My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
I am very pleased to be opening our debates on this crucial Bill whose aim is to improve the delivery of probation services, so as to reduce reoffending and better protect the public. The Bill will allow us to supplement the public sector probation service by working increasingly in partnership with the voluntary, charitable and private sectors, and with local communities.
The Probation Service has a unique and crucial role throughout the criminal justice process. It is sometimes described as the glue which holds the various parts of the system together. It is vital that we look very carefully at fundamental changes to the way in which these services are delivered. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to do so today.
We first set out our proposals in detail more than 18 months ago when we published our consultation document on reducing reoffending to protect the public in October 2005. I acknowledge that the proposals did not find favour with all of those involved. What is important is that over the past year and a half we have listened. We accept that many of the concerns that have been raised are legitimate, and that those raising them do so out of a genuine desire to improve on what we have proposed.
That is why we have considered their suggestions carefully and, wherever possible, we have incorporated them into the Bill. The proposals in front of your Lordships’ House today are much improved. With your Lordships’ consent, we will make further improvements as the Bill progresses through this House.
As noble Lords will know, the machinery of government changes announced recently will take effect on 9 May. Responsibility for this Bill will transfer, along with responsibility for the rest of the National Offender Management Service and policy on criminal law and sentencing, from the Home Office to the new Ministry of Justice. Let me assure the House—or rather I should say reassure the House—that although departmental ownership will change, the Government remain fully committed to the policy proposals set out in the Bill, which will continue its parliamentary progress as planned.
Let me first set out why we think that change is necessary. This year the Probation Service celebrates its centenary. Noble Lords will wish to join me in congratulating all those who work in the service on reaching this milestone and to pay tribute to staff who do such a difficult, demanding and, at times, dangerous job on our behalf. Probation work was originally founded as a partnership between the public and voluntary sectors. Indeed, the Probation Service has its roots in the voluntary sector, with the first court missionary established in 1876 by Frederick Rainer. The first step towards the modern Probation Service followed in 1907 with the Probation of Offenders Act. Even today, public sector probation work is at its best in collaboration with communities and voluntary organisations. That is why it makes sense for those in the voluntary sector, who have so much to offer, to be given the chance to do more. I am talking about organisations with which many noble Lords have been directly involved, such as Nacro, Turning Point, and Rainer. We have worked closely with these organisations as we developed these proposals.
When we started on this journey, there were concerns to ensure parity of treatment and that the smaller voluntary sector organisations would not get lost along the way. I am pleased that we have been able to meet those concerns, and that these organisations are now speaking out strongly in support of the Bill. As Paul Cavadino, the chief executive of Nacro, said recently:
“The Bill will improve the prospects for reducing crime by involving charities more extensively in the rehabilitation of offenders”.
We have ensured that the role and importance of probation staff has grown immensely in recent years. Funding is at record levels, a 40 per cent increase since 2001. Staff numbers are also higher than ever: 7,000 more probation staff since 1997, including 1,471 more probation officers. This investment has been matched by increased effort from staff, which has helped to make a real impact on adult reoffending rates. We recently published the reoffending rates for 2004, which show that the rate of reoffending was 5.8 per cent lower compared to 2000 and 6.9 per cent lower compared to 1997. This takes into account changes in the characteristics of offenders. That means that we have met the target of a 5 per cent reduction set in the 2000 spending review. This provides us with an excellent foundation on which to build. We are on track to meet our aspiration to reduce reoffending by 10 per cent by the end of the decade. However, we are still only just over halfway there and must raise our game dramatically if we are to achieve it.
That is why we have been developing the role of probation staff by placing them at the heart of the criminal justice system. We are repositioning them as end-to-end offender managers, with the responsibility for assessing offenders in order to draw up and oversee the delivery of a sentence plan from the start of a sentence to its end. We are developing the tools that they need. We have rolled out OASys, the comprehensive, needs-based offender assessment system, and developed the evidence-based programmes and other interventions needed to have an impact on offenders’ criminal behaviour.
It is increasingly clear that the public sector probation service cannot tackle reoffending on its own. We need a more holistic approach that will enable us to deliver on the social causes of reoffending—such as homelessness, unemployment, and drug and alcohol addiction—identified in the July 2002 Social Exclusion Unit report, Reducing reoffending by ex-prisoners. That is why we launched the National Reducing Reoffending Delivery Plan in November 2005; why my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills and I chair an inter-ministerial group to ensure cross-departmental delivery of plans to support crime reduction and the reduction of reoffending; why we now have reducing reoffending partnership boards in place in every region; and why local strategic partnerships are taking the agenda forward at the community level through the local area agreements. It is also why, in December 2005, I launched three reducing reoffending alliances: the corporate alliance to encourage more employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors to offer sustainable employment to ex-offenders; the civic society alliance to inform, consult and involve local people and organisations who can help find homes, jobs and support for ex-offenders; and the faith, voluntary and community sectors to build on the valuable work done with offenders by individual volunteers and mentors and by voluntary and community organisations.
Yet the manner in which probation services are currently structured is inconsistent with this approach. Probation boards are responsible for the delivery of all probation services in their individual area against centrally set, top-down targets. They are trying to do everything themselves, and we think that they are trying to do too much. We need instead to ensure that the process of a tailored needs assessment and sentence plan for each offender is reflected in a commissioner’s assessment of the specialist providers required to meet specialist needs.
My right honourable friend the Home Secretary described this succinctly when he said that:
“We should ask, ‘How we can best get the outcomes?’ and ‘How do we best put together the services available to us in the public, private and charitable and voluntary sectors to achieve those outcomes?’”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/06; col. 594.]
The Bill before us today will help us find the answers to those questions. It will enable us to commission probation services from a range of providers in the voluntary, charitable, public and private sectors. It will do this by lifting from probation boards the statutory duty for providing probation services. We will create new public sector bodies: probation trusts. Regional offender managers, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, will commission services. They will do so largely from lead providers, who in turn will sub-contract aspects of their service delivery to local specialist providers from other sectors. The lead provider in a probation area will be the public sector probation trust, provided its performance meets the requirements.
We know that these proposals represent a step-change in the way that probation services are delivered, so we intend to proceed cautiously. We are not privatising the Probation Service. In fact, the public sector will continue to take the lead role. We have committed to keeping the core offender management work, such as supervising individual cases, in the public sector, which has the inherited expertise in the field, for the next three years. However, we will increase the opportunities for the charitable, voluntary and private sectors to deliver services, especially interventions, such as the provision of programmes on offending behaviour, drug treatment and other matters. They will work alongside the public sector to develop expertise and strengthen partnership working so that a more diverse range of provision is available in due course.
As I mentioned earlier, we have made improvements to the Bill to meet the concerns expressed by probation staff, stakeholders and, of course, those in another place. We will also be seeking to make further improvements as the Bill progresses through this House.
To date there have been three main areas of concern: first, the pace and scale of change; secondly, the accountability and local links; and, thirdly, safeguarding standards and professionalism. We recognise that these are serious and legitimate concerns, and we have made a number of substantial commitments in order to address them. Let me first explain the commitments we have made on the pace and scale of change. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has given a guarantee that core offender management work will stay in the public sector for three years. We have also listened to concerns about the role of probation in supporting and advising the courts. We agree that it would be sensible to defer the opening up of this area of work to other providers until such time as the changes have had a chance to bed down. We have therefore amended the Bill so that commissioners will not be able to contract with any non-public sector providers for the work which probation currently does in relation to courts. The provision could be repealed only by an order subject to affirmative resolution, so if at a future point the Government were to decide that the time was right to open up this work to non-public sector providers, they would have to make the case to Parliament, which would have the final say.
Secondly, I turn to accountability and local links. The proposals in the Bill are devolutionary, and will strengthen existing local and regional arrangements for reducing reoffending across a range of partner organisations. We will continue to develop this in a number of ways. We will ensure that the duties to agree and have regard to local area agreements transfer from the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. We will also transfer the commensurate duties to provide information and have regard to reports by local authority overview and scrutiny committees. We will require the membership of probation trusts to include a local authority councillor. The Bill already contains a statutory requirement for regional offender managers to consult on the services they commission. We will add a separate statutory requirement for the Welsh Assembly Government to be included in that consultation to ensure that the particular circumstances in Wales are taken fully into account. We will require trusts to report to local communities on the services they are delivering.
Thirdly, I should like to outline the improvements we have made to safeguarding standards and professionalism. We have made it clear that all providers of probation services will be obliged to meet the same rigorous national standards for service delivery and staff training as the public sector. Also, as a result of an amendment we made in the other place, regional offender managers, when commissioning services, are now under a statutory duty to have regard to the same aims which currently apply to probation boards. Those aims are as follows: the protection of the public; the reduction of reoffending; the proper punishment of offenders; ensuring offenders’ awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crimes and the public; and the rehabilitation of offenders. We believe that these changes represent real and tangible improvements. I hope that your Lordships will agree that we have been forthright in addressing people’s concerns.
Before I conclude, I should like briefly to mention the other measures in the Bill. These are sensible provisions, which are designed to improve the effectiveness of the management of offenders and the security of our prisons. We will pilot mandatory polygraph testing as a licence condition for sex offenders after their release from a minimum 12-month prison sentence. We will remove the historical inconsistencies between staff working in public and private prisons to improve security in private sector prisons. We will update the 50 year-old laws prohibiting certain items inside prisons so that they match modern life; for example, banning mobile phones.
We will make some amendments to improve the efficiency of the youth justice system, particularly in the administration of custodial sentences. One of these provisions has caused some concern. That is a measure to ensure that it would be possible to move 18 year-olds serving detention and training orders out of juvenile establishments and into the young adult estate once the sentence of detention in a young offender institution—DYOI—is abolished. This purely consequential change takes account of earlier legislation.
However, as some other legislative changes would need to be made before DYOI could be abolished, we have accepted the suggestion that all these changes, including the one currently provided for in the Bill, can be looked at together by Parliament once the current review of custodial arrangements for young adults has concluded. We will therefore seek to table an amendment to remove the relevant provisions for the time being.
For all the strong feelings on the subject, I know from listening to all those with an interest in the probation proposals that, fundamentally, we all want the same things. We all want to allow professional probation officers the chance to concentrate on doing what they do best. We all want to make the best use of the record level of resources and staffing, and we all want to harness the skills and resources of other sectors. As I have said, I genuinely believe that the Bill has been much improved as a result of the constructive feedback and work that we have received from all quarters.
I know that real change is always difficult, but I also know that without real change we cannot achieve real improvements. The proposals before the House today will enable us to support a flexible, innovative probation sector that will be better placed to make an even better impact on reducing reoffending. I therefore commend the Bill to the House without reservation.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)
My Lords, the Government claim that the aim of the Bill is to reduce reoffending. Everyone in the House would support that aim; we on these Benches certainly do. However, the Government’s Bill is deeply flawed in both its underlying structure and its assumptions. Its real objective is to secure more centralised government control over the commissioning of offender management services. It centralises everything on the Home Office and removes responsibility from local people who govern the Probation Service. If anyone doubts that, they need only to read Part 1 to have those doubts dispelled.
The Secretary of State’s powers run like a rod of iron throughout Part 1. The Minister has confirmed officially on the Floor of the House today that the Bill, although launched in the Home Office, is soon to be cast adrift as the Home Office is emasculated and this work is transferred to the Ministry of Justice. One therefore assumes that, when the Bill reaches Committee after 9 May, the Government will table amendments to replace references to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State with references to the Lord Chancellor.
The Government claim that the Bill is about contestability—opening up the provision of offender management services to the private and voluntary sectors. We support the idea of more diversity of provision. Voluntary and private organisations have so much of value to offer in the management of offenders. We welcome wider involvement and greater competition in the delivery of public services. We have no political or philosophical objection to the private or voluntary sectors carrying out the supervisory services that are currently carried out by the probation services. We welcome the involvement of the private and voluntary sectors and the innovation that they can bring to probation services. There are many examples of excellent work that assists in rehabilitating offenders both in prisons run by the Prison Service and in prisons that are privately run. I have been fortunate to visit many successful projects during my years both as a magistrate and as a Member of this House. My most recent visit was to the Community Family Trust at Brixton prison, and I am very grateful to the Nehemiah project for its invitation, which I received last week. I look forward to taking advantage of it.
The Government’s repeated refrain has been that the Bill will engage the services of charities and the not-for-profit sector in ways that are simply impossible at present, but they have never proved what the barriers are to engaging those services under current legislation. The Government have offered no compelling reason why we need yet another piece of legislation to increase what is their own self-imposed level of 3 per cent of expenditure that is currently outsourced. The level of private and voluntary sector provision was at least twice as much as that before the Home Office, under this Government, decided that the money was not well spent and halved it. It is clearly possible to double, treble or quadruple the quantity of service provision from the private and voluntary sectors without any new legislation.
I am also concerned that the centralising model of commissioning chosen by the Government could squeeze out the contribution of smaller charities and give preference to the largest national charities and companies. They can and do provide excellent services, but they may not be the only appropriate providers of services to meet local needs. We believe that there should be local commissioning to meet local needs and we shall table amendments to achieve that.
The second major defect in the Bill is that the proposals focus on yet another organisational restructuring, which would be the third Probation Service reorganisation in just six years. It really is impossible to improve service delivery in that way. In April 2001, the Probation Service was restructured to create a National Probation Service with 42 local probation boards. Less than three years later in January 2004, the Home Secretary announced the merger of the Prison Service and the Probation Service to form the still uncompleted National Offender Management Service.
As the noble Baroness reminded us, in 2005, the Home Office published its consultation document, Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-offending. I note that she said today—I hope I wrote down her comment correctly—that “that did not find favour with all those involved”. What was the result of that consultation? There were 748 submissions. Ten were in favour of the Government’s proposals. Did the Government listen to the advice of the overwhelming majority? The noble Baroness says yes, but it appears not, because they ploughed on regardless and in early January 2005 the NOMS Bill had its First Reading in this House. It was ditched as the general election loomed and now it comes to haunt us again in slightly different livery, but mainly the same.
This constant bureaucratic restructuring has been ridiculously expensive. So what do we on these Benches want from offender management policy? First, we want effective offender management from end to end, just as the Government claim they want. Secondly, we want rigorous and effective supervision of those sentenced to community sentences. Thirdly, we want judges and magistrates to be provided with accurate and relevant pre-sentence reports in good time. The noble Baroness referred to the amendment that the Home Secretary agreed to at the very last minute on Report in another place. It will ensure that the core offender management work, such as writing reports for courts and supervising individual cases, will remain in the public sector for the next three years. But we shall need clarification in Committee on exactly which proceedings will remain in the public sector. Statements in the Commons after Third Reading are less than clear on that matter.
The noble Baroness referred to the mechanism by which that protection can be withdrawn. We consider the limitation in Clause 4 to be fundamental to the Bill. We therefore find it strange that the Government have also inserted the means for removing the safeguard in that clause by statutory instrument in Clause 12. We will therefore need to look very carefully at that in Committee to see whether it is appropriate. Fourthly, we want those who are subject to drug rehabilitation requirements, curfews, residential requirements, alcohol treatment requirements or attendance centre requirements imposed under community orders to be positively supervised and encouraged to comply and reform. Finally, we want the public’s confidence in community sentencing to grow rather than remain at a low ebb.
If the Government persist in managing a system that means that probation staff feel undervalued and cannot perform to the standard that we all have a right to expect, the public’s confidence in non-custodial sentences will diminish even further. I join the noble Baroness in, quite rightly, congratulating the Probation Service on its centenary of achievement and success. During the passage of this Bill, we must ensure that it has another century of success.
The Bill is a real distraction from the problems at hand. There have been more than 60 Home Office Bills in 10 years, during which time reoffending rates rose by nearly 10 per cent. But the Government have still not learnt the one self-evident truth: one cannot legislate out of law and order failings. It is not the way to success. The reason for the soaring prison reoffending rate is the failure to retrain and rehabilitate in prison, and the reason for that is quite simply the chaos and disruption caused by the Government’s failure to provide enough prison places. The Bill will not do anything to solve that. The benefits claimed for this Bill do not in fact require legislation, but the harmful aspects will be a direct result of it. That is why my right honourable and honourable friends voted against the Bill at Third Reading in another place and why we will seek to amend it to remove the massive overcentralisation it entails.
I believe that it is right to give the Government every opportunity to reflect further on the Bill and to improve it significantly in this House. Unlike the Fraud (Trials Without a Jury) Bill, it is capable of amendment. The Minister has already recognised that the Home Office is committed to making further improvements in this place. She mentioned in particular giving statutory backing to the requirement that national standards should apply to all providers of probation services, but she seemed to give only half an assurance about the core issue of best value in the placing of contracts. We will need to look at that carefully. So far as I am concerned, she also seemed to give only a half reassurance that local accountability will involve councillors having a statutory right to membership of probation trusts. That is welcome, but it is only a half welcome from me because I must ask: why not magistrates too? We shall return to our debate on the Police and Justice Act 2006 on those matters.
Two items are missing from that list, which has somewhat alarmed me. Dr Reid said that he would look sympathetically at the amendment of my right honourable friends under which the Government would require probation trusts to publish annual plans, along with a further requirement for the Secretary of State to consult local trusts about national and regional offender management plans. Further, I understood that Dr Reid had agreed to table an amendment to ensure the compliance of the probation trusts with the duties of the Children Act 2004, although of course I realise that several other child welfare-related amendments would also be required. We shall give the Government the opportunity to amend the Bill by making sure that we table amendments even if they do not.
We shall address the issues raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its robust report and table amendments to reflect those concerns. It is right that we should address in some detail Part 2 because there was little time to do so in another place. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman will lead for us in that endeavour. It is also right to give the Government the opportunity to hear in detail the views of Members of this House throughout our consideration of the Bill. We are going to do everything we can on these Benches to persuade the Government that their proposals to centralise power in the hands of the Secretary of State, now the Lord Chancellor, is not the way dramatically to reduce reoffending rates. We agree with the Government’s objective of reducing reoffending. That is right, but it is the route that is wrong. It is time they turned off the Blair sat-nav and avoided the plunge into the abyss. Let us find a better way of reducing reoffending rates than the proposals in this Bill.
My Lords, the arrival of this Bill has been awaited for some time and in the process has generated increasing levels of concern among all those involved in the quality of provision, care and management of people who offend in our communities, and in particular among those who provide those services. That concern has focused principally on the implications for our National Probation Service, the last remaining branch of our social services with a specialist 100 year-old professional expertise in the field, which the Minister has acknowledged. At the heart of these concerns is the very real fear that what this Bill will achieve is the fragmentation and ultimately the possible destruction of the Probation Service. Should that be the case, it would be a tragedy.
The failure to reduce the reoffending rate over the past 10 years lies principally in government policy, with successive Home Office Bills, changes in sentencing and the need to appear tough. That has been coupled with a failure to promote effective community services as alternatives to custody, with their emphasis on reparation and rehabilitation, which are demonstrably more successful at reducing re-offending. Prison clearly does not reduce reoffending, where the rates range roughly between 65 per cent and 80 per cent, depending on the age of the offender. Current prison overcrowding makes rehabilitation virtually impossible, but the preponderance of short sentences of a year or less, where probation is not on offer, are long enough to cause damage such as the loss of a job, home and relationship, creating just the problems that lead to reoffending. This is further linked to the issues of entrenched mental health, drug addiction, communication problems and education and training issues that can take years to put right.
Reoffending is not, therefore, a failure of the Probation Service, although the wholesale reorganisation of structure and role as set out in the Bill seems to imply that in fact the Government believe that to be the case. However, there are elements in the Bill over which we have common cause with the Government, particularly on the need to improve and develop a wider range of services to maximise flexibility and facilitate specialist input, and so free up the Probation Service to perform its core functions still more effectively. Increasing the involvement of a wider range of specialist providers in a properly managed way in partnership with the Probation Service should indeed be part of this. We know that a wide range of organisations is lining up to offer their services—Barnardo’s, Rainer, Nacro and ACEVO, to name but a few of the big players, not to mention private providers—but the issue is whether the Probation Service will be allowed to retain its core function as the central offender manager, while opening the way to these other providers of specialist interventions.
In 2003, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, Managing Offenders and Reducing Crime—and I am delighted that he is with us today—produced proposals with the aim of reducing reoffending through more consistent and effective end-to-end offender management. We agree with that approach. Yet when it comes to end-to-end management, the Bill is silent on the linkages, roles or responsibilities of prisons and their staff in that management. There was an implied wish in the noble Lord’s thinking, I believe, to break down the silos between prison and probation, and for the system to become more integrated, which is absolutely right. However, the current proposals do nothing to break down the silos; instead, by maintaining separate service level agreements for prison and probation and then introducing separate service level agreements within probation, one for offender management and one for interventions, the result is three silos, which will facilitate neither consistency nor effectiveness
The solution, as set out in the Bill, is the removal of the responsibility for the provision of probation services from the National Probation Service—only reorganised, as we have heard, in 2001—and the abolition of the 42 probation boards that deliver their service locally, in favour of investing all responsibility for the provision of probation services in the Home Secretary, who can then award contracts for the provision of probation function to “any person”. Here I declare an interest as a patron of the Probation Boards’ Association. There is to be a purchaser/provider split and the introduction of contestability, in the belief that this will drive up standards. The commissioning of services is to be delegated to probation trusts via 10 ROMs—regional offender managers, who are not actually mentioned in the Bill—but will replace the probation boards. These are not primarily locally accountable, but are answerable to the ROM and the Home Secretary.
Where is the evidence that the proposed highly centralised Home Office-led arrangement can achieve the stated objective, which we all support, of promoting community safety and reducing reoffending? What are the arguments for the breaking up of an established, essentially locally based and delivered service and replacing it with a multiplicity of services without the basic infrastructure of locally commissioned work? Is this really necessary? And where is the evidence that contestability improves the quality of service delivery in a sustained, systematic way? It is little wonder that the Probation Service feels itself to be under threat of fragmentation or even extinction, and we share those fears.
Given that he deemed his own Home Office not fit for purpose, it is incredible that we should be expected to have any confidence in the Home Secretary or believe that the new split Home Office will be any more able to provide a better, more efficient, reliable or effective service than the Probation Service it is proposing to dismantle. Now is surely not the time to be making such an act of faith with the latest reorganisation and its attendant inevitable costs and upheavals, even if it were the right solution. If the Probation Service had been shown to be failing, this drastic upheaval could be understood. But, as we have heard, it is much praised by Ministers. It has shown very strong delivery on the four functions that describe its work—public protection, offender, management, interventions and organisation efficiency and effectiveness. It shows very strong performance on service delivery functions, particularly interventions. All this was reported by the director of probation in his latest probation report.
Elsewhere, the Government have been pursuing policies which underline the importance of local services, which we heartily support. But the proposals, as they stand, will actually remove the essential local element and introduce instead an additional layer of very expensive regional bureaucracy. Figures contained in the winter supplementary estimates for 2006-07 show that the total amount due to be spent on the new centralised and regionalised bureaucracy of NOMs was £855 million, compared with £832 million for the whole of the Probation Service. It is not only expensive, it is unrealistically unwieldy.
For example, a ROM in the north-west region, based in Manchester, is expected to link with and understand the needs of literally thousands of sentencers from Crewe to Carlisle and commission services relevant to their court needs as well as the range of community responsibilities, MAPPA duties, victim support and the myriad tasks that are required of them. At the same time, this ROM is expected to understand the needs of the district and unitary authorities across the whole of the north-west. Even using the advice of the newly constituted probation trusts, this is the antithesis of a locally based service. There is not a shred of evidence as to how this vastly expensive extra regional layer of bureaucracy and the breaking up of the current integrated probation services will achieve reductions in reoffending. The elementary fact is that crime is a local phenomenon where the causes and the solutions must be local. Involvement of local communities is essential, as is working with the police and other local government agencies. This is what the Probation Service does; it describes itself as the glue which holds the criminal justice services together from the courts through to post-sentences and life licence.
It is this lack of local accountability in the Bill about which we have the strongest reservations. They are shared by not only the influential LGA but also many of the larger voluntary organisations which might hope to play a part in the wider roles that may be offered to them. There is the recognition that there is a real need to lock plans and services into local area agreements to promote accountability, consistency and avoid fragmentation or duplication. It is also essential for the promotion of local community involvement and confidence in offender management such as alternatives to custody which need far more, not less, attention paid to them by all concerned. We will be looking for clarification and much reassurance on this.
We welcome the concessions made at Third Reading in the other place, referred to by the Minister. A significant one is that the Probation Service alone should retain the responsibility for providing court reports and any other assistance to the court in determining an appropriate sentence. Thus it implicitly recognises the central skills and expertise of the Probation Service, although it also undermines that commitment with the caveat that it can be reversed by statutory instrument.
Further, what were described as core offender management tasks would be reserved for the next three years. We believe that these tasks should also be reserved as a fixed restricted probation provision, along with the court report writing, since they are essentially linked functions involving ongoing risk and needs assessment. It would establish a stable and strong public sector core to the work which should mitigate the risks of fragmentation.
Another worry is the proposed purchaser/provider split, with regional offender managers contracting the services and introducing contestability, which allows the private and voluntary sectors to compete for services. Again, that means that the decision-making process would inevitably be at a distance from the delivery or the offender. Indeed, there are already well established relations between the Probation Service and the voluntary sector and a readiness to continue to develop those working partnerships. However, there is now real concern that the contestability environment will set organisations against each other and vying to claim best value—which begs the question what best value actually means. There is also the concern that in this process the smaller, essentially local voluntary organisations may lose out and, lastly, that for those awarded contracts through a new bidding process there will be the perception by clients that they are no longer independent services free of officialdom, which matters a great deal, but part of a government machine.
There is no evidence that the introduction of contestability will drive up standards. This is simply an act of faith in market forces—except that this is not a normal market situation since the source of demand within the justice system is triggered by the state itself, which in turn is a supplier of services as selected by the Home Secretary and the consumer. To the extent that there is market choice, it operates by proxy through government agencies.
The role and composition of the new trusts also give cause for concern. Little has been specified as yet in the Bill, although the Home Secretary has agreed to the inclusion of local government representation and, I believe, a magistrate, with a local chairman being desirable. But there is still uncertainty as to how many there will be, how they will be composed, whether they will be geographically or function based and how locally accountable they can be when they are principally answerable to the ROM and the Home Secretary. In particular, there is uncertainty whether they are likely to enter into commercial contracts with private sector providers. That would preclude judges from having a seat at the table, which would be another serious and dangerous break in the chain of end-to-end management of local sentencers. I would be grateful if the Minister could give us some clarity and answer some of those questions.
Lastly, the contrasting experience in Scotland is worth noting, and we could learn from it if we so chose, as it shows that an alternative scenario is possible. The Scottish Executive put out a proposal for a single correctional agency for wide consultation. In the light of the responses, which were highly critical of the idea for all the reasons that we have rehearsed today, especially with regard to the need for local working and accountability, the Scottish Executive decided to listen. The subsequent Bill resulted in the Management of Offenders etc. (Scotland) Act 2005 and, inter alia, the establishment of a national advisory body for offender management to agree strategy, local councils brought together into community justice authorities, and a statutory duty on the Scottish Prison Service and local authorities to work together and form effective local area partnerships to deliver integrated services. It is an excellent model, which is being brought into play after a shadow year, and I should welcome the Minister’s view on it.
There are other aspects of this Bill that give us cause for concern, and we look forward to discussing them in greater detail, but I have concentrated on the most contentious first part because we run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater, with seriously damaging results. It is just not good enough to emasculate a National Probation Service because of difficulties and failures for which it is not responsible and with which it has been struggling to cope in the face of underinvestment, impossible workloads and growing demand. To spread the load among other providers so that it can do its core business more effectively is desirable but to invest all authority for choreographing the management of offenders right at the top away from where the business actually is, while giving the business to all comers in a competitive but phoney market situation, is to invite chaos. In the interests of achieving a workable Bill, I hope that the Government continue to have ears to hear.
My Lords, notwithstanding the elegance with which the Minister presented the Bill, I listened with growing admiration to the two speeches that followed her presentation. In my view they exhaustively covered the problems that the Bill creates for the future of the criminal justice system. They dealt with the detail and the whole. It is on the whole that I particularly want to address the House. Given those contributions, I can do so very briefly indeed.
The thing that the criminal justice system needs more than anything is an opportunity to settle down to take advantage of the changes made and to restore its confidence in its ability to deliver what is needed to make our criminal justice system more effective. That is true of the courts, the Probation Service and the prisons. I stress only one great concern with regard to the speeches to which I referred—whether this is the right time to make a fundamental change to the structure of the Probation Service.
One of the difficulties of managing the criminal justice system was that each of the agencies within that system had different boundaries and because of that found it difficult to co-operate with the other agencies. We now have 42 areas, the achievement of which involved a difficult and complex process during a number of years. Is it necessary to disjoint and distort what has already been achieved? I suggest that nothing that we have heard so far creates a case for the disruption that is bound to follow if the Bill is implemented.
I would have said that even if we had not heard so recently that there was to be a new Ministry of Justice. The creation of that ministry is bound to cause disruption within two major departments both engaged in the criminal justice system. I have had the privilege to work particularly closely with both those departments. They have heavy burdens indeed. I cannot but believe that the period that will follow the creation of the Ministry of Justice will involve fundamental reform to what is now the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The load upon the latter department is already great and will be immensely greater as a result of that change. We have not even heard the detail of how it is to be organised. How will the finances of that new and large department be controlled to ensure that all parts of the justice system for which it is responsible receive their fair share? It is all too easy for one particular problem to disrupt the other parts of the justice system that are not directly involved in that problem.
I urge the House to be cautious about introducing changes of this nature involving as they do the abolition of the boards, which have done excellent service, without being satisfied that there will indeed be put in place the resources that will be necessary to achieve the improvements that we would all like to see. Of course, there are aspects of the Bill to which no one could object, but those have been identified by the previous speakers, and I do not believe that I need to say anything further. Here, we are in a situation where there is a heavy onus on those who support the Bill to ensure that it can be introduced into law without disrupting what is happening already in the criminal justice system.
My Lords, I will address three issues—first, as touched on by my noble friend, why this matters as an issue and why the House will want to give it particular attention; secondly, why the status quo is not an option, and I hope that I will help the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in some small measure in that respect; and thirdly, I will make some suggestions for the elements of a reform strategy, many of which are implicit in the Bill, but sometimes one has to dig them out to make their importance transparent.
Before launching into that, I ask for one or two previous offences to be taken into account. I was formerly a Charity Minister, and I still have a bias towards the voluntary sector. I asked, when I was in the DfES, if I could have offender education and training on my brief, and the then Secretary of State Charles Clarke agreed to that. I have a daughter who is a prison governor. I am an adviser to a company called Serco, which does some offender management, and I am chairman of an organisation that I founded called the Public Sector Reform Group.
I will essentially be speaking today about public service reform. We know why it matters; it matters because of wasted lives. There are hundreds of thousands of young men and women whose lives are completely shattered for the 10 or 20 years that it takes for them to break the habit of reoffending. It matters to them and to their families deeply. They are not happy people, and the suicide rate is pretty appalling for people in that category. Secondly, it matters because of the cost to the Government. The estimated cost to the criminal justice system of reoffending is £11 billion. That is an enormous burden, which would be better spent elsewhere. I do not need to tell the House about the cost to society. I suspect that all of us in this House have been the victim of some form of crime at some stage. One knows the financial disturbance, but often the emotional disturbance is more upsetting, more painful and deeply shaking and shocking, even in its milder forms.
This issue matters massively to society and to the House. How are we as a Government, but above all as a society, to reduce reoffending? We have got to get beyond quick slogans or cheap-party political jibes, because it matters so much to us all to succeed. It matters to local government, and it matters to business. If we succeed in reducing reoffending, we would not need substantial numbers of new prisons, and many of us would rejoice in that.
Why will the status quo not do? Let me give three facts and leave it at that. Since 1997, crime has reduced by 35 per cent. That is not my figure; it is a British Crime Survey figure. Secondly, the Government have increased expenditure on the Probation Service in real terms, as my noble friend said, since 2001-02 by 40 per cent. That is more increased investment than the NHS has had in proportionate terms. The staffing of the Probation Service increased by 50 per cent in that period, yet the reconviction rate—although my noble friend put the best gloss on it that she could—appears to be glacial to most of us. We have a system in which crime is reducing, investment has been massive but performance appears at best to be flat. We cannot be satisfied with that as a model for change, given the importance of this issue; it screams out for a more effective reform strategy, as my noble friend Lord Carter set out in his eminently powerful report some years ago.
What has gone wrong? Despite putting in that level of investment, and despite the broad consensus that the Carter report was right, why has it not happened? I shall state some quick headlines and then move on. We have clearly failed to innovate sufficiently, we have continued with existing delivery models that appear to have poor efficacy, we have failed to harness the best providers and we have certainly failed to join up the system. When I looked at that as a Minister in the DfES, there was no apparent nature of a system—it was a haphazard set of interventions that were not bound together into effective, offender-focused interventions that would bear down on the causes of offenders’ criminality in an effective way that was likely to reduce reoffending. You were lucky if you received drug treatment at the right time or if you got the right education and training; it was a miracle if someone supported you into work and it was happenstance if you got a home.
We have failed to create strong enough reform incentives. Change in any organisation is painful; unless there are powerful incentives to change, organisations do not change—they dig in and resist and find rationalisations as to why they should not do so. Fundamentally, the system has remained input-focused, rather than outcome-focused. I shall touch on what that means later. At its simplest, we still have a statutory monopoly of provision; 97 per cent of the expenditure pays for state employees under a traditional model that does not appear to be working sufficiently. That is not a criticism of probation staff, probation officers or the good people who work hard and who have committed their lives to relatively lowly paid work in difficult environments. They are to be commended, but we owe it to them also to give them the opportunity to achieve better success, rather than being trapped in a sort of bureaucratic nightmare, which is where many of them are at present.
What might be the elements of a more effective reform strategy? I shall suggest six things. First—we know it already—we are all largely agreed on end-to-end offender management, as articulated by my noble friend Lord Carter. We know why that matters; unless you address the homelessness of an ex-offender, unless you try to help them to get off drugs, unless you try to do something about their mental health problems, and unless you make it possible for them to be sufficiently educated and skilled and, I hope, motivated to work, they will not be able to get work. Unless you support them into appropriate forms of work through the sort of experiences that we have seen through Transco and others, but which are too few and far between, they will not get work. If they do not get work, you know what they will do to get the money to feed themselves or their other habits. One has also to address behaviour and, I hope, to provide an environment in which the relationships that are often the ways that eventually help people out of offending are nurtured in such a way that they perceive that a different way of life is possible—rather than repeatedly reoffending and coming out of it in their 30s or later.
There is nothing new there; we know it and agree with it all. You have to address all those issues at once. However, it is not what is happening now. It is not what has happened after a 40 per cent increase in investment. Therefore, we cannot be satisfied with carrying on as we are and in thinking that throwing a bit more rhetoric at it will do. So in addition to all those, the second thing that we must do is to motivate a collective commitment. What do I mean by that? It has to be a priority across all of government, not just of one part of government; it has to be a priority for society and it has to be a priority within local government.
Thank heavens that the Local Government Association has shown good leadership in the Neighbourhood by Neighbourhood report, which is first class. It states that local government wants to step up to the challenge of taking on greater responsibility for playing its part in addressing reoffending. Why? Because, for example, Leeds knows that the reoffending is taking place in Leeds. The offenders do not go away. They come back to Leeds after they have been in clink. Therefore, if they continue reoffending, it is Leeds that suffers. Reoffending in Leeds is Leeds’s problem just as much as it is the Government’s problem. Therefore, the LGA was saying that it wants to work in partnership with a more effective reform strategy—and that report was pretty positive about the broader reform strategy that underpins this Bill—and that it wants to be part of it. We clearly have to find powerful ways, through this Bill, of fine-tuning that, such that we go out and lock a strong partnership between central government, local government and civil society to address this. That is enormously positive. There are clearly other commitments that one is looking for, along with partnership with the health service, but let me not go into that.
The third element of a reform strategy is harnessing best talent. A cruder way of putting it would be ending monopolies. Some of us believe that having mixed markets of supply, harnessing voluntary sector talent, is essential to getting better outcomes. Therefore, the shift to a commissioning model, while still strongly respecting public sector providers, is fundamentally right. We should be completely agnostic and not doctrinal about public, private and voluntary sector providers, and we should make an assessment on which appears to be most effective at getting better outcomes in particular circumstances.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked why we should do it. Regional offender managers are necessary because it is not going to happen unless ROMs make it happen. That is why this Bill is necessary. I see that she shakes her head. Why not? We have waited five or six years since this money was progressively thrown into the Probation Service and nothing much has happened. Where is the recipe from the opposition Benches to reduce reoffending without having a central push to change the system? It will not happen without ROMs.
Fourthly, one has to motivate improvement. Some of us who were unreformed, having managed public services and tried to reform them for far too many years, have seen the power of competition to stimulate performance and improvement. It came as a surprise to some of us but that power is deeply and strongly there, and the evidence is there for those who want to see it. You will not stimulate people to go into a competitive environment unless there is a push; again, that is why ROMs are necessary. Providers will not voluntarily push themselves into that position. If the opposition Benches need reminding of that, they should ask why they forced CCT. It was because local government would not have done it by itself.
Fifthly, we have the use and development of the voluntary sector. Others will probably speak more eloquently and knowledgably than I will on this, so I will move on swiftly. There is a consensus around the House that we want to use the voluntary sector more. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked why we needed the Bill in this respect. It is because, at one point, the Home Secretary set targets to probation boards and the percentage that was commissioned to the voluntary sector crawled up to 7 per cent. To try to go into reformed mode and reduce the amount of central dirigisme, Charles Clarke backed off on the targets and—whoops—the figure fell down to 3 per cent very quickly. The voluntary sector will not have a stronger role in this agenda unless ROMs are there as the reform vehicle to make it happen. To pretend otherwise is to kid ourselves and is to play ducks and drakes with support for the voluntary sector when there are other bits of politics to play for.
The last, and I hope not the most abstract, point is that we have to move to a system that seeks to pay for, and focus on, outcomes, because those are what we want. We do not want, in truth, to have lots of staff or processes; we want to reduce reoffending. The traditional public sector model focuses on supplying inputs and hoping that something will happen at the end. It often fails to join up or to powerfully motivate the system towards results. Therefore, although this is not part of the Bill, perhaps the Government ought to think about how they can move to a system whereby they incentivise providers, whether they are public, voluntary or private sector providers, and reward them for the outcomes that they get.
In other words, a provider could be rewarded by the proportion of offenders whom it gets into and keeps in work for two years, the proportion of offenders who come out of jail X and get into secure supported housing within a month of release, or the proportion of offenders who get off and stay off drugs for six months as a result, and there should be a specific incentive to do so. Lastly, in time we should move towards a system where a mixed pattern of providers are rewarded by the extent to which they reduce reoffending over two years. I argue that because you do not want to specify the inputs, you want to incentivise those in the system to be creative about finding better solutions to old problems and use the reward mechanisms powerfully to motivate them to do so.
For those reasons, this matters massively to all of us in the House and these reforms are extremely important. I hope that we can move beyond the cheap rhetoric of claiming, “Leave things as they are, it’s all all right really. Let’s try to do it another day or forget about it”, or “The Government are stupid and haven’t thought things through”. The issue is too important for that. We have to find ways to reduce reoffending and we have to bend our collective efforts to finding how to do so more positively in the future. I trust, and am confident, that the House will do so.
My Lords, I am very happy to follow the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, because there are a number of deep philosophical issues on which I disagree with him. This is very much a new area for me and I have been on a rapid learning curve. I thank the West Yorkshire Probation Board, the West Yorkshire Probation Service, the governor and staff of Leeds Prison, the Bradford Youth Offending Team and a number of other agencies in Bradford for the two days of intensive education and training that they gave me, which I hope has contributed a little to my rehabilitation. I have also had a number of conversations with people from Serco—a potential provider in this area.
I approach the Bill with some underlying misgivings, and some of them relate to the assumptions which feed into the Bill concerning the new public sector management, as spelt out by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. After all, as an approach to public service reform, the new public sector management has its origins in public choice theory. It is a largely American theory produced by economists of undoubted right-wing orientation steeped in the American mistrust of government and the state as such, and the assumption that public servants are motivated only by self-serving interests—primarily economic—and can be held in check only by transferring functions to the private market sector or by imposing strict contractual conditions and targets. I remain puzzled as to why this approach has been adopted so uncritically by a Labour Government.
Within the United States, that approach has always been modified by a greater confidence in local, as opposed to central, government provision of services. In the United Kingdom, with the new local government network and many others, local government is mistrusted and central government rules all. The more things are transferred to the centre, the more it is believed that efficient delivery will be possible. The Bill takes further a process that has swept across the government of England in education, health services, policing and transport: a reduction in local autonomy and accountability and a transfer of authority to the centre. The “central push”, which the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, described, is exactly what is intended here. It is a central push because we do not trust local agencies.
NOMS is no longer to be responsible to any local bodies but will be responsible upwards to the Home Secretary and, now, the Ministry of Justice. Probation boards are to be replaced by trusts, which, as with national health, will report upwards to the centre. As we examine the Bill in detail, from these Benches we will be concerned to reinforce further the local links and, where possible, some degree of local accountability, recognising that in Yorkshire we are already moving from four probation boards to one regional offender manager and that we need as far as possible to limit, if not reverse, that process.
I have a further concern about the approach of new public sector management. It tends to be a one-size-fits-all approach. Mistrust of professionals, especially in the public sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, made clear—
My Lords, we will discuss that further—perhaps outside the session—but the question of how one restores the confidence of the public service and of local officials is very much part of what some of us wish to pursue. I refer to the purchaser/provider split and contracts based on contestability. All those underlying assumptions run through this Bill. There are limited timescales for contracts and the assumption that mistrust is built in between the principal and the agent. Accountability is through markets and targets rather than through democratic scrutiny.
If the initial reforms do not succeed, we have to change the structure again. After all, in the Government’s approach to public services, there is an almost Trotskyite commitment to permanent reform. The status quo is not an option—we are told that by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and we have been told it on many other occasions in many other sectors. The Government find it easy to pull up the roots to see how the plant is growing. The Probation Service has, after all, operated only since 2001.
At the briefing on the voluntary sector we were told that the level of commissioning from the private sector had gone down sharply since 2001. That is partly the result of the previous reorganisation. Now we are having another reorganisation to reverse what went wrong last time. Leaving things more at the local level where relations between the voluntary sector and the public sector are often good and close, as I have seen, should perhaps be allowed rather more.
One size does not fit all. Patterns of contracting modelled on the oil sector were applied to the rail sector with disastrous results. This sector has a number of special conditions. There is the unavoidable and highly desirable and necessary engagement of many agencies in dealing with offenders, including prisons, courts, police, probation officers, social services, learning and skills councils, hostel providers and voluntary organisations of many types. Interventions have to take account of local conditions and individual needs. There is a limit to how far they can be squeezed into a single national model. When I hear the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, talking about imposing the same rigorous national standards on all concerned, I am a little worried that we shall impose one single national model on the diverse conditions of local crime and local offending across the country.
Then there is the need for trust among those who work together. Long-term relationships are required for trust, and I am not sure how compatible that is with contestability. The briefing talked of building a more joined-up management process at the regional level, in which regional offices of central departments, such as the Department for Education and Skills, the departments dealing with social security matters, and so on came out of their silos—a good new public management term. But what we need is more joined-up government at the local level. If the regional agencies increase fragmentation at the local level, we will have lost more than we have gained.
From these Benches, we want to probe the relationship between the public sector and the voluntary sector. From those to whom I have listened and from what I have read, I get a more mixed picture than that suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. There are some within the third sector who are enthusiastic about the Bill. They see themselves as contractors to government on a much larger scale. Others see their role as being complementary to the role of the state and as having distinctive and different functions. They are worried that the new style of regional contracting will force them into a role with which they will not be happy. Quoted in the Social Market Foundation and Rainer pamphlet I found so helpful, Patricia Hewitt talks about the National Health Service—but the same applies here—saying that if we are to be successful in building a closer partnership with the voluntary sector,
“the mindset of commissioning needs to change”.
There are diverse views within the voluntary sector, in which local voluntary organisations, which see themselves as befrienders of the alienated and confused ex-offender—the traditional role of the Probation Service, which it has now sadly lost to become more of an agent of the state—would be threatened by a more remote regional offender management contracting system. In his excellent piece in the SMF/Rainer pamphlet, Julian Corner says that he is concerned,
“that the state will almost invariably incline towards solutions that can be delivered en masse through target-driven performance systems and that it is fully capable of doing so in the face of common sense … Unless there is seriously intelligent commissioning behind it, efficient delivery can often be the enemy of effective delivery”.
In the same pamphlet, Rod Morgan goes on to say that he worries that,
“the new breed of correctional technicists … developing the promised land of cognitive behavioural offender programmes and electronic surveillance”,
will squeeze out those concerned with the particular problems of confused and alienated ex-offenders.
On the ground in Yorkshire, I found close co-operation between the third sector and the public service. There is a Shelter office inside HMP Leeds. That sort of thing should be encouraged. I know that there are mixed views about that sort of relationship, but it is highly desirable. There are three probation hostels in west Yorkshire, run by church agencies; again, that is highly desirable. I was told more than once that a local Muslim charity played an immensely helpful role in helping to re-establish trust between the Kashmiri community and the rest after the riots in Bradford. I also heard people saying that they were not at all sure that a regional offender manager would even be aware that there was a local Muslim charity in Bradford.
We on these Benches are concerned to protect the voluntary sector from too close an embrace by the state, to preserve local links, and to resist the replacement of the assumption that what drives the voluntary sector is a large dose of altruism combined with some expectation of economic recompense with one which implies, as the new public management theory does, that only economic incentives count. I have discovered no great enthusiasm for greater private sector involvement, and an active concern that it would threaten further fragmentation. I discovered that the concept of offender management is already fully grasped and works through close co-operation between agencies, prison officers and those outside but that those on the ground are struggling to cope with overcrowded prisons, the consequent overload on rehabilitation, education, training and so on, and with pockets of poverty, unemployment and social dislocation—from which flow so many of the offenders with whom they work. We must deal with that underlying problem, and that is not served by constant restructuring. From these Benches, we shall therefore be probing the rationale for so many of the proposed changes in the Bill.
My Lords, I have fewer conflicts of interest to declare than the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. My wife was the founding director-general of the National Probation Service and I was the Prime Minister’s strategy adviser for some years, involved, inter alia, in crime policy.
The Bill should be supported by all those who believe that addressing offending behaviour is by far the most effective means of reducing crime. I think that almost all noble Lords who have spoken implied that they do. As a country, we have significantly reduced crime over the past 10 years or so. We have much to be proud of, but nothing whatever to be complacent about because crime in the UK is still high by international standards. This is a critical point to fasten on. One example of that is that, as yet, we have failed to contain the epidemic of acquisitive crime, which is sometimes violent, that is committed by problem drug users to fund their habits.
There is an enormous amount of work still to be done in the criminal justice system. The system is far more effective than it was, but it must become far more effective still. My view is that NOMS is the most profound and progressive change in the architecture of the criminal justice system in recent times and offers the best hope of a step-change in system performance. NOMS introduces the radical notion of a single offender manager supervising offenders throughout their sentences, whether they are in prison or in the community. It marks the end of “pass the parcel” which has characterised the criminal justice system for ever. For the first time, it makes possible a single point of accountability. Thus, NOMS offers a powerful opportunity to address, tackle and, ultimately, change offending behaviour.
As a reform, it cannot reasonably be characterised—as some noble Lords have done—as unnecessary meddling, zealous perpetual reform or yet another scheme disconnected from what has gone before. It is not; it is a natural progression from what has gone before. It is important to be clear that NOMS does not displace the historic probation ethic, let alone emasculate it; rather, it places the offender manager at the epicentre of the criminal justice system. Moreover, the Bill arms the offender manager with the means to deploy the most effective interventions and to tailor to need. It will encourage and reward effective innovation and social enterprise in the voluntary sector, the private sector and, I stress, the public sector because competition is a stimulus and a spur. No one doing good work as a service provider in any part of the existing system has any reason to be fearful.
There is much common ground between me and other noble Lords who have spoken, including the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, but I was perplexed by the emphasis she placed on centralism, which other noble Lords also mentioned, as if the only notion characterising offender management should be localism. Almost all day-to-day decision-making in this system must, of course, be devolved and local, but one reason why the system has worked so imperfectly for long periods of time is that it has not had a centre. Information in the system has not been brought together. It is not necessary to have a centre in order to have bureaucracy— the way some noble Lords have spoken about this, it is almost as if that is an end in itself. We need a powerful centre to identify trends—something we have historically not done well—to monitor the performance of the system, to assess the effectiveness of different kinds of interventions and critically, as the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, identified, to be able to track individual offenders across the system. It is true that most offending is local, but it is certainly not true that all offending is. It is vital—and there are some famous and tragic reasons to make us remember this—to be able to track offenders across the system.
I have a final point: NOMS needs to be properly funded. If you take a strategic overview of the criminal justice system as a whole and look at the relationship between investment and outcome, it is clear that if we want—as we should—to achieve a further substantial reduction in crime, we need over time to shift the balance of resources away from policing towards effective offender management. Even in advance of that shift, the Bill is a critical step forward in building a modern and progressive criminal justice system. It has my wholehearted support and I commend it strongly to your Lordships.
My Lords, we all seem to be able to agree about the main objectives of any offender management system—the wish to protect the public, to punish, to reduce reoffending and, of course, to deter. However, we seem to be having a great deal more difficulty in agreeing how we are going to do this.
It is interesting today to hear the paradox of people talking on the one hand about fragmentation and on the other about centralisation. There are many challenges in this. We need to examine them. Most societies struggle to find a balance between how they operate fines, community sentences and custodial sentences. Always we seek to maintain the integrity of the justice system. The integrity and credibility of the justice system is the rock on which this is all built. We have to balance that with quality and cost.
The issue today is not so much about that balance but about how we deploy the resources we have allocated for the care of all offenders. It is worth reflecting for a moment that each year in this country we spend about £3.2 billion on looking after offenders. Contrast that with the fact that we spend only—I say “only”—£4.5 billion per year on oncology; that is, caring for everybody in this country needing cancer care.
One of the key roles for government must be to set priorities between the different calls on resources. One of the very difficult things in this area has been to provide government with evidence of what works. I have never been active in any area which was so strong on assertion and so short on facts. It is really interesting if you look around worldwide. Billions of pounds a year are spent on incarcerating people and trying to stop reoffending, yet the absence of credible studies which tell us what interventions work is very thin on the ground. The only one I can give any credibility to is the work of the Max Planck Institut in Germany. That showed over a great longitudinal survey that we would be lucky if we could reduce offending by between 5 and 10 per cent. One thing I want to counsel in all this is that we must not get carried away by what the prospects for this are. We must always be realistic. One of the critical things is getting the evidence, and getting it in a secure way so that we do not confuse short-term blips with long-term trends. Nothing diminishes the authority of the system more than to overclaim, only shortly later to have that authority undermined by events disproving the early blip that was claimed.
Any offender management system needs the confidence of the public and sentencers; it needs the support and belief of those who work in the service and, in particular, of the professionals. We have had a strange situation—other speakers have referred to this. We have had a very fragmented system with fragmented responsibility. The DCA was responsible for fines, and prison and probation were—in what somebody called modern jargon—the silos in the Home Office. Of course, that led to the well rehearsed gaps as offenders moved from one silo to another, and to the realisation that we needed to do something about end-to-end management to get this to work. The recent announcement of the creation of the Ministry of Justice puts the offender experience, as perhaps one should call it, under one roof. That is to be welcomed. I should say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that I quite see his point. I know it will be difficult, but it is very nice when we talk of things being joined up to get everything in one place.
My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that if you close one division, you open up others? You are now going to separate the police from the rest of the criminal justice system. You may close one thing, but you open up another, with all the costs of disruption to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, referred.
My Lords, that is a point, but if you look at the rest of Europe, those separations have proved to be strong and well established. On balance, that move across will be beneficial.
I should declare an interest as the author of the 2003 report, Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime, which led to the call for the creation of the National Offender Management Service. Three key points emerged from that report. First, resources should be taken into account when sentencing. Secondly, as everyone has noted, offender management should be joined up. Thirdly, and probably most importantly for this debate, each of the key components, such as fines, community punishment and prisons, should be made effective. The issue was what role contestability should play, because it is an important driver. I shall come back to that point later.
I have always been absolutely clear that probation, with a good IT system, is the glue—others have used that word—that holds the offender management process together. I am also clear that although I favour contestability, I never envisaged, or indeed believed, that we would see the wholesale privatisation of probation. I have sometimes thought in the last couple of years as I have watched the debate that there are many similarities, at least in some quarters, with the dog watching television—he can see it but he does not get it. Whether by design or misunderstanding, some people have sought to conflate the issues of marketisation—that is, contestability and privatisation—while seeking to ignore outcomes. After all, positive outcomes are what we are trying to achieve. This is not about inputs, as others have said.
Like others, I have gone around the country in recent weeks, talking and listening, and I see widespread support for the mixed provision of many aspects of probation from the voluntary sector, the private sector and parts of the public sector where alternative providers have already come to play a valued role. However, genuine concerns have been expressed—I subscribe to some of them—about the courts and offender management being dealt with separately. The Government have responded to those concerns by setting a three-year period, which should give a breather to let the right assessment be made.
The idea that the proposed reforms to probation would damage the ethos of the service and would threaten and fragment it is, frankly, unreal. Indeed, if I have read the 1907 Act correctly, it suggested even then that, in addition to publicly salaried probation officers, others could do the work. It is a long established tradition. Some of the things that have been said diminish probation officers, who after all are professionals. We know what defines a profession. A profession is defined by training, qualifications and standards. It is certainly not defined by who the employer is. If we were to start down the road of a profession being defined by who employs the staff, that would lead us logically to taking the legal and accountancy professions into public ownership, which I personally would not favour.
The real benefit that we should expect to see from these reforms is innovation, as others have said. We are looking for other solutions. We have not made the progress that we should have made, despite enormous endeavours, and are looking particularly at interventions. One of the things that shocked me when I conducted the original review was to be told repeatedly that the voluntary sector did not have the capacity to do this work. It simply was not there, the problem was too big, and people would not come forward. Yet when an advertisement was placed locally in a certain part of the country, seven organisations came forward, three of which locally people had not experienced before, and five of which demonstrated that they were able to do the work. As noble Lords have said today, around the country the voluntary sector is prepared to step up to the plate and, I believe, can form a key ingredient to going forwards.
Noble Lords have also referred to contestability in terms of the standards and, I believe, tensioning which will come from a competitive process. There is no doubt in my view—we have seen it in other sectors, particularly the Prison Service—that contestability was not the process of getting new people in; it was the effect on the existing service. People, when shown the way, behave brilliantly. It has been suggested that the marketisation process in the Prison Service was a simpler model than that proposed for probation, but that was not so. Although 8 per cent of the Prison Service was privatised, there was a sea change in the way in which the whole service was run. The result was to free up hundreds of millions of pounds which has been spent on rehabilitation. It has not been sucked out of the service and spent by the Chancellor elsewhere. It has been taken from guarding measures and put into proactive programmes which, if one looks at the results, are beginning to bear fruit.
I have got the sense from many people that probation should focus on building its progress since the formation of the National Probation Service. Its biggest task is to convince the public that community punishment has validity and bite. It was best summed up the other day when one of the few criminal defence solicitors still speaking to me said, “I’ll know you’ve got it right when my clients, on receiving a community sentence, don’t thank me for getting them off”. We have a problem, which it would be silly to ignore. If we want to get our prison population to the right level, we have to get community sentences right as well.
However, I encourage probation to have confidence in its achievements and new measurement tools, and be ready to move on from what I hear is a defensive position to a position where it can play its full part, which is its due, in the reforms going forward. After all, it is a growth business. In 10 years, the number of people employed in the Probation Service has increased from 14,000 to 21,000. There is a commitment to the Probation Service, so it can move on and can play the key part.
Those of us who were involved in probation prior to the 2000 Act know that the local nature of probation services was not good. We did not get 1,000 blooms of light; we tended to get inconsistencies and not a very good service. The NPS has helped us to move forward on that. The fact remains that what happens to offenders is so critical that often the issue comes to Parliament and the Secretary of State. Therefore, I am very sure that there should be clear accountability, which should flow. Very good points have been made about local representation. I am looking forward to studying the detail to see what we can do, but I do not want to see gestures. I want to see real local involvement in how this is conducted.
The proposals, particularly on concessions, represent a measured way forward. Above all, we need to get out and do something. We have tarried a long time and do not need to debate and tinker with it. We need to make it clear to the people who need help that programmes are there, and make it clear to all those who work in probation services where their future stands. I commend the Bill.
My Lords, this Government have the reputation of sometimes passing Bills and enacting further legislation as an answer to situations. There appears to be a desire to legislate in order to give the impression that there is control, but in fact the ideas put forward are counter-productive and not effective. This Bill proposes the fundamental reform of a service, one of great importance to the well-being of the people; that is, both for offenders and the general population. I would like to state that I am chairman and chief executive of an insurance organisation. My business is extremely competitive, and I am therefore a supporter of competition which I believe provides better value for money. Having said that, my main criticism of this Bill is that it is not structured well enough to reduce reoffending rates. Given the years of discussion and tremendous efforts and investment made by the Home Office into the prison and probation services, along with the development of technology to assist in the sharing of information and monitoring of offenders, I feel the Bill to be a wasted opportunity and a classic example of ineffective thinking.
Sometimes it pays not to change dramatically existing systems, but to find ways of improving the existing arrangements to make them more efficient and cost-effective. The Bill effectively abolishes the present Probation Service and replaces it with a market structure. The Government claim that the Probation Service should be broken up because performance is bad and reoffending rates are too high, claiming that almost 60 per cent of those on probation reoffend within two years. The probation union, NAPO, believes that this Bill comes at a time when the service is performing better than ever and should be allowed to settle. It states that on the Government’s figures 53 per cent of those on community orders reoffend, but that the true reoffending figure may be up to 10 per cent lower.
Another point I wish to make concerns accountability, as the probation board will be replaced by a provider-only trust. I would need to be satisfied about the standards of accountability. Furthermore, as someone involved in the education and training of staff in my own industry, I would like to ensure that there are standards in everything we undertake. We need to ensure that there are training standards, qualifications and accreditations of persons involved in providing these services, and I therefore need assurances on these points.
While it has been presented as a local Bill, it is evidence of another top-down approach by the Government that will only centralise power with the Secretary of State rather than allowing local authorities to deal with their local needs. There is also little evidence to suggest that the Bill will have much effect, particularly on the main issue of reoffending and the management of released prisoners and probationers. It is more a drastic change which I believe will be costly and the results are by no means guaranteed. A further argument I want to put forward relates to the last major reshuffle of the system from which there has not yet been a full recovery. There has been remodelling and reshuffling of the Probation Service over the past decade and there is no evidence to suggest that this haphazard approach will bear more fruit.
With regard to young offenders, there have been horrific incidents with dire consequences. It is therefore imperative that we are assured that young offenders will be suitably housed and supervised.
I am keen to ensure that the probation and prison system shall not be another area where the Government seek to gain appeal from ineffective and badly organised measures. Having failed to see sufficient changes to the Bill at Third Reading in the other place, we have some suggestions to make. Allow better co-operation between the prison and probation services to ensure that both released prisoners and local communities have support to reduce reoffending rates. There should also be modifications to the way offenders are assessed for release. Just because there is a massive shortage in prison places due to poor government planning, local communities should not be put at risk from violent offenders to create more space. There should be a change to the way prisons tackle the rehabilitation of offenders to ensure that when they become fit for release they have opportunities in the community to prosper and become safe citizens, for the good of the individuals and of society as a whole.
For too long the probation and prison system has been subjected to the curse of popular politics, but instead of a tough rhetoric coupled with poor implementation, the answer now is a local approach that transfers powers from Westminster back to the people and organisations that can really make a difference. I am indeed unhappy about the attempt by the Government to invest more powers in the Secretary of State.
My Lords, at the beginning of this debate the Minister reminded us that the original purpose of NOMS, when it was launched in 2004, was to reduce reoffending by 5 per cent by 2008 and by 10 per cent by 2010. She said we were on course to meet those objectives, which apparently, according to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, came from the Max Planck Institute. I did not know that, and I am grateful to him for the information, because the objectives seemed at first sight to have been plucked out of thin air. One is at least glad to know that a research finding is lying behind those objectives.
The test of the proposals in front of us now is whether and to what extent they make a contribution towards meeting these targets. It is not clear to me, having listened to this debate and from all the briefings that have been sent out to us in advance, how an upheaval in the management of the probation system that separates the delivery of services from the locality in which they are operating, and excludes many of the experienced people who sit on probation boards, is likely to fulfil the aim of reducing reoffending in the absence of measures to deal effectively with the causes of the offending behaviour. I noticed that although the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, dwelt on the reasons why we need the ROMs as commissioning agents, they are not actually mentioned in the Bill. We heard nothing about that, apart from his defence of that particular structure.
End-to-end management of those entering the criminal justice system is in fact middle-to-end management of a process that has already started in the community with mental ill health, substance misuse or communication disability, all of them factors in the aetiology of crime that may not have been previously addressed. We have heard about this subject many times before, including in the valuable debate initiated by my noble friend Lady Linklater some time ago. I do not know whether the Government took any of that in, or whether they think now that end-to-end management within the criminal justice system is not the whole answer for the problems confronting us, and that no amount of tinkering with the system of commissioning can remedy the absence of services that were not and are not widely available or accessible to the law-abiding or offenders alike.
If the object were only to involve a wide range of private and voluntary providers in the work of probation, it could well have been done without disturbing the vital links between the providers and the communities they serve by giving probation boards the contractual powers being taken by the Secretary of State in Clause 3 and requiring them to consider additional ranges of services which are not already being provided by the system. That would have led to a variety of models being adopted by different boards and the gradual development of best practice which would not have provoked the widespread uncertainty and demoralisation of a service that was already creaking under the strain of steadily increasing demands without commensurate increases in its resources.
At the very least, as the LGA has suggested, the Bill should be amended to ensure that councils and local partnerships continue to play an important part in tackling reoffending. The Government have indicated that they maintain their commitment to local accountability, and we shall be looking for ways of nailing that down in the Bill. The noble Baroness assured us at the beginning of the debate that there would be a councillor on each trust—a welcome concession, but one that does not go far enough. I notice that she did not give any equivalent undertaking concerning the presence of magistrates on the probation trusts. Perhaps she will say something about that when she replies.
Clause 31 allows the Secretary of State to convert a sentence of detention in a YOI into a prison sentence for those aged 18 to 21. The JCHR report draws attention to the chief inspector’s clear message in her report, Young Adult Male Prisoners, that,
“what will not work is simply to decant young adults into the mainstream adult prison population”.
The Government say first that they have no intention of making use of the powers they already have in Section 61 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 unless YOIs for adults are no longer provided, and that has yet to be decided. Secondly, they assert that this clause is merely a consequential measure to ensure consistency with Section 61 and that they will prepare guidance on the new power once the policy on those aged 18 to 21 has been decided.
The JCHR says, and we agree, that guidance would be insufficient to ensure that highly vulnerable young adults are not seriously damaged by association with hardened criminals. We accuse the Government of doing stealthily exactly what they told the JCHR they would not do in advance of the policy review now under way. Brixton, Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs have been told that from 1 May they are to receive young adult remands, who will be treated the same as over-21s, except for cell sharing. Why is the Prison Service deliberately ignoring the chief inspector’s recommendation in which she says:
“Where young adults are held in adult prisons they should be located in dedicated self-contained accommodation with staff who are trained and supported to work with them”?
Why have the Government jumped the gun and made this decision in advance of the review of the treatment of young adult offenders which the noble Baroness mentioned in her introduction?
Reconviction rates among this age group are higher than for any other, at 69 per cent. More than half of the offenders link their crimes to alcohol misuse, and as many as nine out of 10 showed evidence of personality disorder, psychosis, neurotic disorder, substance misuse or a combination of these characteristics. To this list of the chief inspector’s should be added the high proportion suffering from speech, language or communication difficulties, highlighted twice in recent debates by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. If these young people are to be helped to live normal lives, they need specialist care during their sentence and after release. Sticking them in adult prisons where they will experience an acute lack of purposeful activity and accredited training in offending behaviour programmes, as well as insufficient exercise and association, ineffective personal officer schemes, poor mental health provision and patchy resettlement help, is a disaster. It is the worst possible way to start end-to-end management of this particular group of offenders.
Before the Easter Recess, noble Lords debated the UNICEF report on children in developed countries, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said:
“Young people are one of the three priority areas in the revised alcohol harm reduction strategy, which is due to be published this summer”.—[Official Report, 29/3/07; col. 1843.]
I was therefore surprised and dismayed to see that the Home Office young people substance misuse partnership grant was being cut this year by 10.5 per cent compared with 2006-07, in spite of the horrifying statistics on alcohol harm among young people that I cited in the debate. The Home Office letter notifying this reduction does not give the year-on-year figures side by side but, expecting criticism no doubt, says that,
“changes in the levels of funding against 2006/07 allocations”—
that is a circumlocution for cuts—
“need to be placed in the context of record levels of investment over the last eight years”.
It does not mention the record levels of alcohol harm to young people, some of which were cited in the UNICEF debate.
How will the commissioning of services by the Secretary of State ensure that the inexorable increase in crime associated with alcohol, such as the 46 per cent of alcohol-assisted sexual assaults, is properly addressed? Will there be any money available for tackling the problem, in contrast to the Prison Service's alcohol harm reduction strategy, for which there were no extra resources? The protection of the public, reduction of offending and rehabilitation of offenders are all probation purposes which could be furthered by end-to-end management of alcohol misusers, including but not confined to those who enter the criminal justice system. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how that is to be achieved under this Bill.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chief executive of Turning Point, a health and social care organisation. Of our 130,000 clients, 11,000 are associated with the criminal justice system.
I put on record my respect for the excellent work done by probation officers up and down the country. In doing so, I support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles. Turning Point employs nurses, psychologists, forensic psychologists, psychiatrists and GPs—all outside the NHS. We employ people with legal training as solicitors outside the legal system. It is not the context that matters but the client. I believe that this Bill provides a greater context for the appreciation of Probation Service skills and widens the opportunities for those skills to be more effective in reducing reoffending.
This is important from a social care point of view—something that has not been referred to much in other speeches. Recent research by the University of Nottingham found that 98 per cent of the prison population had multiple needs. One in three prisoners are without permanent accommodation before their custodial sentence; 78 per cent of people who come into contact with Turning Point's criminal justice services are unemployed; and an estimated 16,000 to 24,000 prisoners in England and Wales, which is 20 to 30 per cent of the population, have a learning disability or difficulty that interferes with their ability to cope. This is not going into the issue of substance misuse, which is often combined with the issues that I have just mentioned to create a complex need.
This is not just about bare statistics. If you go into any prison—and I have been into many—you will find people with mental health problems or people who misuse alcohol and other drugs. You will find people who face all of the problems associated with social exclusion, such as poor housing, inadequate education and few employment opportunities. You will find a large number of people with learning disabilities. These figures are frankly shocking. I say that as someone who believes that people who commit crime should do their time; I am not arguing against that. However, the ultimate aim has to be preventing crime in the first place and driving down reoffending rates. To do this we really need to wake up to and address the fact that often we are using our prisons as a dumping ground for some of the most socially excluded groups in our society.
I am under no illusion that it is easy to stop people reoffending. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, referred to the Planck Institute. Ten per cent seems like a small reduction but is worth going for; it involves thousands of lives, millions of pounds and safer communities. It is worth changing this system for. At the moment the system fails to remove the many barriers being placed in the way of offenders who have completed their sentences—barriers such as homelessness, unemployment, family breakdown, mental health and substance misuse. Tackling these barriers will reduce reoffending and bring savings to the taxpayer.
To reduce reoffending rates, offenders should have access to appropriate social care so they have the opportunity to turn their lives around on leaving prison. Reform of the offender management system, as represented by the Bill, represents a golden opportunity to introduce comprehensive social care services within prison and beyond and to develop properly integrated service provision so that people do not simply drop off the radar when they enter or leave the prison gates. Integrated support services across mental health and substance misuse for offenders within community sentences could revolutionise probation services and improve the health of offenders and improve the communities in which they live. The position of the Government is that mental health and substance misuse services should work more closely together to support people with a dual diagnosis. The Government could go further. Full integration of services to support people with the most complex needs is necessary.
A common-sense approach would seek to reduce the number of hand-overs between services. I am sounding like a fan but the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, talked about the evidence base. From my experience and the studies that we have carried out of hand-overs between different offender agencies I say to noble Lords that the evidence base tells you one thing—the more hand-overs, the more likely it is that the person will reoffend; it is simple. In this regard I support the principle and practice of end-to-end offender management in the context of providing social care, as outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland. If it is not end to end, it ends in disaster, not just for the offender but for his community.
Offender management needs to be joined up with other service provision both at regional and local level. Regional offender managers must be in close contact with other service commissioners. Probation trusts should be required to engage in the local area agreement process and to establish partnerships with key agencies such as the local drug action team, housing authorities and Jobcentre Plus. This would ensure that offender management was embedded in the strategic planning of local services and, crucially, in agreeing shared priorities with the local authorities they will be working with to address reoffending. Many noble Lords talked about this in terms of the centre versus the local, as though it is either/or. The solution is and/and; it is national and local. Why should that not be possible? Alongside the proposals in the Bill the Government should continue to act—to give the Government credit, they have made many efforts in this regard—to increase confidence in community sentences and alternatives to custody for non-violent offenders.
The judiciary can also be enabled to provide more coherent support to offenders with complex needs. Drug courts being piloted in Leeds and west London are proven to reduce drug-related reoffending. My own organisation has much experience of this; the evidence is there. Working with the west London pilot has been a very positive experience and we recommend that this approach is rolled out nationally. I welcome the support for review courts in the Government’s policy review, Building on progress, including the development of mental health courts. The Government’s proposed mental health courts should be aligned with NOMS so that offenders get the same level of health and social care support no matter which system they go through.
I also welcome the policy direction set out in Building on progress to improve the co-ordination of the resettlement of offenders on leaving prison and the increased availability of social care support in prison. That is what I mean by end to end. I would like to see further indication of the timescales and resources attached to such reforms. Let us see the money; let us see the resources.
Let me say a word about the third sector, which a number of noble Lords have mentioned, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. After 20 years working in the not-for-profit sector, I do not recognise the organisation that works for the economics and not for the care; I must have misunderstood him. I have never had a desire to drive a Rolls-Royce or to buy an island. I do the work, and my organisation does it, because there is a social good.
My Lords, it is precisely my point that we misunderstand the third sector entirely if we assume that economic incentives are what drive it. It needs some economic recompense, but the altruistic factor is an absolutely crucial factor in the third sector, which we cannot ignore.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that clarification; we are in violent agreement. The third sector plays a crucial role in the provision of offender management services, and that should not be ignored. The example that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, gave of the housing advice service provided by Shelter in Leeds prison illustrates the point, and makes the point for the need for reform as well, because that service is there almost by accident. I would like to see every prison have a Shelter-provided housing advice service that is not dependent necessarily on the largesse of the public, which may or may not provide funding for such a service from one year to the next, but under contract, with proper standards that are connected to outcomes, working together with other services. That is what I mean by end-to-end services.
I am concerned about the romantic view of the third sector and the voluntary sector, that they were better when they were small and cuddly. That is not the reality as I see it, and that is not the reality that we should be pursuing. The third sector’s role needs to be recognised, and the Bill provides a structure within which the third sector can work in partnership with both the private and the public sectors to deliver better outcomes for offenders and to reduce reoffending.
Let me make a few more points about the third sector, which I am aware that the Government, the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats support, but which need to be underlined. The third sector should not be seen as a cut-price alternative to public sector provision. Involvement of the third sector must not be tokenistic in comparison to other sectors, including the private sector. As has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, commissioning must be quality-driven, outcome-driven and value-driven, with long-term contracts and cost recovery. I absolutely support the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, on that. There should be clear consultation with prospective service providers to help to shape commissioning and the nature of future service provision, both nationally and in each region. In particular, judges need to be fully involved in the new offender management proposals. Perhaps the Bill could include a statutory requirement for the regional offender manager to consult the judiciary to ensure that sentencers are fully integrated within the new structure.
I should also like to raise an issue, following a briefing from the charity Rainer, which was raised earlier. Clauses 30 and 31 would complete plans to abolish detention in a young offender institution for 18 to 21 year-olds. That proposal could mean that those young people could be locked up in adult prisons in future. I am concerned about that, and we should be concerned about it. Current failures in the treatment of young offenders in the criminal justice system will not be solved by simply decanting those offenders into adult prisons. I am aware that the Government are fully aware of that point, and they should await the conclusions of the review of young adult offenders before the current provision is removed, so that we know what it says.
Fundamentally, no matter who provides probation and offender management services in the future, whether the private, public or voluntary/third sector, those services need to work in partnership. Probation services must become integrated with health, social care, housing, education and employment to drive up quality and to tackle the causes of crime, recidivism and reoffending. This Bill will move services in the right direction and I, for one, support that philosophy.
My Lords, as noble Lords may know, including the Minister, I have had worries about this Bill since it was first proposed. My main concern was that it would abolish the National Probation Service as we know it and replace it with a competitive market—and in so doing, would remove local contacts and replace them by regional services. That, in turn, would inevitably water down one of the strengths of the current system—the local knowledge and expertise of those working in the system.
I also felt that this was a form of privatisation by another name and I still have my doubts on this issue; but perhaps, as I am an ex-trade union official, your Lordships would not be surprised about that, because some of us tend to be a rather suspicious breed on occasions. I have no problems with the Government’s ambitions to reduce reoffending or with end-to-end management; nor do members of the Probation Service, who are not only committed to those goals but work towards them every day of their working lives.
The probation services are central to the criminal justice system—a point that has been highlighted by the recent announcements about the establishment of a Ministry of Justice, which will include in its remit the National Offender Management Service. I welcome the new ministry, having long believed that the Home Office was too large and unwieldy. I also welcome the number of amendments that have been made to the Bill and I pay tribute to those honourable Members in another place who fought hard for them. I also pay tribute to the Home Secretary for the concessions that he has made so far, which have paved the way for debates on the Bill in this Chamber. The Bill has been greatly improved by them.
In particular, I welcome the preservation of some local accountability in the probation trusts by the involvement of local councillors, as we have already heard, and through local area agreements. I welcome the proposed strengthening of national standards, although we have yet to hear what qualifications will apply to them. The agreement that core offender management will remain in the public sector for three years is extremely helpful, but clarification is needed as to what the “public probation sector” actually is and exactly how it will function.
The Home Secretary gave a commitment also to look at existing schemes based on the best provider and best value, and to build on them. He gave an undertaking that there would be scrutiny and transparency in the contract-letting process, an undertaking that there would be a duty on probation boards to co-operate and share data with local authorities, and a commitment that the process of reform would not be rushed. All those are to be greatly welcomed, although I would like to know when those concessions are to be implemented.
Despite the amendments that have already been made to the Bill, what the Probation Boards’ Association describes as “grave concerns” still remain, especially regarding the erosion of local accountability. The PBA has pointed out that crime is a predominantly local phenomenon—as has already been mentioned in the Chamber—with local causes and solutions. A recent poll by YouGov demonstrated that the public views local rather than national services in a particularly positive light and wants public agencies to co-operate. It is essential that probation works flexibly and responsibly with the police, local authorities and other local agencies. A regional or national model could undermine important public protection work with those significant local partners. Indeed, the work of the Smith Institute in 2006 highlighted the need for greater local devolution. Along with other public sector services, the Probation Service has an over-riding need to involve local communities in its work if public confidence is to be a priority.
It is critical that the membership of probation boards or trusts represents the whole community and not just business. To that end, they should surely contain, as well as local council representatives, other locally based individuals: for example, partnership agencies, particularly the police, courts and health services; sentencers, both magistrates and judges; and the voluntary sector, especially Victim Support.
Although the Home Secretary agreed in another place that boards would reflect local communities, as I understand it, a statutory instrument tabled in November last year removed the statutory need for boards to contain local councillors and magistrates. The statutory instrument, therefore, will need revising. Perhaps my noble friend could comment on this in her response.
I turn to the justification for a competitive market. Ministers have maintained that the Probation Service’s performance has been poor, but that does not appear to be backed up by the evidence. The March 2007 Home Office figures show that the service is performing better than ever against its 30 government targets. For example, on enforcement, 92 per cent of relevant cases were enforced within 10 days and, when a new compliance target of 85 per cent was introduced in 2006-07 to measure the proportion of appointments that an offender attends in the first six months of the licence, between April and December 2006 82 per cent was achieved—not 85 per cent, but it is not bad going.
The service was set a target of 70 per cent for orders reaching the halfway point without any breaching of conditions. That was achieved in 72 per cent of cases—above the target. There was also a target to complete 90 per cent of risk-of-harm assessments within the required time, and that target is now being exceeded.
Last year, the Probation Service supervised 14,000 individuals where the risk to the public was considered to be high or very high. The latest statistics show that only 0.44 per cent in this category were charged with a further serious offence. Given the group’s characteristics, the offences that people in this group have committed and the fact that the vast majority are on parole, this is a surprisingly low statistic. Surely this performance can hardly be regarded as poor.
The National Association of Probation Officers believes that the Government’s aims could be achieved by other means. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, pointed out, Scotland has rejected the notion of a national offender management service and of competition, and has opted instead for the establishment of a statutory duty on probation and prisons to consult each other and the voluntary sector on the provision of offender services. The Scottish Executive have also accepted the argument that services for offenders should be as close to the point of delivery as possible. Accordingly, the community justice authorities, comprising locally elected councillors, have produced plans on how co-operation will be realised and how service delivery will be enhanced.
However, in England and Wales, we are where we are with this Bill, so I now turn to its first three clauses, which still cause me concern. Clause 1 paves the way for the abolition of the National Probation Service. The work of the service is reduced to “probation purposes”. This clause establishes core tasks but there is no reference to local probation areas. The core tasks are assistance to the courts; the supervision and rehabilitation of offenders; giving information to victims about persons charged with, or who have committed, offences; and providing hostel accommodation.
Clause 1 also establishes the aims of the Probation Service, which are described as protection of the public, the reduction of reoffending, the proper punishment of offenders, ensuring that offenders are aware of the effect of their crimes on victims and the rehabilitation of offenders. Those are all laudable, but I believe that the aims should also reflect in a more positive manner the need to reintegrate offenders into society and the need for effective supervision to maximise public protection, and that they should ensure compliance with any court order and challenge criminal behaviour to bring about change, thereby reducing reoffending. Additionally, stress could be placed on partnership—working with all sectors—in the interests of public safety.
Clause 2 assumes that the Probation Service will be abolished and that there will be multiple suppliers, and it establishes the Secretary of State’s responsibility for ensuring adequate provision of probation services. Napo believes that there should be an independent audit of these powers to ensure that services are of high quality and that those who provide them are properly trained. It also believes that a clear duty should be placed on the Secretary of State to ensure that probation boards are adequately funded to carry out their tasks.
Clause 3 removes the commissioning role of the probation areas and confers it on the Secretary of State to allow others to provide and run probation services. It formally abolishes the National Probation Service and allows the contracting out of any probation function or, indeed, any probation area, including public protection work and work with dangerous offenders in conjunction with the police. The clause will lead to multiple suppliers, which in turn could lead to chaos, to less rather than more co-operation between agencies, and to the creation of numerous—I shall not use the word “silos”—compartments in the area. Additionally, public protection could be compromised. Indeed, it appears to me to work against the notion of a seamless sentence. The system could be overtly bureaucratic and very difficult to manage, and private sector involvement could severely damage service delivery, independence and work with high-risk offenders. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurances on these points in her response.
I have other queries regarding supervision in the community, enforcement and unpaid work—formerly known as community service—to which I shall return as the Bill progresses. However, I wish to raise four queries with my noble friend now. Can she give any indication of how those serving on the new probation trusts will be recruited and what their remuneration will be? There are to be officers of providers of probation services—OPPSs. How will these people be trained and to what standard? The Inspector of the National Probation Service is to become the Inspector of the Probation Market. Will this create more bureaucracy as the inspectorate tries to inspect multiple suppliers? The Bill allows for the privatisation of hostels. Currently, 104 hostels are catering for approximately 2,500 places for those primarily on parole, two-thirds of whom are convicted of either sexual or violent offences. Will the staff of these hostels be as experienced and receive as much training as those currently involved? I hope that my noble friend can help me with these queries.
Finally, I thank two unions with members involved in the Probation Service, UNISON and Napo, for their briefings on this specialist area of work and, in particular, the assistant general-secretary of Napo, Harry Fletcher, who is noted for his expertise in the field. I am sure that our debates on the Bill will be interesting and I look forward to them in the weeks to come.
My Lords, usually I am very careful never to begin any statement with “I remember when” or “There was a time when”, because, as we all recognise, those journeys down memory lane are almost always seen through rose-coloured spectacles and in any case, with the passage of time, past experiences are rarely directly relevant to the present day. But I want to break that rule today, for I believe that, in short, what I have to say is directly relevant to the content of the Bill, and an examination of the past may assist us in the current debate. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I shall not repeat much of what was said from the opposition Front Benches. Suffice to say that I agreed with much of it and share in both the congratulatory remarks that were made and the doubts that were raised.
I begin with “I remember when” because I can remember when, from the very end of the 1950s until the middle of the 1970s, the Probation Service commanded great and widespread respect and support. Importantly, in those days probation officers were seen very clearly as officers of the court. That is an important point. They were often mature in years, they were almost always mature in their approach and they were highly professional. They were trusted implicitly by the courts to which they reported; they were trusted and respected by the police, with whom they enjoyed a very good working relationship; and they were trusted and respected by other social agencies with whom they came into contact. At a working level, for example, there was often a helpful flow of intelligence from police to probation officer about the conduct of an offender, about which the probation officer could not reasonably have been aware. Behaviour late at night is one example; keeping bad company is another.
Probation officers exercised close supervision. They could, on occasions, argue very persuasively for the offender. They could interpose when necessary to the offender's advantage and they could be objectively critical of the offender when necessary. Overall, they ensured compliance with the terms of the probation order.
However, it seems to me that somewhere in the mid-1970s things began to change. The workload began to increase, supervision orders began to proliferate, probation officers more and more shifted their position towards that of social workers—I do not use that term pejoratively towards social workers—and increasingly they saw their role as something of a shield between the offender and the legal system as a whole. They often lost control. Respect was diminished on all fronts. Now, it seems that that situation has worsened to the point where the Probation Service is yet another once proud and efficient service that has been labelled unfit for purpose. Despite the platitudes that have been showered on it, I believe that it is trapped in a bureaucratic morass. We have heard that it is often described as the glue in the system. If glue it is, perhaps probation officers are trapped in a glue pot with little chance of escape.
I speak with some prior knowledge of the subject. I was a serving police officer during the periods that I have just described. Afterwards, in 1997 and 1998, for a continuous period of 14 months I accompanied Lord Justice Glidewell in his review of the Crown Prosecution Service. Although, for obvious reasons, we focused on the CPS itself, we also took account of much of the wider courts system. Time and again, magistrates and judges told us how they wished that the Probation Service could recapture the best of the old system. Since then, I have been involved in several major reviews within the criminal justice system, independent of the Glidewell review, and continually—up to the present day—I hear over and again the same message from police and judiciary alike: that society needs a probation service which it can respect and trust, and which operates locally as officials of the court to the advantage of both the offender and society as a whole.
I agree with that, and I doubt whether many in your Lordships’ House would disagree either. The old working environment to which I have referred had local police and local courts as integral and essential parts of the system. As many of your Lordships have said already in this debate, local identity is seen by many to be one of the keys to the problem that we now address. We hear much these days about the importance of local systems—an approach that I, too, endorse. But confusingly, in practice, we see so much of increasing and overbearing central controls, almost as if central Government are unwillingly to relinquish control despite their stated ideology.
I think that local police and local courts should be the subject of other debates in your Lordships’ House on other days, but today we are considering the future of the Probation Service. I do not believe that we need all of this Bill in its current form. I see it more as something of a legal curate’s egg. We should be foolhardy to stand by and watch the demise of the Probation Service as we know it. Of course that service, as many have said before me, requires urgent and radical reform, but only to put it back in the position that it once occupied to such great advantage.
Given current demands and the proliferation of orders requiring supervision, there is clearly ample scope now for partnership. The point has already been made by a number of noble Lords, perhaps most eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. There is a need for a new and vibrant involvement by the private, voluntary and charitable sectors. All of those can contribute by taking much of the load of supervision from the shoulders of the Probation Service. They can take much of the load of education; they can take much of the load of ensuring compliance and mentoring. The noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, graphically described the way in which community service orders are often seen as tantamount to an acquittal. That is something that we cannot and should not pass by.
There is a “but”, and it is the one big “but” in my short address today. The assistance from the voluntary and private sectors should be under the direction and control of a properly funded Probation Service—a service that is professionally trained and qualified, sensibly empowered, which works to national standards, but which is locally accountable to local courts and committees, and which is not hampered by the massive and growing centralised bureaucracy that we see at present.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Prison Service and National Offender Management Service boards and committees as set out in the Register of Interests. I support the Bill and I support the principle of end-to-end offender management.
I share the Government’s position that this Bill is not about privatising the Probation Service. I do not believe either that the Bill represents an attack on the Probation Service or the beginning of its demise. The Probation Service has not failed, despite some recent high-profile cases. There is much of which it can be proud, though there are differences in performance between probation areas. There are also differences in the extent to which individual areas involve outside providers, including the voluntary sector. Unless the private and voluntary sectors prove considerab1y more effective and efficient than the public sector—their track record elsewhere is mixed in this regard—it is, in my view, most unlikely that, as a result of this Bill, the public sector Probation Service will continue to play anything other than a major role in the future.
The role that the Probation Service plays, and the responsibilities that it undertakes, are politically sensitive and the subject of much public scrutiny and debate. When things do not go to plan, it is the subject of much public examination and challenge.
The activities of offenders serving community sentences, or offenders out on licence after serving custodial sentences, are of considerable public interest. It is the Government who are ultimately held responsible by the public and the media for the consequences if such offenders reoffend while serving their sentences, particularly if those further offences are crimes of violence or of a sexual nature, which put public protection at risk. As a consequence, any Government will want to have a meaningful level of direction and influence over Probation Service work. That means the Government retaining a significant and substantial public sector element, unless their hand is forced because the private and voluntary sectors can show that they can deliver considerably better results for the same money, in which case serious questions would need to be asked about the management and practices of the public sector Probation Service.
It is also significant that a number of private, and particularly voluntary sector, organisations are talking in terms of working in partnership with the public sector Probation Service, rather than in direct competition with it, to help provide and supplement the range of programmes available to address issues that have led to people offending and reoffending.
One of the issues that has been raised about the Bill is the level of local influence and involvement, including local government involvement, there will be in decision-making on how best to meet the twin objectives in relation to offenders: protecting the public and reducing reoffending. There is also the issue of seeking to reduce offending starting in the first place. Like most others, I support local involvement in such issues, provided that it leads to meaningful action being taken locally, and does not prove to be simply holding more meetings that are talking shops with arguments about lack of resources being advanced as an excuse for doing very little.
Many local authorities and other local bodies already do much good work in this area. Others, though, seem to have a less positive approach; for example, over the retention and development of recreational and leisure facilities and activities available for younger people in particular. If the fear and incidence of crime are issues in an area, they should be a key point for action for a local authority, whose citizens reap the consequences of offending and reoffending, and should not just be a matter for the criminal justice system and its agencies.
However, I believe that we have to guard against adopting a too-fragmented approach to public protection and reducing reoffending. To begin with, the public and the media do not regard these as local issues. Some offenders move around and do not stay within the confines of one local area. A serious incident involving an offender under supervision is not considered a local problem. It is front-page news. Ministers are challenged in Parliament, investigations are carried out, failings identified and recommendations made, which may well have an impact beyond the probation area concerned.
It is important that there is some consistency of approach in addressing the twin issues of public protection and reducing reoffending. It is important that those who are commissioning services from public, private and voluntary sector providers are responsible for sufficiently wide an area themselves, as well as being part of a national organisation, to enable them to acquire the breadth of knowledge and experience, and to have the necessary back-up to make evidence-based judgments, as has already been said, on which offender programmes and measures, either singly or jointly, have the biggest impact on reducing reoffending and increasing public protection in relation to resources available.
The potential effectiveness of such programmes and measures in relation to resources invested is not going to vary considerably from one probation area or trust to another, or from one local authority area to another, and we do not want a situation where the local dimension and local accountability leads to people going off in their own completely different directions, based on their own particular theory of what works.
I question the extent to which a local perspective on the issues covered by this Bill is in reality meaningful in the context of significantly different measures being needed to deal with offending in one part of the country compared with another, as opposed to different measures being required to deal with different types of offenders or offenders with different issues to address, irrespective of what part of the country they are in.
I hope that the Government will ensure that the local involvement and accountability for which they are providing promotes effective action, and does not simply result in endless meetings and consultations as a substitute for action. What is needed is active local involvement in, for example, the provision of accommodation, help in finding employment or training, support for offenders when they leave prison, support to families where a parent is in prison, help in the continuing battle many offenders have in overcoming a drug addiction, and help in addressing problems many offenders have with mental illness or depression.
The argument for widening involvement of the private and voluntary sectors and relevant local organisations, including local authorities, in addressing issues of public protection, offending and reoffending, is in part to create a culture that accepts that those issues are not solely the responsibility of the police, the courts, the prison and the Probation Services, but a responsibility for the community as a whole, working with the criminal justice system agencies.
The Bill provides for change, particularly for the Probation Service, but change is of course already in progress. It can reinvigorate and revitalise or overwhelm and demoralise. Prolonged uncertainty is not helpful. Nevertheless, I hope that change will not be rushed, and I believe that that is the Government's approach. At a time of change, there is a risk of the eye being taken off the ball. In this case, the ball is public protection and a reduction in reoffending. Particularly as there are now signs of some progress being made in reducing reoffending, it will be vital to ensure that the focus of probation personnel is not deflected to matters of internal reorganisation and changes in process and procedures to such a degree that it is to the detriment of building on that apparent progress.
The most important asset by far of the National Offender Management Service, including the Prison and Probation Services, is the people they employ. It is vital that the commitments given—that the developments provided for in the Bill will not result in a dilution of professional standards, or be used as a vehicle for lowering pay and worsening conditions of employment—are honoured in full.
The Government have a track record of seeking to address the causes of offending, as well as achieving a reduction in crime. The voluntary sector has already shown that it has a real contribution to make in addressing the causes of offending and reoffending. We must further extend the scope and depth of our efforts in this area, and I see no reason why we should not look to involve all who can assist in achieving the objective of further reductions in reoffending. Likewise with the private sector, which is already involved in some areas of the criminal justice system, and particularly if it also sees itself working in partnership with the public and voluntary sectors.
While the Prison Service was already increasing its efficiency and effectiveness—despite the problems presented by working close to, or at, maximum capacity—the advent of private sector involvement acted as a considerable further stimulus. The public sector Prison Service has shown itself more than capable of holding its own. My own view is that the situation will be similar with the Probation Service. The areas and proposed trusts will find that they can match the private and voluntary sectors provided that the performance of the less effective areas improves and there is a general desire to look at whether all activities are being run and managed in the most efficient way. That means there must be a full and complete understanding of the detailed costs, including comparative costs, being incurred for performance effectiveness in all the varied, separate activities of the Probation Service.
The ultimate test of the Bill, however, will not be the impact it does or does not have on the Probation and Prison Services, but on the contribution it makes to enhancing public protection and reducing offending and reoffending within the available resources. If it is successful in initiating and promoting a more innovative and inclusive approach to addressing these issues through an acceptance that the actions of a wide range of bodies working together can have a real influence on what can be achieved, the likelihood of further reductions in reoffending and enhanced public protection will be considerably increased.
My Lords, like many other Members of this House, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma over the Bill. I strongly support the concepts that offender management is best done by a partnership of the public, private and voluntary sectors, and that there should be consistent management of the time that an offender is under sentence, whether in custody or the community. But I have considerable difficulty with how the Government seek to bring about the necessary improvements to how such partnerships are obtained. That is not helped by the inconsistency with which explanations have been given about how end-to-end offender management is to be conducted, how offender managers—currently probation officers—are meant to operate, and what tasks they would have to give up to take on the extra ones.
Stripped of all its details, the Bill is about two things: offender management by a social market and the rape of the Probation Service in its centenary year. Anyone who doubts that should refer to paragraph 1 of the so-called consultation document, Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-offending, already quoted. It sets out how the Government propose to introduce commissioning and contestability into the provision of Probation Services and the organisational consequences which flow from that. These proposals require legislative change and will form part of a management of offenders Bill which we will bring forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.
The Government’s chosen vehicle for bringing this about is NOMS, which I refer to deliberately by its initials because I am uncertain what it actually is. Mr Paul Goggins, then the Minister responsible, said:
“The establishment of the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) now provides clear leadership and accountability for the performance of all the correctional services and for reducing re-offending”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/3/05; col. 652W.]
Yet, when I looked up the website this morning, I found NOMS described as:
“the system through which we commission and provide the highest quality correctional services and interventions in order to protect the public and reduce re-offending”.
Is NOMS a system or a service? Is it there to provide leadership or commission services and interventions? I would be grateful for enlightenment from the Minister.
As we all know, NOMS had a most extraordinary birth: the Government's so-called “considered response” to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in which the concept was outlined, being conducted and a report written in 26 days over Christmas 2003. That was followed by a so-called consultation process, which was no more than asking a number of us to submit unacknowledged papers whose contents were studiously ignored. There has been an air of unreality about it ever since, which I found admirably summed up by Salvador Dali in 1940, in the catalogue of the surrealist exhibition at the V&A:
“I try to create fantastic things, magical things, things like in a dream. The world needs more fantasy. Our civilisation is too mechanical. We can make the fantastic real and then it is more real than that which actually exists”.
I found myself reflecting on this. While I agreed with an enormous amount of what the Minister said, on NOMS I felt she was still in dreamland.
Evidence of the rape of the Probation Service is contained in the Minister’s own words in summing up our debate on law and order following the Queen’s Speech:
“notwithstanding the huge commitment of the Probation Service, the improvements and the huge investment made—to have a situation in which we collectively have a reoffending rate of 60 per cent can never be described as a success.
We cannot accept that that should continue. It needs to change, but that change involves the creation of a partnership between public, not-for-profit and private agencies working together to satisfy the needs of both victims and offenders”.—[Official Report, 23/11/06; col. 537.]
I absolutely agree about partnership which, as she has told the House, is older than the Probation Service itself. But, by “collective”, the Minister means the averaged reoffending rates of the Prison and Probation Services. With respect, the term “reoffending” is wrong: the Minister is actually referring to the reconviction rate, the only data kept, which is entirely different. What she calls the reoffending rate is currently 67 per cent for adults released from prison, which means that the probation rate must be 53 per cent, or 14 per cent less. How does a lower rate justify drastic intervention when the higher one does not? Come to that, if Mr Goggins is right and NOMS is accountable for reducing reoffending, why is the dream not to be changed? The only justification for the introduction of NOMS—experience elsewhere—is from New Zealand, where there has been exactly the same result: a dramatic increase in the reoffending rate from prisons.
In the context of the debate, I must question whether a better intentioned, more inappropriately titled, ill-timed, ill-considered or unnecessary Bill has been brought before your Lordships’ House. I choose those descriptions with great care and will briefly expand on each. I have already mentioned intentions. It is inappropriately titled because its contents are nothing to do with the actual way in which offenders are managed. The only mentions of “offender” are in Clauses 30 and 31, to which many noble Lords have already referred, which will allow the Minister of Justice to send prisoners aged between 18 and 21 to prison. The Government in their 2001 election manifesto promised to review the treatment of and conditions for young prisoners, and I venture to suggest that things have come to a pretty pass if all that they can come up with is to send them, utterly inappropriately, to adult prisons. The Bill is not about the management of offenders, but the management of the management of offenders, which is something entirely different.
It is ill timed because the Second Reading is being led by the Home Office in the certain knowledge that the remaining stages will be led by the Minister of Justice. It is also ill timed because when organisations are in crisis, as the Prison and Probation Services are now, thanks to overcrowding and the lack of resources, it is not appropriate to introduce expensive, untried theories involving considerable upheaval. I also suggest that it is irresponsible to commit £855 million to a bureaucracy called NOMS at a time when the Prison Service is being called upon to make cuts to its already overstretched budget. Immediately the formation of the new ministry was announced, I thought seriously of tabling an amendment opposing this Second Reading. Having taken advice from many quarters, I have decided instead to table a commencement amendment in Committee to defer the proposals in the Bill until they have been considered and brought back to the House by the new Ministry of Justice. I was interested to see that a carefully planned strategy is one of the concerns of the CBI, whose support for the Bill is clearly commercial.
I could go on and on about “ill considered” because many noble Lords have quoted examples. I was interested, and particularly glad, to hear the Minister say that the Home Office has listened to what has been said. In 1973, I was in America with the then Chief of the General Staff. I listened to a distinguished American diplomat, Averell Harriman, say:
“The trouble with this country is that it is governed by whiz kids, and the trouble with whiz kids is that they haven’t got time to listen”.
I have found that the trouble with the whiz kids in the Home Office is that not only do they not listen to hard facts and practical experience, but they airbrush anything or anyone who presumes to question their theories. We have heard about the 738 of 748 people who responded against the consultation document. The chairman of the Probation Boards’ Association recently asked a senior Home Office whiz kid whether chief officers of probation, who have more than 20 years’ experience in the field, had been consulted about what was proposed. “No, we don’t consult them because they’re too junior” was the response.
The galling thing is that those of us who have tried and still try to persuade the whiz kids and their political masters to listen have done and still do so because we care as deeply as they do about improving the criminal justice system, motivated by practical experience, not untried theory. What concerns me most about what is going on is the failure of the whiz kids to accept the limitations implicit in their lack of practical experience of working with or managing people. Those of us who have spent our lives doing so know from hard experience that the only indispensable tool when working with people is other people. This is particularly true of offenders. What offender management should be all about is making certain that there are sufficient numbers of trained people available, in custody and in the community, to work with offenders, helping them, in the words of the statement of purpose of the Prison Service,
“to live useful and law-abiding lives”.
That is where partnership comes in, because to do it effectively, every possible source—public, private and voluntary—must be tapped. The management of the management of offenders should be all about ensuring that those who work with them have the resources that they need to do the tasks, which include consistent direction and training as well as facilities. When dealing with people, professional judgment about quality is far more important than bureaucratic measurement of quantity or process. Of course, obtaining what is required could be called a social market, but it should be driven by those who know what they want and how to use it—such as professionally trained probation staff—not by those who only know how to let contracts.
What I also find difficult about all this is that what is currently in place is capable of providing precisely what the Government want. I shall remind the House of what the system is and what is needed to do all that has been mentioned from all sides of the House. What is needed is clear and consistent direction and resourcing from top to bottom inside the Prison and probation services and the partnership of all the people who work with them. Two machines are particularly required to do that, both of which are in position now. First, there must be a ministerial policy board to direct the director general of the Prison Service, the director of the National Probation Service and the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, each of whom needs an executive board underneath him. As I have said many times, the Prison Service must reorganise itself because its structure is not fit for purpose. It needs directors of each type of prison to be responsible and accountable for the consistent direction of what goes on in their type of prison. Prisons need to be reorganised on a regional basis so that there are sufficient places close to home for all prisoners of each type, with the exception of high-security prisoners. Regional managers should be appointed to be responsible for supporting governors with what they need to deliver programmes from regional resources. They should also be responsible for regional population management and control to make certain that people are not moved inappropriately away from where they are based.
Probation boards and chief officers of probation should continue as now to commission probation services from the partnership of all those involved and ensure that the work of community justice authorities, courts forums and the multi-agency public protection arrangements is maximised and expanded. In addition, it would be sensible to form adult offender management teams, male and female, on the model of the successful youth offender teams, which should also be run by local government. That would free overstretched trained probation officers to deal with the heavy end of the offender spectrum and would ensure professional oversight of more than 100,000 lesser offenders in the community who are currently unsupervised.
On the strategic direction side, we have the criminal justice boards, whose virtues the Minister so frequently and rightly extols, and the national criminal justice policy board, which is chaired by a Minister and consists of officials from all the members of the partnerships, including the voluntary sector, local government and the private sector. There are also area criminal justice boards, on which the Prison Service regional manager and an appropriate probation person can sit, responsible for regional policy. All that can be underpinned by local area agreements, which have been highlighted many times. That machinery would work. I hope that the Ministry of Justice will look carefully at what is said in this debate as well as what is said in the other place before determining what to do. The last thing I am opposed to is progress, but I am very chary about disrupting those in busy services who are trying to do what they can in difficult circumstances. The subject of offender management is too serious to be risked by the sport of theory. I am delighted by what I have heard from all around this House this afternoon because, once again, it is demonstrating its wisdom in its desire to protect the public as the Bill progresses through our deliberations.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this Second Reading debate. I well understand the desire of the Government to improve the management of offenders and thus contribute to reducing crime. However, the approach of the Bill is deeply flawed.
In 2004, the Government published the Carter report and, as a result, the National Offender Management Service was created. It is strange that there is no reference to NOMS in the Bill. Instead, it appears to abolish the Probation Service and replace it with a competitive market. I simply do not understand the Government’s desire to privatise irrespective of the service to be provided, and, as far as I can see, without any assessment of the level of experience and professionalism required. I know that the Minister has said this afternoon that the Bill does not privatise, but I am not convinced. Neither are a number of people who work in the service.
The Bill will also abolish probation boards and replace them with trusts, removing the requirement for magistrates and local authority members to sit on the boards. There is no indication that the current 42 criminal justice areas will form part of the set-up. There would appear to be a far higher degree of centralisation indicated in the Bill; whereas the general view of those concerned with the service appears to be that local involvement is very necessary, including support from the local community.
I have had some discussions with NAPO and with the Probation Boards’ Association. The Probation Service is in its centenary year, as we have heard this afternoon, and, before costly reorganisation is embarked on, the aims of the service need to be re-established. NAPO’s view is that the Government have tended to emphasise probation’s role in terms of punishment and public protection, often at the expense of rehabilitation and reintegration. NAPO says that the core objective has always been changing people’s behaviour. Through supervision, offenders should be encouraged to change their attitudes and lead law-abiding lives. Probation has always emphasised the need to ensure that offenders comply with the conditions of the orders.
The cost of administering the correction service has substantially increased. Supplementary estimates for 2006-07 show that the total amount to be spent on the centralised and regionalised bureaucracy of NOMS is £899 million compared with £832 million for the whole of the Probation Service for England and Wales.
So what is the justification for the introduction of the market? I understand that Ministers have justified the proposal on the grounds that the performance of the Probation Service is not good enough and that reoffending rates are unacceptably high. NAPO claims that neither argument stands up to examination. It says that the service is performing well, indeed better than ever, against its 30 government targets. As to reoffending, during the passage of this Bill Ministers have claimed that nearly 60 per cent of offenders were reconvicted within two years. That is said to be similar to jail but it appears that 65.8 per cent of offenders released from jail reoffended, compared with 53 per cent on community penalties.
This afternoon my noble friend mentioned that there has been a reduction in reoffending. She was also generous enough to praise the work of the Probation Service and the commitment of its members, for which I thank her. But is it really imagined that the service could be improved via a multiplicity of competing private providers? What kind of training, if any, is to be provided? What qualifications will they require? It surely cannot be justified on grounds of cost. A private company must make a profit in order to satisfy its shareholders, which is why privatisation usually involves staff reductions and sometimes salary reductions. The Probation Service is responsible for enforcing conditions for the 200,000 people on community orders or parole, in addition to other services. Moreover, it seems very likely that these functions will increase. The service is likely to need more trained and qualified people rather than fewer.
The Probation Boards’ Association maintains that the Government’s objectives in relation to reduction of reoffending and better management of offenders could be achieved without what they term “costly reorganisation”. Money spent on breaking up the Probation Service and on transaction costs in relation to commissioning from a multitude of providers would be better spent on boosting the Probation Service and its partners.
It is interesting that Scotland has rejected the notions in this Bill, which covers England and Wales only. Scotland has rejected the idea of a NOMS and competition and instead opted for the establishment of a statutory duty on prisons and probation to consult each other and the voluntary sector on the provision of offender services. The Scottish Executive have also accepted the argument that services for offenders should be as close to the point of delivery as possible.
I gather that before the Bill left the Commons the Home Secretary made a number of concessions, so we may presumably expect some government amendments in Committee. There will of course be an opportunity to seek amendments then, and I have no doubt that a number of noble Lords will wish to do so.
My Lords, I deliberately asked if I could speak late in the debate as I wanted to hear people who were enthusiastic about this proposal, because I have to say that in my sheltered life I meet very few people who are. In particular, I wanted to hear people talking about outcomes. I must say that I was strongly impressed by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who unfortunately is not in his place. There we had a vision of what a truly co-operative realm of partnership might be like. But, as I listened, I found myself remembering the visit of Stephen Prior, the former prison governor, to our penal affairs group in the diocese where I work, when he introduced a booklet on what volunteers might do in the Prison Service. It was a wonderful booklet with all sorts of opportunities. The only problem was that when you finished reading it you wondered whether you needed prisons in order to make all that valuable work possible. I found myself wondering whether this vision of partnership required this amount of legislative provision in order to make it possible.
I am probably too mentally elderly and past it to adjust myself to the extensive use of mechanical metaphors in discussing a topic of this kind. I find that the language of management and end-to-end, of structure and all the rest of it, very rapidly becomes quite remote from the actual and very demanding business of relating to people whose lives are likely to have always been in chaos, and which probably show very little sign of order at any point. The debate, with great respect, needs some articulation. Perhaps the only contribution I can make is to articulate of what undoubtedly lies behind what many noble Lords have said, which is actual experience of working with the people about whom we are talking. I do not think that they need management; it is something to do with a demanding kind of friendship. We need to keep that vision in front of our eyes because it is the vision that lies behind the Probation Service. In its centenary year that is exactly what we need to be celebrating.
I do not understand the reasoning that says, “You have been really successful, you are doing wonderful work and so we are going to change you”. I would understand it only if I were persuaded that those most creative members of the Probation Service whom one meets all felt that their work was being obstructed by a lack of opportunity to co-operate with partners in the private sector. In fact, the level of co-operation is extremely high. What worries me about the enthusiasm of some of the larger parts of the third sector for this Bill—and that enthusiasm is real—is that they may well imagine that their resource problems are likely to be solved by a greater involvement in contracting for the public service. I need to remind the House, since it has not been mentioned so far in the debate, of the grave suspicions recently voiced by the Charity Commission about the extent to which charities become dependent on public service contracting and therefore lose both their independence and stability. That is something we need to think about very seriously before we ask for a development of a strategy based entirely, or very largely, on the third sector.
It is important that we should bear in mind that all is not wonderful and rosy in the voluntary sector. My colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, will shortly discuss in this House the very serious resource situation of voluntary sector hostels. There are also very serious questions about the experience of chaplaincy in the Prison Service. I do not dispute the good intentions and the deep personal commitment of the Minister—how could I? —but all the things that I have mentioned above lead one to ask why we need the Bill and what itch it is designed to scratch. In that respect, I have noticed that the worst feature of the current environment is its effect on the morale of probation officers. We have been presented with a catalogue of their official representatives, and it is easy to say that they are defending their interests as you would expect. In fact, they represent a very serious situation in the service in which it is widely felt that quite insufficient credit is given for the results that they achieve with some very unpromising material, and that headlines and news stories grossly over-emphasise the occasions of failure. We could achieve much of what the Government intend without engaging in the kind of restructuring that is having such a serious negative effect on morale.
Everything that I have experienced in conversation both with members of the Prison Service and with members of NOMS leads me to believe that the Government are very set on this route of change. However, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the dream-like quality of some of the Bill needs to be remembered. A senior member of NOMS spoke to a group at the General Synod of the Church of England about the marvels of end-to-end offender management. At the end, a member of the audience, who had not quite understood what had been said, asked how many offenders had end-to-end management at this point. Of course, the answer was: extremely few. I want us to root whatever we decide about the provisions in the Bill in actual contact between human beings and human beings, between probation officers and private sector volunteers, and between voluntary sector professional people and offenders. Let us hold before our eyes what it is actually like to work with someone with such a background and such a record. Let us hold before our eyes the need for heart-to-heart communication if there is to be real personal change. And let us subordinate our structural ambitions to the actual activity that we are trying to support.
My Lords, I have a very great respect for members of the Probation Service, in particular for their dedication, their professionalism and their public service ethos. They are experienced in advising the courts, and in supervising offenders after they come out of prison and offenders required to engage in community service instead of going to prison. I recall the dedication of the Probation Service and its members from my days as a young barrister appearing in adult and juvenile courts—some considerable time ago. However, I also recall somewhat later the valuable contributions made by senior probation officers as fellow members of the Parole Board for England and Wales.
I am concerned to know whether the very radical changes proposed in the Bill will damage or enhance the service that probation officers have given over the years. The Government, through the mouth of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in another place when he introduced the Bill, emphasised how rightly proud they are of the resources that they have put into the probation services and into rehabilitation programmes, including those relating to basic educational skills and drug addiction. The involvement in some way of voluntary bodies and private sector bodies in the rehabilitation of offenders and in the reduction of reoffending must surely be welcome. To use a word with which we have been familiar in the debate this afternoon, everyone would surely agree with partnerships of some sort with the private sector and the voluntary sector to rehabilitate and to prevent reoffending. That is highly desirable; but, as several noble Lords have pointed out, partnerships in Scotland were devised and developed by the Scottish Executive as a way forward that is different from the way forward proposed by the Government for England and Wales in the Bill.
Probation officers today in England and Wales are naturally concerned that introducing the concepts of competition and contestability may inflict damage on the Probation Service as we know it. The Probation Boards’ Association wrote to Members of your Lordships’ House that,
“the Bill could (as drafted) destroy the public probation service, leading to fragmentation of the supervision of offenders and increased expenditure on additional tiers of bureaucracy”.
The letter was dated 26 March, and therefore followed various concessions that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary had introduced in another place.
The trade union UNISON, which my noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen mentioned, has 5,000 members in the Probation Service and is, of course, thoroughly committed to the objective of reducing reoffending. After all, that is what those members are involved with in their daily work. The union is disquieted by the introduction of a market in probation services, a concern that has not been removed by the concessions given by Ministers at Third Reading in another place. The Home Secretary emphasised in his Third Reading speech that the public sector Probation Service as we know it is not being privatised or supplanted; it is, in his words, being supplemented by voluntary and private sector services. However, specialist and other add-on services such as rehabilitation services and education services, inadequate though they may be thought to be at present, do exist, and they can be added to and increased by co-operative arrangements in the future. As I said, that, rather than the radical reorganisation proposed for England and Wales, is considered to be the way forward across the border in Scotland. The Government have conceded that the “core offender management tasks”—I believe that that is a government phrase—such as offender report writing, offender supervision and breach proceedings, should remain in the public sector, but for three years only. Why only for three years? Presumably, the Government feel that by then they may feel more confident of what a couple of months ago they were fully confident in because it was in the Bill. I am not quite sure how that greater confidence will arise. The concession is for only three years, although I think that at one point the Home Secretary mentioned the lifetime of this Parliament. He may know more about that than I do, but there is some element of doubt as to the timing, and no doubt clarification will be desired and sought in Committee.
I do not see—to borrow a phrase from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester—the morale of the Probation Service being much increased by feeling that it has another few years on probation, as it were, before the axe comes down on it. No doubt, we can pursue in Committee what precisely are core offender management tasks. Because of the concern at the apparent reduction under the new system proposed in the Bill of local authority accountability, the Government have now said that local probation trusts will have elected councillors on them. But, as I understand it, probation trusts will have to bid—at any rate, after three years from now—for contracts for the provision of services. Does that mean that magistrates and judges cannot be members of the trusts? The Probation Boards’ Association tells me that if trusts are in the business of bidding for contracts, magistrates and judges would not be allowed to be members of such a body. Perhaps the Minister would indicate whether that is so.
Finally, in today’s Guardian, there is a reminder of a privatisation that has in part taken place; namely, prisons. The report mentions an unfortunate manslaughter case and the judge commented that there had been a most tragic error when someone was killed in prison. The Guardian reminds us that when inspections of prisons have been held in recent times, privately owned prisons come way down the list with all kinds of typical failures of the prisons to the inmates concerned. It is most important that we should have answers to questions about prisons because further—if I may use the word—privatisation is referred to in Part 2. Various things which are now not done by the private owners of prisons will be possible under Part 2. It does not seem a good time for that to happen when we are not very certain how well private prisons are working.
The Bill has left the other place with some changes agreed by the Government, but there is a lot more probing that this House can do, paying attention to detail as it customarily does. I am sure that the Bill, if it survives, will be much better than it is at the moment.
My Lords, I remind the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, that this Bill achieved its Third Reading in another place by a majority of only 23 votes, which may colour his reflections. This is the fifty-third Home Office Bill to be introduced to this House in the past 10 years. I suppose that we can make an evidence-based judgment, which is the popular thing to do, that the results of legislation are not necessarily or often commensurate either with the effort that goes into them or with the expectations of those who make the law.
I rather chime in with the right reverend Prelate. It is a matter of immense sadness to me that this Bill is, or is thought to be, necessary. What is happening in our prisons and judicial system is an immense pointer to the failure of our polity and our society. The first duty of a state and a society is to provide a secure and happy life for its members. Every member of this society and state who goes into prison represents a failure. We are collectively responsible for this, the noble Baroness and I perhaps slightly more than others as she is, and I have been, a part of government.
We are seeing an increasing proportion of our young people going for an increasing proportion of their lives into a sterile and debilitating environment, which is not what they were created for. Therefore, I look with sorrow at the vast sums being expended, or proposed to be expended, under this Bill in the setting up of NOMS. I hope that the noble Baroness will refer to the figure which most people are quoting from the Napo brief, which states:
“Figures contained in the Winter Supplementary Estimates 2006/7 show that the total amount due to be spent on the centralised and regionalised bureaucracy of NOMS was £899 million”.
Then it made an invidious comparison. That money is being spent after failure, to correct it. It should surely be spent before failure in order to prevent it.
Since I was in government, I have spent all my spare time trying to direct things to prevent young people getting into crime. The time to get to them is when they are about to be excluded from school. They need a mentor. The principle of demanding friendship, as advocated by the right reverend Prelate, is needed far before the Probation Service is in question. It is needed when a child is turned out on to the street with no provision while all his or her contemporaries are in school being looked after and directed.
Who are the people we are dealing with and how have they got to where they are? I suppose that a typical example would be someone who is unemployed because he is illiterate. He or she comes out of school unable to communicate on paper or, very often, verbally. People who are illiterate have low self-esteem. Because they have low self-esteem they go into drugs; because they are on drugs, they have to feed their habit; and because they have to feed their habit, they have to commit crimes, which are often violent. At that point, we wake up and say, “We must protect the public”. Until two days before, they were the public. We have to bring them back into society where we should be as one, not two. So I speak from a position of profound regret and pessimism.
Turning to the Bill, I echo what has been said. The Offender Management Bill is an extraordinary name, with no mention of national offender managers or ROMs—an unfortunate term which in computer language indicates something that cannot be changed once it has been made. One hopes that these people will learn as they go along.
It is even odder—and here I chime in with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—to dismantle, change and reassemble the Probation Service at a time when the responsible ministry will be dissolved and reformed. Presumably the Minister will be dissolved and reformed in some metaphysical sense and the Bill will be taken through by someone else, unless she changes position, as she has done with such distinction occasionally in her career.
To change the Probation Service and the department running it at the same time is bad enough; to make the change before completion of the young offender review is worse; but to make it just before a change of Prime Minister and probably a grand reshuffle superimposed on everything else will make it worse still. It is extraordinary to do this in parallel with another piece of legislation which, in my view, we should have had first. I refer to another quaintly named piece of legislation—the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill—in which an important part of the work that we are trying to do here is being done in another place. All that makes for bad legislative and administrative management. However, we have this Bill and it is to that that I must confine my remaining remarks, many of which I can cast aside because they have already been made.
I should like to refer to the Minister’s letter of 16 April, which most noble Lords have received. In the second paragraph, on page 2, she writes:
“We will ensure that probation is fully embedded in the Local Area Agreements which are being put on a statutory footing by the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill”.
That is the Bill that I have just cited. Further, the definition of “health” in the title is very odd. In that Bill as drafted, the local probation boards are specified. We shall need to see an amending provision in either that Bill or this one before the Minister satisfies us that the protection will continue. Not only that, the provision is made by including the boards in a list in Clause 80(2), while in subsection (6) of the same clause the Secretary of State is even empowered to amend by order that list by,
“removing from it any person for the time being mentioned in it”.
As I read it, such an order would be subject to the negative procedure. Again, that is something that we shall have to look at closely, and I give the Minister notice of it.
The Bill does not tell us on what scale the trusts are to operate. I say “regional” because the word has been used in many documents, but are we talking about eight regional trusts with a ninth for Wales, as has been suggested? Is that the scale of intimacy, detail and local knowledge that we are seeking in these people? These will be trusts consisting of a chairman and not less than four others. How are five people, when they are quorate, to grasp the intricacies and variety of the area for which they are responsible? We need to know this, and I would like to see an amendment restricting the areas perhaps to a police area or one related to the equivalent judicial administration—I cannot think of the machinery. In that form and with those duties, they should not be required to be responsible for so large an area.
We have talked about “a local councillor”, which I think we need to see provided for in the Bill, and like the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I am extremely worried about the magistracy. The people who know how to do this are not businessmen. Businessmen can help on the business side and perhaps a business chairman would be a good thing, but you want practitioners on the board who actually know where the shoe pinches so that the shoe can be made the right size.
Turning to Clause 30, I share the reservations expressed by many noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and by the Rainer Foundation, in which I should declare an interest as a patron. The foundation has expressed other reservations, although broadly it supports the Bill.
At this stage I shall conclude merely by going back to where I started. I shall join my noble friends on the Front Bench in trying to improve the Bill by whatever surgery is necessary. But all along I want noble Lords to consider that we should do anything we can to save money being spent on messing about with the machinery when the management of that machinery is also being messed about with, and the Government departments managing the management of that machinery are also being messed about with. That money would be far better spent on children before they become criminals than on trying to catch them after they have.
My Lords, I am glad to have this opportunity to debate the Bill in such distinguished company. Many noble Lords with whom I would normally agree entirely have spoken about outcomes in the criminal justice system, but today I have some disagreement with them. However, I also have some queries about the Bill which I shall set out shortly. I start from the premise that something needs to be done about offender management. Too much is going wrong and thus failing to contribute to the rehabilitation and care of offenders. Reoffending is at unacceptable levels and radical change is needed to tackle it. More prison places are not the answer. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, that the prevention of such misery should be paramount.
“Management” is a key word in the Bill and has been tossed around frequently today. We need a process to make change happen. The current system will not change things sufficiently. The challenge is for the Government to focus on positive change while still promoting local involvement. How is this to be done? I would welcome further comments and clarification from the Minister on the issue of local involvement.
Let me draw inferences here from drug treatment, and I declare an interest as chair of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. When I first became involved in drug treatment about five years ago, I was surprised and in some cases shocked at the lack of management. That resulted in a deal of neglect of those seeking or in treatment. Commissioning was often carried out on the basis of historical accident or vested interests. The national treatment agency was set up to structure management and oversee quality through regional managers and a central office—the “and … and” referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. One of our PSA targets was to double the number in treatment by 2008. We have achieved that target two years early, as well as improving staffing numbers and reducing waiting times. There has been an increase of 113 per cent on the 1998-99 baseline of 85,000 people in treatment. We have also improved reporting systems, IT systems and introduced better performance management. It is recognised in the drug treatment field that the services have improved and service users are getting a much better deal. As the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said, “Start with the client”, a point echoed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. This success has been achieved through the collaboration of a number of structures, including the voluntary sector.
There are some similarities between what has happened in drug treatment services and the intentions of this Bill. Offender management needs good case management with a key worker, assessment of need, a good evidence base, co-ordinated interagency action to support case management, wrap-around services, quality assurance, user and carer involvement and attention to diversity. All these issues had to be considered when we were establishing the national treatment agency, and they are the points emphasised by my noble friend Lord Carter. In particular, interagency work at the local level and sound commissioning have been essential.
I was in Coventry recently, and our regional manager in the Midlands set out some models of working within the criminal justice system in relation to drugs. He emphasised the need to avoid duplication of activity and build up the potential to case-manage the system. I was impressed. They are making a system work. They have been able to do so because they have done an immense amount of work to involve partnerships and develop wrap-around services along with a good commissioning structure.
I have no problem with the key proposals set out in the Bill—the restructuring of the Probation Service and the introduction of contestability—but there is a lack of clarity in the arrangements for commissioning offender management services, particularly in relation to community sentences. The proposed commissioning model is heavily dependent on the role of individual regional offender managers working to a national chief executive and the Secretary of State. This appears to run counter to increasing moves to strengthen local accountability and multi-agency working via local area agreements and local partnerships. From the perspective of my organisation, this is important given the emphasis on commissioning wrap-around services such as housing, mental health and employment. It is difficult to see how that will be achieved at a regional level.
Any loss of meaningful accountability for offender management services may result in those services not being sensitive to the needs and priorities of local communities. A more centralised model of service delivery may introduce inflexibility and hamper responsive partnership working, innovation and sharing of sensitive data at a time when councils, police, health services, employment services and other local agencies are working together closely.
An individual regional offender manager would need mechanisms to commission services at a local level, and how that would work needs clarification. For example, the regional offender manager in London would in theory have to engage with all 32 London drug and crime partnerships to ensure that drug treatment arrangements for offenders were fit for purpose. The fear is that there would need to be a large team of commissioning managers, therefore replacing the Probation Service with a new bureaucracy. It is unclear how wedded the Government are to establishing a pure provider/purchaser split. Would it make more sense for the new probation trusts to retain residual responsibility for the interface with the local partnerships—for example, representation on local joint commissioning groups and local strategic partnerships? Perhaps the Minister could comment on that as well.
There are some good things in the Bill for young people. I am grateful to the Youth Justice Board for its comments on this. I always focus on issues to do with young people from the point of view of Every Child Matters and its five desirable outcomes, which have already been translated into legislation. Those outcomes are: physical and mental health and emotional well-being; protection from harm and neglect; education, training and recreation; the child’s contribution to society; and social and economic well-being.
Children in trouble with the law are children first. I welcome the proposals to expand the range of youth justice accommodation and the greater flexibility around the release of young offenders, although we need a clearer definition of “youth detention accommodation”. We also need clarity on the issue of co-terminosity of services. Section 10 of the Children Act 2004 places a duty on each local authority and its specified partners to co-operate with a view to improving the well-being of children in the area in terms of the five desirable outcomes. This is the framework that underpins children’s trust, and it includes probation as a partner. Probation trusts will be linked with the local area but, as I understand it, could provide expertise to another area. More clarity would be welcome on that.
The power of search and custodial duties in young offender establishments has long worried me. I hope specific safeguards will be in place to ensure the protection and welfare of juveniles, I hope the training of those in charge of young offenders will be looked at, and I hope the conditions and treatment of children during transportation from court to custody and between establishments will be re-examined.
With some clarifications, this Bill can be improved and will improve offender management. As I said at the beginning, management is key to any system, and we must examine how management and systems can be improved. I am sure that with the expertise in your Lordships’ House, we can improve the Bill even further than it has been already.
My Lords, I support the main thrust of the Bill in the belief that this is one of the most pressing issues to come before your Lordships’ House, primarily because democracy prospers only if the vast majority of the population respects the laws of the land and believes that the prevention of crime, the care of victims and the treatment of offenders are all being properly addressed. I have only one major reservation about the Bill, to which I will refer later.
The Bill seems to have had a rather long period of gestation, especially since the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in 2003. It has certainly been the subject of a detailed consultation. Yet in the intervening years since the noble Lord reported, we can detect two contradictory trends that have been the focus of a great deal of national concern. The first is that the crime rate has actually gone down, but, in stark contrast, over the same period the number of people in prison has increased substantially and now stands at a record level. At present there seems to be every reason to expect that the size of the prison population will continue to increase and it is clear that serious overcrowding in prisons is always likely to put in jeopardy the positive elements that we should look forward to, such as education, skill training and remedial and therapeutic work, all of which are squeezed out as resources become severely restricted.
Whatever concerns I and others have about adults in prison, they are magnified many times over with regard to what is happening to young people in custody, whose numbers are also at a record level. This was vividly illustrated for me by the report of an Answer given by the Minister in another place, Mr Gerry Sutcliffe. I have to apologise; I have not been able to get to hand the Hansard reference to his reply, but maybe the Minister will be able to confirm this quotation: “The number of young adult offenders who self-harmed in custody rose by 64 per cent between 2002 and 2006”. I hope that I have said that correctly. We really must do something about the state of young people, and indeed adults, in prison.
The huge increase in the use of custodial sentences has not produced results that are the least bit encouraging. On the contrary, the reconviction rates, as has already been said today, are positively discouraging. As I understand it, some 67 per cent reoffend within the first two years after release. The vast expense on custodial sentences is producing both poor outcomes and poor value for money. There is an urgent need to address these issues and to deal not only with prevention, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, but also with the aftercare arrangements for discharged prisoners. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Filkin: the status quo is not an acceptable proposition for us to consider.
Like other Members of your Lordships’ House, I take the impact of criminal behaviour seriously. If I may be personal for a moment, when I trained as a probation officer in the 1960s—not quite as far back as the court missionaries—we were left in no doubt about three important factors of the criminal justice system, about which I remain convinced. First, every crime is a real threat to the fabric of our society. It is not just the suffering of the victim; more than that, it is the impact that crime has upon the wider community. Criminal acts change the usual behaviour of individuals and their families and undermine the general sense of social well-being. Citizens take extra precautions. Some areas are avoided. Families begin to feel considerably less safe. Some elderly people cease to go out after dark. We really must take seriously the impact of criminal behaviour upon the wider community.
Secondly, while the incidence of crime is greater in areas of social and economic deprivation, it is important to recognise that most people living in those areas are law-abiding, reliable and extremely resilient. Low income is not the sole reason for crime. Moreover, many people who have to cope with low incomes are also those who contribute most to the social good of society. I often recall, not only from my own childhood but also from my years in social services, that one finds among the less well-off the largest number of volunteers, foster parents, home helps, youth workers and good neighbours who contribute so much to society. The key challenge to Parliament is to ensure that those good people who are the most vulnerable to crime—more so than many of us—are able to go on believing that society works for them. For that reason I encourage the Minister, as best I can, to continue to encourage the Government to do all they can to tackle not just crime but its causes, especially for those who are most exposed to it in the reality of their daily lives.
The third matter relates to the importance of the independence of the judiciary. Although this is not strictly relevant to the Bill, my experience of the public services has led me to conclude that for the most part, organisational structures are considerably less important than matters of values, vision and robust leadership. However, I welcome the development of a Supreme Court and the attendant changes. While I have no fixed view on the distribution of work currently with the Home Office, there is one matter about the management of offenders which I believe to be a point of principle. In my view, the judiciary should not be placed alongside the management of the prison or probation services. Put simply, the judiciary should be seen as beyond the influences of other departmental concerns.
I support the Bill, largely because I believe that over the years we have put a much greater investment of time, finance and hope into custodial sentences than into developing positive alternatives. There is now a need to revitalise non-custodial sentences and to win the confidence of the courts and the public that there are robust alternatives to custody for many people who are currently in custody.
In that connection, I sometimes wonder whether those in the Probation Service have any idea of the extent of the changes that have in recent years taken place in other public services. I understand their concerns about change, but when I moved from the Probation Service to the social care services, the authority that I worked in was responsible for services for almost 1 million people—it was a near-monopoly provider. Today, that same authority assesses needs and commissions services but is much less involved in the direct provision of services.
The main lesson that has been learnt from this shift is about the way in which services can be made much more efficient and their quality extended in so many different ways. Most of all, users of services understandably care more about the impact those services have on their life than about which organisation provides them. As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said, it is the outcome that matters rather than the organisational arrangements. So the involvement of voluntary and private agencies brings with it an energy and imagination which has resulted in greater innovation, greater flexibility in the use of resources and a sharper focus in the delivery of services. I am convinced that this ought not to be seen as a threat to the Probation Service but instead as an opportunity to address these needs more effectively in the future.
I hope that the Bill will achieve a much wider range of non-custodial sentences, much more sharply focused, and will have the support of the wider community. My only reservation has been touched on already. Experience has taught me that political parties in opposition become enthusiastic to promote decentralisation, localism and the removal of the shackles of Whitehall. Yet once they move into power as a Government, those same parties decide that centralisation is essential.
Indeed, my Lords—that is why I encourage the Opposition to carry on in that role. But in my experience, it affects all political parties, not just this Government. I hope that with our encouragement, the Government will ensure that in these arrangements there will be scope for much greater involvement of local people and local community organisations so that we bring to bear the full resources of the community. Crime is a matter for the community; it needs to be tackled and resolved locally. The people who have the greatest interest are those who experience crime in their local area.
I welcome the Bill but hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that in taking these arrangements forward, there will be a solid place for local people and organisations in tackling these matters.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for whom I have unbridled respect, will forgive me for the observation that it is perhaps precisely because of what they have seen happening to the ethos of the public service and to the culture of service that a lot of anxiety has been felt among dedicated probation workers.
In a debate of this kind, it is important to recognise that structures are almost always inanimate. Of themselves, they achieve nothing. The clarity of the objectives for which they exist, the values which underpin them, the competence of those who staff them, together with their motivation, morale and commitment and, crucially, the quality of leadership are the essential elements for success.
Most of us have experienced situations in which structure is not ideal yet great things are accomplished and, conversely, situations with theoretically perfected structures where very little is achieved. The ideal is always to have a strong and healthy human dynamic coupled with the best possible structure. The comments of the right reverend Prelate rang true to me.
There are many good and sensible intentions to applaud in the Bill—there is widespread recognition of that. But it is essential to remember that the improvements we seek will never be all that they might be without that essential positive and engaged human dynamic. The observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, deserve very careful consideration in that context.
What is the objective? Reoffending remains disturbingly high with, as we hear repeatedly, 67 per cent of those who leave prison reconvicted within two years. But is cutting reoffending enough? That 67 per cent presents not only the economic and social challenge of the cost inherent in still more crime, and the suffering of victims, but the human tragedy and waste of offenders whose lives are self-evidently stunted and inadequate. My noble friend Lord Filkin effectively made that point. Rehabilitation—enabling offenders to become positive, fully contributing members of society—must surely be the over-riding purpose. It has to be central to the whole penal system. This means that whatever the primitive sensationalism of the worst elements in the media, Parliament must in this legislation make it clear beyond doubt that while the public have obviously to be protected, and security has to be effective, the biggest challenge of all is an unwavering commitment to rehabilitation. It is against that goal that all the provisions of the Bill should be assessed.
Rehabilitation is a highly exacting task. It is also expensive. For those who undertake it, the importance of thorough, in-depth professional preparation cannot be overemphasised. Evidence-based knowledge, critical judgment and interpersonal skills are all priorities. Universities and other institutions, which will be expected to provide for all this, should be able to plan ahead with confidence. They need to be sure of the necessary financial and human resources. Proper and adequate academic and support arrangements have to be in place.
I should make it clear that I speak as somebody who does a certain amount of professional work with the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at De Montfort University, a faculty which is very much involved in exactly these spheres. Like other universities and similar institutions, it is doing interesting work in the preparation for and development of police careers and, similarly, National Health Service careers. I believe the lessons to be learned from this kind of work, wherever it is taking place, are highly relevant. While value for money must always be ensured, great care, imagination and sensitivity will be required in the relationship.
Last year I completed some nine years as honorary president of the YMCA in England. It was a stimulating learning experience for me; I became especially interested in the work with young offenders. Increasingly it seemed to me that, with the life experience—often a nightmare—of many offenders, it would have been a miracle had they not ended up in serious trouble. An understanding of this is essential to dealing effectively with the causes of crime. In the YMCA, we had as one of our volunteers a retired former chief constable. Once, when talking with a tough offender who was about to be released, the young man began to weep. The former chief constable asked why. The young man explained that he was frightened by what he might well encounter outside the prison. He told how this was the first time in his life that he had ever begun to feel a sense of security and of personal significance and responsibility, and the first time that he had ever begun to feel that people cared about him as an individual. The jungle ahead was a bleak prospect. Of course, the YMCA, like other excellent organisations providing this sort of service, saw its role as continuing to work with him after release—as it were, to take his hand and walk with him through rehabilitation and to be available should crises develop.
There are rich resources of relevant insight and experience in such organisations. It is altogether good to see the Government wanting to draw on them, but it will be essential to use imagination and flexibility in the relationship so that it is a rewarding, co-operating, two-way relationship in which real dialogue and mutual evaluation and strengthening takes place. Any inadvertent tendency towards a merely contractual delivery role on the part of NGOs, expecting them to perform by strict inflexible criteria, would be a tragic waste of what they have to offer with all their motivation and understanding.
I recall one young offender institution where the NGO had been awarded a specialist contract to get offenders into jobs. Performance was measured in terms of the success rate in that alone. The NGO team was troubled: there were offenders with whom it might spend a more than average time in counselling, and for whom a move straight into a job would be inappropriate and probably counterproductive because much more had to be done in preparing them for work. The team received absolutely no recognition for such an approach and recognised that, in a competitive market, it could be penalised against competitor agencies. As with universities, value for money is essential. But what is value? There will have to be sensitive flexibility if the real benefits of working with the not-for-profit sector are to be realised and if some of the best contributions are not to be squeezed out by the more—dare I say it—opportunistic organisations. Rehabilitation is not a conveyor-belt process. By definition, it has to be appropriate to particular individuals and their needs.
Reference has been made to Scotland, where it has been understood that crime and rehabilitation have a complex connection to local neighbourhoods and communities. Real solutions have to take this into account. That is why, in the future provision for accountability, it will be necessary to make sure that any theoretical benefits from regional rationalisation are not at the expense of meaningful, more local engagement. Local councillors and authorities, voluntary groups, police and magistrates—indeed, local media—have a key part to play. They are critical to a productive two-way shared responsibility. The heart and muscle of civil society are not always regional; they are frequently far more local than that. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, alluded to this very relevantly. Pragmatism should be central to the form of future accountability structures.
I have spoken of the significance of the human dynamic. Part of this is the calibre of leadership, and that leadership must be there in the operational front line where it matters and not just at more remote management levels. We must beware of a simplistic view that the better, more qualified people should be targeted only at the most serious cases. Experience and skills applied in time at the earlier stages of anti-social behaviour may save limitless time and expense in future. Similarly, as the YMCA example that I gave indicated, the personal continuing relationships with the offender are crucially necessary. I am always struck that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with all his experience, repeatedly makes that point.
I have one last observation. The Probation Service has come in for a lot of flak from the media and others in recent years. Much of that generalised flak has been totally unjustified. I am one of those who believes that we have an invaluable resource in the dedicated and tireless work of the overwhelming majority of probation staff. That needs to be said loudly and clearly. In many ways they are role models for a decent, civilised society. I, like others, have been saddened to see inevitable demoralisation in their ranks as controversy and uncertainty have haunted their future. That is why we must ensure that this Bill gets it right. Wider social ownership of the responsibility for rehabilitation is an altogether good thing. Co-operation and partnership with civil society and the private sector are central to that. But co-operation, let alone the introduction of the market, must always be because, in any particular circumstances, this will provide qualitative additionality as well as value for money. Co-operation and the market must never be allowed to become dogmatic ends in themselves.
My noble friend Lord Borrie referred to reports in today’s Guardian. Recent experience in privatised prisons underlines the importance of accountability and the avoidance of any ideology of privatisation.
My Lords, yet again we are trying to address the crises facing our prisons—the crises of overcrowding and reoffending, and the fact that we send and return more people to prison than any other country in western Europe and that a shocking 92 per cent of young men sentenced for three months or less go on to reoffend. That is, of course, not to mention suicide rates, drug abuse and the lack of education and mental health facilities to which so many of your Lordships have referred. The list is, I fear, all too familiar.
We all have real sympathy with the Government as they face this huge range of problems and I believe that they are getting some things right, certainly on the early preventive side with Sure Start areas and their encouragement for single parents and carers to work flexi hours and the like, as well as their sustained search for strategies that will break that well entrenched cycle of deprivation at the earliest possible point in a child’s life. When one considers the financial cost of keeping a child in care and ultimately in prison, quite apart from the waste of talent and the misery this means for the individual and the whole family, it would frankly be madness not to devote considerable resources to that end. Of course, that approach will not succeed with all potential offenders. There will be some whom no one will identify until they commit an offence, sometimes a pretty horrible one, but it must make sense to try that route and to go on trying.
I am afraid that I cannot say the same about the other side of Government policy—the side that is reflected in the Bill; the passion for hasty, ill considered legislative and institutional upheaval. The fact that some 60—some people say 53—new law and order Bills have been introduced in 10 years, creating 3,000 new offences, almost one for every working day, is just one example of this.
The starkest and most recent example was last month’s onslaught on the Home Office. The Government published their glossy, 100-page policy review, Building on Progress, in which they praise the,
“programme of 29 reform projects … now underway across the Home Office”,
without one word about the reckless disintegration of that office that was to take place on almost the same day.
Of course, I am not against the declared objective of the Bill to reduce reoffending; I do not think that any of us is. On the contrary, it is what we all want to see. The concept of end-to-end management may make sense and be a step towards a more successful rehabilitation although it needs more explanation. But there is a fundamental reason why the Bill is ill designed to achieve that end. There is the clearest possible conflict between on the one hand the entirely desirable concept of a more seamless system for dealing with offenders as they pass through the penal process—partnership between successive managers, co-operation, continuity—and on the other, the quite different concept of “contestability” and competition between commercially motivated contractors in constant conflict with each other.
That potential clash is indeed well illustrated in the Government’s policy review, to which I have already referred. Paragraph 2.76 states that,
“reform of the National Offender Management Service … will provide stronger incentives for offender managers to reduce reoffending”.
Well, will it? It will certainly not, according to the evidence given recently by the Prison Governors Association to the Commons Home Affairs Committee. It says:
“People are being automatically whisked back into custody because of a non-show or late appearance … This decision should be a judicial one and certainly not in the hands of risk-averse offender-managers, ruled by re-offending targets”.
That is just one example of why I am concerned at the way in which the centralised and regional structures visualised in the Bill will threaten the real benefits that can and do flow from local accountability and local control.
Like my noble friend Lord Dear, when I look back on my 20 years as chairman of an inner London juvenile court, my sometime membership of the Parole Board and governorship of Cumberland Lodge remand home, my lasting memory is of the success of the partnerships between judges, magistrates, social workers, prison, probation officers and others working together in a spirit of co-operation and trust. This Bill, by contrast, visualises a centralised system run by the Secretary of State—or is it the Lord Chancellor?—and regional civil servants; one that effectively removes control from local people and centralises it in a way that in my experience will seriously threaten the effectiveness of those local partnerships.
I share the concerns that have been expressed on many occasions about the effect of this legislation on the voluntary sector. I remain worried about whether “contestability”, for all its noble aims of including the voluntary sector, has the potential to destroy the very thing for which that sector is so acclaimed: its ability to be an independent and local voice with a striking ability to reach out to people and groups like no other.
As we heard, some larger third sector organisations are in favour but many voluntary and charitable organisations have expressed considerable concern about this legislation. Clinks, which represents smaller voluntary sector organisations, is particularly concerned that regional commissioning and competition could squeeze out smaller local organisations that really make a difference at a local level.
Last week I visited two training prisons, Downview, a women’s prison, and Wandsworth. In both prisons there was an impressive media training course within an equipped media unit generously made available for inmates by Media for Development—training which teaches technical knowledge and interviewing and research skills combined with a BTEC national award in media. I found myself being treated as an interviewee by trainee prisoners and being pressed among other things on disproportionate sentencing for women. I had much sympathy with that point. I can certainly vouch for the media professionalism displayed in each prison course. But of even greater importance were the wider skills that were being developed, which would be valuable in a whole range of jobs—not just in the media. These included teamwork, problem solving and project management as well as personal skills of self-esteem, confidence and a willingness to engage with others.
At Downview and at Wandsworth, as well as the media course a range of voluntary initiatives were under way despite the overcrowding, lack of finance, and other problems. There was help with personal problems and rehousing from the St Giles Trust, and help too from “peer advisers”—offenders who are paid a little to help and advise other inmates on personal problems and to give advice to staff on the relevance of new projects that they are thinking about. Local work opportunities were also being negotiated and were increasingly popular with inmates. One new course, the family man training course, stressed the important role of fathers in keeping families together: at last an excellent recognition of that vitally important role. That was but a tiny taste of what I saw of how local needs and local people are increasingly working together even though many potential employers and others who could help still apparently shy away from contact with offenders who have been “inside”. That is an area where Government really could influence and incentivise employers to do rather more.
These are surely the things to concentrate on, not structures for penal reform that vest power at the top with the Secretary of State and are in direct contradiction with every other pattern for local working together that has rightly been the policy and priority of this Government in education, local authority social services and the NHS. How can it make sense now to impose still further fragmentation—in reality, destruction—on the Probation Service in legislation that ultimately sounds the death knell for it by quietly replacing it with a list of “functions” that can be undertaken by anyone? And all this is occurring without any clear justification or rationale. Very little business case, if any, has ever been made for these reforms; reforms which I hasten to add are costing huge sums of money. I shall not repeat them because they have already been mentioned several times but the huge sums being spent on NOMS headquarters make one rather ashamed given the very many projects that we know would benefit from increased funding.
How, too, will it make sense to pre-empt consideration of the excellent and insightful report by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, on the treatment of women in the criminal justice system? What plans do the Government have for her proposals? Will the Government introduce amendments that will enable the Corston report to be implemented? Happily, thanks to my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, your Lordships will have an opportunity to debate the report in just three weeks’ time, so maybe we will hear some more at that point. It will hardly surprise your Lordships that I am likely to support amendments to preserve the highly specialised training and professionalism and crucial duties to the courts, to the community and to offenders’ rehabilitation for which the Probation Service has responsibility. We owe it a huge debt of gratitude over the 100 years of its existence. The fact is that it is still doing valuable work, and it is a service working better now than ever, as has been pointed out and was recognised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland.
Do we really need the Bill? I am saying what half the people who have spoken today have said. Scotland does not need it, so why do we? What the Government want and what we all want are successful strategies to reduce reoffending, which can surely—we have all said it—be organised, provided they receive priority resources and funding, on a local partnership basis through the existing probation boards that the Bill intends to abolish. Please give further consideration and think again about the Bill.
My Lords, I remind the House that I chair the All-Party Group on Penal Affairs. Perhaps I should begin by saying, as the last Back-Bench Peer in for this interesting Second Reading debate, that I anticipate that your Lordships are not looking for a large number of runs and probably even fewer wickets. I do not intend to delay the House unduly.
In her letter to noble Lords yesterday, the Minister said that “change is difficult”, but as she will know from her own experience, if it is planned with care, with genuine listening and responding, it all becomes easier. That is what has happened with important parts of this Bill. I am very happy to congratulate her on that. It argues the case for more pre-legislative scrutiny, with the ability to call witnesses, and I hope that this House will find ways of doing more of that.
The Prison Reform Trust helpfully reminds us that the prison population has increased by almost 25,000 in the past 10 years, to 80,000. It took the four decades between 1958 and 1995 for the prison population to rise by a similar amount. Despite support from all around the criminal justice system for the notion that custody should be reserved, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, said in his report,
“for the most serious, dangerous and highly persistent offenders”,
more and more people are sent to prison, often for very short periods, when a range of community sentences would offer a better prospect of reducing reoffending.
At a cost of at least £40,000 a year for each prisoner, and when around seven in every 10 will be back inside within 24 months—for those aged 18 to 21 the failure rate is eight in every 10—the present system is an expensive failure. We know that reoffending costs around £11 billion a year. Those are the outcomes—the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was right to concentrate on outcomes—from the present system, and they signal failure. I welcome the new emphasis in the Bill on reducing reoffending, and all noble Lords who have spoken today have signed up to that. That means strategies to deal with the known needs of individual prisoners when they are in prison and following their release.
We all know the figures; you could wake us up at four in the morning and we could recite them. Around six in every 10 prisoners have mental health problems. Does anyone believe that, other than for those who are a danger to themselves or to others, prison is the most appropriate place in which to offer and provide the help needed to deal with those prisoners? I cannot believe it. It is the same with high levels of drug and alcohol abuse. Experience has shown us that prison officers do not have the skills, training or time in our overcrowded jails properly to attend to those needs. Sentencers need to be reminded of the cost of failing to tackle those underlying causes of offending and reoffending. There is an urgent need for investment in a range of secure health and social care facilities, which could result in a substantial decrease in reoffending, along with other measures.
I have shared the concerns of many in this House and elsewhere about the Bill’s impact on the Probation Service. As the Prison Reform Trust argues, we need to play to the strengths of the Probation Service and to put the emphasis on local solutions. As the CBI points out, since 2001-02 Probation Service funding has risen by about 40 per cent in real terms. Staff numbers have risen by 50 per cent since 1997. That is an extra 7,000 probation officers. I am not pointing the finger of failure at the Probation Service. That makes the point that the Probation Service on its own cannot provide us with all of the answers to reducing reoffending. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, the failure that we see around this system is a failure in which we all have a part, especially those of us who have the privilege to be in one of the Houses of Parliament. It makes the case that the Government are arguing that the Probation Service, as it does, needs more effectively to work with other agencies that can help to make progress in this area.
The nicely named Clinks, the umbrella body for the voluntary sector in the criminal justice system, told us:
“There are over 1,500 small voluntary organisations whose main work is to support the rehabilitation of offenders. These organisations play an important role in providing housing, drug treatment, mentoring, employment training, education, the arts and support to families. Additionally, they encourage voluntary action and community participation in the criminal justice system”.
What it does not say, but is implied, is that these are essentially small local organisations providing these services to their local communities. Clinks has expressed concerns about competition between voluntary and private bodies and the public sector. As the Minister explained in her helpful letter:
“We need to effect a change in culture from all of those delivering services, with the public sector working increasingly in partnership with the voluntary, charitable and private sectors to deliver these goals. We believe that the public sector can and will rise to this challenge, and the Bill will give us the levers we need to support them in this endeavour”.
That is an important part of this Bill. Her assurance, which I especially welcome—I am sure I am not alone in this—is that the Government are committed to the Probation Service as a profession, reinforced by national standards and training; and that whether the work is done by a trust or a non-public sector provider,
“it will still be delivered by appropriately qualified professional probation staff”.
That is an important undertaking, and while, as the noble Baroness opposite said, we need to know more about how this will be achieved, it is there, and it will give some reassurance to those who have doubts about this aspect of the Bill.
The Bill’s focus on ways of having a range of organisations working together to offer help to offenders to lead more fulfilling and useful lives is an important aim. I would especially like the Minister to explain how any new training needs of prison staff will be identified and met and whether extra resources will be made available to help them to do that, because if the changes implied in the Bill are to succeed, then prison officers very much need to be part of that process and be given the help that they need to achieve success.
I hope that the regional offender managers who will commission services will see the value of commissioning appropriate services from voluntary and charitable bodies with strong and long links into local communities. “Regional” is too large and too remote. It is better to build from a series of local bases to lead up to providing total regional cover than to attempt to arrange that at regional level and then funnel it down to the localities.
These proposals have the support of many in the voluntary sector—not all, I acknowledge, and I do not expect that to be the case. However, the proposals offer the best chance in years of devising new and different ways to reduce offending, and that, surely, is what we want to see. The Government aim to reduce reoffending by 5 per cent by the end of next year and by 10 per cent by 2010. We shall look to the provisions of the Bill to achieve that.
My Lords, we now reach the concluding part of this interesting debate. All of us agree that the incidence and, to a lesser extent, the nature of crime may vary from place to place and from generation to generation. Equally important is to recognise that crime is something with which all societies have to come to terms in their own ways. Over the years, there have been continuous debates about the underlying causes of crime and a good deal of research into the efficacy of various responses.
The Home Office has not been an exception. In the past few years, a number of structural attempts have been made to develop an integrated correctional service that is better equipped than two separate services to reduce reoffending. The question that we must ask is: has the Home Office got it right? Does the NOMS Bill offer better solutions of tackling and dealing with those who offend? More importantly, if NOMS is an end-to-end streamlining process, why is there only a cursory mention of prisons in Part 1?
Today’s debate points to serious concern about the role of prison and the Probation Service. I am not surprised. Most research has tended to refute rather than to confirm hypotheses about the causes of crime and the effectiveness of punishment and treatments. It is clear that the political mood continues to be conditioned by hunch and gut feeling rather than by the considered results of research. Why else should we be dismantling the present services and proposing something different? I suspect that the success or failure of the NOMS Bill will be judged on two criteria: first, whether it is better than the systems we have in place; and, secondly, whether it helps to reduce the number of reoffenders and therefore the prison population.
I have no dispute about the priority that is being given to crime prevention in its broadest sense and to schemes for diverting as many young offenders as possible from the criminal justice system. There is nothing soft about that approach. It is a realistic appraisal of the strictly limited contribution which the criminal justice system can make to reducing crime.
There have been many debates in your Lordships’ House about punishment and the aims and effectiveness of sentencing. It is clear that Parliament has never attempted to identify the purposes of sentencing or to prescribe the relative priority that the courts should attach to them. I served as a magistrate and as a member of a board of visitors for a local prison for more than 14 years. I welcome the local nature of justice and one thing that I have learnt above all is that rehabilitation and reparation are more likely to be possible in the community than within the artificial and restricted use of prisons.
Unfortunately, the prison population is now in the region of 80,000. A large number of people will continue to pass through our prison system, some staying for a few days, others for many years and a few will never be released. The prison rules proclaim that,
“the purpose of the training and treatment of convicted prisoners shall be to encourage them to lead a good and useful life”.
Yet we know that there has been a dramatic loss of confidence in the rehabilitation potential of prisons. The prime concern of our prison and probation services is to prepare inmates to have a renewed measure of self-respect, enhanced self-control and a broader range of skills than to find that when released they leave in the same frame of mind as when they arrived. Even that could be grudgingly acceptable, except that we know that their reoffending rate within two years could be between 65 and 85 per cent. By any standards, that is a failure. The question is: could NOMS offer a better solution?
The success of NOMS will be judged by one key and over-riding measure—whether it can reduce reoffending. That is the biggest challenge facing the Home Office. Repeat crime costs some £1 billion, let alone the cost of its impact on victims. My noble friend Lady Linklater has stressed the need for institutional clarity. Offenders are managed both inside and outside the prisons. Is there a clear distinction of who does what and where? Structures are easy to impose. It is difficult to make them work if clarity is lacking. I am disappointed that the Probation Service that I knew during my magisterial days is to disappear in preference to a seamless system. Equally, I regret that the last friendly face before a sentence is pronounced is now to become an agent of the Government. Local accountability, local knowledge and local involvement have served our courts well. This has helped in reintegrating offenders into their local communities.
Part 1 of the Bill gives the National Offender Management Service the power to commission probation services from any provider—from probation trusts, from the private sector or from the voluntary sector. I do not think that many of us would dispute that. I have consistently advocated the greater involvement of the voluntary sector, in partnership with the probation and prison services, in working to rehabilitate and resettle offenders. It is right that we extend the involvement of voluntary organisations in working with offenders and their families. There are fears that the process of commissioning and contestability introduced by the Bill could damage genuine partnership by promoting divisiveness and free-for-all competitions. In the course of the Bill’s passage through this House, we have the opportunity to scrutinise its provisions to ensure that that does not happen.
Voluntary agencies do not want to run prisons or to run probation areas, nor do they wish to carry out core probation functions. That was spelt out by my noble friend Lady Linklater. Instead, they are keen to provide more services of the kind in which the voluntary sector has particular strengths, which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, such as accommodation, employment, education, mentoring, addictions, mental health, work with offenders’ families and community engagement. Those services are crucial to the reduction of reoffending. For example, ex-prisoners who get and keep a job have their likelihood of reoffending cut by between one third and one half, and getting offenders into stable accommodation reduces their reoffending rate by at least one-fifth.
Of course the Probation Service must embrace changes and that is well accepted by the probation board and Napo. It would be wrong to criticise them. They are not afraid of challenges. That was clear in my discussion with those bodies.
The history of the past few years has shown that the Probation Service is often reluctant to engage the voluntary sector in partnership when it is not required to do so either by legislation or by centrally driven targets. Until 2001, the Probation Service had an official target to devote 7 per cent of its resources to partnerships with the voluntary sector and, while it has never quite achieved that percentage, the target pushed the service to devote around 5 per cent of its budget to such partnership arrangements. However, the 7 per cent target was removed in 2001. After that, the proportion of probation budgets spent on contracts with the voluntary and private sectors plummeted to less than 2.5 per cent.
Even where the Probation Service asks voluntary organisations to provide services, a range of problems is often attached to the contracts that are offered. Frequently, contracts do not pay charities the full costs of providing these services, and contracts with voluntary organisations are generally only for a year at a time, making it difficult for charities to plan ahead.
I am glad that the Probation Service has begun to remedy these matters. Last year, the service adopted a target of devoting 5 per cent of its budget in 2006-07, and 10 per cent in 2007-08, to partnerships with the voluntary and private sectors. The national director of probation has given instructions to probation areas that, in future, contracts with voluntary organisations should provide full cost recovery and should be for periods of at least three years. As a result, the proportion of probation budgets devoted to partnerships has now increased to around 4 per cent. The Probation Service clearly sees that it is more likely to be regarded favourably as a lead provider if it can show that it has a wide range of healthy partnerships with the voluntary sector.
However, many fears have also been expressed about how the Bill’s arrangements for commissioning and contestability will work in practice. Probation staff have expressed concern that standards of service could be reduced and the public put at greater risk if services are contracted out to the private sector.
The voluntary sector has expressed concerns that, in an all-out competitive free-for-all, it could lose out to glossy bids from the private sector, which has more back-up resources than charities to put into the bidding process. There has been concern that, in a competitive process, small and local voluntary organisations could lose out to large national agencies. There has also been concern that most contracts with voluntary agencies will probably be subcontracts with larger lead providers—either probation trusts or private companies—and that those could still fail to provide full cost recovery or contracts of reasonable length. There have also been fears that providers might not abide by best practice in equality and diversity. It would be helpful to have the Minister’s assurance on this subject.
Over the two years leading up to the Bill, Probation Service representative organisations and voluntary agencies have discussed these issues at length with Home Office Ministers and officials. NOMS now appears to take the view that probation trusts will normally be the lead providers and that other agencies will receive subcontracts from them. The Bill has been amended to provide that core functions, such as court work, will not be contracted out for at least three years, as the Minister mentioned.
There has been a strong emphasis in government statements on the need for carefully planned partnerships drawing on the complementary strengths of the statutory, voluntary and private sectors. The Government have said that they will look more favourably on bids in which larger organisations partner smaller and local organisations. NOMS policy statements have also said that contracts with voluntary agencies should provide full cost recovery and should last for periods of three years or more.
Those are welcome shifts in the Government’s position. However, it would be preferable for guarantees of this kind to be written on the face of the Bill. For example, the Bill could be amended to provide that probation trusts continue to be lead providers of core probation services, other than in exceptional circumstances of persistently poor performance. At the same time, the Bill could be amended to ensure that at least 7 to 10 per cent of Probation Service budgets are devoted to partnerships with the voluntary sector. It could require that contracts and subcontracts should reimburse providers for the full cost of the services that they provide. The Bill should require the Secretary of State, when deciding which organisations should receive contracts to provide services, to take into account providers’ practice in promoting equality in respect of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age and religious belief. With amendments of this kind, the Bill could ensure that the changes that it contains promote greater genuine partnership between the public, voluntary and private sectors in promoting rehabilitation and reducing reoffending.
I have been asked by my noble friend Lady Walmsley to flag up her interests in the Bill as the party’s education and children spokesperson. She cannot be with us today but hopes to take part in Committee.
We have the opportunity to put right some of our concerns. The question remains: does the Bill significantly and materially improve the delivery of all the crucial tasks to reduce reoffending? If we are not careful, this Bill could be a disruptive distraction from those real challenges. By tampering again with the Probation Service, we are in danger of missing the bigger picture.
My Lords, this has been a most interesting and detailed Second Reading debate, with knowledgeable and committed contributions from all sides of the House. I add my thanks to the Minister for setting out with her customary clarity the Bill and its provisions.
In the current climate of prison overcrowding, ineffective control orders and tagging shambles, to name but a few recent examples—sadly, we have come to expect a new exposé every week—it is no wonder that there is a lack of confidence in the criminal justice system and in the supervision of criminals on probation. Cutting crime, ensuring justice for victims and preventing reoffending are all aims that your Lordships applaud, yet, despite reams of Home Office legislation and new initiatives, the problems seem to be developing rather than subsiding.
I fear that this Bill, as it arrives in your Lordships’ House, is not much different. Despite last-minute amendments in the Commons, with promises of more to come, noble Lords from all sides have indicated that this House feels there is still much to do if the Bill is to truly help rather than hinder improvement in protecting the public and making a real difference in addressing reoffending rates.
Against the backdrop of uncertainty, instability and overstretch in the Probation Service, the Government have set out their belief in the need for wholesale reform, in what my noble friends Lady Anelay and Lord Elton have made clear is a bureaucratic and expensive restructuring. Does the Minister accept that the constant reorganisation of the service may have played some part in the crisis in which the service finds itself?
We on these Benches recognise the hard work, service and commitment of probation officers in the difficult circumstances in which they find themselves, as eloquently described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, to name only a few. Morale is low. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, put it, the service does not really know if it is coming or going. Indeed, I would like to offer him in advance the support of these Benches for the amendment that he will introduce to delay the implementation of Part 1 until further consideration has been given to, and consultation has been undertaken on, the Carter report.
It is impossible for the Government to claim that the responses to the consultation that they undertook fully supported the measures proposed in the Bill. Indeed, the Government’s plans have changed so often that it is difficult to be sure exactly where each new proposal comes from. It is most certainly possible to formulate a constructive way forward for the probation services, but we need to do that with support from the sectors concerned and to pay them the courtesy of engaging in constructive dialogue with them. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has proposed a characteristically well thought-out and practical integrated structure on a regional basis—I think that he called it a “cluster” when he addressed the pre-legislative committee in another place—at strategic and operational levels. I hope that the Minister and her department will give serious consideration to the noble Lord’s amendments, which I understand he will be tabling, so that a really constructive contribution can be made at the later stages of the Bill.
We on these Benches want to see rigorous and effective supervision of those given community sentences. We welcome the involvement of the private and voluntary sectors and the knock-on effect of greater competition in the delivery of public services. However, I fear that the top-down, centralised structure proposed by the Government will only create the opposite of a system that is capable of reflecting the needs and requirements of specific localities. We have seen similar moves before. In the Police and Justice Bill, the Government talked of community-based policing on the one hand, while trying to remove it on the other.
We also want to explore further concerns that the proposals could work against the contributions of smaller charities. On that matter, I hope that the Minister will bear in mind the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester in respect of the perceived enthusiasm of the larger charities on account of the possibility of a contract. I understand that the Charity Commission has also had concerns to that effect.
For my part, I will endeavour to scrutinise the detail of Part 2 of the Bill, which received very limited attention in the other place. We hope, among other things, to table amendments to explore the powers of search and detention in contracted-out prisons and secure training centres with regard to the training that prisoner custody officers receive, taking into account the concerns of the children lobby. We also hope to explore the details of Clause 19, and I look forward to debating issues surrounding mental health and speech and language therapy, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. These are considerable issues that merit careful consideration in Committee.
I look forward to focusing, in particular, on the effects of the Bill on children and young people. I know that my noble friend Lady Morris—a second Peer who has been unable to take part in this debate on the matter of children—is keen to support this scrutiny.
I do not need to outline the benefits of ensuring that children in custody receive rehabilitation that is constructive and, above all, safe, yet there is a clear and present need for improving the treatment of children in the penal system. Statistics from the Howard League for Penal Reform, contained in the landmark survey of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, show that in one 18-month period the total number of hours that children were held in isolation amounted to 1,500, that 2,161 children were injured during physical restraints, and that, in one secure training centre alone, more than 1,500 searches, including what are known as strip searches, were carried out. That matter has of course been debated in your Lordships’ House.
Most especially, we are concerned that the overall structural “rehaul” could undermine extant statutory partnership arrangements that are leading to the development of children’s trusts in each local authority. Children’s trusts stand to play a vital role not only in securing the well-being of all children and young people in our communities but also in contributing to the rehabilitation of young offenders. I hope that the Minister will be able to inform your Lordships of the precise effects that she expects the new measures to have on extant statutory partnerships. Indeed, I hope that she will be able to go so far as to provide a guarantee to noble Lords that children’s trusts will not be undermined by the provisions of the Bill.
The Bill introduces further measures which have caused great concern to both ourselves and interested groups, including the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, the National Children’s Bureau, the Standing Committee on youth justice and the Howard League for Penal Reform. The Minister has indicated that the Government are considering the problem of transferring young offenders from young offender institutions to adult prisons. We shall be interested to know what plans she has regarding the widening of accommodation that can be used to implement the detention component of a detention and training order.
The issues are not only pertinent to the organisation and administration of custody for young offenders but they also constitute serious challenges to the provision of safe custody. Noble Lords will, I am sure, recall that in last year’s Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act the Government had to be virtually press-ganged into accepting that prison officers in young offender institutions should be subject to mandatory CRB checks. Indeed, that provision will not come into force for another three years. I seek a serious reassurance from the Minister that such safeguards will be implemented within the three-year timeframe promised by the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, last November.
The Bill has many wide-ranging applications. The former head of the Prison Service and the Probation Service, Martin Narey, in giving evidence to the other place, argued in favour of both offender management and competition, but he said that,
“neither counted for much unless the right balance could be struck between sentencing and the prison population, because of the damage overcrowding does to work on rehabilitation”.
Meanwhile, the head of the respected home affairs think tank, Civitas, has suggested that,
“the Government’s proposals on contestability were being too dominated by central Government to allow sufficient innovation”.
Getting the right balance is central to improving service delivery.
Perhaps I may refer to the Scottish experience. It was said, not for the first time, that Scottish practice merits further consideration. That point was raised initially by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, and echoed by several noble Lords. I hope that that will form part of the Minister’s thinking, and I am very pleased to see that my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour is in her place to hear that.
I know that my noble friend Lady Anelay was critical of many aspects of the Bill but she indicated that she sees it as a real opportunity to introduce some constructive amendments—a view which I know is shared by many of your Lordships taking part in this debate.
In conclusion, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd: the overriding purpose of the Bill is rehabilitation. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I thank all those who have participated in the debate and must say how much I agree with the last comment made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, when he repeated what my noble friend Lord Judd said.
The Bill is about rehabilitation; it is also about our opportunity—that is what it is—to better reduce the rates of reoffending. In that regard I concurred totally with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. We will be judged on the legislation by the outcome that we achieve. I also agree with what was said by my noble friend Lord Filkin—that this is about changing outcomes, not simply about what we do.
Right at the beginning I should acknowledge all those who have given fulsome support to the Bill. I hope that noble Lords will not mind if I mention them because so happy am I that it has happened on this occasion. Of course, I had support from my noble friends Lord Filkin and Lord Birt and the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, to whom I give thanks not only for his support on this occasion, but for the research, dedication, hard work and commitment that he has demonstrated on this issue for so many years. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Adebowale and Lord Laming, the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson—to the extent that she welcomed the changes we have made—and my noble friends Lord Rosser, Lady Massey of Darwen and Lord Corbett of Castle Vale. It is right to acknowledge, too, that there was even an assent to the aspirations behind the Bill by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who declared himself torn in relation to it.
We have agreement that we need to do better in relation to reducing reoffending. The challenge remains as to how to achieve that. There are those who, a bit like St Augustine, say, “I want change, but not now”. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who has much greater experience than I have, that I have not yet found the moment when it is ideal to make the changes that we aspire to make. It is never felicitous. Therefore, one has to consider whether we should postpone this yet again. I heard the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, suggested that we were rushing the legislation. I remind her that the rush has been 18 months long, and therefore, like an elephant, our gestation period before delivery has been not inconsiderable, but that period has been well used.
The Government have listened very carefully because we understand the purpose and intent of all the concerns that have been justifiably raised. We do not think that all is perfect and rosy in the garden. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester that it is not easy to bring about this change. Charitable purposes are there to be used for good reason, which is a challenge. Anyone who thinks that it is not is deluding himself.
We need to contextualise some of the comments that have been made, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, may not have heard me. She referred to the increase in reoffending, but I made it absolutely plain that there had been a reduction in reoffending and that we had met the 5 per cent target and were 6.9 per cent further forward than in 1997.
My Lords, I was being as kind to the Government as I could be in citing statistics, because we could play them all night. The Minister’s noble friend Lord Filkin made a point and she put the best gloss on it. I looked at the research, which showed that the Government tried to tick off their own boxes on the targets they met. We agree that under this Government, reoffending grew alarmingly at the beginning, which in some respects is being addressed. However, a lot more needs to be done, but not by this Bill.
My Lords, I can see that we shall have an interesting debate. A number of people have agreed that offending has gone down—we mentioned 35 per cent, but we can debate those issues. As we proceed, we can debate with great joy the fact that crime has gone down.
I shall set some of the background in context, because it has been suggested that huge amounts of money have been expended and, by implication, wasted. The National Offender Management Service has been set up from within existing resources. It employs 69,500 front-line members of staff, including the Prison Service, against 2,500 back-office staff. There is a commitment to reduce the back-office staff to just under 1,800 by the end of March 2008, and a further commitment to halve the NOMS HQ, excluding the Prison Service, to 600 by 2010. NOMS spends 95 per cent of its budget on the front line.
To contextualise that spend, I should say that we now have 20,000 more prison places than in 1997 and are committed to building another 10,000, as your Lordships know. We have had no category A escapes since 1997. The rate of drug taking in prison has been cut by 64 per cent in the past 10 years, from 24.2 per cent in 1996-97 to 8.8 per cent so far this year. I commend the work of my noble friend Lady Massey and those who have worked so hard with her on that. It has been a dramatic and important achievement. In 2005-06, over 50,000 offenders completed 6.5 million hours of unpaid work, worth £32 million to the taxpayer.
It is easy to forget that, although we have had a challenging time, there has been a massive change, predicated upon joint working. Anything which has succeeded has done so through people working together. I very much bear in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about end-to-end management not being middle-to-end. That is why one cannot just look at the work undertaken by the Probation Service within the context of the National Offender Management Service. One must look more broadly at what we have done with the reducing reoffending plans in every area, the work I am undertaking as chair of the Inter-Ministerial Group on Reducing Reoffending, the work in health and education, and the work that Phil Hope and I are doing on learning skills and improving and addressing the gap. I absolutely agree that it must be end-to-end, but not all of that will be done by this Bill. The Bill embodies and articulates the changes we must make to this part of the system to enable that process to be completed.
Understandably, there were some causes for anxiety. The right reverend Prelate suggested that only a few offenders had experienced end-to-end offender management. Offender management is being implemented in phases; phases 1 and 2 are already under way. Phase 1 began in 2005-06, with offenders supervised in the community, covering over 170,000. Phase 2 began in November 2006, with determinate sentence prisoners serving 12 months or more and assessed as high or very high risk. When phase 2 is fully implemented, it will cover some 11,000 offenders.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, wanted me to confirm a number of statements about requirements. I confirm that we will require trusts to report to local communities on the services they provide. I also confirm that commissioners will be required to consult widely in their commissioning plans, and trusts will be a key part of that process. The noble Baroness also referred to the Children Act. This is one of a number of consequential amendments to other pieces of legislation which we will bring forward to ensure that the existing responsibilities of probation boards in relation to other agencies and partnerships are properly fulfilled under the new arrangements. That takes up the concluding theme of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, who essentially said that none of this will undermine the commitments we have made on other things, or disrupt the wonderful work of the children’s trusts. I assure the House that every endeavour will be made to ensure that that does not happen.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for distributing her letter, which many of us have not yet seen. I welcome the comment that,
“our proposals create greater local accountability than is provided by the current arrangements”.
She has just said that trusts will work closely with local authorities. Is it clear that trusts will therefore all have clear local geographical bases or will some of the trusts have other functional responsibilities, as in the National Health Service? It is not at all clear in the Bill.
My Lords, I understand why the noble Lord has anxieties about that. The transition from probation boards to probation trusts will be phased, probably over a three-year period. We are working to achieve the first trusts from April 2008. The number of trusts will be driven by the numbers who meet the objective criteria on which we are consulting. We anticipate that only a small number will make the transition from boards to trusts in the first phase, so the regional arrangements would remain the same. We do not anticipate that there will be a large reduction in the number of trusts compared with the number of boards because we will do it in this staged way.
We are taking a very cautious approach—
My Lords, the noble Lord will know that in the local criminal justice boards and in the way that we structured the Crown Prosecution Service and the other services, we made a commitment that they have a mirror. He will remember that when we were discussing the rearrangement of the police areas we wanted to maintain coterminosity as far as possible. I assure him that we have not resiled from the belief that coterminosity would be the best possible way forward.
We have set the criteria for the trusts, but we anticipate that this will have to be a gradual process and that very few boards will be ready to transfer to trust status in 2008. This gradual process will give us an opportunity to have the measured response that was spoken about by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles. Probation commissioners and the National Offender Management System will learn from the first transition experience. All boards will have the opportunity to demonstrate that they meet the criteria, and we will assist those who do not meet them to improve.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the Scottish system. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, was first. The Scottish system is subject to wholly different pressures from those in England and Wales. The model to reduce reoffending in Scotland will be based on a new local government body, the community justice authority. That model is not transferable to England and Wales without radical changes to our central and local criminal justice structures. It would not introduce the system of commissioning and contestability that we see as key to driving up performance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, mentioned that regional offender managers would replace probation boards. They will not. Regional offender managers will act as strategic commissioners of services and allow providers much greater flexibility to determine how they deliver services than is possible under the current, centrally managed system. Probation trusts will replace boards as the public sector provider. Trusts will act as lead providers at local level, subcontract services to other local providers and work closely with local authorities.
A number of noble Lords, particularly my noble friends Lady Gibson and Lord Corbett, raised the issue of training. We expect every organisation employing staff working with offenders to invest in skills and professional development for their staff. We will ensure that all providers awarded contracts have sufficient trained staff for the services they are delivering. We will do so by means of an assurance and accreditation process appropriate to the type of service and contract value. As such, we need a sufficient number of trained staff to deliver services, whichever provider is awarded the contract.
Therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, made powerfully clear, any agency which employs or seeks to perform this task must have appropriately professionally trained individuals. I absolutely agree with him; this is not “either/or”—it is “and/and”. We need to garner as much support from all the different sectors to enable us to deliver the change needed. It is a false dichotomy to face it in a different way. There was almost a clash of the Titans in terms of ideology between the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, and my noble friend Lord Filkin. That is not how we see this. This is about what works and delivering change that makes a difference.
One of the wonders of this Bill is that I have about 10,000 things that I would like to say to your Lordships, and in great detail I am afraid. There are so many important issues that we will have to debate. There is the whole issue about how we make local accountability happen and make it real. What about the difficulties that have arisen in relation to young offenders? I made it clear in my opening speech how we propose to deal with that. There is the review. We have an opportunity. We understand what people are saying and we have said that those issues can be debated in that context after the review comes about. We have listened very carefully, and I hope that noble Lords will think that that is a sensible way forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, and others say, “Well, we can go back to the situation we were in and that would be a consummation devoutly to be wished”. It may be, but it is not possible.
My Lords, with the greatest respect, I was not saying that we should simply go back to where we were and all would be well; I was trying to draw the parallel that we had a very good model in which the probation officer led, as it were, a consortium of others. That could be developed to advantage. The model I envisaged would be of a probation officer leading, managing or supervising a team of volunteers, the private sector and charities. That team would take much of the pressure at the lower level of criminality, leaving the probation officer, first, to supervise that team and, secondly, to concentrate on the more serious cases which deserve his personal attention.
My Lords, that model can absolutely be delivered within the Bill, not least because, as my noble friend Lord Rosser made clear, we reasonably anticipate that the lead agency in these cases will be the public sector. That appears to be most likely. Therefore, the lead agency may very well be the trust—the public sector—which will be leading a partnership arrangement between private and voluntary sector agencies, working together in partnership to deliver change. If that is the noble Lord’s vision, I say to him how warmly I welcome it and reassure him that it is, contrary to his concern, totally deliverable within the context and framework we have created. I therefore add his name, having misunderstood him, to those who have affirmed that this is the way forward.
There is much work for us to do, but I feel that the fundamental structure is here. We have an opportunity to make considerable progress. I hope that we will. It would be an absolute tragedy if we let this opportunity pass us by. That is why local government organisations, the LGA, the CBI and many third-sector groups—those that are truly committed to change and innovation—all support the Bill. By commending what has been done and consolidating the brave efforts of the Probation Service but taking us the next step forward, the Bill will, I am sure, be the correct vehicle on which we can all travel—safely, I hope. This is not a dream, but I reassure the House that I, for one, want all my dreams to come true.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.