House again in Committee on Clause 1.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out paragraphs (a) to (f) and insert—
“(a) the reduction of crime through working in partnership with appropriate public, private and voluntary sector organisations at local level;(b) courts to be given assistance in determining the appropriate sentences to pass, and making other decisions, in respect of persons charged with or convicted of offences; (c) authorised persons to be given assistance in determining whether conditional cautions should be given and which conditions to attach to conditional cautions;(d) the supervision and rehabilitation of persons charged with or convicted of offences, including those released from prison; (e) the supervision and rehabilitation of persons to whom conditional cautions are given;(f) measures to ensure compliance with court orders;(g) measures to ensure offenders’ awareness of the effect of crime on victims, both generally and in relation to their specific offence; and(h) the giving of information and advice to victims of persons charged with or convicted of offences.”
The noble Lord said: My amendment may initially look exactly like the content of the main part of Clause 1(1), “Meaning of ‘the probation purposes’”. In fact, I deliberately selected the order of the paragraphs I put down here. They link to, and follow on directly from, Amendments Nos. 3 and 9, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, which we have just debated. With this amendment I am seeking to spell out rather more of the methods, having had the purposes explained in the amendment the noble Lord hoped would be accepted.
Like everything else, you need to set out clearly the purposes of everything from which the methods flow. That clarity is needed above all when you are in an operational service such as the Probation Service, which has an operational responsibility for the management of the offenders who are put into its charge. At the same time you must describe the arrangements for people, so that they know where they come from. It is true that while we all instinctively support the idea of end-to-end management, whatever that means—in other words, there should be consistent oversight—we also support, and by “we” I include all the probation people with whom I have spoken, the fact that what needs to be delivered cannot be delivered by any one organisation alone; it needs the partnership of all available in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Indeed, partnership with the voluntary sector has been at the heart of the Probation Service since well before the 1997 Act, quite apart from what has happened since. I find it slightly ironic to learn that the Probation Service was actually commissioning more voluntary sector work before the Government made their changes than it is able to now. One of the problems, those in the service tell me, is the extreme financial pressure they are under; indeed, the financial officer of the London Probation Service described the problems of trying to manage his budget as trying to land a jumbo jet on a postage stamp—they are of that degree of magnitude.
As my noble friend Lady Howarth said, we have to make certain that the authority of those people dealing with offenders is understood and absolute. This is about the management of offenders, and we must look after the people who do that. Therefore, I am slightly concerned that the tenor of the Bill, as reflected in what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, is about commissioning and contracting, not about people. I submit that the first and most immediate thing to be put right when you are dealing with people is the people who will work with them. You have to have the right numbers; they have to be trained, directed and resourced. If that does not happen, the amount of commissioning and how it is done does not matter a damn.
As we are talking about people and we look at how the Probation Service works, as my noble friend Lady Stern said so movingly, it is all about relationships between probation staff and others. Therefore, the methods by which you achieve the purposes must make certain that those probation officers are put in front of the people they have to look after, ready and able to do the work that is required.
I spent all my working life, before leaving the Army, in an organisational service where we were accustomed to a hierarchical system. Everyone knew that they were responsible and accountable to someone, from the lowest rifleman right up to the Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the Army who, in turn, went straight to Ministers. As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, the Probation Service, which needs exactly the same responsibility and accountability chain, is to be bereft of its professional head, who is no longer to be the link between the service and the Minister. That is a retrograde step, to be avoided at all costs. Having a person who is both the professional head of the Probation Service and the adviser to the Minister sitting in the Ministry of Justice is a means of entry into the delivery of probation everywhere which is simple, clear and well understood.
I admit that in my amendment, paragraph (b) is exactly the same as subsection (1)(a) in the Bill; my paragraph (c) is exactly the same as subsection (1)(b); my paragraph (d) is the same as the Bill’s subsection (1)(c), but strengthened, as I shall explain; my paragraph (e) is the same as subsection (1)(e); and my paragraph (h) is the same as subsection (1)(f). I set them out like that because I suggest that that is a more reasonable and understandable interpretation of the purposes and order of priority. Very deliberately I put first what I think ought to be the purpose, which is,
“working in partnership with appropriate public, private and voluntary sector organisations at local level”.
That is at the heart of what must be done—empowering local probation services to go to whoever will provide the work appropriately. If that provision is included in the clause, a great deal of the rest of the Bill becomes unnecessary, because you have laid down that the partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors is at the heart of how the services are delivered. There is no argument about it. All you need then do is make certain that the probation hierarchy, which is responsible for leading that partnership, has the resources with which to contract whoever it has to do whatever has to be done.
If it is proposed that some contracting will be national, some regional and some local, it is essential that the person responsible overall for the delivery of probation lays down guidelines about which contracts will be national, which regional and which local. I have seen no regulatory impact assessment—that may be the wrong term—of whether the private and voluntary sectors are able to deliver the sort of probation services that appear to be expected from them but of which there is no description. We do not know, and I wonder whether that work has been done. While everyone has aspirations, it is no good announcing them as policy unless you are certain that they can be delivered.
Deliberately I have put the courts in the second paragraph because it explains that the relationship between the courts, probation and the police is absolutely fundamental. Assistance with conditional cautions must remain, but in paragraph (d), after,
“the supervision and rehabilitation of persons charged with or convicted of offences”,
I have added the phrase,
“including those released from prison”.
That is because they form a large part of probation responsibility, and that provision is not included in the current Clause 1. In paragraph (f) I have added,
“measures to ensure compliance with court orders”,
which links in closely with our discussion about punishment in the earlier amendment, because it ensures compliance with orders of the court, which is what we are really talking about. It could be that it could go somewhere else, but it is absolutely essential to include a provision ensuring compliance in order to express the purpose of what has to be done with people.
Paragraph (g), which refers to
“measures to ensure offenders’ awareness of the effect of crime”,
again links in with what has been discussed already. However, it is terribly important to include it here for the simple reason that it is the direct connection with all the work being talked about under the principle of restorative justice. Many claims are made for restorative justice, but only if it is actually put down as one of the methods to be encouraged will people take it more seriously than is currently the case. Finally, paragraph (h) provides for,
“the giving of information and advice to victims”.
What I have suggested in this amendment should be considered by the Ministry of Justice, on whose behalf the noble Baroness is conducting this Committee stage. It is clear that she cannot give verdicts on what might or might not happen and obviously has to report back to the Minister now responsible for taking the Bill through. I would ask that what I have said should be considered carefully. If the idea of partnership is accepted right at the start of the Bill, it would make some of the rest of it not quite so necessary. I beg to move.
I should like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his contribution to the earlier amendment. Amendment No. 5 is an extension of much of what he said. In my interpretation of the amendment, it would make four key additions to the purpose of probation as presently set out in Clause 1(1). The first additional purpose appears in paragraph (a):
“the reduction of crime through working in partnership with appropriate public, private and voluntary sector organisations at local level”.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke at some length about the role of these organisations.
My main concern is the omission of any reference in the present Clause 1(1) to the reduction of crime. That is astonishing. Perhaps the Minister can explain why it has been missed out. The role of the Probation Service since its beginnings a century ago has always been to reduce crime by steering offenders towards a better way of life. It is this mission which motivates people to join the service, so to omit all mention of it is to reduce the purpose of probation to a mechanistic set of functions rather than a set of purposes which reflect an overall moral purpose.
The second part of paragraph (a) refers to appropriate organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors at the local level. This recognises that it will be impossible for the service to achieve the aim of reducing crime on its own. Indeed, this is something I have often spoken about, and the amendment backs it up. For offenders to be rehabilitated effectively, the service must liaise with education and housing providers, employers, training providers, drug and alcohol agencies, mental health services, victim support organisations, and groups which offer support to offenders’ families. In addition, faith organisations and representatives from black and minority ethnic communities have a vital role to play in the support and rehabilitation of those being supervised by the Probation Service. In the United States, I was impressed with the work carried out by African-American citizens on the rehabilitation of those from their community. They may well be an example of what the Probation Service needs to do as regards liaison with some of these groups.
The amendment’s second addition to probation purposes is the reference to the supervision and rehabilitation of those released from prison in paragraph (d). Supervising and rehabilitating released prisoners is a crucial part of the Probation Service’s mission and should be recognised in any legislative statement of the purposes of probation. I believe that it should be in the Bill.
It is estimated that around 1 million offences are committed every year by released prisoners, which represents about a fifth of recorded crime. If you could reduce crime committed by released prisoners, it could make a substantial contribution to reducing overall rates of crime. The Probation Service’s work of supervision and rehabilitation is vital in this process and should be clearly recognised in any statement of the purposes of probation.
The third addition is the reference in paragraph (f) of the amendment to measures to ensure compliance with court orders. The whole purpose of supervision by the Probation Service is to ensure that orders are successfully completed. This means setting clear expectations of offenders, providing them with the support necessary to build up and sustain their motivation and helping them to deal with the multiple problems which have led them into criminal activity. If offenders persistently fail to comply with court orders, the service has a duty to take them back to court. The service’s record in promptly initiating breach proceedings has greatly improved in recent years. However, it is preferable for a probation officer to motivate offenders to comply with court orders rather than end up having to take them back to court for non-compliance. This positive evidence should be reflected in setting out the purposes of probation in statute.
Paragraph (g) of the amendment refers to,
“measures to ensure offenders’ awareness of the effect of crime on victims, both generally and in relation to their specific offence”.
Building up empathy with victims is a vital part of focused work to change offenders’ attitudes to crime. All too often offenders dissociate themselves from the impact of their action on their victims. If they think about this at all, they often try to downplay its seriousness. The experience of restorative justice programmes shows that enabling offenders to see the devastating impact which their crimes have on victims can have a salutary effect on their attitudes, which in many cases can produce a genuine and lasting change. This should be seen as a central part of the purposes of the Probation Service.
In summary, the changes which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would make to Clause 1(1) would produce a much better balanced statement of the purposes of probation. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment or agree that the Government will table their own amendment along similar lines at a later stage.
I am sure that the Minister will look at this list carefully. I wish to make one or two comments about the list and say something about lists generally. My worry is that if I were part of a group of professionals in this area, they would think of half a dozen other things or come up with a different wording. My great worry is that a list becomes a job description. I should like to see a probation service that is released from many of these shackles and able to start developing different services to help offenders. Indeed, many of the very pertinent points that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made about bureaucracy might not be helped by other measuring provisions in lists.
I particularly want to mention paragraph (a) because its wording would do two things. First, it talks about “working in partnership”. No one can criticise that, unless it excludes the whole concept of commissioning. We need to look at commissioning carefully. Secondly, the amendment mentions organisations “at local level”. I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the Faithfull Foundation. We have had extraordinary difficulties commissioning a vital service to deal with sex offenders because the funding was all at local level. Where there is more central funding, some of those more essential services might be commissioned in a different way. Is that behind some of the thinking?
I apologise for having been delayed and not hearing the first three minutes of the exposition of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. There are two concerns on which I would appreciate a response from the Minister. First, the businesses that I have spoken to are very keen to work with governors in prisons rather than remotely through a third party. They are taking a risk in taking on ex-offenders, so they need to develop a relationship of trust with the governor who is responsible for that prisoner. A comment on that would be very welcome.
Secondly, I am not sure that I quite understood the position being proposed, but I notice that, to a degree throughout the Anglo-Saxon world, there is a rather fragmented approach to services for vulnerable people. For instance, in children’s homes in the United States, one sees examples both of shining good practice and of appalling provision. I think that that is true in Australia too. It is all rather piecemeal. Having visited children’s homes and private providers in this country, I know that some produce fairly good training packages of their own. Some recognise that they need to attract good people to the work in children’s homes because of the challenging children that they have to work with, so they develop a course at a university so that there is a career progression for their staff to work towards a degree in therapeutic childcare. Each of those organisations is reinventing the wheel for themselves. There is no sense of being joined up, which is something that the state might have provided as a framework in this area. In Germany and Denmark, the state has a role providing that sort of professional framework for the people working in those situations. I was alarmed by what my noble friend said about the danger of fragmentation of provision and the lack of clarity about what is required.
I want to make one point and to seek clarification from the Minister. I said in supporting Amendment No. 1 that a probation service is an essential part of the criminal justice system and is one of the feet on which it stands. On the one side, there is the Prison Service, which is powerful, resonates with the public, sucks in a lot of money, is always in the front of the news and is a preoccupation for those who are responsible. On the other side, there is a community-based service that emphasises rehabilitation, gets less coverage and is easier to take the money from when there is a crisis. Those are two sides of the sanction system, and ideally there should be some balance between them in the strength of their voices and in the way in which they are regarded by Ministers. Some might argue—I will not do so tonight—that we have the balance wrong.
I wonder whether the Minister agrees that the community-based rehabilitation service that the Probation Service is has a much wider function than supervising individuals. I am a little concerned about what she said earlier, and I am sure that she will put me right. Does she agree that it has functions in relation to the courts and to public confidence and a role in looking for volunteers, getting the public involved and being seen out in neighbourhoods and the streets? Does she agree that it should be well represented in the poorest communities and should play a part in trying to build social cohesion there, and that it should be in prisons carrying out a resettlement and welfare role? Those are the implications of the amendment. I would like to understand a little better where the Minister is coming from in her view on this. Is the intention of the Bill to turn the Probation Service into an “offender management service”, as she said earlier, in which individuals are allocated someone who will work with them from one point in their lives to a later point? That would be a fundamental change in the Probation Service as we have known it. Or does the Minister see the wider role of the Probation Service as more along the lines of the amendment?
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, because he has taken forward our debate on the issue of “purposes” in Clause 1. We have tabled a further amendment to Clause 1(1), but Amendment No. 5 very effectively rounds off the debate on the principles underlying the purposes. He has put the list in a different order of priority; I am not trying to apportion priority, so that will remain a difference of view.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that there is a danger of fallibility in lists, because something else could always be added to them. That is why Governments are always reluctant to accept lists when Oppositions try to put them in. Here, the Government are trying to be helpful by including a list, and have found themselves on the receiving end of all of us saying, “Yes, but what if?”, and, “Could we not put this in?”. Noble Lords have been helpful on this amendment, because the Minister will wish to take this away and perhaps look more carefully at how this list may be drafted and what is included.
I share the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that paragraph (a) in Amendment No. 5 may aim, intentionally or unintentionally, to exclude contestability from the working of the Bill. I shall keep my powder dry on partnership versus contestability, because I had intended to argue my case on Amendment No. 15, in relation to “Duty to co-operate”, and it would be wrong to repeat myself. I will try to hold back tonight. I have made it clear that I am in favour of trying to give contestability a go.
I may diverge from the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, in that I much prefer local control. It is a question of how we achieve that while retaining back-stop powers for the Secretary of State. I will listen to her arguments about the difficulties of commissioning and whether it is a small or large organisation. We will look at the various aspects of that.
Paragraph (a), while meaning well in trying to address the reduction of crime as a priority, perhaps carries within it, in its reference to “working in partnership”, something with which I could not go along. We will deal with that in detail later. By including “the reduction of crime” in the list, does the noble Lord intend the probation purposes to cover those who have not yet committed any offence? That is the implication, and it may be a drafting matter. I do not think that he means that the purposes of the providers of probation services should include those who have not yet committed a crime. There may need to be befriending or mentoring from resources—perhaps at schools or in other ways—but not necessarily through probation.
I was interested to see the inclusion in paragraph (d) of the words,
“including those released from prison”,
so that the provision now says:
“the supervision and rehabilitation of persons charged with or convicted of offences, including those released from prison”.
I seek an assurance from the Minister that these people are already included by definition in paragraph (c). If so, I would not support the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his extension of paragraph (c). This is an important amendment which rounds off a day’s debate on the principles that underlie the Bill. After this, the dam will break and we will be able to move forward rapidly on more concentrated issues.
I wish to make two brief points on the amendment. The first relates to paragraph (d) on supervision and rehabilitation. In the debate before the dinner break, we learnt that the Government are putting in place a very effective system for end-to-end management but that the introduction of mentoring—some sort of relationship involving advice, help or support—is probably some way off in the future. It is worth distinguishing between the two.
My second point concerns a matter raised made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I love the reference to “the reduction of crime” because it would of course include a reduction in the causes of crime. I am concerned that the Bill is entirely predicated on the prevention of reoffending when, in fact, the best way to prevent reoffending may be to prevent offending in the first place.
I support the amendment and agree entirely with what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has just said. I understand the thinking behind what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is trying to do in reordering the paragraphs, as there may be a more logical sequence to the list, but I also hear very clearly what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, says. It is not so much a question of whether the list is inclusive or exclusive; the point is that it may become a straitjacket and a kind of job description. That is the risk you always run when you try to tease out all the crucial elements which you do not want to miss. I do not know whether there is a straightforward answer to that, but the issue is fraught with that kind of hazard.
It is absolutely right that the probation purposes should emphasise partnership working, with whomever it may be, and that that should, wherever possible, take place at a local level, because that is where the offender lives. If the pillars of a roof, a relationship and a job, which can be the structure around the work, are met, then there is a context and a more realistic chance of a successful outcome.
The amendment proposes a mixture of some new probation purposes and some which are, as we have already discussed, in the Bill. Paragraph (d) is significant because it introduces the element to which I referred earlier and which is palpably absent from the Bill—the place of prison in offender management and, in particular, the role of the Probation Service when offenders are released. Not including prison in the plans for resettlement makes a nonsense of the notion of end-to-end management. Therefore, we welcome that addition as being essential in the planning of supervision and rehabilitation purposes.
Paragraph (f) in the amendment is also new. It is helpful in that it highlights the issue of compliance with court orders and clearly reflects our earlier discussion on the role of probation vis-à-vis the court. Probation’s task is to use all the available skills and professional expertise to carry out the orders of the court and ensure compliance and then to return to court if they are not adhered to. Achieving compliance is the one measure of success in probation work and it should be clearly stated as an objective.
The core value of a belief in the ability of people to change is inherent in the aims of probation. Therefore, it is right that the aims are restated in this logical way.
Finally, the inclusion of offenders’ awareness of crime brings in, for the first time, the possibility of restorative justice being more embedded, expanded and developed within the context of offender management.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Northbourne, who mentioned the important matter of mentoring. I should like to ask the Minister how many Probation Service volunteers there now are in England and Wales and whether she foresees their number increasing under the Bill and under the new dispensation. It is a very valuable resource; it should not be lost but should be improved on.
It would be helpful to hear in more detail from the Minister how the end-to-end offender management will work. My noble friend Lord Northbourne reminded us of a little bit of what we have learnt, which spurred me to think about the relationship between prison officers and the offender managers—normally probation officers. I have noticed in other circumstances where there is a need for close partnership—for instance between children’s homes and schools, children’s home staff and schools, or children’s home staff and social workers—that when there is a great disparity in the professional development and qualifications between the two partners, it is much more difficult to work together. Staff in children’s homes say, “Teachers don’t respect us”, and teachers say, “Children’s home staff don’t know anything. We can’t deal with them”. There is a danger of mutual recrimination unless there is a fair degree of parity of professionalism between the two.
Has the Minister’s department considered whether further development of prison officers might be in order to take them closer to the degree-level qualification of probation officers? I understand that there has been some progress in such development of prison officers recently and it would be interesting to hear more of that if the Minister has time.
I have found the discussion around this amendment and clauses extremely useful and I take the point about lists to which others have referred. Equally, we are all waiting to hear the Minister’s reasons for accepting or not accepting an extension of the list. Above all, I, too, emphasise the point made by my noble friend Lord Northbourne about the ability—perhaps we are now somewhere near it—to prevent offences. We need to concentrate on that much more as a group at local level among all the social services as well as the voluntary sector. I very much look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
We have had a very interesting debate. As we have seen already from our discussion, Clause 1 sets out the various purposes that govern the probation services that are to be provided under the rest of Part 1 of the Bill. I remind the Committee that they are essentially the same as the current ones, set out in Section 1 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. The way in which they are interpreted is very well understood. They have been used for the past seven years.
We have before us a range of suggestions on how the list might be improved. Of course, I am sympathetic to many of the points made. However, I do not consider any of the activities that have been mentioned not to be the proper business of the Probation Service. They are all things that the service can do. Our debate reminded us, if such reminding were needed, of the wide range of activities in which the Probation Service is engaged throughout the criminal justice process. The question is whether additional explicit provision on the face of the Bill is required, or whether these activities are adequately covered by what is already there. All the things alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, are already part of the framework of what the Probation Service does.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, that by explaining how offender management will work I do not seek in any way to diminish the other important parts of probation work. I think that the noble Baroness neglected to mention another group of people with whom it is extremely important for the Probation Service to work: the victims. It works not just with offenders but with victims. That part of its work should continue. When considering what we need to do to reduce offending and reoffending, which is the focus and the part which the Probation Service plays, we must ensure that it properly concentrates on those issues. I remind the Committee that the Probation Service is a partner in the local strategic partnerships. It will play a part in the crime and disorder reduction partnerships. It plays a part in the local criminal justice boards, which some chief probation officers chair. It has gone right to the centre of the criminal justice system. In the past, it was often seen as a bit of a Cinderella on the edges. Now the Probation Service sometimes drives change and welds the criminal justice system together, an important cultural shift that has rightly happened in the past few years.
I remind the Committee that the role of offender management gives the managers a more important role. They will be working very much on a par with their Prison Service colleagues, and they will be very much in control of the direction of the care of that offender, notwithstanding that the offender will perhaps be housed in the prison system for a significant time. All significant sentences will be served partly in the community and partly in prison, and the nexus between the two is absolutely critical in getting the sort of improvements we need.
I thank the noble Baroness for what she has just said, which is what I thought she would say. I was hoping to hear it, so I am very happy. However, does she accept that, for those people who have not heard about it, calling a bit of the Ministry of Justice the National Offender Management Service is extremely confusing? What she has just said describes a set of activities that could in no way be called a national offender management service but are, rather, the activities of a probation service, described in a way that I heartily endorse.
I thank the noble Baroness, but I must remind her that the Probation Service is only one part of the National Offender Management Service. The other part deals with prisons, and the conjoining of those two services is important. If we are to have a seamless provision, end to end, we must encapsulate both services.
When the Probation Service advises the court—which it will still do under the Bill—it is important that it gives the court advice as to what the sentence plan should be. Can the offender be safely managed in the community? Under the 2003 criteria, can they be properly punished and rehabilitated? Can proper reparation be made in the community in a way that is meaningful for the victim and the offender? Or is it a case in which, because of the nature, history and pattern of behaviour of the offender, the court must take the view that imprisonment is the only appropriate sanction, confident that a period of time will be spent in prison and a period of time in the community?
When the probation officer makes that report, he or she must advise the court how the community part will be managed. Is there a necessity for an educational part, because there must be a skills assessment? Is there a health issue with drugs, or other matters that must be dealt with? When that person comes out, what about accommodation? All those matters must be considered in a sentence plan, which must be put before the court in the sentencing advice that it will be given. If the court must sentence in accordance with the principles laid down in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, all those factors must be taken into account. It is appropriate that the National Offender Management Service should be so described because it conjoins probation and imprisonment and accepts the reality that the offender faces: he or she will spend part of their time in prison and part in the community.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that it is difficult to provide a list that seeks to delineate every single dot and tittle with which the person will have to comply. If we do that, I fear that we will make a rod for the back of the service and stifle innovation. As noble Lords have said, such a list would become the job description and we would incarcerate the service’s innovation in a way that none of us would like.
I do not think that it is. We must look at our experience since 2000. That is why I highlight the fact that we have preserved in the Bill the criteria expressed then. We know from experience how that has been interpreted, and we are all content with how it has operated. It has not impeded the development of services or activities; indeed, many have praised how it is dealt with. We can therefore have a certain degree of confidence that it will not be misunderstood.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about how prison governors would work, the relationship with trusts and whether there would be a fragmented approach. It is critical that we do not have a fragmented approach. If I can take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, we must commission according to need. The whole point is to assess what offenders and victims—we must remember that it is not just offenders—need in an area and to commission appropriately. It is likely that the majority of services will be commissioned by local trusts because they will be the most knowledgeable about the needs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to other services that may be more efficaciously commissioned on a regional basis. That applies to certain specialist services. To take the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, of services for sex offenders, we are fortunate not to have such a body of sexual offending in every area that each needs a specialist service. We therefore need to collocate relevant services on a regional basis to provide as efficaciously as possible easy access for those who need it. It makes sense to commission such services more regionally.
Other services, because of their specific nature, may have to be commissioned nationally. However, the local flavour is critical. We expect that the majority of commissioning will be done locally. A commissioner will contract with the local trust, which will then co-partner. I do not think that commissioning and partnership are contradictory terms because we intend commissioning to focus on need, and we know from our analysis that, if you follow need, it leads you to work in partnership with public, not-for-profit and private bodies. That configuration delivers the appropriate service to match needs. It is already being looked at in the best areas.
As this is likely to be our last general exposition, I wish to give examples of regional contracts. In the east of England, a commissioning pathfinder was established in 2006 with Serco, Turning Point and Rainer to reduce reoffending by increasing the take-up of sustainable employment by offenders. Initially, the projects focused on Luton, Southend and Bury St Edmunds, where key workers were given individualised support to motivate, mentor and prepare offenders for work. Key workers engage with employers to boost confidence in offering work to offenders. The project runs until 2009 and aims to place 460 additional offenders into employment each year. That is an example of services coming together to meet identified needs.
The point about volunteers made by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is absolutely right. Volunteers working as mentors can have a fundamental impact on offenders. They can walk with the offender at a time when the public service and the not-for-profit service may not be available so to do. We want to enhance that work. Part of it will be driven through the work we are doing on the alliances, but also through the work we are doing through the reducing reoffending boards. We absolutely understand that it is not just the public services that must do this work; we have to brigade communities generally and help better to inform them so that they can help us better to address some of these problems and bring about the change. There is an opportunity for us to do that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, talked about the prevention of offences. We will be working in partnership with other government departments, including the Home Office. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is right that the Home Office remains responsible for crime reduction, crime prevention and the crime strategy. The Home Office will continue its work with CDRPs, local strategic partnerships, schools, health authorities and all the others to prevent crime. The Home Office will be working very closely indeed with the Ministry of Justice.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that when I stand at this Dispatch Box, I speak on behalf of the whole Government, not one department. Therefore, I can assure him that these issues will be raised. They have been raised; the Ministry of Justice has looked at these issues, and we will look at them again. They are very important.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, proposes a number of additions. The most significant is perhaps the reduction of crime through working in partnership with appropriate public, private and voluntary sector organisations at a local level. As I hope I have made clear, this is an important part of probation activity. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires probation boards to co-operate with local authorities, the police and others on the formulation and implementation of strategies for the reduction of crime and disorder. Those responsibilities will be carried forward into the new world. We will ensure that providers of probation services continue to contribute to the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, as boards do now. In addition, Clause 3(3)(a) makes express provision for contractual arrangements with providers of probation services to require them to co-operate with other providers of probation services or persons who are concerned with the prevention or reduction of crime. One of the key drivers of our proposed reforms is a desire to see much more partnership working than we do now.
It is precisely because we think that probation boards are currently trying to do too much themselves and are making insufficient use of the resources of providers and other sectors that we want the powers in the Bill. We want to use the commissioning powers to encourage trusts to subcontract services to other providers locally so that the public sector Probation Service can concentrate on its strengths. I strongly suspect that the outcome that I envisage is remarkably similar to that which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has in mind. Where I think we may differ is that I believe that we need more than an amendment to the probation purposes to achieve that. We need a change in the current structures. That is what the rest of the Bill delivers.
The noble Lord also proposes an addition to Clause 1(1)(c) to refer to persons released from prison. I am happy to confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that that is already covered by the subsection as it stands. The noble Lord then proposes making specific reference to compliance with court orders. This is an area in which probation performance has improved beyond recognition in recent years. For example, enforcement action is now taken swiftly in over 90 per cent of cases. However, it is an integral part of the supervision of offenders and does not require separate mention. En passant, I should say that what has happened is that, as enforcement has gone up, so has compliance. That is a very important indicator.
The same is true of measures to ensure offenders’ awareness of the effect of crime on victims. Of course that is important, which is why it is mentioned in the aims in the following clause, but it is an integral part of supervision and rehabilitation, not something separate.
I am grateful for the debate that we have had on these matters, which has helped to establish the context for the more detailed discussions that will follow. I agree with the noble Baroness that we will, I hope, be able to deal with them far more quickly, as we have now set the framework and the context for the debate. We could debate the precise wording and emphasis of the different subsections, but the fact remains that the probation purposes in Clause 1 are, as I have indicated, already well established. They have already been the subject of parliamentary debate during the passage of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act, and, with the addition of paragraph (f) on work with victims, they have served us very well indeed. I think that they work well as a foundation for the further provisions that follow. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Before my noble friend does, I thank the noble Baroness for replying to my concern about fragmentation and partnership between businesses and governors. Perhaps I may encourage her to take away and consider, rather than responding now, the relative professional status of probation and prison officers. I add for her consideration that not only in the culture of probation but throughout the whole culture of social care—the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, will be able to discuss this with her if she wishes—good supervision is fundamental. That is individual one-to-one supervision on a regular basis with a senior practitioner of that person working on the front line, to look not only at performance and check that the job that is required is being done, but also at the impact that working with vulnerable, damaged people has on that person at the front line. It is considered indispensable.
When one hears of the experiences of people who end up in custody, of their drug addictions, their learning disabilities and their other disabilities, it seems to me there could be three positives here: first, prison officers have a terribly challenging job to do and one might find them enjoying it more if they had better support; secondly, they would probably do a better job, in terms of engaging young offenders while in custody, if they had that support; and, thirdly, the cultures would be more similar if both prison and probation officers had a similar form of supervision. I am sure we will discuss these points later on, but I would appreciate it if she would take that away and think about it.
I apologise for not dealing with that matter. I will certainly take it away. I say to the noble Earl that we are already working very hard on prison officer training. They are undertaking some of the training courses with probation officers. Those undertaking that training have indicated that they very much enjoy it. We understand this issue. Getting a culture where both services feel conjoined in their efforts is very important, and we will continue to do everything we can to generate that ethos. I will be very happy to take the matter away and give the noble Earl’s issues further consideration.
I am very grateful to the Minister for the way she has answered the question. I am also very grateful to those who have contributed. We have had an extremely useful discussion, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, to wind up the rather wider issues we have been discussing today.
I would like to reassure my noble friends Lady Howarth and Lord Listowel that I did not ignore commissioning, because commissioning is how the partnership will be processed. I was not going to raise that issue in this part, I wanted to make the point that they were working together, and that that was in the method. There are ways that the actual business of commissioning has to be obtained, and I deliberately left that out. On central management and the direction, and fragmentation, which my noble friend Lord Listowel mentioned, that is one of the reasons why I believe there needs to be a central management structure.
One of the weaknesses in the Prison Service, for example, is that there is no way to spread good practice. One of the most important things in spreading good practice is to have a system for doing so. From the chief of the Probation Service down through the director of probation and the chief officers is one way to do that. That is simple, clear and people know from who they will get direction. I am aware of fragmentation and it is to prevent fragmentation that I suggest that that structure should exist. That way, good practice will be spread.
I was very glad that the noble Baroness mentioned the enormous success that some chief probation officers have had in leading local criminal justice boards. That needs emphasising. Indeed, I go further to say that perhaps that should be regarded as the default position. Chief probation officers who have acted in that role to whom I have spoken have spoken warmly of the opportunity that has been given to them and said that their delivery of service has improved as a result of the relationships that have developed as a result of working in that way.
In that connection, I was interested because I thought that, at last, I had had an answer from the noble Baroness about what NOMS was. What she described was a system conjoining two services. I accept that; that is fine by me; I will buy that, because then we know where it stands. But then she called it a service again, so I was back to where I was.
I absolutely accept the need to commission according to need. Of course that is what will be done locally when it is determined what is needed to be done. Of course, as my noble friend Lady Howarth mentioned, certain things must be done nationally and certain things regionally. That is why, in introducing my amendment, I suggested that it was important that what was to be done at national, regional and local level should be laid down. Some things can and some things cannot be left to a lower level.
In the amendment, I describe the general method by which probation would be delivered, which emphasises the local level—I do not discount that. I accept what the Minister said: that much of my amendment is already enshrined in other Acts, but I understood that one of the Government’s purposes in putting the provisions together in this way was to bring them together in the Bill so that people could know their purpose without having to rummage through to find where they were. All that I was doing was lifting things that I felt appropriate to the purposes and putting them all there, acknowledging that they all have another source.
I am much comforted by the fact that the noble Baroness, representing the Government as a whole, said that what we have said will be taken away and considered carefully in the processing of the Bill. In that spirit, I am very happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 6 to 10 not moved.]
11: Clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) the Parole Board and the Secretary of State to be given assistance in making decisions in respect of persons sentenced for offences.”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 25. I fear that we have not quite left the issue of lists—the overarching broader brushstroke, as it were—because my amendment would insert the words:
“the Parole Board and the Secretary of State to be given assistance in making decisions in respect of persons sentenced for offences”,
at the bottom of the list. Although lists have their pros and cons, we are working with a list in the Bill.
We recognise the considerable, indeed central, work of the Probation Service in connection with the release and recall of sentenced prisoners. The Home Secretary recognised in the other place that this part of the role of probation officers is a core task and should be reserved to the Probation Service alone. In general, their skills are deployed in assisting the courts by providing impartial, accurate, reliable, skilled and professional advice when a decision is being taken, whether in the youth courts, the magistrates’ courts or the Crown Court. Where this is pre-sentence advice, it may be written or verbal and, wherever appropriate, will offer alternatives to custody.
The clause refers to assessments of people who have committed offences. These may include assessments of factors that are likely to contribute to the reduction of offending, such as their needs, the risk of harm to others and the risk of reoffending. This is an area where public protection and safety can be an issue, so it is vital that the probation officer is in a position to assess risk and dangerousness. Apart from the Parole Board and the Secretary of State, this may also involve the courts and the Prison Service. This assessment and advice is of course based on professional skills and is inextricably linked with the process of managing offenders. It requires a knowledge and understanding of the individual concerned, continuous assessment of how they are coping with their lives, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. All this stems from the quality of the relationship between the probation officer and the individual.
The management of risk and dangerousness may be involved, and the process of serving a community sentence is organic. For the assistance to the courts to be meaningful, it requires ongoing knowledge of the dynamics of an individual’s life. This cannot be detached and farmed out to some other provider to be the offender manager, as the probation officer would no longer be in a position to discharge his duty to the courts adequately. In turn, this means that offender management is also a core role that should be dedicated to probation. It was decided in the other place that this should be the case, but only for three years. This is wrong and should be amended so that these interlinking roles can be carried out properly.
Each year, the Probation Service starts the supervision of some 175,000 offenders. At any one time, the caseload is more than 200,000. Seventy per cent will be on community sentences, and 30 per cent will be imprisoned with a period of statutory licence. There will be about 246,000 pre-sentence reports, and 20,000 bail and information reports. Advice is given on the early release of prisoners, which is specific to this amendment, in 87,000 cases a year. Finally, there are about 50,000 cases in which victims of serious crimes will have chosen to express their concerns and the impact of the crime on their lives, and it will be included in the report. This is part of the process of working restoratively with victims and their families, and it both benefits the victim and contributes to the offender’s better understanding of the effect of the crime that he has committed. It is important that this highly skilled and very important part of the service provided in probation is recognised and put in the Bill.
The same arguments apply to Amendment No. 25 as they did to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, at the beginning of this debate. We often tread similar ground as we go through these amendments. I hope that I can add usefully to the debate. Amendment No. 25 would insert the words “enforcement of court orders”, which is, of course, what the court expects to do when it has taken its decision on punishment. However, while attempting to ensure compliance as far as possible with the terms of the court order, should that not be possible, the probation officer will be expected to return to court for a revision of the punishment and the order. Beyond giving advice on the circumstances of the offender and as much background information as possible, the probation officer has no part in the court’s decision on the type of punishment. Nor can he add or detract from that decision. This provides the offender with a safeguard, and reassures the public, by depersonalising the concept of punishment at its point of delivery.
There is a parallel in the role of prison staff—this was clearly gone into by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in an earlier discussion—vis-à-vis punishment and the decision of the court. If custody is the punishment, it is the role of staff to enable the prisoner to do his time in such a way as to be more able to lead, as we have heard, “a good and useful life” on release as stated in the prison rules. A person is sent to prison as a punishment but not for punishment. Prison officers are not people who are themselves expected to inflict further punishment on a prisoner. Indeed, if suspected or found to have done so, they would be very likely to find themselves being disciplined. The expectation is that all concerned will be using their skills to make the experience of prison constructive and positive. This is extremely difficult in the current situation, but that remains their role.
There is a perception that community-based penalties involving unpaid work and a whole range of options in a community order mean that somehow the offender is getting off lightly or not being properly punished—“walking free from court”, as we often see in the newspapers. This is the perception of the tabloid press in particular and nothing is further from the truth. Indeed, as all the recent studies and polls show, as I mentioned earlier, the public have no appetite for prison as punishment. The really difficult thing is change. These are huge issues which have to be addressed in the context of a person’s life in the community.
For many probation officers the term “enforcement” is a very strong one, at odds with their rehabilitating role. This is entirely understandable because they stand at the very interface between punishment and rehabilitation. “Enforcement” describes a duty, but the spirit in which it is carried out will be determined by the nature of the relationship with the offender, the skills of the officer and the manner in which this duty is exercised. I beg to move.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for the way in which she has explained her amendment. Not only has she genuinely rounded off the debate on Clause 1 and purposes but she has also added to the concerns that we had earlier about how one can get into difficulties when one tries to draft lists. When I read Amendment No. 11, I had some deep concerns, most of which she has allayed. Obviously the noble Baroness is talking about services to courts and, when she refers particularly to the Secretary of State being given assistance, she is really referring back to the Parole Board, the first part of her amendment, and early release matters.
When I read the new subsection, my immediate concern was whether it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to be given assistance from probation services, for example, on matters such as those relating to people who are subject to extradition proceedings and foreign prisoners and whether they should be sent back overseas. The way in which the amendment is drafted means that the probation purposes will go much broader than I would wish them to go. I wish to see the Home Secretary’s role in making executive decisions retained. But I appreciate now that the noble Baroness means something rather different and that she is referring only to early release matters. I certainly sympathise with that and I hope the Minister will tell us that matters such as what happens to someone on early release are already covered by the list we have before us.
I shall not stray into speaking to Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 because I have said everything I can on them.
I am extremely glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has proposed the words in the amendment because, as she so rightly says, this takes one step further our earlier discussion on punishment. Certainly the terms she has used should be considered to describe that particular part of the aims which, at the moment, we think is inappropriately done. The way she has described will be hugely helpful to my thinking on what I bring back on Report.
As a previous member of the Parole Board, I no longer have to declare an interest. However, I support the amendment because it makes very clear how important it is that the Probation Service and probation officers retain the role. If this is accepted, we will only be able to ensure that that happens for the next three years but, beyond that, no doubt there will be other opportunities to argue it further, if it is appropriate at that stage.
I rise to answer this useful debate, in part to give my noble friend Lady Scotland a little respite from the rigours of the Dispatch Box. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for tabling the amendments. They have enabled us to have a little extra focus on some issues that have already been exorcised somewhat over the six and a half hours that we have been at it so far.
Amendment No. 11 usefully seeks to explore and, in its drafting, add the assistance that probation gives to the Parole Board and the Secretary of State to the probation purpose, and which the noble Baroness describes as “a list”. That is fair enough. That is exactly as it appears.
Probation involvement in the parole process is already sanctioned by specific provisions in the Parole Board Rules 2004, and in the formal directions to the Parole Board made under Section 32(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. Examples of such provisions are the requirement to include a home circumstances report—which, among many other things, seeks to reflect the attitudes and concerns of the victim and their families—and the inclusion of non-standard licence conditions. The proposed revision of the Parole Board Rules will see them take the form of a statutory instrument rather than the previous administrative means by which they were framed, so they will be given extra authority.
That involvement forms part of the primary functions of probation in supervising and rehabilitating people convicted of offences. Probation advice is given because of the expertise and knowledge that probation staff obtain in exercising those functions. That does not mean that the resulting assistance should itself become a primary probationary function and be referred to explicitly in the Bill. That is not to diminish the importance or significance of that work, but in our view it does not need to be set out in terms in the Bill in the way that the noble Baroness suggests.
Amendment No. 25, as the noble Baroness said, touches on similar territory to Amendment No. 2, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, which has had an extensive discussion. I do not particularly wish to go over the ground that has already been covered, but the case is that the amendment seeks to replace “punishment” with “enforcement of court orders”, and while that might act as a descriptive term, we do not believe it accurately reflects the position. As was said earlier, society has always expected that those who break the law should be punished, and we have enshrined that expectation in legislation. I well remember the form that debate took when we were discussing the Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill back in 2000. That Bill became an Act, and it currently governs the Probation Service. The same spirit is contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which sets out the purposes of sentencing. That punishment is an integral part of these purposes and enforcement is now a well established concept, and I am afraid that the amendment fails to recognise that fact.
We have not heard from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, whose Amendment No. 26 is also in this group. I am therefore reluctant to deal with the amendment he would ordinarily, I am sure, have spoken to.
I hope that the noble Baroness, having heard what I have said and what was said earlier, particularly about the second of her amendments in this group, will feel able, having had some extensive discussion on that part at least, to withdraw her amendments today.
I am very grateful to everyone who has contributed to this mini-debate and for the support that I have had from around the Committee. I listened with care and interest to what the Minister said. We have, as has been agreed, been over this territory already, although I feel that the assistance given to the court and the Parole Board of is central importance. Now that it has been recognised by the Home Secretary as a piece of non-negotiable core work, it has a place. I also confirm that I recognise the place of punishment—it depends who is the source of the punishment, and enforcement should be the role of the probation officer rather than the court. I will cogitate on the Minister’s reply. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.