; and among those in custody for less than 12 months who were released and not supervised by probation at all, 58.5% reoffended. By the by, it is a shame that the Justice Secretary is not suggesting payment by results for the public probation service. However, I welcome the fact that he appears, at least on this particular aspect, to want to follow the evidence and to use it to inform his policy making. Offenders who receive probation support do better than those who do not. That must be why he wants to extend probation to those who receive a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. But why does he want completely to dismantle our probation service?
We can all agree that too many people are stuck in a cycle of reoffending. Just over a week ago, on a visit to the Justice Secretary’s flagship Oakwood prison, I met one young man who had previously been in prison six times and who could not have been more than 25 years old. It is precisely that group of people whom we need to get to grips with. It is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, although we know that on average it costs £40,000 a year to keep someone like him in prison. There is a cost to society, too, as crime is estimated to cost the country £12 billion a year as well as creating, as the Justice Secretary said, needless victims of crime, heartache and misery. It is also a waste of human potential for people to spend their time locked up behind bars when, if properly reformed, they could contribute more meaningfully to society. Nobody would disagree with the need to address the offending behaviour of those individuals, but we do disagree with dismantling probation.
Is there not a competition among various Secretaries of State to see who can privatise the most? The Secretary of State is advocating a policy that was pursued the last time the Conservatives were in government, when the solution to all problems was either privatisation or banging people up.
If the Justice Secretary was saying that he had evidence that privatising probation worked or that it would save money, he would have an argument. He is saying neither, which is why we suspect that this is all about ideology rather than the evidence of what works. Although we agree with the broad objectives of the Bill—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I can hear chuntering from the Lib Dem Whip, the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), which is quite distracting. I am not sure whether she is trying to persuade her hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham to vote with her, or to put me off my stride—[Interruption.] She is certainly better than the Justice Secretary at trying to put me off my stride.
Although we agree with the broad objectives of the Bill, there are some major areas of difference between us and the Government and some big questions remain unanswered. Those questions are so fundamental that they cast a shadow over the Bill and call into question whether its objectives can be implemented without taking a serious gamble with public safety as a result. The Bill has been brought forward against a backdrop of upheaval and change—change that is not informed by evidence or statistics, but driven by recklessness and ideology.
I am sorry to distract the shadow Secretary of State, but I want to ask him a question. We discussed this subject in an Opposition day debate recently, and we agree on the broad objectives of the Bill, as he says. So that I am clear, will he tell me whether, if he is Justice Secretary in 18 months’ time, he will repeal the Offender Management Act 2007, which paves the way for much of the Bill and for what I presume, all things being equal, will become the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2013 or 2014? Will he repeal both those pieces of legislation?
The 2007 Act was permissive. It gave the Justice Secretary powers that could be used if probation trusts were failing. Probation trusts were supposed to commission services; I will come on to how the Act works in practice. As far as the Bill is concerned, if I were in a fit of pique, I would be an ideologue and do what my gut told me, but I look at the evidence on what works. That is what I will look at when I become Justice Secretary on 8 May 2015.
My hon. Friend reminds me that there are examples of probation trusts around the country that work with the private and voluntary sectors, and with charities. What the 2007 legislation was not about was a control freak Justice Secretary deciding from his desk in Whitehall who runs probation in different parts of the country. That is why there is a reasoned amendment in my name and the names of other right hon. and hon. Members. If the Justice Secretary has his way, in less than a year, there will be a system in place to deliver the measures in the Bill that is massively different from today’s. As the House will know, there is considerable alarm among experts, management, staff, the police, and MPs in all parts of the House at the proposed restructuring of the probation service.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has repeatedly said that the Opposition support the supervision of short-term prisoners; will he explain to the House how he intends to ensure that that happens within the existing probation structure, without undertaking any kind of reform?
I will; I will come to that in my speech, if the hon. Gentleman gives me time, but as the Justice Secretary would know if he got out of his office, some probation trusts supervise short-term prisoners now, within their budgets, because they believe that it is very important to do so.
On one side of the debate, there are at least three probation trust chairs warning the Justice Secretary to delay probation privatisation or risk deaths: the chief inspector of probation warns that the plans will lead to
“an increased risk to the public”;
The Economist magazine calls the Justice Secretary’s plans half-baked; and probation staff warn that the fragmentation of the service goes against everything that we know about what works in supervising offenders. The Ministry of Justice’s own risk register warns that there is an 80% risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance; with regard to dealing with offenders, that can only lead to higher risks to public safety. [Interruption.] The Justice Secretary is saying “No.” Will he publish his risk register?
Let’s make a promise: if the Justice Secretary publishes his risk register now, when I am Justice Secretary, should I do what he is trying to do —God forbid—I will publish the risk register. He crosses his arms, but he cannot deny that his risk register says that there will be an 80% risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance. That is playing fast and loose with public safety. He is not willing to publish his risk register.
I have not finished listing those who are on the first side of the argument. I have mentioned the probation trust chairs, the chief inspector of probation, The Economist, probation staff and the Justice Secretary’s risk register. The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, said that the Bill was “being rushed through”, and that “Many…questions remain unanswered”. That is not all. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has said:
“I am afraid it is obvious that, because they are…in a hurry, the preparations that the Government have made for the introduction of this scale of change are very modest indeed.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2013; Vol. 745, c. 653.]
I want to understand the position. The right hon. Gentleman has at last accepted that there was an anomaly for 13 years under the previous Government. They failed to provide proper statutory supervision for offenders with shorter sentences. Is he saying that he will urge all hon. Members today to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading and to decline to give any empowerment to ensure such supervision, which he recognises is needed? He is playing politics and will be letting down offenders, victims and taxpayers tonight.
One cannot will the ends without the means. It is nonsense to suggest that simply pulling a lever will make that happen. It will not happen. We tried to do it, and I will shortly come to our efforts to put in place custody plus.
On the other side of the debate are a few loyal Back Benchers and the Justice Secretary who is purposely not bringing before Parliament his plans for restructuring probation, thereby avoiding proper scrutiny and debate, and is rushing ahead at breakneck speed in implementing these plans, not interested in whether there is any evidence that his plans will work, dismissing expert evidence and instead basing his decision to roll his plans out on his gut instinct—the same gut instinct that brought us the failing Work programme in his former role.
I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. He talks about breakneck speed, but does he recall that in May 2006, when the Labour Government were still planning to introduce custody plus and a large proportion of the measures that we see today, in the House of Lords the noble Lord Bassam of Brighton, the Justice Minister, said:
“We estimate that, in 2007–08, 49,400 offenders will be starting custody plus orders”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 May 2006; Vol. 681, c. 566]?
Why does the right hon. Gentleman not now back a plan that has been in the offing for more than 10 years, which has finally been produced by this coalition Government?
Because if done properly, it would cost £194 million a year. We could do it on the back of an envelope, as the Justice Secretary wants to do, but I do not want to do that. It is a risk to public safety.
Let me remind the House that at the same time the Justice Secretary says that he wants those who receive less than 12 months’ custody to receive probation supervision. Instead of supporting probation, as he should, what are his plans for it? Those plans are: abolishing local probation trusts and instead commissioning services direct from his desk, in Whitehall, on behalf of local communities; splitting responsibility for offenders on the basis of their risk level, despite risk not being static in 25% of cases; handing responsibility for serious and violent criminals to G4S, Serco, Carillion, A4e and the like; imposing an untried and untested payment-by-results model on providers; and, as I said, all at breakneck speed, adding up to a half-baked, reckless reorganisation of probation, without any evidential base—a monumental gamble with public safety.
Let us be frank. The Justice Secretary has wanted to keep all the major changes he is making to probation below the radar, purposely avoiding bringing those plans before Parliament. If not for the Opposition day debate, MPs would never have had the chance to debate them. He said in the Chamber 12 days ago that he was not afraid of debating his plans, but he left the Chamber almost immediately after his speech, not staying to hear any of contributions from worried and concerned MPs in all parts of the House. That is not debate in anyone’s book. Instead, it shows a disdainful arrogance towards Parliament and towards genuine concerns at his proposals. If he had stayed, he would have heard in the time-limited debate l8 MPs from all parts of the House express concern. More MPs wanted to speak, but there was insufficient time. Just three Members spoke in favour. I can see that he has done a better whipping operation today than he did 12 days ago. Many MPs, stakeholders, prison and probation staff and charities are labouring under the false impression that this is the privatisation of probation Bill. It is not. The Justice Secretary is trying to use the 2007 Act to do that.
I want to make some progress, then I will give way.
The Bill does make specific mention of the probation service, and I pay tribute to those in the other place for their work in trying to get proper scrutiny of the Justice Secretary’s plans. Clause 1 says that no changes may be made to the probation service without the approval of both Houses. That was the result of a successful amendment tabled by Lord Ramsbotham in the other place, not of anything that the Government did. It has taken almost five months since the Bill’s Third Reading in the other place for us to have a Second Reading debate today. Could the reason for that delay be that the Justice Secretary was desperate to begin the tendering process by which privatisation could occur before this important clause could be debated, because he was afraid of Commons scrutiny?
We understand why the Justice Secretary wants to get on with his plans and avoid proper scrutiny. Just two years ago, the Ministry of Justice—none of its then Ministers are now in post; all have been sacked—published a comprehensive competition strategy for probation services, and proposed
“the commissioning of six new PbR pilot schemes to carefully develop and rigorously test PbR for reduced re-offending”.
Note the phrases “pilot schemes” and “rigorously test PBR”. The Ministry of Justice knew that the Peterborough pilot, which was designed by Labour and began in 2010, was a very different beast altogether, and its results are not directly comparable with the Government’s probation plans.
In March last year, the Ministry published a further paper, proposing
“a stronger role for Probation Trusts as commissioners of probation services and a stronger emphasis on local partnership working”.
Note the reference to “probation trusts as commissioners”, not abolition, and to “local partnership working”, not control freakery from Whitehall. I have got to honest: we agreed with that approach.
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, something like 3,000 serious, violent, sexual and similar crimes were committed by people who received sentences of less than 12 months and were released unsupervised last year. He talks about testing. Given that situation, how many years would he wait before he introduced a scheme that supervised those offenders?
If the right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to speak to the probation trusts, he would know that in Manchester, for example, the trust is already working with the voluntary sector, the private sector and charities to address those who receive sentences of less than 12 months. If he had spoken to those in Avon and Somerset, he would know that the probation trust is already doing that. If he had spoken to the South Yorkshire trust, he would know that it is already doing that. If he took the trouble to speak to them, rather than G4S and Serco, he would know what works and what does not work. Instead, he wants to give contracts to untried, untested private companies, with no experience in criminal justice. If I were the Justice Secretary, I would have consulted the probation trusts. What does he do? He does not wait for any evidence or trials. Forget testing or rigour; he cancels the pilots and does a complete somersault, hoping that no one will notice either his change of mind or the fact that it is being done without any evidence, taking huge risks with public safety and reoffending rates.
Another important issue is how the plans will be resourced. A number of Back Benchers, reading the script, have asked about resources, and how we will we do this in the public sector and not use G4S and Serco to save money. As I have already said, extending supervision to those on short sentences is to be welcomed, but this cannot be taken as a resource-free commitment. An additional 50,000 offenders on top of the current 250,000 a year would need support and supervision. The impact assessment is of no help at all in shedding light on this issue. It says that
“the cost will be dependent on the outcome of competition”.
So, basically, the Government are asking for Parliament’s support, but will not say what the cost implications are of implementing the plans. Call me old-fashioned, but I would like to know how much it will cost before I decide to vote for it.
That is important for two reasons. First, if it is the case that there is going to be a considerable additional resource demand for these plans, but the Government do not want to commit more money—they may indeed wish to save money—existing resources will have to be spread more thinly. So while the Justice Secretary refers to the 3,000 short-term offenders committing offences, that could increase exponentially, because medium and low-risk offenders will be supervised less well because of his plans to increase supervision without proper resources. There are implications for the quality of supervision, and it is important that Parliament debates this.
Secondly, if the Government need to commit more resources, it is only right that Parliament should scrutinise those plans. Either way, the Justice Secretary must be honest with Parliament about the cost of the plans he wants us to vote for today. I find it hard to believe that the Ministry of Justice has not done any number crunching on those issues. Why is it not being made public?
That is all the more pertinent given the excellent contribution my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) made in the Opposition day debate 12 days ago—I am not sure whether the Secretary of State was still in his place, but the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), was. My right hon. Friend pointed out that Labour had a similar scheme for extending supervision called custody plus, which a number of Back Benchers who have read their Whips’ briefing have referred to. He said, because he is an evidence-based politician:
“Ten years ago, it would have cost £194 million a year”.
That would have been for 50,000 offenders, the same figure the Government are proposing. My right hon. Friend went on to attack the lack of costings for the Justice Secretary’s similar plan—he will forgive me for embarrassing him—stating:
“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.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 1003.]
The Justice Secretary, who is still here for a change, has an opportunity today to respond to that stinging criticism from a respected and senior Member of this House with considerable experience in this area, because so far he has failed to do so. I know that he has a supper to go to, but he still has some time to respond to that point before he leaves.
The Justice Secretary’s incompetence is compounded by his calculations on other matters. According to the MOJ’s impact assessment, extending supervision to prisoners serving less than 12 months will lead to around 13,000 offenders being recalled or committed to custody, increasing the number of prison places needed by around 600, at a cost of £16 million. Where will that £16 million and those additional 600 places come from? Last Friday we were told that there were only 658 prison places left in England and Wales, and next March he will close a further four prisons, with the loss of a further 1,400 places. That is from the Government who cancelled our prison building programme. He will forgive me if we lack confidence in his plans for probation.
The right hon. Gentleman will have to do a little better than this speech if he wants to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, because he does not have much of a tiger in his tank—that is after he has been Secretary of State for Justice, obviously. I admire his brass neck and chutzpah on this issue, given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) said, six years have passed to right this anomaly, three of which were under his Government. May I press him again very succinctly to answer this question: if the circumstances have changed and independent evidence shows that the Government’s proposals are working, would an incoming Labour Government still repeal the Act?
Well, I lost the trail of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention after the third minute. His party has been in government for three and a half years. It has had three and a half years to change the way probation trusts are measured. According to his measurement, every trust is either good or excellent. What is his policy solution? It is to abolish them. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems absurd, bearing in mind the evidence. Why not speak to the probation trusts and say, “Listen, we want to try to supervise those people who are not currently receiving supervision, so are you going to consider doing that?”, rather than taking forward back-of-the-envelope policies that all the evidence suggests will not work.
The right hon. Gentleman’s policy appears to be to ask the probation trusts whether they would consider supervising people sentenced to less than 12 months. Will he say very clearly before the House whether or not, if this country is unlucky enough to have a Labour Government after the next election, he will commit to providing supervision for those prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months?
If the Justice Secretary has his way, within the course of 12 months those who receive a sentence of less than 12 months will be supervised and we will have to wait and keep our fingers crossed that there will be no risk to public safety. If there is no such risk and the Justice Secretary finally oversees a rehabilitation revolution, of course we will not stop that supervision—that would be ridiculous. The Justice Secretary’s problem is that he cannot tell us how much it will cost, how much reoffending will go down by, or how many fewer crimes will be committed. That is the big flaw in his plan. It is not evidence-based. It has been worked out on the back of an envelope. The last time he tried to do that was the Work programme, which was not a huge success.
Of course, one of the problems is that whoever undertakes the supervision activity will have to meet the requirements imposed by a sentencing court, which will be predetermined and come with an element of unbreakable cost. Is it not, therefore, something of a distortion to suggest that these are payment-by-results contracts when a substantial proportion of the cost will, in effect, be determined by the sentence passed by the court? Surely the Justice Secretary could tell us now what costing he has made of that.
My hon. Friend has more optimism in the Justice Secretary’s competence than I have. The Social Market Foundation showed recently that it is possible for private companies to still make a profit based on the fee for service, without relying on the PBR element. The Justice Secretary has not even worked out what percentage will be PBR. Will it be 5%, 7%, 10% or 15%? He has no idea. He is the most incompetent Justice Secretary in history.
While I am on the subject of extending supervision, I should say that I, unlike the Justice Secretary, have met probation trusts and they have said that they would be up for taking on those on sentences of less than 12 months if only the Government would let them. They were never asked to do so by this Justice Secretary. Instead, he would rather trust G4S, Serco and the like. In fact, some probation trusts already work with the most prolific offenders in this group, even though they do not get the money to do so. They just see it as the right thing to do.
Instead of abolishing probation trusts, why will the Government not give them the chance to prove their mettle with those on short sentences? Why has the Justice Secretary decided that the existing local structures, which have a proven track record in reducing reoffending, are to be ignored in favour of organisations with no track record in this area? Why have probation trusts been barred from bidding for the contracts to supervise low and medium-risk offenders?
Before I conclude, I need to address the issue of payment by results. The Justice Secretary is pretty good at briefing journalists that his reform of probation will mean that private companies will be paid only if they rehabilitate offenders. Who would not be in favour of a system that pays private companies only by result? However, the Justice Secretary does not brief journalists with the small print. We have absolutely no idea what percentage of the contract payment will be dependent on results—and neither does the Justice Secretary.
I want the House to be clear about what we do and do not support. We support attempts to reduce reoffending. We support extending supervision to those in custody for less than 12 months. We support attempts at through-the-gate support for those leaving prison. We will only support policies that are grounded in evidence of what works and that will not put the public at risk. We cannot afford to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system with ideological leaps in the dark that could risk public safety.
It is mendacious of the Justice Secretary to attack those who do not subscribe to his particular approach as being in favour of the status quo. The “you’re either with me or against me” approach does not wash. We do not subscribe to the Justice Secretary being judge and jury about what works without waiting for any evidence. We do not support him ignoring experts whose knowledge in this area is at a level he will never be able to match. Placing tabloid headlines ahead of what really works is a dangerous game.
If our reasoned amendment fails, we will table amendments in Committee and on Report to try to address the very serious concerns of experts in the field. We believe it is possible to work with the public, private and voluntary sectors, and that it is possible to reduce offending without taking a risk with public safety.
There should be no disagreement about the key objectives and features of the Bill in respect of through-the-gate supervision. However, there is plenty of scope for disagreement and concern over the mechanisms that the Government are setting up, the timings and the unlimited nature of the Bill. That is a consequence of the fact that they have readily available legislation upon which to build this structure, which was passed by the previous Government.
The Justice Committee will tomorrow take further evidence from organisations and individuals with expertise in this field because it is considering the implications of the probation changes. Further evidence sessions are planned. I do not want to prejudge the Committee’s conclusions. Several members of the Committee are present for this debate. However, I will convey to the House some of the concerns that the Committee has expressed on previous occasions that are relevant to the Bill.
My hon. Friend would be surprised if I did not take rural issues into account, given that I represent the most sparsely populated areas of England.
I give way to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who is a member of my Select Committee.
I look forward to the evidence session tomorrow morning. Would it not be far better if the Secretary of State delayed further consideration of this proposal until after our Committee has examined the issue and produced a proper report on it so that there is an evidence base for the legislation?
It is our intention to report quickly on these aspects of the probation changes. There has been a considerable delay since the Bill completed its passage through the Lords, as was referred to by the shadow Secretary of State. Although the process for implementing the Government’s changes is fairly rapid, the consideration of the Bill has been relatively leisurely by parliamentary standards. It is my intention that the Select Committee will still influence the shape of what emerges.
When the Justice Committee reported on the probation service in 2011, we said that a more seamless, through-the-gate approach to dealing with offenders was vital and that less of a probation officer’s time should be wasted on bureaucratic processes that do not involve direct engagement with offenders. We saw potential in payment by results, but some dangers as well.
We also wanted something that the Government do not intend to give us, which is local commissioning. That would enable decisions about what is provided to be taken in the context of local circumstances so that we no longer have the absurd position whereby prison is a nationally provided free good, in that it does not engage local authorities through the provision of any expenditure. It is a national expenditure, whereas almost all other kinds of provision have to be financed and funded locally.
The Justice Committee reported earlier this year on women offenders. I welcome clause 11, which relates to the concern expressed in our report that the system was designed to meet the needs of male offenders and must make appropriate provision for women offenders. The argument is not that women who commit criminal offences are less guilty than men who commit criminal offences, but that the circumstances that generate the offences committed by women and the means by which women can be guided towards not committing further offences are often different. That is another area in which we have given advice that is relevant to the Bill.
There are some important questions about the Bill and the structure of the probation service that will be necessary to support it that must be considered. The first is whether there is a market out there. Are there enough potential providers that could take on the contracts and that could engage, as is necessary, with the wide range of charities, voluntary organisations and other bodies in which there is expertise? [Interruption.] I heard a reference from the Labour Benches to G4S and Serco, and the contracts of both those companies, which were brought about under the previous Government, are now the subject of serious fraud inquiries. One implication of that is that a number of companies may effectively be excluded from the bidding process. We must await the outcome of the inquiries as we cannot reach conclusions at this stage, but even were the process still going on, it would exclude at least two major companies working in that field.
In view of those allegations, does the right hon. Gentleman think it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to withdraw or suspend those companies from the bidding process until the matters are resolved? So far he has refused to do that.
There are complex legal reasons that I will not try and go into now, but I cannot imagine that this House would want a company that is currently the subject of a serious criminal investigation to be awarded a criminal justice contract. Both companies, of course, have contracts in criminal justice in other areas of activity or other parts of government, and they have perfectly satisfactory ratings on some of those. It is a difficult issue to deal with.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, we should be clear about satisfactory ratings. He should refer to the press this morning because G4S has been referred for prosecution as a result of the forgery of documents that allowed the deportation of a prisoner.
I think I have made myself clear about what view the House would take if a company that was the subject of a serious fraud inquiry were to be awarded a bid in those circumstances. I do not think Ministers are in any doubt on that point.
My point about the market was generally much wider because we must take proper account of whether the Department has the capacity to manage that market. Indeed, it has been said on at least one occasion that the Department wants to draw new entrants into the market and cultivate new capacity, but has it got the capacity to do that? We must consider that important question.
On finance and timing, the Government have not made publicly available any assessment of the financial risk of not delivering the programme to the agreed time scale, quality or cost. The risk register apparently suggests there is a 51% to 80% risk that the reforms will fail to deliver the promised scale of savings.
I think the right hon. Gentleman has made his point and I have given my response. The Ministry of Justice has not provided an indication of how much it would additionally need to save to afford the cost of implementing the proposals, or said how quickly those savings would be realised. That puts my Committee in a difficult position when assessing the viability of the proposals.
There are also difficulties of risk management. The public probation service will have to assure itself about the risk management of up to 200,000 offenders for whom it has no direct responsibility, and we will need to ask many questions about how information will be passed between the public probation service, the police, and private sector providers. At the moment, transfer of information is relatively easy, but under the proposed arrangements it will become more complex and difficult. I hope the Minister will say something about that. That also affects other areas. I had a discussion with a victim liaison officer who is concerned about how far information of the kind she is able to get now will flow when reassuring victims about restrictions being placed on an offender, and whether that information will come so readily through the system the Government propose.
There are key confidence issues about how the proposals can be made to work. There is a confidence issue for the police on sharing intelligence. If police officers feel inhibited about sharing intelligence with the provider of these vital services, the effectiveness of the whole process will be impaired. There is a confidence issue for magistrates when considering how they can rely on a community sentence—a significant part of the Bill is on community sentences. We want magistrates to be able to pass community sentences confident in the knowledge that they will be carried out effectively. There is a confidence issue for those who deal with victims and, currently, for probation office staff, who are uncertain as to where they will end up. If they take no definite action to locate themselves in the new system, will they finish up in the public probation service or the private sector? Which way should they go if they want the opportunity to exercise their skills?
I echo the concerns the Chairman of the Justice Committee outlines and accept their validity, but the idea that there is no example of partnership between charitable organisations and the police is surely negated by the St Giles Trust—the Committee has looked at the trust in great detail. The trust is a charitable sector organisation that works throughout people’s time in prison and outside in partnership with the prison, probation and all other services. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the St Giles Trust is a good example of how things can be done?
There are plenty of good examples—my Committee has looked at a number of them—but no one should start from the presumption that the existing system is the only way of managing prolific and frequent offenders. On the contrary, the reoffending figures should tell us that we must do something differently. We must harness the talents that exist in the charity and voluntary sectors, which may also exist in the private sector.
No, I will conclude because many hon. Members wish to speak.
Elements of the Bill will provide the opportunity to realise the Justice Committee’s vision of how we can reduce crime through more effective use of taxpayers’ money. Currently, we waste taxpayers’ money in not dealing effectively with reoffending. That must change. However, there are significant risks in the pace at which the Government intend to implement the programme. We must ask questions about that, and my Committee will do so.
Despite what the Justice Secretary tried to argue at the beginning of his speech, the Bill is part of a wider programme that changes probation services as well as how the offenders with which they deal are handled. As such, it is important to understand the background of the Bill in order to understand its intent, the provisions and the wider programme.
To do that, it is necessary to look at the policy routes of the consultation reports that precede the Bill. The coalition’s first criminal justice consultation—“Breaking the Cycle”—was in December 2010. It promised to open up probation services to the market. The second report, of July 2011, proposed six new pilots of a payment-by-results method and at the same time pledged not a comprehensive rehabilitation strategy for offenders, nor a comprehensive reoffending rates reduction strategy, but a
“a comprehensive competition strategy for…probation services”.
There is an obsession with the market, competition and privatisation. This is not the means to an end; it is the end. It is the purpose of the Justice Secretary’s programme—that and perhaps burnishing his credentials with the wilder right-wing of the Conservative party for the future.
If the policy end was to reduce reoffending rates for short-term prisoners, the means are in place—probation trusts, which have been responsible for overseeing falling reoffending rates for those they have supervised for 13 years.
I will finish my point and then give way.
If the end or purpose of the policy was better value for taxpayers without compromising professional standards or public safety, the means are in place with probation trusts, which have made savings of around 20% over the past five years and helped to reduce crime rates and maintain protection for the public.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument closely. He was a member of the Government who passed the Offender Management Act 2007. If, as is his contention, the previous Government believed that probation trusts could do all those things themselves, why did the Act allow for competition? Why did it not prescribe that all probation work should always be done by probation trusts?
The Minister was in the Chamber for the Opposition day debate last week and will have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who was the Minister responsible for the 2007 Act. In July 2007, he mentioned
“trusts remaining public-sector based and delivering services at a local level”.—[Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 354.]
Essentially, the 2007 Act was not about abolishing local probation trusts, nor about trying to commission services from the centre from a desk in Whitehall; it was about using local partnerships and local professional expertise to secure the best mix of support that offenders needed and that the public required to keep them safe and protected from harm.
I infer that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with rehabilitation being the end product. A key element of the Bill on rehabilitation and reoffending is clauses 12 and 13. Compulsory drug testing for class B drugs expands existing provisions, and clause 13 introduces compulsory attendance at appointments on licence for drug treatment and testing, which did not exist before. The key part is helping people who need help. The ones who are addicted to drugs are the ones who continue to go in and out of the criminal system. Clauses 12 and 13 deal with rehabilitation on that basis, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will at least agree with me that those clauses are the right way forward.
There are some useful provisions in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has said that the Opposition do not object to some of the Bill. Additional requirements as part of supervision orders are sensible. Extending the supervision requirement to those who are released from custody after short-term sentences is sensible. My argument is that the legislation is part of a wider programme, the policy purpose of which lacks evidence and justification, but not the ideology that drives the Justice Secretary. That purpose—that end—is the privatisation of our probation services. It is not about the means to a better probation service or better protection for the public.
Let me develop my argument. I have mentioned the first and second coalition consultation reports. To be fair, the third report—“Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services”—which was published in March 2012, restated the intent to open up the market for the supervision of low-risk offenders. However, it also proposed a stronger role for probation trusts and a stronger emphasis on partnership working. The report states:
“We intend that there will be a stronger role for public sector Probation Trusts as commissioners of competed probation services…We will devolve to Probation Trusts the budget for community offender services”.
At that time, the Government said:
“Trusts are best placed to work with courts and with local partners to design and commission services jointly…We will support the joint commissioning of services for offenders between probation and key partners such as local authorities, health and the police.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current proposals run the risk of dispensing with excellent services in the not-for-profit sector, which Government Members say they want to preserve? Will the proposals not leave that door open, because such charitable organisations do not have the critical mass to enable them to bid for the contracts or withstand a payment-by-results mechanism?
My hon. Friend is right. One of the real worries about this so-called reform programme is that it borrows from the Work programme, which the Justice Secretary introduced when he was Minister of State for Employment. Frankly, many of the failures, flaws and potential fraud in the Work programme could be replicated in our probation service.
Returning to probation trusts, I quoted from the March 2012 consultation report. What has changed since then? The Justice Secretary has changed. He has stopped the pilots; he has added medium-risk offenders who have served a custodial sentence, and those on community sentences and suspended sentences, to the list of offenders who will be handed over to the private sector; and he has issued the invitation to contract for £450 million of services before the Bill has even had its Second reading in this House. There has been no testing, no costing, no evidence to support such sweeping changes and no backing from any serious professional probation voices.
Clause 1 was inserted by the Lords as a vote of no confidence in the case that the Justice Secretary has been making. That was not a party political move, as it was led by Cross Benchers and a former chief inspector of prisons. Clause 1 was introduced and approved because there are still too many doubts about the Bill and the programme of privatisation—doubts about the viability, accountability, affordability and safety of services under a new, largely privatised system. How much will it cost? How much will it save? How will it be more effective? How will it reduce reoffending? How great will the risk be in putting serious offenders in the hands of private companies? How much money will be offered up front? How much will be held back and paid via payment by results? How will the repeated failures of the Work programme be avoided? How will the fiasco and fraud we have seen before be avoided in the Ministry of Justice’s management of contracts?
To justify the proposed legislation, the Justice Secretary has to address those concerns, and he has not. He has to be able to demonstrate that his plans are better than building on what is already in place. He cannot do that because all 35 probation trusts in England and Wales have been independently judged either good or excellent. All 35 probation trusts are hitting all the targets they have been set. Reoffending rates for those under their supervision have been falling every year for more than a decade. Imagine the credit the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government would take if all local authority children’s services were judged good or excellent. Imagine the purring pleasure of the Secretary of State for Education if all schools were judged good or excellent. Imagine the huge relief of the Secretary of State for Health if all hospitals were judged good or excellent. No other part of the public sector performs so consistently, and to such a high professional standard, as the probation service.
I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. Is he suggesting that none of the 35 probation trusts should apply for mutual status, which would allow them to carry on their important work? Is he advising against that?
That is a red herring. Unbelievably, probation trusts are prevented from putting forward proposals to bid for contracts to do the job they have proved they can do so well. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman comes across to south Yorkshire and looks at our probation trust, which is one of the best-performing trusts in the country. In the past five years, it has been top-ranked almost every year in reducing reoffending.
I have been to south Yorkshire and, with the excellent police and crime commissioner, visited various projects that are examples of the probation trust competing with local charities to get the best possible project to rehabilitate offenders. What does my right hon. Friend think the probation trust would say if it was told, “We can guarantee seven to 10 years of funding, with a three-year contract extension, if you are allowed to bid for this contract”? What does he think its response would be if it was allowed to bid for the contract that the Government will allow G4S, Serco and Uncle Tom Cobleigh to bid for?
My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Probation trusts want to do the work they already do, including with offenders who serve custodial sentences of less than 12 months. They require all their officers to be qualified to work with medium-risk offenders—the group the Government want to put out to the private sector—which is one reason why the results for reduction in reoffending have been so good in the past five years. I see no reason why probation trusts should not be able to bid to provide the service my right hon. Friend talked about. Ministers say, with a sweep of the hand, “They cannot possibly deal with the uncertainty of payment by results,” but that is not the case.
That is absolute nonsense. Public bodies, like local authorities, have reserves to deal with uncertainties. Why does the Minister not take a look at the legislation passed by his Government on local authority funding, which is based increasingly on business rates and contains an element of risk? Good, prudent public authorities can manage those risks, and there is no reason why probation trusts should not be able to bid for this work and do it as well as they do the work with the offenders they are already responsible for supervising.
To which I might add that the probation trusts have a proven track record—certainly in south Yorkshire—of dealing with the group the Minister is rightly most concerned about: offenders who have served less than 12 months in custody. That work is already done in south Yorkshire by the probation trust, with multi-agency teams including the police, drug workers and housing officers. The Justice Secretary’s plans will split up those cases and break the relationships on which such excellent work is dependent and currently undertaken.
I am terribly sorry to intervene again. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concept of justice reinvestment? Manchester probation trust, for example, has excellent intensive alternatives to custody, and rather than being used to pay dividends to shareholders, the savings that are made are reinvested in other schemes that reduce reoffending even more. This is an example of a win-win situation, with public sector experts reducing reoffending and the money saved going to projects that reduce reoffending even more.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of that. He is an excellent shadow Justice Secretary, and I am interested to hear what he says about Greater Manchester. I suspect that the point is the same with regard to south Yorkshire: the Government’s proposed changes are all about taking on the extra work that is already being done effectively. Many of the 35 probation trusts are now saying, “Give us the challenge and the opportunity to do this extra work and we will do it without the extra cost.” I ask the Minister: why destroy this local probation service, which the combination of privatisation and the Bill will do? Why dismantle the working relationships in place with partner agencies? Why privatise out of existence the people with the proven expertise and dedication to help the short-sentence offenders, whom he, in the Bill, rightly wants to support? Why run the terrible risk to the safety of the public with these changes?
The risk that Ministers talk about does not relate simply to the original crime committed. With these offenders, the risk changes, often rapidly and in response to personal circumstances—their stopping taking medication, breaking up with a partner, or suddenly falling into a circle of old friends and bad habits. Last year, one in four offenders moved, one way or the other, between the high and medium-risk categories. They are exactly the group that the Government want to see moving between the public and the private sectors—between the probation service and the contracted services. These individuals are likely to yo-yo between agencies, which will result in extra cost, paperwork and risk. The chief inspector of probation said:
“Any lack of contractual or operational clarity between the public and private sector providers will, in our view, lead to systemic failure and an increased risk to the public.”
In other words, there will be increased risk as a direct result of the Bill.
I turn briefly to parts 2 and 3 of the Bill. Like my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State, I broadly support some of the provisions in part 2, including the ones that seek to reduce the reoffending rate among those who serve less than 12 months in custody, for whom the probation trusts do not have supervisory responsibility at the moment. That reoffending rate is around 60%. It is too high and the Government are right to want to tackle it, but this could have consequences for a rising prison population. First, the courts might well choose to make more use of short custodial sentences with this extra 12 months’ supervision added by the Bill. Secondly, if the new licence conditions available under the Bill are too tight, more people might breach them and be sent back to custody. The Justice Secretary has not answered, and cannot answer, such concerns—as he cannot the other concerns—because he will not test his plans in practice.
Finally, I turn to the amendment of the definition of “responsible officer” in part 3. It is being made so that the staff of private companies or charities can do the job that probation officers currently do. I wish to put on the record the words of a probation officer from Rotherham who can describe more forcefully and eloquently than I can how complex and tough this work is—it does not simply comprise a set of tick-box tasks. I received an e-mail late last night from this probation officer explaining that they and their colleagues averaged up to 60 cases in their case load. Typically, one third of their clients will be in custody, half a dozen or so will be high-risk and the others will be deemed low or medium-risk—exactly the group Ministers want to transfer to private contractors. They wrote:
“The job is one of constant juggling demands brought about by working with individuals who lead often chaotic lives. IT systems regularly freeze or crash… Another key service we provide is detailed reports to the Courts and Parole Board to aid sentencing and release considerations.”
I have not heard a word about such considerations from the Justice Secretary. They continued:
“Staff routinely work through their lunch breaks to ensure that work is completed in a timely manner and to exacting professional standards. Staff are known to work late”
“come in at weekends on a regular basis. This is true dedication and professionalism.”
The probation officer described a recent case:
“I arrive at the office at 8.00 completing administrative tasks. I have arranged to see my first case at 8.30 so as not to impact on the individuals work commitments. 9.30 I interview a person for a Court Report. I have not been supplied with the details of the offence by the crown Prosecution Service despite numerous attempts. I contact the individual’s solicitor who because they have respect and trust in the publicly run probation service sends me a fax copy of the documents. The individual…is distressed”
“discloses that they have a…plan to end their life… The pressing matter is to stabilise this person. I contact my colleagues in the Criminal Justice mental health liaison team. They arrange to see the person immediately after my interview with them. I contact a housing organisation with expertise in debt issues. They establish phone contact with that person later on in the day and arrange to see them the following day. My role is not just about undertaking the bare minimum but trying to assist people from the first point of contact regain control over their lives. In this case the individual was not classed as being a client of our service as they were awaiting sentence.”
This probation officer highlighted one other case concerning exactly the category of offender who will be put in the hands of private companies under the contracting and privatisation provisions:
“In another case the individual is being supervised for an offence of driving whilst disqualified…for drunk driving. He is assessed as presenting a low medium risk of harm, as there have been previous concerns relating to domestic abuse. In one incident he returned home intoxicated by alcohol and proceed to put his steel toe cap boots on and kick the family dogs to death in front of his young children. I become increasingly concerned about his behaviour. He informs me that he has missed an appointment with me because he had to take his 4 year old son”
“with a broken collar bone”
that he said was the result of an accident. The probation officer had seen the “over-chastisement” of the child when the offender had come to the office the previous week. They continue:
“I share my concerns with social services. I begin to receive regular incident bulletins from the police of incidents they have been called to but no evidence of violence used. I assess his risk to be high. Eventually after his partner receives treatment for 3rd degree burns to her back, which are explained as accidental. Social services intervene. During this process I have been undertaking work behind the scenes to promote the safety of the child and partner”
“undertaking work…with the client to challenge his behaviour and attitudes to alcohol.”
Probation officers deal with people who are often chaotic, volatile and vulnerable, and whose lives are constantly shifting; and these probation officers constantly have to juggle their priorities. Private companies will not have close relations with, or the confidence of, other agencies. Their staff will not go that extra mile, but will be under pressure to do the bare minimum.
I want to finish on this point, because other Members want to speak. The hon. Gentleman could have intervened earlier, but he did not.
At the end of his speech, the Justice Secretary talked about common sense. Common sense says: pilot these changes, pilot the provisions in the Bill and pull the proposed privatisation programme. To do otherwise would be totally unjustified; it would run a reckless risk with the lives of vulnerable offenders to whom we owe a duty of supervision, and a reckless risk with the safety of the public.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).
As a practising solicitor, I accept that a very good relationship exists between the probation service and defence solicitors, for example—I have been privy to that on many occasions—but it would be wrong to suggest that a very good relationship does not also exist between defence solicitors and private companies, such as Serco, which often run the jailing operations within our magistrates courts. I submit that, yes, there is a very good relationship between the probation service and other organisations, but there is no reason on God’s earth why there cannot also be a very good relationship between private companies and other organisations.
I want to move on to the meat of the debate. The current system of tackling reoffending is not working, and we all need to accept that it requires fundamental change. The reforms represent one of the most important and effective developments in the drive to reduce reoffending that we have seen in this country. It has been fundamentally wrong to leave those on short-term sentences without support for so long, and I am delighted that we will see changes in that area. For years, people have claimed that short terms of imprisonment do not work, and they have held up reoffending rates as proof of that assertion. The reality, however, is that short terms of imprisonment can work, but they are less effective if there is no support for the prisoner on release.
The probation service does some fantastic work. I have worked with it on many occasions and observed at first hand its dedication to the job. Its members work particularly hard to try to rehabilitate offenders, whom they refer to as clients. They do all that they can to ensure that those individuals are rehabilitated back into society. That does not mean, however, that they are the only people who can help to reduce offending, and it is right that we are going to open up this work to others, bring in other expertise and allow other people to assist in the battle against reoffending.
My hon. Friend makes an important point.
The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) mentioned the fact that charities were already working hard to help to reduce reoffending. That illustrates the kind of excellent work that is being done by others working with probation officers. No one is trying to remove probation officers from the job of helping offenders. We are trying to enhance the present system to ensure that more people benefit and get the support that they need.
At the moment, the local probation trusts set up the contracts with the charities. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that, as a consequence of the Government’s plans, it will be the Justice Secretary in Whitehall letting those contracts? The evidence from the Work programme is that big companies get the contracts, rather than the small ones that are doing such a great job locally.
Central Government are trying to help probation officers to create mutuals. They are working with the Cabinet Office to ensure that they can bid for the contracts, so that they can continue to provide the assistance that they now give. What is missing from the Opposition’s argument is the fact that the changes will enable us to help 50,000 more people. Surely, we should all be proud of that.
The Greater Manchester probation trust has been highly innovative in developing programmes with the private and voluntary sectors, and it has developed a successful programme called Achieve, which involves getting offenders back into employment. It has scored much higher outcomes than the Work programme. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the trust, having prepared to take that programme forward and to bid for one of the new contracts in a mutual, co-operative structure, was told that it would not be allowed to do so?
It is above my pay grade to give information on why a probation trust has been refused a contract. I find it heartening, however, that so many of the examples given by Opposition Members involve charities and other organisations outside the probation service working successfully with offenders. I welcome the fact that the Bill will roll out that programme to ensure that more people get that kind of assistance.
It is highly unlikely that the Ministry of Justice would give any kind of contract to an organisation that it did not regard as fit and proper to provide those services.
I repeat that charities and private sector organisations are already involved with administering some unpaid work requirements and drug treatment orders. This can, and often does, work extremely well, and we should certainly not turn our back on it. I fear, however, that the genuine help that charities and private organisations can provide will not be made available if the instinctive rejection of the private sector by some Members results in the Bill being voted down. Some Members oppose the Bill simply because they do not want the private sector to become involved in state affairs, regardless of whether that would reduce crime.
Let us not lose sight of the central argument: the public are screaming out for less crime. I believe that the Bill will achieve that. It matters not to a burglary victim whether the perpetrator is helped to stop offending by an organisation in the private sector, the charity sector or the public sector. What matters to that victim of crime is that there should be less crime, and that they will not be the victim of further offending.
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, since this Government took over, we have seen a reduction in crime of some 10%. We should be proud of that. We have achieved that through Government initiatives as well as through initiatives involving the police and, yes, the probation service, but there is so much more that could be done, particularly for those serving short sentences. Prisoners who serve sentences of under 12 months are the most likely ones to reoffend and push up the crime rates, and we must use that knowledge to ensure that we reduce crime by supporting those people. The Bill will help that to happen.
The probation service is good at what it does, but it does not have a monopoly on wisdom in tackling reoffending. We have heard some rash statements today to the effect that the changes will jeopardise the safety of the public and put them at risk, but it is the current system that puts the public at risk, not our reforms. Under the Bill, the causes of lower-level and more serious offending will be tackled for the first time. Tackling the causes of crime will lead to the success of the measures.
It makes complete sense to give private providers the opportunity to help to reduce reoffending and, if they succeed, to reward them financially. It makes sense to ask the taxpayer to pay for what works, rather than for what does not. Payment by results is hardly a new concept. Tendering out has taken place right across the public sector for years, and there is no evidence to suggest that it has not worked in the criminal justice system. I see no reason why the tendering out of these services should not be a success.
The Opposition have said that they support the supervision of short-term offenders, but they also say that they do not support fundamental reform of the probation service. I cannot see how those two statements can be reconciled. How can we help 50,000 new offenders simply by asking the probation trusts to take on a few more clients? That simply would not work. The Opposition’s stance of supporting extra help for many prisoners without making changes to the system simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
The changes will help some of those who are in the greatest need of help—the perpetual reoffenders who appear before the courts again and again. I am not suggesting that it will be easy for any contractor to help those people, but it is absolutely right that they should try. For years, we have worked on the assumption that we could lock someone up for a short period of time and expect that, miraculously, on release, they would not reoffend. We now know, of course, that that theory was completely misplaced, so if we want to tackle reoffending rates, these reforms are not only overdue, but vital.
I maintain that this Bill represents one of the most significant and important provisions that the Government have put forward since I became a Member of Parliament, so I sincerely hope that it will receive its Second Reading.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). I am sure he will be pleased that he seemed to evoke a range of responses from different parts of the House.
Whether the Justice Secretary likes it or not, we are debating two issues here this evening. First, there is, of course, the Bill itself, whose central aim would, I think, be broadly welcome, although a number of important questions have been raised that the Minister will need to address in his response; I am sure he will. The second issue is the fundamental change to the probation service that Justice Ministers are bringing about. It is all very well for the Justice Secretary to say that all this is being done under legislation brought in by the previous Government. He cannot deny that some elements of what he proposes for the probation service relate directly to this legislation, not least to the extension of supervision, which is the principal aim of the Bill.
The link between the two issues has been made explicit in two ways—first, by the amendment tabled by Her Majesty’s Opposition and, secondly, by clause 1, which was thoughtfully introduced by the House of Lords, and under which there should be no reform of probation without the approval of both Houses. I was surprised by the rather dismissive attitude of the Justice Secretary towards clause 1. If, on the one hand, there is growing concern among those who lead and deliver the probation service, the police and crime commissioners and many others, while on the other hand Ministers have real conviction that their approach will work, what does the Justice Secretary have to be afraid of? If he cannot put his proposals with confidence to both Houses, subject them to scrutiny and gain an affirmative vote from both Houses, he should not be bringing these proposals before us at all. If he is so convinced that his proposals will be so successful, he should get behind clause 1 and be supportive of it.
We have a conscientious prisons Minister, but in truth Ministers must be becoming increasingly concerned about the implications of the scale of the reforms they are seeking to introduce. They know that their proposals are unpopular; they know that there is widespread concern about the changes they want to make; and, frankly, they are running out of road. This headlong rush to introduce a wholesale change to probation has to be achieved within a year’s time in order to fit the political timetable of getting it done before the general election. Frankly, I think this is a recipe for a car crash; even now, I would urge Ministers to reflect further on that.
Opposition Members are not the only ones making this point. As I have mentioned and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) mentioned in his speech, senior representatives of the probation service are making it clear that these changes could bring about a major threat to public safety. There are serious concerns, too, about this false separation between low and medium-risk offenders on the one hand and high-risk offenders on the other. That flies in the face of the professional experience of those who deliver the probation service. We know that risk is dynamic—it changes over time and there has to be a way of managing it—but it seems to me that the Government’s proposals do not cater for that level of dynamic risk.
It is interesting and instructive to look at the figures put out over the weekend by the Justice Secretary himself to justify the changes that he is making. In 2011, according to him, 356 adult offenders released from prison sentences of less than 12 months committed serious violent offences, while 2,482 offenders serving the same term came out and committed serious acquisitive crime, including robberies, which are serious crimes against people. Those are serious crimes carried out by people who sound to me as if they might be—no, must be—high-risk criminals. Unless the Minister is going to correct me, under these proposals, when such individuals come out after serving their short-term sentences of less than 12 months, they would be among the low and medium-risk group, not the high-risk group. It looks as if the Minister is going to correct me, so I look forward to hearing what he has to say.
I can help the right hon. Gentleman and correct him on that. When those people are released, they will be subject to a risk assessment by the national probation service, and the NPS will make a judgment as to whether they are high, medium or low-risk offenders—and they will be allocated accordingly.
That is reassuring to an extent, but my point is that risk is dynamic—it changes—and that the assessment carried out prior to release might be different from that carried out a month after release or six months after release. There is not the fluidity in the system that would allow the management of that risk among the different groups. That is my point, which I hope the Minister will reflect on further.
My right hon. Friend is an expert in this area. I would like to remind him that the definition of medium risk in the offender assessment system is that
“there are identifiable indicators of risk of serious harm. Offenders may include those sentenced for domestic abuse, violence, sexual offences, possession of firearms. They may be in gangs, have serious mental health problems and/or drug and alcohol problems.”
The Justice Secretary claims to be concerned about the small number of serious offenders with sentences of less than 12 months, but on the other hand he is allowing those sorts of offenders to be “supervised” by the likes of G4S, Serco and Uncle Tom Cobleigh.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. The truth is, of course, that because the Justice Secretary started with a model of how he wants effectively to privatise 70% of what the probation service currently delivers, he has to squeeze all that risk into that larger majority of the work. This top-down model simply will not relate to or reflect the kind of risks that many offenders pose.
The point made by probation officers —my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) identified it, too—is the issue of professionalism in identifying the trigger that takes place and pushes the risks to a higher level, even from those on shorter sentences.
I agree with my hon. Friend, who is a great expert on this issue. I am happy to admit that he and I have not always agreed on every point about probation over the years, but he well understands that service, what happens on the front line and the difficult judgments and assessments that probation officers have to make when faced with people who can often be dangerous and difficult in the context of the chaotic lives that many of them lead. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention.
Reference has been made to the concerns of police and crime commissioners. This is interesting, because these are the new people elected under this Government’s reforms, yet they, too, are expressing concerns. They are doing so because they understand the importance of local partnerships for reducing crime and managing offenders. They are deeply worried that this Government’s proposals will erode those relationships, weaken them and put public safety at risk. That is why they are expressing their concerns.
Another major issue is that two of the major private sector providers, which are the most likely bidders for the work on offer from the Ministry of Justice—G4S and Serco—are under criminal investigation, following allegations of their over-charging for services that they are already contracted to provide for the MOJ. I give credit to the Justice Secretary, because when he found out about this, he came to the House to make a statement and has taken appropriate action since then. I commend him for that, but the implication of his robust approach is that these two companies should be sidelined from the process of contract allocation at this stage. I say that not as someone who is ideologically opposed to the private sector having a role in this sphere—quite the reverse.
What the right hon. Gentleman has just said prompts me to suggest that it is important to have a sense of proportion. It is true that an investigation is taking place in relation to G4S and Serco, but both the right hon. Gentleman and I are firm advocates of restorative justice, and G4S has done great work in that regard at, for example, Altcourse prison near Liverpool. The 70,000 G4S employees who are involved in the programme there are likely to be concerned about their own future, but many of them are working extremely hard to provide support and rehabilitation, and, not least, restorative justice.
The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed those issues in Committee and in the Chamber, and I know that he speaks genuinely, but the crucial question relates to who commissions the service. If a local probation trust that understands the local need asks G4S to do the job, fair enough, but that is not what is on offer in this instance. What is on offer is that the Ministry of Justice down here in Whitehall will decide which private sector organisation should do the job, whether it be in Greater Manchester, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, or elsewhere. That is what concerns me.
As I was about to say, I am not ideologically opposed to the provision of a role for the private sector. During the recent Opposition day debate, I referred to a report from Lord Carter of Coles which advocated greater contestability and a greater diversity of providers. I supported that report, and I still support it. I think that good work can come from the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector. What I am critical of is the straitjacket approach that the Secretary of State is imposing on the whole probation service.
Members in all parts of the House have already raised a number of important questions, even before we have dealt with the question of the untested payment-by-results model that the Secretary of State seeks to impose. I support innovation in the criminal justice system. We should be determined to lower reoffending rates, and we should be looking for new ideas in that regard. The Peterborough and Doncaster pilots are interesting pilots, but that is all that they are: interesting pilots. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) noted from a sedentary position earlier, they are voluntary. Only two thirds of those who are eligible to take part in them actually do so, and they are likely to be more motivated than others when it comes to cutting risks, stopping offending, and getting back on to the straight and narrow.
The Secretary of State has said that the results of the pilots so far are very encouraging, and we should take account of that, but I urge Ministers also to listen to the critics and experts who say “Let us be a little more cautious before jumping to national conclusions based on two local, voluntary pilots”—especially because those who have served short sentences often have the most chaotic lifestyles, are the most likely not to have jobs or homes, and are the most likely to reoffend. They are the most challenging group.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) made an interesting and wise observation earlier when, in an intervention, he spoke of the role of the voluntary sector in a payment-by-results system. Such a system ought to present an opportunity to voluntary organisations, but the danger is—and I have heard this fear expressed—that the context and culture of payment by results will deter and undermine the many voluntary organisations that are doing great work in helping to turn people’s lives around, and they will lose a role rather than gaining one.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting pointed out earlier, the Secretary of State has form when it comes to payment by results. I have looked at the latest payment-by-results figures relating to the Work programme. The September figures confirm that, even now, the system is not meeting even the minimum expectations of the Department for Work and Pensions. Indeed, three providers have already been penalised for poor performance.
It is instructive to look at what the Work programme has been doing for offenders, which is highly relevant to today’s debate. Of the 19,800 offenders who were released in 2012 and referred to the programme, only 360 had been found a job by June this year. I think that Ministers should be extremely cautious, rather than over-bullish and over-claiming, when it comes to the results of the Work programme and of payment by results.
There are obviously many questions to be answered, and that is before we have dealt with the practical issues of appointing staff, transferring cases, getting the IT up and running, sorting out the offices, renegotiating contracts, and ending existing contracts. All that must be done not in five years, but in five minutes; or, at any rate, in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Serious Ministers—and I include the prisons Minister in that class—should pause to reflect on precisely where things are at the moment. The prisons Minister should do what he has been asked to do—certainly by Labour Members, and, I suspect, by Government Members who have serious concerns—and organise a proper pilot that is properly evaluated. If he is right, that is fine, but if aspects of the model are not correct, he should think again. In other words, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said, he should be led by the evidence and not by ideology.
As I have said, I think that the central ambition of the Bill is a good one, and in principle I support it. I said the same during the Opposition day debate a few days ago, and I was grateful to my right hon. Friend for quoting from my speech earlier. I wanted to implement custody plus, and I was frustrated by our inability to introduce it when we were in government, because—for all the reasons that have been given today—the people whom we are discussing are the very people who need help, supervision and support the most. The obstacle was the £194 million a year that it would have cost to introduce custody plus: I am happy to admit that, and to express my frustration about it.
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware that custody plus was still on the statute book until the former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—who knows about finance—removed it via the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. He realised that the cost was exorbitant, whereas the current incumbent clearly does not.
Indeed. It is regrettable, in a way, that the Government took custody plus off the statute book rather than trying to build it up, and even work on a cross-party basis.
We are told repeatedly that the cost of supervising the 50,000 offenders who leave prison having served short sentences will be met from the savings generated by the competition that will take place for the rest of the work that has been allocated. I said two weeks ago that I did not believe that, and I say the same today. The maths itself tells the story. The Government propose that the private and voluntary sectors should be given 70% of the current probation work load: that is to be the deal. Some 220,000 offenders are currently being supervised by the probation service; 70% of 220,000 is roughly 150,000—and the private and voluntary sectors must find the resources to supervise another 50,000 on top of that.
When I go to the supermarket, I am used to seeing “Buy three, get one free”, but I am not used to seeing that when it comes to planning and paying for the supervision of some problematic offenders. It just will not wash. Ministers keep saying that they will not give us the figures because the information is commercially confidential and is all to do with competition, but they know that the figures will not add up, and they really ought to come clean about that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) made an important point about the potential for an unintended consequence in the sentencing of offenders. There is a danger that, as a result of the Bill, more people will be subject to short-term prison sentences and the value of community sentences will be undermined. I am not saying that that is what Ministers intend, but there is a danger of it, and it is spelled out in the impact assessment: Ministers accept that there is a risk of so-called uptariffing—that people will get a more severe sentence than might otherwise have been the case.
We know that there will be 600 extra prison places as a result of the numbers of offenders who will be recalled to prison, but there is a risk of a change in the behaviour of sentencers, too. It is common sense that if a sentencer is being offered a choice between a package of community activity and supervision and, as an alternative, that package plus some prison beforehand, they will be tempted to go for the belt-and-braces approach. I would appreciate it if the Minister would tell us in his winding-up speech what discussions he has been having with the magistrates and the Sentencing Council to make sure that we do not see an overuse of short-term custody as a result of his changes, and an undermining of community sentences.
There is also a real risk that certain vulnerable groups will not be helped if the Bill’s provisions are interpreted in, as it were, an automatic way, because that will lead to more supervision and stronger sanctions. A higher proportion of female than male offenders receive a short custodial sentence, and many of them come out of prison to chaotic lives and with abusive relationships to deal with. If things break down, it may not be appropriate for them to go back to prison automatically. That worries me, and I would like the Minister to say more about the flexibility in the system he is introducing, so people do not too automatically go back to prison when their needs are rather different.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for mentioning women offenders. Does he agree that there is a problem with payment-by-results contracts in that, because there are fewer women offenders and unit costs are therefore higher, and because their needs are often more complex, they are often more expensive to supervise and therefore may be particularly unattractive to private providers?
That is a very real concern and I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the chance to put that point on the record and introduce it into the debate. Groups with specific and additional needs—vulnerable female offenders or mentally ill offenders, for instance—will not be an attractive proposition to people who are looking to do things at the lowest possible cost.
I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the voluntary sector has done some extraordinarily good work in giving opportunities to women offenders, and if we can integrate what we are talking about here with women’s centres around the country, there is a possibility of real improvement?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, who is an excellent Select Committee Chair. I hope Ministers will still be listening to him and his Committee colleagues when they produce their report following the inquiry they are currently conducting. Many women’s centres are facing cuts at a time when we need them more than ever, so there is a very real difficulty, but I think all the points that have been made about women offenders are well made. I hope Ministers are gradually getting the message that they have to do something specific and different in relation to women offenders.
I mentioned offenders who are mentally ill. The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health have made a very impressive commitment to do more to try to help people with a mental illness who get caught up in the criminal justice system. The national liaison and diversion scheme, which was introduced following a recommendation by our noble Friend Lord Bradley, who has done some fantastic work in this area, is very welcome. Again, however, I put it to the Minister that there are real dangers of the policy he is trying to introduce in this Bill running headlong into the more positive policy towards people with mental illness that he and the Department of Health are trying to introduce. Again, I am looking for reassurances about flexibility in the way people with mental illness are treated at the point where consideration may be given to returning them to prison, which might not be the most appropriate thing.
Finally, I have a concern about care leavers. Some young people in care might go into prison as a child and come out as an adult and a care leaver. That could produce additional difficulties, because who will have the prime responsibility? Will it be the private provider of the supervision that comes after a prison sentence, or will it be the local authority which has continuing responsibilities for those who leave care beyond the age of 18?
These are matters of detail, but they are important matters which must be addressed if the Minister is to get this legislation into the best shape possible. Then again, if the Minister does get this Bill into the best shape possible, he still cannot walk away from the context in which he is seeking to deliver it. Even though I agree with the core aim of the proposed legislation, I am deeply worried that introducing it into the turmoil of change that he and the Justice Secretary are planning is a recipe for disaster, and that is why, regrettably, this Bill is unsupportable at this point.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship for the first time.
I want to pay tribute to the wide experience we have across the House in relation to criminal justice. There are criminal defence solicitor practitioners such as me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), there is the Justice Committee Chairman, who has served in this House for 40 years, throughout that time championing the cause of rehabilitation, and there is the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), who has a good track-record as a Minister. It is a great shame, however, that we cannot unite cross-party around offender rehabilitation.
Members are saying that they agree, in their different ways, with the principle and substance of this Bill, but we cannot unite on it. Everyone who has been involved in this area, whether as a criminal defence practitioner, a Minister, a Select Committee Chairman or a constituency Member, will know what to make of what the shadow Justice Secretary referred to as an anomaly, which was the closest he got to an apology for the previous Government leaving this huge area unreformed. At long last we have a Government who are making offender rehabilitation the centrepiece of a criminal justice Bill.
Every year Members spend time in this House and in Committee scrutinising yet another criminal justice Bill and putting more offences on the statute book, responding, perhaps, to popular––or populist––demand, but not getting to the crux of the problem, which is offender rehabilitation and sky-high reoffending rates. What a shame that we cannot unite today to give a Second Reading to this Bill even though we agree on its main principle, which is tackling short-term sentencing and ensuring that rehabilitation is mandatory.
I pay tribute to the probation service, and many concerns have been expressed on its behalf. I know it well, as representatives of the service have come to see me recently, and I also know from my 20 years as a criminal defence solicitor about the excellent and diligent work done by probation staff. We have heard about the long hours they work, and how they deal with complex cases and issues. They cannot just tick a box to get someone out of the cycle of crime, and probation service staff are willing to go the extra mile and engage with non-criminal justice services to ensure someone gets into work, restores family relationships and addresses all the other areas that we know serve to drive down reoffending.
Although we must ensure that we keep those skills in the service and that the measures in this Bill support that, we must also recognise something we have not heard enough of: what members of the public, both victims and taxpayers, think when they see reoffending rates in respect of short-term sentences of 58%. That is failure. That is 58% service failure, and if any other service or business—although some people do not like talking too much about business—had a 58% product failure rate, people would say, “We have to do something about this.”
This is a catastrophic failure by the previous Government, not merely an anomaly. This is a massive gap in the previous Government’s policy in relation to criminal justice, despite the best efforts of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. Although they put custody plus on the statute book, they failed to implement it and ensure we could provide a better service to our constituents. They are the people who have had to live with and put up with—sometimes as victims—people coming back and repeating crime, as a result of that failure.
It is all very well saying, “We failed because of cost. We don’t have the cost”, but we heard no answers from the Opposition as to what they are going to do about that, apart from making this political point about clause 1. All they could say was, “We tried to put it on the statute book. But we did not do anything about it—we did not implement it—and we could not do it because of cost.” That is not good enough—it is not good enough for all those people are the recipients of that 58% failure rate—and we must do more. Whenever there is a 58% service failure, there is a need for change. There is a need for leadership change, and we have got that, because we now have a Secretary of State who is willing to be bold and radical, and wants to do something about the situation. That is why I applaud the principle of this Bill, which is about offender rehabilitation. However, we also need to change how we do that.
What is the bottom line here? Sadly, we have a dividing line, which is going to become evident at the Division, between those who support the Second Reading and the principle of the Bill—those who say that the status quo is unacceptable—and those on the side of the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who says, “The status quo is acceptable. We are just going to have to talk to the probation service.” He is going to talk, but what more? He is saying, in effect, that we should sideline this issue of service change for another 18 months and not get on with the job. We can talk about the issues of implementation and about how we need practically to carry out the principle of the Offender Management Act 2007, but why is he wanting to have dividing lines at this stage?
All hon. Members would like to see more mentoring to ensure that people actually get “through the gate”. I understand that 65% of offenders say, “If I had that mentor who took me through the gate, it would have a dramatic effect on my offending.” We cannot just have the status quo. As I mentioned in an intervention, there are cases where the private, voluntary and public sectors provide mentoring, but they are all too infrequent and the mentoring is voluntary, not mandatory. At its heart, the Bill is saying that there will be mandatory supervision, and that is about mentoring. We will not just have the same situation, whereby what people see through the gate is not that mentor who takes them into rehabilitation, but the drug dealer waiting for them, or their mates who are going to get them back into the same cycle of crime. For the sake of these people, we are not going to put up with the status quo tonight.
Sadly, 62% of these offenders will not get into employment after their release, and that status quo is also unacceptable. They are going to go on jobseeker’s allowance, and attempts will be made to get them back into work through the Work programme and other schemes. All too often, they get back into the only career they know, which they have learned all too well in prison: a repeated career in crime. That is not acceptable.
Nor is the status quo acceptable in terms of drug misuse, which, as we all know, is prolific. We know that 64% of prisoners will have taken drugs in the four weeks before going into prison. We can intervene and do all we can in prisons, and good work is going on in rehabilitation wings. RAPt—the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners trust—and other agencies are doing good work trying to ensure that we turn people around in the captive community of prison. However, what we need to do is ensure that when they get out of prison they are released into the hands of drug treatment providers and have the appointment that is going to be mandated in this legislation. That matters greatly and it shows why the status quo is not acceptable for these people, too. Too often, not only are they not getting off drugs, but they are getting more addicted to them in prison. If we cannot sort these people out in prison, we need to do more to ensure that we get them off drugs when they get out.
We have not heard so much about families in this debate, but 200,000 children in England and Wales have a parent in prison. That is extremely significant, as is the fact that at least 40% of these prisoners say that if there was that family support—those visits from family—when they are in prison and, crucially, continued support when they are released, it would have a dramatic effect on whether they reoffend. The status quo is unacceptable not only for the offenders, but for their families—their children. The evidence of intergenerational crime is growing, and for those children it is not acceptable for us to sit and argue around the edges today; we must take a stand and say that the status quo is unacceptable.
I declare an interest as a criminal defence solicitor. In some ways, I have a perverse interest in not voting for the Bill’s Second Reading tonight. In many ways, my trade has an interest in this reoffending cycle continuing, my filing cabinet being full, with lots of new clients coming through the system. In many ways, it is not in my interest to vote for Second Reading, but it clearly is because I have a duty to ensure that we do all we can to prevent reoffending. I will be on the side of the public and victims, who want to do more.
We have the framework in the 2007 Act that enables us to put in place the contestability to allow proper rehabilitation. In some ways, what I heard in some of the speeches from Opposition Members is a throwback to the olden days, but if they listened to what their colleagues said many years ago, they would hear very different things. If they had listened to the speeches made by the then Home Secretary in 2006, they would have heard the following words:
“There is only so much that internal reform of the probation service can achieve”.
They would also have heard:
“There is no need for all of these jobs to be done by the same agency…we need to match appropriate skills to appropriate tasks to free up professional probation officers to focus on the most serious criminals in the community.”
Those words were a precursor to the 2007 Act. How things have changed in the Labour Opposition’s rhetoric now; they are certainly going against the principles behind the 2007 Act.
The quote’s focus is on matching appropriate skills to appropriate tasks. We must ensure that the skills of probation staff are properly matched, not only so that they can deal with serious criminals, but so that we can use the best people around to secure rehabilitation for short-sentence offenders. Of course probation staff are going to be needed. They are going to be in the front line, because they are the experts, to ensure that the new organisations that are working to deliver payment by results are going to do the job. Of course, they are not going to ignore these skills, but we need to focus on how we can match the appropriate skills to the demands we face.
We face new demands, because we have recognised that there is unfinished business here. Dealing with offenders on short sentences is unfinished business that we cannot simply ignore by saying it is a matter of costs. We need to find a way, a model, to deliver rehabilitation to these people. Payment by results has been mentioned, so I will go into a little more detail about that mechanism because I have some experience of it. We should not ignore the value of paying for success. It may provide an opportunity and, indeed, a profit for some companies, but success will be measured by a mechanism of ensuring that offending is reduced, but that has a dramatic effect on people’s lives, on rehabilitating the individual and on the public, the victims and the taxpayer.
Taxpayers hearing this debate will think the current situation extraordinary. They will say, “Is it the case that in law we do not have to rehabilitate or supervise released prisoners who were serving less than 12 months? When we look at the cohort of the most prolific, who are causing the most damage in our community, is it not extraordinary that it has taken this long, and this amount of debate on and scrutiny of different criminal justice Bills, for us to have, at last, a principle that we must mandate supervision of this category? Why was this never in place before?” They may then even ask the Opposition, who want to divide the House on Second Reading, why they are trying to stand in the way of progress and of the principle of rehabilitating this cohort.
Clause 1, which took up some time while being scrutinised in the other place, is relevant in the sense of dealing with implementation, but it is impractical to suggest that we must come back before the House when any change is made to the probation service. To my mind, although I respect the experienced people who moved clause 1, it is more in line with an early-day motion to which people can sign up to make a political point, to make a noise and to show concern. It does not have practical value. We must get serious about how we can implement our approach practically.
I agree with the principles of the Bill. It is properly focused on the taxpayer, who has not had much of a mention, on the victim and, indeed, on the offender, to ensure that we consider the results and outcomes so that we do what we all want to do—that is, reduce offending—whether the work takes place in the private, public or voluntary sector.
We must be careful in how we approach the private sector. G4S and Serco are bandied about as though we were going to throw out the private sector from any relationship or involvement with rehabilitation, but it is also important not to trash the 70,000 G4S employees or those employed by Serco. I do not understate the serious investigation into some of the contracts, but we are also dealing with contracts on rehabilitation, getting people through the gate and mentoring. I mentioned the transitional support service in Wales, which deals with women and men. It has been evaluated independently as a most effective model, which is producing great success. The problem is that the system is voluntary, whereas the Bill is about making it mandatory, as well as the schemes operating around the country.
We have work in prisons; for example, Altcourse prison has an employment programme that provides 40 hours’ work in prison. Years ago, many a Minister would have dreamed about that and it happens through G4S and the private sector. We must recognise that those contracts must happen in partnership with those in the public and voluntary sector so that we can deliver and upscale the good schemes, as we are now mandated to.
I want to refer to some of the requirements on drugs and alcohol rehabilitation. I particularly welcome the mandated requirement for drug rehabilitation appointments. That is needed and should happen for appointments not just in the statutory service but in the voluntary service. The great hidden army delivering rehabilitation—the “Anonymous” groups—would also welcome such a move. That happens in other countries: they specify directionally that requirements should include an appointment at an “Anonymous” group. I would welcome that.
I welcome the flexibility in the Bill on rehabilitation activity requirements but, as I said in my intervention on the Justice Secretary, it is important that we also recognise the value of the specific requirements under previous legislation, not least those on mental health and alcohol and drug rehabilitation. Indeed, the alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirement is still in force and is being piloted, and I would not want us to lose that valuable measure. I want an assurance that we will be able to do that properly.
The court also has a crucial role. Drug rehabilitation requirements have been ordered in some cases and, for one reason or another, have not been delivered on the ground. The court has had to come back and say that they are a requirement of the court that must be delivered. There must be reviews by the court, which has a crucial role. Yes, we need flexibility for those delivering rehabilitation, but the courts have an important part to play.
Finally, we must consider implementation carefully. I recognise the concerns that people have raised about payment by results, but we have already been there. The Work programme has been mentioned, but I want to mention the drugs recovery pilots. I have had a particular role in helping to model those pilots and in seeing how they have worked out, particularly in my patch, Enfield. It is important to recognise that this area is complicated, that such schemes take careful local design and that the matter must be handled with care. I recognise that, but it is also important that we are not fixated on the price mechanism, the amount that is paid and whom it is paid to. One lesson learned from the pilots has been that the service has been transformed. They have linked together not just the drug treatment providers but those who want to support people into housing and employment. The service change brings those organisations together under a payment mechanism.
I am very interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying about payment by results and drugs initiatives. He is right that lessons are being learned through piloting. Is he not concerned that the 70% sell-off of probation to be delivered by payment by results is being done with no piloting whatsoever?
My point is that there have been many different pilots in the past few years that have considered different ways of ensuring that we are more driven by outcomes than by process. One of the great failures of the previous Government, not least on drug treatment, was that it was all based on process and on ticking a box. Indeed, the so-called payment by results was payment by activity, driven not by rehabilitation and outcomes but by the numbers of people getting into treatment. That is why it is important to recognise that payment by results has a crucial role to play across all public services, but will vary from service to service. We must therefore handle with care how we deliver payment by results on criminal justice.
I want to offer some advice on the LASARS, or the local area single assessment and referral systems—we are all into acronyms when we have service changes. They have had a particularly good effect, not least because they are locally based. They are also based on single assessments and many of us involved in the criminal justice system will be all too aware of the repetitive assessments throughout the system that lack continuity and delivery of change. LASARS allow a single assessment in the criminal justice and non-criminal justice worlds. Payment by results offers us the opportunity to get away from the criminal justice mindset in that regard. Public health interest concerns, mental health concerns and educational concerns must be dealt with under a wider remit than that simply required by a criminal justice model. That is why we need to make the most of the opportunity offered by the LASARS, which would help refer people to the right places through a single assessment.
Co-design is also important and we must recognise its value. One such example can be found in London, where the Mayor, Boris Johnson, has helped pilot Project Daedalus, which focuses on the rehabilitation of young offenders through the resettlement wing at Feltham. That cohort had appalling reoffending rates at 70%, yet through the scheme he did so much better. The project was radical in that there was a resettlement broker who could negotiate with employers, accommodation providers, drug rehabilitation providers and others to try to ensure that rehabilitation was delivered.
The hon. Gentleman will note the welcome fall in the number of young people in custody, for which the Government can take credit. Feltham is a good example of new models and new ways of doing things. The old Feltham, based almost on a borstal-type approach, is past its sell-by date in many ways—
The hon. Gentleman comments from a sedentary position, but I ask him to allow me to finish. If the number of people going into an institution is in decline, one must reconsider the question of value for money. I encourage him to consider the consultations on secure colleges, with the opportunities for us to upscale what has been lost in Feltham. We talk about training and education, and we should try to ensure that we have more intensive rehabilitation that, although it takes place in custody, does not take place in custody on the same model as at Feltham. I agree that Feltham is another example of an institution that is past its sell-by date and needs change and radical overhaul, but that is why we recognise that we cannot go on with the status quo of the Felthams of this world or with the status quo for those people who come out of Feltham and other institutions and do not get the rehabilitation they and the public need.
Project Daedalus was very much focused on such a goal and was able to reduce reoffending, as I understand it, to 53%. That was an encouraging rate. The lessons learned from that project, which I saw from an early stage, are important. The brokerage system is important, but so are the connections back to the London boroughs. That relationship is important. I recognise that some partnerships are working now, such as the offender management programme in London, which brings together the offending management teams. Those relationships need to be continued under payment by results. We learned from the drug recovery pilots that the way to do that is to ensure that the co-design process brings local authorities along with it. It is important that there is accountability, too.
The importance of LASARs lies in their independence from providers and, in some cases, commissioners. They provide some accountability in the system, independent of the provider, and ensure that there is an advocate. We know that offenders will not all go in one direction; when they go in different directions, the advocate will make sure that there is a proper referral system that works all the way through a reoffender’s rehabilitation.
I have been listening very carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I will give him the benefit of the doubt—perhaps he can clarify this—but I hope that he is not suggesting that he and his colleagues are in favour of change and innovation, while Opposition Members simply want the status quo. If he is, I urge him to reflect on that. He has just spoken in great detail, and with great knowledge, about the complexity of local relationships. Given that complexity, the introduction of the new model of payment by results needs to be done carefully. It might help to have a proper, thorough pilot, and to evaluate it properly and thoroughly, before rolling the model out across the country.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I am not suggesting that he is completely on the side of not having innovation and progress, but the reality is that we have to make a decision in this place. The Bill sets down the principle of mandatory supervision of those sentenced to under 12 months, and that is an important marker. There are issues relating to implementation and the timetable—much concern has been expressed about that—but they can be worked through; they are not good enough reason for voting against the Bill on Second Reading.
Clause 1 tries to create an artificial dividing line when all of us are very much on the same side in wanting rehabilitation. It has been so many years since we last had the opportunity to put centre stage the rehabilitation of offenders, particularly those with short sentences; we should not let down the public.
We have heard a number of interesting speeches. Concerns were raised about justice reinvestment. Justice reinvestment does not go completely against the principles of the Bill—far from it. There are different models of payment by results that can ensure that, as I suggested, we continue local links and partnerships, and make sure that savings are reinvested in the local area. The more we involve local groups—small and, yes, large—in this enterprise, as I believe we will have to, the more the local area will benefit. I look forward to the contracts that are awarded involving a partnership of private sector bodies—large or small—the voluntary sector and the public, and ensuring that reoffending rates are driven down.
Today, having raised concerns, our task is not to argue unnecessarily about implementation points. We have a simple choice tonight. We can do nothing. We can follow the path already set as regards short-term sentences —they were legislated for once under custody plus—and do nothing as regards implementation. We can allow that 58% rate of reoffending to continue, without any idea of change. We can decline to give the Bill a Second Reading. Or we can grasp this opportunity to get to grips with what has perhaps been on the too-hard-to-do pile, and give the Government credit for being willing to tackle the issue. We do not have everyone in our constituencies saying to us, “Please, please, do this,” but we know that the issue affects our constituencies through crime rates. We should give offenders a second chance of getting through the gate, having a mentor, getting into employment or rehab, and getting back in contact with their family. We should be on the side of victims and taxpayers. For those reasons, I urge hon. Members to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time. It is also a great pleasure to participate in such a well-informed debate.
I listened with great interest to a number of the contributions, particularly that of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), with whom I found myself in considerable agreement at many points. The difficulty is that he believes that we should take on trust the need to proceed with the terms of the Bill, and give the Bill a Second Reading, when so many questions have been raised and left unanswered in this debate and the debate that took place in the Chamber a week or so ago. That might not matter if we felt that there was time, during the passage and implementation of the legislation, to undertake careful scrutiny of those concerns, and time to research and implement the measures necessary to address them, but the proposals are being rushed through by the Government.
Already, shadow structures are being set up, the bidding process is under way, and local probation staff are being asked to begin to think about their future under the changed structures. There will be an incredibly rapid approach to trying to implement what a number of my colleagues have rightly described as rather half-baked legislation. If I believed that, if we gave the Bill a Second Reading tonight, the time would be taken to address all the concerns properly, I might be prepared to vote for it, but the problem is that we know that Second Reading will be followed rapidly by the final stages of the Bill and implementation, and a series of major concerns will be left unanswered. That is a real worry.
Has my hon. Friend observed that under the programme motion, we will complete the Committee stage by the beginning of December? It is highly unlikely that any further reports can be prepared by then, and that we can have an informed discussion on the issues, before the whole Bill is disposed of.
The timing is of serious concern, and is driven more by electoral imperatives than a desire to make sure that we devise a system that is effective and right.
There is much to welcome in the intentions behind the Bill. Like many others who have spoken, I warmly welcome the wish to introduce post-release supervision for those serving short-term custodial sentences. As many have said, there has been a gap in our system up till now, and it is good to begin to explore ways in which it could be filled. I am also pleased to see a provision in the Bill on considering the needs and circumstances of women offenders. We have been pressing for that since Baroness Corston’s excellent report; it is approaching five years since it was published. It is welcome to see that making an appearance in the Bill.
However, those welcome objectives in no way justify a pell-mell destruction—a wholesale dismantling—of the public probation service that is not founded on logic, and does not appear to be founded on good or consistent evidence. That is why clause 1, with all its flaws—I accept some of the flaws that have been suggested—is important. We should not pursue these far-reaching changes without proper parliamentary scrutiny of the detail of what will be put in place. If the Minister would like to come forward with ways to improve the clause, and suggest to what degree that parliamentary scrutiny is appropriate, I would be happy to hear what he has to say, but it seems quite wrong to continue down the track of implementing the proposals when such serious concerns are being expressed.
No, that is not my point. My point is that we are going into a wholesale rearrangement of the public probation service—a service that has existed to manage the totality of risk, and take overall responsibility for it. That is what is being broken up. It is extremely important that we do not go down that track without proper parliamentary scrutiny of the implications and consequences, and that scrutiny is what clause 1 seeks to achieve.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
There are concerns about the contracting structure that will be introduced as a result of the Bill. I want to repeat some of the concerns that have been expressed about the way in which the contracts will be priced. It has been presented by the Lord Chancellor this afternoon and more generally as predominantly a payment-by-results model which will seek to introduce new private funding into a marketplace where, within the public sector, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) pointed out, it would be difficult to find those levels of additional funding, particularly in these times of public spending constraint.
The point is that a very small proportion of these contracts, it seems, will genuinely be payment-by-results contracts. Substantial elements of these contracts will be subject to meeting court requirements, which means that there will have to be enough money in those contracts to ensure that those court requirements can be adequately met by the contractors. That, for a start, will leave relatively little room for manoeuvre in pricing a more discretionary element and an element that is about payment by results.
It is also the case, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, that within the existing spending envelope not only are these providers to manage about 150,000 existing offenders subject to supervision, but to take on board a further perhaps 50,000 within the context of the same funding envelope. That is not credible. It means either that we will have a very poor quality of intervention and/or cherry-picking, with a substantial number of those offenders receiving no support of any value at all.
I am also concerned about the way in which the pricing structures will respond to what a number of hon. Members have talked about—the changing risk profiles that we see when offenders are subject to supervision. As others have said, offender risk profiles are not static. Risk profiles can vary. Offenders can be beset by a range of external pressures and circumstances—bereavement, loss of a job, ending of a relationship, becoming homeless and so on—all of which can take a relatively stable low to medium-risk offender and suddenly catapult them into being high risk. At that point, we understand that the low or medium-risk offender would switch from being supervised by a non-statutory provider into the public probation supervision system. They would be supervised within the statutory sector.
But I do not think we have been told—perhaps the Minister will intervene on me if he has information to share about this—how that would be reflected in the pricing and the reward for the private contractor, and what additional resources would be made available to the public probation service if the risk profiles that had been assumed in the initial pricing of the contract turn out not to be what is experienced in practice.
I accept the invitation. On the first of the two points that the hon. Lady raised, in relation to what happens to the income for the provider if someone moves out of the medium and low-risk category and into the high-risk category, the answer is that that individual will stay within the cohort for payment-by-results purposes, so there is no financial incentive—that is the purpose of this—for the provider to move someone on to the public sector. On the second issue that she raised—how the public sector attracts the money to do the extra work with the extra people—the money should follow the individual.
I am not sure that I have totally understood this. It seemed that the private provider would retain any income attached to the result—the outcome—although we do not know what proportion of that overall payment to the private provider will be for the result and what will be a fixed payment for having to carry out the basics of supervision. It is welcome that the Minister says that resources will follow the offender, and therefore that if there is extra activity to be carried out in the public sector, the public sector will receive the necessary resources to carry out that work, but I am not quite clear where that funding will come from if the private provider is also to be remunerated in full for the work that it has carried out and for any ultimate outcome that may be achieved. Perhaps the Minister will be able to provide more detail as the Bill proceeds on its parliamentary passage. It would be useful to understand the cash flow and funding models in more detail.
Concerns have been expressed about the way in which prisoner risk categorisation will be undertaken. We have quite a long established system—OASys, or the offender assesment system—for determining levels of risk. It is being suggested that one of the things that the Ministry of Justice may wish to do is to revisit that risk assessment system to try to change the profile of the offender base so that more offenders can be deemed to be low or medium risk and supervised in the private or non-profit sector rather than, as would be suggested on current risk assessment tools, within the public probation service.
My hon. Friend is right to draw the House’s attention to this issue. As I understand it, a new risk assessment tool will be introduced at the same time as these reforms take place. Is she concerned, as I am, that this would be the worst possible time to introduce that change?
We have clearly heard the same rumours. It is important that we understand what the new risk assessment tool will look like, what the implications will be for the overall risk profile of this cohort of offenders, and whether we can expect to see some significant shifts in the way that the level of risk is identified and assessed.
This is getting barmier by the minute. The transaction costs need to be assessed. The transaction costs of the reassessment of offenders with the new risk assessment tool will be massive. In addition, there will be the transaction costs of monitoring the flow of money as offenders move between the risk categories.
Perhaps I am overcomplicating what is being proposed by the Government, but it seems to me that the whole financial structure and the way in which that relates to risk assessment is very unclear to Members—certainly to Opposition Members. It would be helpful, during the passage of the Bill, for the Government to make that clear to us so that we can understand the true financial as well as the risk consequences of what is proposed.
My hon. Friend is very generous in giving way and I am grateful. The problem is that we will not have the opportunity to go into these issues in more detail as the Bill progresses because none of the concerns being raised is in the Bill. That is the point of our amendment.
It is clear that we need much more time to scrutinise these proposals properly and, sadly, that is not what we are being offered by the Government tonight.
I turn to an issue that has been raised by a number of hon. Members, mostly Government Members, about the opportunities that exist for probation trusts in some form to bid for the new contracts. It is pretty clearly understood in my area that they will not have that opportunity to bid. It is baffling to me that, when they are doing such good work already, we would not want to give them the opportunity at least to compete for those contracts. They might not be successful, but surely where we have good models of provision in the public sector, we would want to enable them to put themselves forward in competition with other potential providers.
It has been said, rightly, by a number of hon. Members that there will be the opportunity for probation trusts to set up different kinds of legal structures—co-operatives, mutuals, shadow structures and so on. I am not sure why we think there is any particular advantage to the public in forcing them to go down that route. Again, I cannot help but believe that it will create extra cost and extra complexity. Nor is it clear to me that we know what these mutuals and co-operatives will and will not be allowed to bid for.
It would be helpful if the Minister commented on that in his response and told the House how he envisages these entities coming into a system when the contracting is beginning to take place already, before many of them have had any chance to get off the ground.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She is being most generous. Does she agree that Greater Manchester is one of the more innovative probation trusts and has had a number of very successful schemes and should perhaps be seen as a litmus test of whether the condition for mutuals is going to occur in practice.
I agree that Greater Manchester has been innovative. As I say, in my discussions with Greater Manchester, the trust was preparing for exactly this approach, at least a year ago, and had the brakes put on. It was told that it would not be able to bid in the process in the way that it had planned, so I would be interested to understand, as I think the hon. Gentleman would, what Greater Manchester and other such trusts will and will not be able to bid for, what sort of entities they will have to establish to enable them to bid and potentially to take a leading role in that bidding process, and whether there will be time for them to create those entities and put in bids, given that, as I understand it, the preliminaries of the process are already under way this month. He and I look forward to some reassurances from the Minister.
A number of my colleagues have pointed out that the Lord Chancellor’s proposals mirror the structure and approach of the Work programme, which he introduced as Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions. Leaving aside the pretty poor performance of the Work programme to date—I am prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt; it may achieve improved outcomes over time, although it is getting off to a depressingly slow start—in the light of everything that has been said in the Chamber this evening about what we have seen from the Work programme and what seems to be being replicated in these contracts, I am concerned that we will have a national top-down driven system, when what we have heard from both sides of the House, about innovative experiments in different parts of the country, is that a localised, bottom-up, partnership approach across a range of local agencies has been what has worked best.
I am concerned that the track record of some of the large multinational providers, who are likely to bid for these contracts—indeed may be the only people qualified and able to take the risk inherent in bidding for these contracts—is that they are not good at developing supply chains down the local agencies. As hon. Members may know, many voluntary and charitable organisations have complained bitterly about their experiences with the Work programme. They complain that they have been used as so-called bid candy, but have not been given any opportunity to deliver activity. They complain that they have had very few referrals, having been included on bids by the large prime contractors. There are real concerns that we are seeing a model that looks very like the Work programme in terms of top-down, Department-led contracting. There are also concerns about whether we can be confident that those problems and pitfalls will not occur in these contracts in the way that they did in the Work programme.
Are not the hon. Lady’s fears somewhat allayed when she looks beyond some of the headlines and at some of the private companies? The ones that are delivering results and are effective in reducing offending, which would be paid in the system, are only those that are properly engaged at a local level with small organisations and the voluntary and public sectors. It is only when all that comes together at a local level that they will deliver results and be paid, so their every incentive is to do what the hon. Lady fears will not happen.
The same claims were made for the Work programme, but the experience has been entirely different. At the very least we must expect the Minister to give us some reassurances as to why this will be different when the model looks so very similar.
Hon. Members have talked about some of the innovative programmes in their own probation trusts. As has been said, Greater Manchester has had a number of particularly innovative programmes. One in particular speaks directly to the Government’s proposals for post-release supervision for those serving short custodial sentences. I am sure the Minister will be familiar with the Choose Change programme that was developed in Greater Manchester. It has been running for a number of years and we await its final evaluation. I hope that the Government are drawing some interesting and important lessons from that experience, on which I would like to hear the Minister’s comments tonight.
It is clear when we look at Choose Change—a through-the-gate programme, working with offenders in prison, as they left prison and on release—that it depended heavily on being a multi-agency programme in which private, public and voluntary providers were all comprehensively engaged. That included the prison and probation services, corporate partners, the voluntary and community sector, and, crucially, local authorities. I am very unclear how local authorities will fit into the model of provision in this Bill.
It was instructive from Choose Change that the range of interventions needed was extensive. They included interventions in relation to employment, education and training. Many offenders, as the Minister will be well aware, have exceptionally poor levels of literacy and numeracy, so investing in routing them to the right educational opportunities and continuing their education commenced inside prison consistently on release is an important element that will need to be designed into any provision. Income and access to financial services have been a key element of what the Choose Change programme has identified as being important for offenders on release. Housing needs are an exceptionally urgent priority for many on release, as are health needs, particularly mental health needs. It often transpires that offenders have no registered GP to whom they can turn for health care, and their engagement with the health service has been sporadic.
The need for a package of interventions, bringing together a number of agencies and players, and beginning that work inside the prison and continuing it as part of a continuing process—not a broken process whereby the prison services does this inside prison and someone else does it post-release—will be an incredibly important feature of what the Government seek to achieve. I am pleased to see the Minister nodding as I say that. I hope that he will be able to reassure us this evening that there will be a continuum of support, not a form of support that begins only as someone leaves the prison gate. There has been a lot of encouraging discussion this evening about through-the-gate models, but we need to understand how those will work within the prison as well as after release.
We also need to understand that the interventions will be made in the right sequence. Some things can only happen easily post-release. It is quite difficult to do much, for example, about housing until someone is near the point of release. But other things, such as education and preparing for employment, can be started much earlier. The sequencing of interventions inside prison and post-release will be very important, and I would be grateful if the Minister said something about how he sees that working in these new contracts.
It will also be important to know how the programme that will be put in place through the contracted provision will work with other programmes already running in the community in relation to criminal justice. That includes how it will work with prolific offender programmes, integrated offender management programmes and programmes such as Spotlight in Greater Manchester, which enables the police and other criminal justice agencies and social services to keep close tabs on those in the community, perhaps not serving sentences but known to the system. How does the Minister envisage those different community-based initiatives will be linked into what is being proposed?
The Minister will also want to look carefully at the learning from Choose Change, which shows that intervening with offenders who have long histories of offending behaviour is particularly challenging. Some offenders who are serving their eighth, 10th, 15th or even their 20th short custodial sentence will be particularly difficult to work with on release. Therefore, it would be useful to understand how the Minister envisages these contracts being able to cope with, on the one hand, those who may have had one experience of custody, where it is to be hoped that with good post-release supervision they could be quickly taken off the track of offending behaviour and we could see some effective rehabilitation, and on the other hand, those who may have 10, 15 or 20 years of offending history. The lessons from Choose Change are that that is a very challenging group of offenders to work with, and simply wrapping some fairly basic post-release supervision around them is unlikely to be sufficient to change the course of their offending behaviour.
How does the Minister envisage the contracts being structured to incentivise inter-agency working and in particular how working with women offenders will be made financially attractive to providers, which has been mentioned by a number of hon. Members?
I agree with the Chair of the Select Committee—I will return his compliment by saying that I rarely disagree with him—that there are many good examples of women’s organisations and centres producing extremely strong support programmes for women offenders. In Greater Manchester we have the extremely successful Women MATTA—Manchester and Trafford Taking Action—initiative, which has worked with the Pankhurst Centre, the local authority, the probation service and so on. However, many of those women’s projects are now under severe funding pressure. They are not cheap to run. I hope that the Chair of the Select Committee agrees that women’s special needs and circumstances mean that cut pricing will not necessarily be very effective for women offenders. I am therefore keen to hear whether the Minister is confident that the structure of the contracts will reward providers for working with the especially challenging circumstances faced by women offenders and how they will be incentivised to make use of the very good practice and experience of the women’s centres across the country that have been delivering such programmes in recent years.
In conclusion, I must say on behalf of the Greater Manchester probation trust and a number of Opposition colleagues that our opposition to giving the Bill a Second Reading is not the result of wholesale opposition to introducing a mix of private and voluntary providers, which has been a feature of the effective working we have seen in Greater Manchester and across the country in recent years. We are concerned that there is little evidence that that particular approach to wholesale contracting out with an arbitrary cut-off point at the level of medium to high-risk offenders is the right way to structure the participation of private and non-statutory providers. There seems to be little opportunity for the very good programmes that have been run by the public probation service to compete effectively in a rapid time scale and continue to be major players in the provision of the services that the Government are now seeking to introduce. There are real concerns that strong local relationships and structures will be disrupted by the bidding process. Finally, as my right hon. Friend the shadow Justice Secretary said, there are real concerns about the risk consequences for the public. I hope that the Minister can offer more reassurances in that regard than we have had so far this evening.
The Bill will enact the provision set out in the coalition agreement to
“introduce a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ that will pay independent providers to reduce reoffending”.
It is supported by both partners in the coalition. I think that it is an ambitious Bill, and one that is sorely needed.
The offenders who are most likely to reoffend on release from prison are precisely the ones targeted in the Bill—those serving 12 months or less—but until now those people have received no help at all: they are just let out of the prison gates with the princely sum of £46 in their pocket. They need support. They need somewhere to stay, gainful employment and a dedicated professional concerned with their welfare.
The power to make contractual arrangements with any person or body to provide probation services was set out in the Offender Management Act 2007, but the previous Government never saw fit to bring it in. What a pity. How many lives could already have been turned around since 2007 if more offenders could have had the kind of support we are bringing in only now?
The basics of the Bill have already been outlined by the Secretary of State, and I certainly do not intend to go over them again. I will use the time available to address some of the concerns that have been put to me, and which I in turn have put to the Secretary of State and his team.
The Secretary of State has already explained that the provisions set out in clause 1 had already been debated and agreed under the previous Government in relation to the 2007 Act. If this Government are happy to accept those provisions, I am unable to see why, when we have consensus on both sides of the House, we need to legislate again. We are using the powers already given to us by the previous Labour Government to unlock resources from the private, charitable and voluntary sectors while opening up support to offenders who have served prison sentences of less than 12 months. Even if we were to accept the clause, I do not believe it would be particularly helpful. It is drafted very widely, and my understanding is that even if we were to accept as it as drafted, many subsequent small changes would need the approval of both Houses of Parliament.
On drug testing, I have been approached by DrugScope, which is concerned that by imposing drug testing under supervision for a 12-month period for short-term offenders we are
“setting them up to fail”,
because they will have more opportunities to fall foul of the system, be re-incarcerated and start the whole cycle all over again. That could be the case, except for two factors. First, magistrates will have a wide range of options open to them, including taking no action at all. However, drug testing will alert supervisors to the problem so that remedial help can be given. Secondly, they would normally have to fail a test several times before action would be taken against them. It is understood that drug addicts have lapses, and the aim is to help, not hinder, their progress under rehabilitation. That is already a condition of the existing licence, so it is not a material change.
Concern has been expressed about the inclusion of class B drugs in the testing regime. After all, many people who take drugs such as marijuana do not offend just to feed their habit. The fact is that there is still a strong correlation between ex-offenders who go on to reoffend and the consumption of class B drugs. For example, people might go back to their old haunts to obtain them and take up associating with other offenders. Some 48% of offenders who go on to reoffend use class B and C drugs in the month before custody, compared with 30% who never used drugs before imprisonment. Why tempt fate?
Another area of concern relates to the assessment of risk, which a number of hon. Members have mentioned. The fact is that risk can fluctuate wildly at times of chaos in someone’s life. There seems to be a belief in some quarters that community rehabilitation companies will be assessing the risk category of murderers, rapists and paedophiles. My understanding is that that is not the case. All those categories will remain the responsibility of the new national probation service. Furthermore, the oversight of all risk assessments in the low and medium-risk categories will remain the overall responsibility of the national probation service. A condition of tender acceptance is that the organisation has properly qualified people in place to assess changing risk.
Many concerns have been expressed about who will run the system, who the bidders will be and what real value they will be able to add to what is already an exceptional probation service for longer-term offenders. Let me say that now I would be dismayed if my Government contemplated considering a bid from any organisation that was under investigation for defrauding the taxpayer on other outsourced services. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It is a fair question: if the existing probation service does such a good job, why introduce other players into the field? Why not just extend the existing service?
The hon. Lady is making a very carefully considered speech, and the Minister has also heard her concern about G4S and Serco and their ability to compete for contracts. Will the Minister take this opportunity to confirm that they will not be able to bid for those contracts?
It is above my pay grade to comment on the Minister’s thoughts about the complex circumstances with regard to a specific contractor. He has, however, heard what I said and the “Hear, hears” of my honourable colleagues.
To return to the widening of the service, the Government’s answer is that introducing the private sector and competition to the market will drive down costs, which will release the money to widen the service to those shorter-term offenders who get little or no supervision at present. I hope that that equation will work. We are not privy to the analysis the Government have used. I am prepared to go with it, because I want this new system. I want short-term prisoners to be looked after on release and to have the opportunity to turn their lives around, and I want society as a whole to benefit from reduced reoffending.
What sort of organisations will they be? What does the private sector know about finding homes and jobs and helping ex-prisoners build new lives? My understanding is that the new organisations will probably be consortiums of private businesses, charities and not-for-profit organisations. A lot of tonight’s debate has been about whether the probation trusts will be able to tender for private sector contracts, but I understand that it is not appropriate for them to do so, because they are Government funded and such contracts involve risk. However, could my hon. Friend the Minister explain under what circumstances existing probation trusts or, indeed, existing probation officers could join consortiums, because their expertise will be in great demand and highly valued?
There are other concerns about whether the private sector will manipulate the system for gain. It is, after all, in it to make a profit. I hope that my Government have learned from the past failures of other privatised schemes under, perhaps, both Labour and Conservative Governments. I hope that grass-roots organisations will not be pushed, as the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) has said, into less-than-good deals for the delivery of their part of the programme.
The programme must deliver real results. We know that the best schemes of this nature have achieved up to a 12% decrease in offending rates, and I hope that consortium bids will approach that best-in-class target. The percentage of the payment at risk is also very important. It must be a substantial proportion of the fee in order to drive the consortiums into putting everything into working together so as to enable offenders who want to turn their lives around to be able to do so.
Finally, I want to dwell on the repercussions of the changes for those who work in the probation service, because they are anxious that they will find themselves either under the constant stress of having to deal with high-risk offenders or, potentially, out of a job altogether. I am assured that the need for our excellent probation officers will be greater than ever and that there will be more work for them to do, not less. Those who do not want to work with high-risk offenders will find that their skills and expertise will be welcomed in the community rehabilitation centres to which they can be transferred. Will my hon. Friend the Minister outline the scheme under which those transfers will take place? I understand that it is a Cabinet Office scheme that is at least as good as the TUPE transfer, but I would be grateful for any clarification.
I understand that the Government have already done a fair amount of consultation. I am not aware of the exact way in which the unions are feeding into Government, but I know that the Government value the unions very much and will take into account their points and their wisdom.
The probation officers who elect to stay will find that not all their work will involve high-risk prisoners. Forty per cent. of their work is based in the courts and in inspecting approved premises. In some models, the work of probation officers is divided, so some of them already do the vast majority of their work in supervising high-risk offenders. As long as they are not forced into such work, that seems fair enough.
In conclusion, I hope that I have been helpful. I am listening carefully to the concerns being raised and I look forward to working with organisations associated with the probation service and with the unions in order to ensure that once the Bill has been through Committee, it will be as robust and effective as possible.
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), but I want to go back to the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), who is no longer in his place. He regretted the fact—he said it was a great shame—that we could not all come together in agreement on this Bill. I would have thought, however, that by the time he spoke it was totally apparent—it certainly is now—that, on the issue of reducing recidivism, which would be beneficial to all parties and to the whole of society, there is enormous agreement on both sides of the House that supervision of and support for petty offenders should have been introduced a considerable while ago, certainly under the previous Government. I, like many others, regret that they did not find the money to do that.
I also think that there is almost a consensus that, in some cases, it would be beneficial to have extra licence requirements for those who have served sentences of up to two years. I think, therefore, that there is a great deal of consensus about what we are told is the whole corpus of the Bill. Where the consensus falls down is on the means by which to achieve those high ideals and aspirations.
None of what the Government say they want necessitates the privatisation of the probation process and the destruction of our first-class professional probation service. Indeed, as we have heard repeatedly throughout the debate, if the Government were serious about their objectives, they would be turning to the probation service, not undermining it. They would be looking to the people who have proved that they can deliver those kinds of objectives, not doing the very reverse.
The Government should be looking to services such as my own in west Yorkshire, which consistently rates among the best. I place on record my thanks to Karen Ledger and Andrew Sinclair from that service for their briefings to me, which have been extremely useful, and to Gail Wilson, a constituent of mine who wrote to remind me that in 2013 alone the West Yorkshire service has received the Investors in People gold award, is the only trust in the Stonewall top 100 employers index and has won three Butler Trust awards, and that, at the same time, between 2005 and 2013, it reduced reoffending by 14%. As we have heard, every probation trust throughout the country has met and continues to meet every target that the Government have set. The Government rate them good or better than good. That is why the consensus falls down.
My hon. Friend rightly points out that trusts are consistently awarded good or excellent ratings on inspection. Does he agree that now is the time to raise the bar and ask more of our trusts, such as asking them to deal with short-term prisoners, and not to be abolishing the very trusts that are performing so highly?
That is exactly the way forward. Were those extra requirements to be introduced, the probation service would meet them. Despite the attempt to obscure the reality of the Government’s plans, we learn that the probation service will not even be given the opportunity to do so, for some completely fallacious reason to do with not risking public money. That comes against the background of a Bill that will risk £20 billion of public money by giving it to untried and untested private companies. It is true that were the extra responsibilities and work to be offered to the probation service, it would meet the challenge.
In my hon. Friend’s discussions with West Yorkshire probation trust, were any concerns raised about the work load of probation officers? My intuition is that it has gone up a great deal and that trusts have delivered incredible results. Obviously, the whole service is put at risk if officers are put under too much pressure to achieve the results that are required of them. The stress levels for probation officers are certainly very high.
The large case loads of probation officers is a continuing concern. There is concern across the board about the proposals, but the work load for probation officers and probation trusts is a matter of record, as is the fact that they have in the recent past cut their costs. They have become more efficient, not less.
There are other problems with the proposals. They are untried and untested. The Secretary of State is now at his banquet and we all hope that he enjoys it enormously. In the first week that he was in post—before he even knew where his desk was—he cancelled out of hand the two planned pilots, which would have given us the evidence base by which to judge the proposals.
Payment by results, which has been lauded this afternoon, is unique in criminal justice systems throughout the world. By definition, therefore, we have very little evidence on the efficacy or potential of such a system. We do know that when it has been researched, it has not come out too well. For example, the Social Market Foundation, a cross-party think-tank, has said that even if the private companies reduce reoffending rates by more than 3% and achieve the payment-by-results reward, that would be limited to a reduction of 5% as anything more than that would require huge investment in rehabilitation programmes. It states that most companies would make their profit by cutting costs on staff and interventions, allow reoffending rates to rise by 3%, if necessary, and rely on the fee for service to produce their profits.
The myth has been perpetuated today that payment by results will have an enormous enervating and driving effect on the private companies who take part. We know that that is nonsense. The Government started with the intention that 30% of the fee should be related to results. We know that in the so-called negotiations, that was reduced to less than 10%. As the think-tank points out, the companies will earn a vast amount of their money by winning the contract. That is how they will make their profit. To extend the payment beyond that would be a bonus. Any suggestion that payment by results can have that effect therefore flies in the face of what will actually happen.
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s visionary understanding, because I have no knowledge of the reduction to less than 10%. I put the example of the 3% straw man to the Justice Secretary and his colleagues. That percentage was described to me as “noise in the system”. In other words, 3% either way would not be indicative of strong work. Should the targets not only not be met, but go backwards, my understanding is that there would be—
The hon. Lady referred to “noise in the system” and I was beginning to understand what she meant. She has already made her speech.
I was suggesting that rather than being motivated by the wonderful new system of being paid only by results, the companies, will find a way to operate in which so-called results are unimportant in determining how much profit they make. That might be difficult for the hon. Lady to accept, but we ought to consider the kind of companies that the Government are talking to and that will be central to the new way of organising the probation service.
Many attempts have been made to downplay that point. The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, among others, said that we cannot make judgments about G4S on the basis of minor indiscretions because it has 74,000 employees. Companies that engage in Government contracts and then defraud the Government, that make claims for transporting prisoners who are dead or for providing services to people who have long since left the system, and that are under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office are not the kind of companies that the Government should consider offering further contracts to. Although the Minister was offered the opportunity earlier to tell the House that the two companies that are under serious investigation will be debarred until cleared, he has failed, yet again, to give that assurance. Apparently, companies that behave in that disreputable and dishonest fashion will be considered perfectly acceptable to play a part in the new system. I find that completely unacceptable.
As recently as today, we have heard more evidence of the performance of G4S. Three of its members falsified documents and were guilty, as far as I can see, of perjury. Judge Mostyn said:
“The three officials behaved disgracefully”.
“When agents of the state falsify documents it undermines, if not fatally then certainly very seriously, the trust of the people in the operation of the rule of law. It makes no difference if, as here, the agents are private contractors to whom the secretary of state has outsourced her powers. Corruption by state officials is insidious and corrosive.”
That was this week’s horror story; last week’s was about the torturing of prisoners.
It is important that we are aware of what happened today. The judge found that G4S had redacted papers that took out information and evidence that the person had been tortured and that therefore that person was eventually deported back to a place that had put his life at risk.
Absolutely. We are talking about people who collude in torture, and allegations that people are torturing prisoners in their care. Apparently, however, those people are perfectly acceptable and might play a part in privatising our probation service out of existence. We could, of course, also look at Serco, which is one of the other main contenders.
In spite of what the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson)—who is no longer in his place—said earlier, the experience of Serco in managing the London unpaid work scheme is instructive. Reports from that scheme and other parties working, or hoping to work, in partnership with Serco—partnership is crucial in this area of our service—state that they have huge difficulties getting through to Serco’s helpline when they need to speak to it about any issue relating to an individual offender. They also said that Serco has failed to provide adequate information to offenders and probation staff, leading to unnecessary costs to the taxpayer through breach orders and subsequent court costs, and that previous good relations in partnerships have been destroyed by the actions of that private company. In spite of attempts to downplay such issues, those are the kinds of company that will win these contracts should they be let in the way that we are told they will be. We will have G4S responsible for probation, and Eddie Stobart responsible for legal aid.
The hon. Member for Solihull again used the R-word when she assured the House that both parts of the coalition are up for this revolutionary change. We need not revolutionary change, however, but testing, piloting and evaluation, and we need a far more cautious approach for two reasons, the first of which is the danger to the public, which has been mentioned extensively during the debate. I am in the Chamber representing 120,000 people —men, women and children—in my constituency, just as every other Member is doing. I have a responsibility to look to their safety, and these proposals will lessen that safety. My constituents will be more likely to become victims of crime as a result of dangerous, volatile, difficult-to-predict, sometimes professional criminals and offenders being supervised by untrained, unqualified, poorly paid, temporary, unmotivated, so-called probation staff. There is an enormous danger to the public inherent in and right at the heart of these proposals.
Secondly, I think that so far in the debate—I have been here since the beginning—no one has mentioned the danger to the criminal justice system. There is the idea that we can take on work with at least another 60,000 offenders a year and that the whole system will not become swamped, even though we are cutting resources at the same time—well, we are told that it will be within the same cost envelope, but that is 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 or 70,000 extra offenders a year to be dealt with within that same cost envelope. I am trying not to say that this does not add up, but it does not add up, does it?
We need a much more cautious approach because the Bill is being introduced with the lie that it is about high-minded aspirations to provide a service for petty offenders, those on short-term sentences and the like. We know, however, that the proposals are a blatant attempt to take public money and transpose it into the coffers of private companies. We also know what happens if we introduce legislation on that basis. Think of the Child Support Agency. How many years has it taken to get the CSA—which was introduced by the previous Tory Government, on a lie—back to something fit for purpose? How many lives have been ruined? How many injustices caused? Yet that is exactly what is being proposed in the Bill.
I have considerable concerns about the Bill, and to conclude I would like to place on record a few of the issues that cause me particular concern. First, the Government’s own impact assessment is one of the most vacuous documents that I have read for a long time. There is no costing anywhere in it: “We don’t have to cost it; we know what the cost will be, but we are not going to tell you. If we told you, the private companies involved might know.” There are estimates and guesstimates about the implications for the number of offenders, including those in breach of an order or going back to prison—the spectrum is so wide that it is rather like the weather report: “Tomorrow, there’s going to be weather.”
We are told that 600 extra prison places will be needed —we are talking about a new prison. We were told as recently as last month that in a prison estate of 85,000 places, there were 800 vacancies on the day in question. In fact, earlier in the debate, we were told that the figure is now down to 600. Is every one of those places to be filled by someone in breach of an order under the proposals? Surely not, yet that is the logic of 13,000 to 17,000 extra breaches leading to 600 extra prison places being needed. Any suggestion that that will be achieved by the expenditure of £15 million of extra public funds is, as again we all know, nonsense.
The proposals on drugs and drug testing deserve a debate of their own. We have heard an enormous amount of nonsense about what will be achieved by drug testing, and by the requirement to appear and private organisations that can drug test if they choose to. They will, of course, have to bear the cost, so we can be fairly sure that they will not choose to test very often. A Government Member has said that extending testing to class B drugs was to catch people who are on cannabis. That might be a laudable aim in all kinds of ways, but to what effect in terms of reoffending? The Blenheim project in London—a drug and alcohol project—has said that the measure seems
“to be based on a misplaced belief that comparatively widespread use of cannabis amongst prisoners indicates a strong link to offending behaviour”,
yet the UK Drug Policy Commission—no less—reports that
“users of other drugs have much lower rates of offending than those who use heroin and crack and are less likely to have committed a crime to get drugs or when under the influence of drugs”.
If we are not careful, petty offenders who have been released from prison on licence and who have amended, or who are coming to grips with, their offending behaviour, will be caught out by testing for cannabis. It will be found in their system and they will go back to prison. How does that save money? How does that improve the situation for that offender or for society?
If the Minister had read any one of the three volumes of prison diaries of his erstwhile colleague, Lord Archer, he would know that what happened in the prison system when it introduced mandatory drugs testing will happen outside the prison system. If a prisoner has a drug in his or her system that can be discovered for four weeks, they will move to a drug that cannot be discovered in that time. That is what has happened in our prison system where, as was reported recently, it is easier to get crack cocaine than a bar of soap. Prisoners have opted to move from cannabis to heroin. That is what will happen outside. What on earth is that about?
DrugScope, which has been referred to and which is probably the leading independent centre for drug expertise, has expressed enormous misgivings, as has just about every other organisation involved with drug addicts. They work daily to achieve results. The Government will not listen to probation trusts or probation officers, but those organisations are another group of experts doing the job that the Government believe they know better than.
We are told that a national probation service will be formed. We should remember that it will be responsible for the most serious 30% of offenders—the murders and rapists and the like to which the hon. Member for Solihull has referred. It will be responsible for multi-agency public protection arrangements and for breaching, yet it will be based regionally. We are going to tear the heart out of the relationship between officers and the serious offenders. The larger geographic area will make a difference.
I have been a probation officer and can tell hon. Members that getting a probationer to appear in my office was the first part of the job. What if I move the office 50 miles or 100 miles further away? Does anyone believe that that would improve the chances of the probationer appearing? Does anyone consider that it will lead to less offending? It will not. Let us not forget that such offenders are not petty offenders, but dangerous people. I therefore have grave doubts. Are we setting up the so-called national probation service—the public part that picks up the bits that the private sector does not want, cannot handle, has failed with and so on—to fail?
The Ministry of Justice has said that the Bill encapsulates
“a complex, large-scale change programme to be”
“completed within an aggressive timetable.”
The situation is that what works will be replaced by what will not work, on the basis of an ideological hunch from the Secretary of State. Here in the House on 9 January—do hon. Members remember?—he said:
“Sometimes we just have to believe something is right and do it”—[Official Report, 9 January 2013; Vol. 556, c. 318.]
The Secretary of State himself told us that that was the basis and justification for doing away with the two pilots that would have given him an evidence base. Even though he was new to his job, he knew in the first week that they would not have given him an evidential basis for anything of the kind.
In last week’s debate, several Members recited the number of incidents of reoffending in any one year, and one of them said, “Something has to be done.” That is the cry of the impotent and the powerless the world over. It has now apparently become the watchword of the Government with regard to the criminal justice system. That just will not do. We deserve much better, and the public need and deserve much better. The Government have to rethink this proposed legislation radically.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this debate. We are enjoying an interesting discussion on the principles behind the Bill, and we have benefited from hon. Members on both sides of the House sharing their considerable experience. I pay tribute in particular to the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), who raised sensible issues regarding clarification on how probation trusts might participate in what is envisaged by the proposed legislation.
I welcome the Bill and the Government’s commitment to tackling high reoffending rates while being attentive to public protection and the need for justice for victims of crime. Some of the statistics we have heard this afternoon have been striking, with 58% of offenders with sentences of less than 12 months reoffending. That reoffending is costing the economy between £7 billion and £10 billion a year. There is an urgent need to tackle reoffending, and robust reform of the system is required if we are to achieve that. It is a tragedy for too many people and too many communities that for too long this issue has not been addressed effectively.
The Government’s approach to the two major aims of the Bill is absolutely right. First, it is right to open up the system to voluntary and private providers who can compete to provide better value for the taxpayer while maintaining and streamlining a public national probation service for high-risk offenders. I have listened carefully to the concerns regarding the demarcation of high-risk offenders and movement between categories and it would be helpful if the Minister underscored those points. Secondly, it is right to make the unprecedented move to put in statute a minimum of 12 months, combined supervision and licence for offenders who have served sentences of less than 12 months.
In the time available, I would like to focus on two areas of the Bill: the assumptions made in rehabilitation, and the calibration of the payment by results system. The Government, in the White Paper “Transforming Rehabilitation” and in the Bill, have shown a wise awareness of the pattern of drug use and chaotic lifestyles among many offenders, including those who serve short sentences. They are right to want to tackle that within the rehabilitation process. I am pleased to see, therefore, that provision has been made in the Bill for drugs testing and to tackle drug dependency, within the limits set out in clause 15, and that this has been expanded from class A drugs to classes A and B.
Last March, I visited the Amber Foundation, which does considerable work not only in Wiltshire, my county, but in Devon and Surrey, working with unemployed and homeless young people, many of whom have a history of crime or drug addiction and have come out of the criminal justice system. The foundation is unique in that, rather than running generic programmes, it works with each individual directly in a residential environment. When I stayed there, it was clear that it provided customised support to individuals, including support for independent living, literacy and numeracy courses and practical training. It became clear that the road to long-term independent living, free from reoffending, was often an extremely long and difficult one, as was the road to freedom from drug dependency.
I apologise, but I was in Committee earlier and could not take part in the debate. Does my hon. Friend agree that to help people in the rehabilitation process, prisons need to be drug-free, and therefore does he share my concern that methadone prescriptions in UK prisons have trebled since 2007?
My hon. Friend raises an important point about the challenge of freeing people from drugs. As a magistrate for six years, I was deeply frustrated at the recurrent sentencing of the same individuals, knowing that typically someone would have to go through a programme six or seven times. I do not want it thought that Conservative Members think the solution is to send everything out to the private sector. I do not believe that. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) indicates that he thinks that that is what the Government believe, but I do not believe it. We are arguing for a recognition that all types of provision can lead to better outcomes; we do not have an ideological fixation that says that the way we have always done it must be the way of the future, but with enhanced targets.
I want the Government to learn the lessons from my experience at the Amber Foundation. It has a realistic view of what can be done with offenders, particularly young offenders with a history of drug or alcohol dependency, in a limited time frame. Short-term interventions will frequently be insufficient, as what is needed is a long-term investment of focused effort and patience.
Turning to the calibration of the payment-by-results system, I am aware that any move to a system opened—sensibly, I believe—to the possibility of private provision is looked upon with grave reservations by many working in the sector, but I hope that many of those who have spoken, mostly Opposition Members, will be assured by the Government’s inclusion of a measure of total reoffending in a cohort within the proposed payment-by-results formula. We do not want a system that incentivises providers only to take the low-hanging fruit of easy cases, and I am confident that the Government will deal with that this evening, but in the light of my earlier comments, I think that that needs to be spelled out clearly and that the payment-by-results system will need careful calibration.
The Amber Foundation explained that the support it could offer young offenders was sometimes constrained by the narrow time conditions attached to funding. A 12-month window for results will not always be sufficient for someone on the long and difficult road to mature, responsible, drug-free, crime-free independent living, particularly those who have had an appalling start in life and spent several years living on the wrong side of the law. Will the Minister therefore consider including an additional mechanism to reward long-term reduction in reoffending in a cohort? Will the Government also look at an option for the sentencing institutions to recommend a longer supervision period within a residential or closer-working environment?
I hope that the Minister will be able to address those minor points in his closing remarks. I am nevertheless enthusiastic about the Bill’s aims and the framework that the Government have proposed to achieve them. It is vital that we tackle reoffending rates, and the Bill shows that the Government are serious about and committed to doing so.
In these very tricky areas of public policy, it is inevitable that change will be uncomfortable. It has been suggested in a number of contributions today that pilots could be set up across the country, and that we could extrapolate from those pilots the information necessary to design the perfect system. Of course, that would have some appeal if we wanted to avoid taking any risks whatever, but it is unreasonable to suggest that Ministers are oblivious to the history of combined understanding and experience across the probation service and the range of front-line practitioners on the ground.
As I said earlier, change is always difficult and controversial, but this is an area that successive Administrations have not really grasped. We have heard about constraints on funding in the last few years of the previous Government, and there might be some truth in that, but the reality is either that we carry on putting things off and using warm words about aspirations for change or that we recognise the statistics and the reality that many communities are experiencing a cycle of reoffending that is not being properly addressed. I will support the Government this evening, despite having made what I hope were constructive suggestions about how this could be moved forward.
Last month, the National Association of Probation Officers held one of the biggest ever rallies in Parliament and called on the Government to rethink their proposals to privatise probation. Two large Committee Rooms overflowed with members of the association, but what struck me was that their main concern was public safety. Even their own jobs came third or fourth in the list, which illustrated the fact that their concerns were genuine and heartfelt.
When the Bill reached its Report stage in the other place, the Government were defeated by a cross-party amendment that now stands as clause 1. The clause states that no reform of the structure of the probation service may be made by the Government
“unless the proposals have been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.”
Before he left the Chamber today, the Secretary of State said that he would reverse that provision in Committee. He wants to do that because it challenges the Government’s intention, which is to bring about wholesale change to probation without proper parliamentary scrutiny. The Government are planning to do that in spite of a tremendous public outcry and fierce opposition from the probation sector itself and the criminal justice system more widely.
On Thursday last, I attended a conference in London with representatives of the police forces, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, the fire service, local authorities, housing associations and police and crime commissioners all coming together. These were practitioners who know how these plans will affect community safety and crime levels on our streets. During a discussion on plans to reform probation, not a single person spoke up in favour of the Government’s proposals.
I understand that the Government intend to use the Offender Management Act 2007 as the vehicle through which to abolish probation trusts and to create new community rehabilitation companies and the national probation service. The 2007 Act, of course, enabled probation trusts to work with third sector voluntary organisations and possibly the private sector to ensure that services could be carried out locally.
On that subject, I understand that voluntary organisations have expressed some concern that providers should not be able to park these offenders who have complex and expensive cases. Does the right hon. Gentleman feel that this legislation does not address that properly?
When something is driven by the profit motive, I am afraid that cherry-picking is going to occur. Common sense dictates that that is likely to happen; the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right.
The thinking behind the 2007 Act was that the probation trusts would be at the very core of the work, and would effectively be able to commission as and when necessary. It seems to me that that was an entirely different animal from what we are discussing today. Despite the Bill currently stating that parliamentary approval will be needed before any change takes place, the wheels are already turning. At the end of September, probation trusts were given notice of the Government’s intention to terminate their contracts by 1 April 2014. It will soon be too late to step back from these proposals. If we do not, however, in March 2014, 35 trusts will be closed and replaced by a centrally run public sector service that will work with only high and very high-risk offenders. That will account for just 30% of probation work.
Probation trust leaders were told in September to undertake a 28-day consultation with their staff on the process of splitting trust staff and resources to create the new community rehabilitation companies and the national probation service. No recommendation on the processes involved or the terms of the resource split has yet been agreed by probation trust employers, unions or the Government. Staff have not been told the terms of any voluntary redundancy scheme or what access will be granted to the local government pension scheme either for existing staff or new recruits. They have been given no information on how their roles will change after the reforms have been introduced. There is a real risk that many of the best staff will leave the profession. Unsurprisingly, then, in October, 84% of NAPO members voted for direct action. This is only the third time that the union has voted for direct action in its 101-year history. It has not taken this step lightly.
Contractors who offer services for the lowest price regardless of quality will no doubt be responsible for supervising 70% of probation, which is the low to medium- risk offenders who are most at risk of reoffending. Everybody agrees, by the way, that something should be done about them, so it is not an issue of either the status quo or this change. We all agree that something needs to be done, but it is how it is done and who is accountable for the work that matter.
Nearly 70,000 of the 140,000 cases that will be outsourced to private contractors will be offenders convicted of violent or sexual offences—specialist and sensitive cases that demand expertise and dedication from trained professionals. What they will get instead will be companies that may have a perverse incentive to allow reoffending to increase so that they can increase their profit margin. The gravity of the outcome of these proposals cannot be exaggerated, and all this is happening in spite of the fact that probation trusts are performing as well as they are. The Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that all 35 probation trusts have “good” or “excellent” performance levels and are hitting all their targets.
Reoffending rates for adult offenders under supervision by probation are the lowest they have been since 2007-08. In October 2011, the probation service was awarded the British Quality Foundation gold medal for excellence. Reoffending by those under probation supervision has been falling every single year since 2000. Despite the uncertainty felt by probation staff at present, the latest Ministry of Justice reoffending data have shown that the service’s high level of performance is in fact continuing.
Today, the Ministry released figures showing that 234 serious crimes, including violent and sexual offences, had been committed in Wales by short-sentenced offenders who had been released from prison in 2011. Its rather misleading press release failed to point out that the Government had ruled out the option of handing responsibility for them to the probation trusts in the past. However, both the Ministry’s press release and the one from which the Sunday Express quoted yesterday underline the fact that that is a highly dangerous course of action.
Instead of entrusting those offenders to the care of the professional probation service, the Government will deliver them to privateers who will be untrained and, no doubt, preoccupied by the profit motive. That hammers home the point that the Government’s reforms represent a victory of dogma over common sense—and there will be problems. As the Magistrates Association has made clear, the management of risk for offenders whose categorisation changes from medium to high and high to medium will be made far more difficult. The association has warned that offenders’ categorisation can change from medium to high rapidly if their circumstances change.
There is also a real risk that communication gaps will occur between community rehabilitation companies and the national probation service, probably leading to delay and possibly endangering the public. The Magistrates Association has pointed out that the staff of community rehabilitation companies may not be trusted by the police to handle confidential intelligence once they are managed privately. As we have heard, there is even a fear that sentencers will be less inclined to use community orders in the light of previous experiences with privately managed contracts—such as those involving Capita/ALS for interpreters and Serco for prison escorts, not to mention the G4S contract—and that that will result in an increase in the prison population and all the associated costs. We should not forget that probation trusts will be replaced by a model that is largely untested, as the “Transforming Rehabilitation” programme has not been piloted in the UK or in other jurisdictions.
Even the Justice Secretary’s Department is aware of the risks. The internal risk register, which was leaked to the press but which the Ministry of Justice still refuses to publish, warns that there is a more than 80% risk that the plans will lead to
“an unacceptable drop in operational performance”
and to delivery failures.
I have a copy of another risk register, compiled by Policy Exchange. It states that there is a “very high” risk of a failure to deliver the programme either in scope or within the time scale set by Ministers, as well as a very high risk of a reduction in the performance levels of trusts and community rehabilitation companies during the change process. The register emphasises that that would be due to insufficient capacity and the extent and speed of the structural changes being proposed, changes on which the Ministry of Justice has already embarked. There is also a very high risk of a reduction in performance levels following the departure of the trusts, partly owing to the MOJ’s failure to establish a robust operational design that has been fully tested. Moreover, the register states that there is a danger of the
“superficial appearance of the programme’s success masking fundamental failures in service design and practice.”
Those are damning words.
The reasoned amendment that I have co-signed declines to give the Bill a Second Reading for the reasons that I have cited. No part of the amendment supports the status quo. We need to do something about the 12-months cohort, but the Bill is certainly not the answer. The Government have already been told that there is a common-sense answer, namely to extend the remit of the probation service so that probation trusts can supervise offenders sentenced to less than 12 months in prison. However, the Government have chosen not to do that.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Minister might like to consider this: about a third of the budget of probation trusts is top-sliced, which they are unable to control, and which pays for things like estates, and it might be better employed in delivering rehabilitation services?
I accept what the shadow Minister says, but I want to say something to the Minister. I respect him as a Minister who does engage with people when they debate with him; I have great regard for him for that. However, I have to say to him that given that he does not know the cost of this farrago he is going into, he should not ask me about costs. [Interruption.] Well, it is first of all incumbent on him, being in government, to come up with figures, not to test figures put forward from the Opposition Benches.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way; I know he is short of time. The point is that I know how I will pay for it, but he does not. [Hon. Members: “How?] I will pay for it by the competition process. It is very interesting: the hon. Member for Darlington (Jenny Chapman), speaking for the Opposition, thinks we can do this through “estates”. Would the right hon. Gentleman be comfortable with the closure of probation premises, because that is what “estates” means?