Committee (on Recommitment in respect of Schedules 16 and 17)
Schedule 16 : Dealing non-custodially with offenders
1: Schedule 16, page 250, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 19 on page 251
My Lords, I tabled Amendment 1 because I submit that part 1 of Schedule 16 is totally unnecessary and counterproductive to achieving the rehabilitation revolution on which the Government are now embarked. Indeed, “punitive” is a pejorative word which is a red herring to achieving that revolutionary purpose. What I am going to say will also cover amendments up to and including Amendment 11A, which are all connected with this part of the Bill.
When I was Chief Inspector of Prisons, I used to remind Home Secretaries that I dealt only with facts, and reported and commented on what I had actually seen, or not seen, during inspections and visits. Anything contrary to those facts that they heard, from officials or anyone else, was fudge; and woe betide them if they tried to make improvements based on fudge, because they would get fudged improvements. My successor described this far more elegantly than I did when she referred to “virtual prisons”, which is how they were described by officials to Ministers.
What I find most disturbing about what is now before us—and indeed what is not now before us such as the content of Amendments 14 and 20, which I hope we will reach before I have to leave for a long-standing engagement—is that so much of it is fudge, including parts of it announced by the Prime Minister in a speech on 22 October. I will list some of those because I hope that noble Lords will join me in being disturbed. There seems to be a supposition that the probation service is not tough enough, because it does not want to be. That is absolute nonsense. The probation service achieves very good results, as we have heard already. It is not that it does not want to do more. It cannot do more because it has not got the resources. In their own impact statement on the Bill, referring to the word “punitive”, which I think is thoroughly unfortunate, the Government said:
“Given a limit on the overall level of resources available for probation services, delivering a clear punitive element to every community order may cause the primarily rehabilitative requirements to be substituted for primarily punitive ones … There is a risk that some of the rehabilitative benefits of current Community Orders could be lost with adverse implications for the re-offending rate of those offenders subject to community orders”.
We are told that it is all about the reoffending rate and about protecting the public by reducing reoffending. Why introduce something that is likely to damage that aim? In other words, the Government should not do it. I will not speak for my noble and learned friend Lord Woolf, who has already mentioned how offensive he found the presumption of giving judges direction about being punitive, when they already knew that that was their purpose in sentencing.
Secondly, in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and others on 7 November, the Minister said that,
“it would not be appropriate for the Government to provide a rigid definition of the circumstances that would qualify as exceptional: this can relate only to the facts of each individual case and is a decision for the court on the evidence before it”.
That is exactly what courts do now. So why do we need this? Why do we need to go chasing down? If Government cannot think of all these exceptions, Heaven knows, we cannot. It does not seem appropriate to include this in legislation.
Finally, in these hard economic times, the question of fines must be related to the ability to pay, as the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has already said during proceedings on the Bill. Do the Government really think that more could be done to fine more people when they do not have the resources to pay the fines? What will be the result? I do not see that this has been thought through.
The Prime Minister also made two other fudged statements that I challenge in relation to the delivery of this proposal. He said:
“If you’re on a community sentence, you will be supervised”.
Who by and how? A quarter of a million people are currently under probation supervision and we know already that probation officers are extremely stretched in providing the supervision that they have to provide now. If cuts are to be made, we need to know how this supervision is to be carried out. In other words, we need to know the results of the probation consultation which was published to exactly the same list of stakeholders, as the Government said, as the community sentence consultation. If we are being asked to satisfy ourselves and say that we are satisfied with this supervision that the Prime Minister has announced will be available, it stands to reason that we must be able to examine the resources and come to a conclusion as to whether they will be enough, and give our advice based on our experience. Frankly, I find it totally extraordinary that this House should be asked to come to this sort of decision and conclusion without having all the facts before it.
In addition, going on from probation, we are told that payment by results is to be introduced into this process. Indeed, the Prime Minister said:
“By the end of 2015, I want to see payment by results spread right across rehabilitation”.
How on earth is that to happen if, at this present moment, the Secretary of State for Justice has suspended the publication of any data on the one trial at Peterborough, which is not strictly payment by results but social impact bonds, and when there cannot be any information for the next 18 months anyway because no prisoner will have been out for long enough to qualify for the two years needed to judge whether anything has worked? If the Secretary of State has also suspended any work on the randomised control trial, which is the basis of the comparison that is meant to be made, how is anyone to come to any conclusions?
Although that is social impact bonds, two other pilots were being conducted by the probation service—one in Wales and one in Staffordshire and the West Midlands. I understand that the Secretary of State has paused both of them. So no work is going on into payment by results. Nobody knows whether it works. It is a jump into the unknown. It is costing millions, put in by people on good faith at the moment. If we do not know what is happening and are not to be given any indication how it happened, how can we pass any reasonable judgment on whether this is a sensible way to proceed?
I also question whether the Government have bothered to look seriously at the results of an interesting conference run by Make Justice Work. It had 30 practitioners dealing with payment by results. They came up with four principles that have to be observed and four comments on what is happening now. First, they said that the Ministry of Justice’s present plans appear not to allow sufficient time for necessary experimentation and fine-tuning. Secondly, they questioned how success would be measured. Thirdly, they said that there is huge difference in the market and that some of the smaller organisations do not have access to the capital to enable them to contribute what they have to. Finally, they asked who is going to evaluate and inspect it. In other words, there is a vast vacuum here. It worries me that we are being driven down a route and asked to take decisions based on this word “punitive”, whatever it means, when we are talking about rehabilitating offenders to protect the public.
Thinking in my bath last night, I felt that, in a way, the Government are treating this House with contempt. They are asking people who not only know a certain amount about these issues but who care very deeply about them and also care on behalf of the practitioners in the field. What worries me about them is that they do not feel that they are being listened to. They feel that masses of theories are coming out of the Ministry of Justice and no notice is being taken of the practitioners. It is extremely unwise to launch a case like this with such poor evidence and so much in the air. Too much depends on it and we cannot afford, and it would not be sensible, to go down this route. I beg to move.
I wondered whether anyone other than on the opposition Bench wanted to say something on this—I certainly do. I start by disclosing that I am the chairman of the Prison Reform Trust and the amendments in my name were put down with its support.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is absolutely right with his amendment. Whenever I get to my feet, I am conscious that as a young advocate, I appeared before a very well known judge, Mr Justice Stable, to advance an argument that my client should not be convicted of murder but manslaughter, and he said to me, “Mr Woolf, if you heed my advice, you would not water the brandy”. I fear that by getting to my feet, I may be inadvertently watering the brandy of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, because, as has been pointed out, if we get rid of the clause as a whole, we do not need to bother with the detail.
As to the detail, if it remains, I urge the House to get rid of the word “exceptional”. It has been used in legislation in the past. Wherever it has appeared, it has caused difficulties, not least because the question is: what is exceptional and what is not exceptional? That gives the advocate a difficult task; probably more importantly, it also gives a difficult task to the judge. You get into situations where judges are tempted to give an exceptionally wide meaning to the word “exceptional”. I remember a case where I did just that, because it created such an obvious nonsense that it resulted in injustice. A great judge, Lord Bingham, took a much narrower view of the meaning of that word than I did. The fact that two successive Lord Chief Justices should interpret that word in different ways illustrates my point.
With regard to the first of my tabled amendments, I urge the House to deal with the word “exceptional” if it allows this part of the schedule to survive. If it is removed, I suggest that proposed new subsection (2B) of Section 177 will have a sensible meaning. It would read:
“Subsection (2A) does not apply where there are … circumstances which … relate to the offence or to the offender … would make it unjust in all the circumstances for the court to comply with subsection (2A)(a) in the particular case, and … would make it unjust in all the circumstances for the court to impose a fine for the offence concerned”.
I do not think that the criticisms that I have made of “exceptional” apply to “unjust”. When judges are sentencing, they are trying daily to achieve a just sentence and if a sentence is unjust they will not impose it. The trouble with Section 177 is that if it is amended as set out in the schedule, it will become a vehicle for causing injustice. If you are sentencing you have lists of sentences for various offences, which you can impose. You might go down the list and decide that a community sentence is the appropriate one. Once a judge has decided that is appropriate, to say that he then has to perform an exercise to see whether that sentence is punitive—and put something else in if he comes to the conclusion that it is not—is really nonsense. It will cause him to do exactly what he has concluded is unjust. He has come to the conclusion that although the community sentence is necessary, it is not necessary to have an additional punitive penalty. From the practical point of view, that really is not a satisfactory outcome.
The other amendment with which I am involved in this group is Amendment 8. Or is that one not being spoken to yet? I apologise to the House; I will come to that later.
My Lords, I was thinking about not brandy but confectionery and I do not find this fudge, if one thinks about it, as being sweet and tasty. In every other way, however, I absolutely follow what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said, although my remarks will cover rather narrower ground than his.
I really wonder, as others have, whether this provision is necessary. If it is only gesture politics—I say that rather bluntly—it might not be so bad, although I would still deplore it because I deplore gesture politics, but it must mean something. As the noble Lord said, every day the courts do the things that we are being told this provision is directing them to do. I do not believe it does anything but restrict sentencing choices. It imposes a requirement that may be detrimental for offenders whom one is seeking to rehabilitate. I do not need to amplify that; we have a lot to get through and these points will be made better by others throughout today.
I wonder whether Amendment 2 achieves anything. I support the sentiment behind it but changing “must” to “may” does not add anything if we accept that punishment is already one of the purposes of sentencing —which it is, under Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. As I say, however, I am with that sentiment.
The letter dated 7 November that we received from the Minister said that the term “exceptional circumstances” is very tightly drawn. I had to go back and reread that, because I think “exceptional circumstances” is very widely drawn when one thinks about the context in which we are debating this. As noble Lords have so often said, and as others outside this House have reminded us, such a very high proportion of offenders suffer from mental illness, substance misuse and dependency that one could not say that there was anything exceptional about their circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to debt in the context of imposing a fine. That made me think that being in very straitened financial circumstances, combined with other factors, is often a prompt or a nudge towards theft and various offences.
When we last debated this schedule, I suggested that “particular circumstances” would be a better term than “exceptional circumstances”. Discussing that with colleagues later, we wondered about “special circumstances”, and my noble friend Lady Linklater has tabled Amendment 6 to propose that term. Essentially, we are trying to suggest a number of other possible terms—not alternatives because I do not think “exceptional” is right—if the Government are insistent, as I expect they will be, on retaining this part of the schedule. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has taken a scalpel to it and pointed us to the inconsistency between the terms “just” and “exceptional circumstances”. I am very happy to line up behind him if that is the way that the House thinks we should go if we do not get rid of this altogether.
My Lords, I put my name to Amendment 5, but I strongly support what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said and his Amendment 1 to take the whole of this out. I am also happy to support Amendments 4 or 6. I shall make the very obvious point that every community order will be, for the offender, a form of punishment because it is mandatory. You do not need to use the word “punishment” because it is implicit in a community order. I am sorry to say it again, but since the Government have put a form of punishment as part of a community order, as if a community order was not a punishment, I find this extremely difficult to follow. The terms are in conflict with each other in this proposal by the Government. I had not seen it that way to quite the same extent as I did looking at this today. For goodness sake, why put it in? It is sad that the Government seem to need to use the words “punitive” and “punishment” when it is already clear that a community order is punishment because it is an order that whoever receives it will have to obey. If that particular offender does not obey a community service order, he or she will be punished for failure to obey a punishment that has already been imposed. In my view, the words “punitive” and “punishment” are unnecessary, inappropriate and profoundly unattractive. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, I wonder whether this is gesture politics. I very much hope it is not, but she made a point that this House ought seriously to consider.
I do not mind whether we use the word “particular”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, instead of “exceptional”. Preferably, perhaps, we could do what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, said, which would be to take the word out altogether. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has suggested using “special”. The point is that “exceptional” should not be there for the reasons that the noble and learned Lord has already given. I do not mind how it is altered but the word exceptional has to come out.
The Government have to listen to the people in this House who spoke last week and today and said that this will not do. As I think I said previously, I urgently and respectfully suggest to the Ministry of Justice that this is an unsuitable way to be going ahead. As I have already said, it is profoundly unattractive. The words “punitive”, “punishment” and “exceptional” should be taken out. The Government should recognise that a community order is a punishment. They should not just look to the lobby of the press or the public, but should do what is right.
My Lords, I endorse everything that has been said thus far in criticism. In my time, I have acted as a sentencer and done a touch of community service. As I understand it, the requirements referred to in the amendment are the requirements under Section 177 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that can be made when a community order is imposed. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has said, they all require the offender to do something which he or she would otherwise probably not choose to do, so they all have an element of punishment or sanction.
How is this amendment to work? Is the sentencer to be bound to impose one of the requirements by way of a community order exclusively by way of punishment or does the sentencer merely have to say, “I am imposing this not merely for the purpose of rehabilitation but also to punish you”? If it is the latter, the effect is purely cosmetic. If it is the former, the effect, I would submit, is even less desirable.
My Lords, I support the approach of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham to the whole of this schedule. We have been over this ground before. As the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has pointed out, punishment is in the sentence. The important scenario is how that sentence is to be worked out for the rehabilitation of the offender, with the effort being to see that that offender does not return to the court. As we all know, all too often that is not the case.
My other concern is that we have had no result—again, this was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham —from the Government on the probation consultation. For us to be asked to make judgments at this stage without having in front of us all the facts about who will do a lot of this very necessary, specialised work, is not acceptable. Frankly, I do not want any of the alternatives that have been suggested but, if others are prepared to keep this whole section in and I had to choose, I would go for that suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. Then it would be left to the judges to make the decision, which is the way in which we have in the past treated, and should continue to treat, the judicial system.
My Lords, alongside those who have already spoken, I humbly subscribe my support for this amendment. If ever there was an argument on the part of government that has been shot through and shattered, this is it. If ever there was a piece of legislation where there was an overwhelming and unanswerable case against it, this, in my respectful submission, is it. I appreciate the argument put forward on 30 October by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, when he mildly, with considerable charm, chastised me. He said that it is wrong to argue that a Government should take a view which is different from the policy that has been established by judges over a long period of time. I think I do him fairness in summarising it in that way. He must be right. Parliament is sovereign and supreme. Judges do their best within the limits set down by law, but they can—and should, on occasion—be overruled by Parliament. That is what Parliament is about.
However, I believe that there should be a qualification to that rule: Parliament should never do that, and certainly should never circumscribe the discretion of judges, properly and justly used, unless a case had been made for that, and that case would rest on facts. In my submission, this case does not rest on facts at all. It rests much more on some form of political prejudice. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on 30 October, quoted a speech made by the Prime Minister on 22 October dealing with this particular matter. These were the words used by the Prime Minister on that occasion:
“‘At every single level of sentence this Government is getting tougher ... we are toughening up community sentences too. If you are on a community sentence you will be supervised-you will be properly punished-you will be forced to complete that sentence’.”.—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 523.]
It seems to me—and I made the point in a general way on the previous occasion—that essentially the Prime Minister was talking about including some element of hurt in a sentence. That is not the same thing as punishment.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has already made the point that the fact that a person, with the sanction of the law, is enjoined to do something that he may not wish to do, is of itself a punishment. He is subjected to the sovereignty of the court in that respect. I would argue further that the very fact that a person is convicted of a criminal offence, and that stain will be on his escutcheon for ever, even with all the ameliorations of the 1974 Act, is of itself a punishment. However, what is asked for here is something that society regards as hurting the offender. The rationale behind it seems to be that society in some way, through the courts, has failed to recognise that essential element of hurt. In other words, it is saying, “You are namby-pamby. You are soft. You are far too liberal in your attitude in this matter. You are not tough enough”. There is no evidence whatever to support that contention.
As far as the probation service is concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has shown quite clearly that it is tough, it is not soft and it is succeeding. The vast majority of cases are dealt with satisfactorily up to level 3; indeed, some of them up to level 4. No professional body could be expected to do better than that. Where is the evidence of the failure to exercise the element of harshness and pain—for that is what the Prime Minister was talking about?
It is entirely proper for a Government, where they are justified in doing so, to circumscribe the discretion that lies with any judge. I think that both Governments have been doing it a little too liberally over the past 20 years. Be that as it may, where they genuinely believe that there is such a case, they are entitled and indeed, one might say, obliged to do so. The case has not been made. If the Government cannot come forward with any hard evidence at all, they will, in effect, be relying on what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, described really as a cosmetic and rather vulgar attitude, where they will be seeking a populist commendation for something that is utterly unworthy.
My Lords, I support entirely the sentiments behind the amendment moved so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I support verbatim the comments that were made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and share the concerns expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about the use of the word “exceptional” in these provisions.
These proposals ignore what happens every day of the week in court rooms up and down the country. There is a substantial class of cases—or there are classes of cases—which are not particularly common but fall far short of being exceptional. I am the last person here who should attempt to explain to this House in the presence of members of the judiciary who have already spoken what the term “exceptional” means, but usually it means roughly what the dictionary definition says that it means. These are not the common class of cases; they are truly exceptional.
I mention one group of cases that I have experienced as a practitioner and sitting as a recorder and that causes me real concern in the context of this part of the schedule. It is a group of cases in which the defendants are usually women who have been subjected to often very severe domestic violence and sometimes sexual violence. They have done something fairly serious in terms of criminal law and have usually pleaded guilty. They have to be sentenced by the court, but punishment is somewhere low down the list of the priorities that the judge passing sentence has in mind. The sentence can serve a useful service; there are elements in community sentences that are restorative or retributive and can help to resolve the situation that has given rise to the appearance in court. The requirement of punishment in all but exceptional cases seems to ignore the reality of a class like the one that I have mentioned. For that reason, I invite my noble friend the Minister to hearken very closely to this debate, which has had some very authoritative voices speaking in it, and think again.
My Lords, I add my voice to the chorus of consent as to what this amendment is all about. It seems to arise from the Government’s wish to include specifically punitive requirements in order to, as the Minister for Justice has said, put punishment back into sentencing. The goal is to appear to be tough. This move is simply crude, inappropriate, and very unlikely to realise outcomes that are positive or helpful in any way in the long run. It raises the fundamental issue of what the ultimate goal of sentencing is, or should be, and where the balance should lie with punishment for its own sake. Here I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, that when the Government talk about punishment in this context it implies something painful, distasteful and unpleasant. I am clear in my own mind that the reduction of reoffending should be the prime purpose of sentencing, when sentencers make their choices from the available options.
If punishment has its place, we know from the Government’s own research that punitive options on their own achieve nothing in terms of reducing reoffending, and only when allied with other constructive sanctions have they any impact. There is a real risk that requiring sentencers to add this extra element will restrict their freedom to set appropriate sentences based on the facts and circumstances of individual cases. Invariably, there will be a range of support needs at issue. We know, as we have already heard, that the majority of those coming before the courts have significant mental health and learning difficulties, as well as substance misuse, real social deprivation, and so on.
What constitutes exceptional circumstances when what may be exceptional in the general population is more like the norm in the offending population? Their needs are indeed exceptional, so what are the courts to do when the exceptional is the norm? I have put my name to Amendment 6, which seeks to,
“leave out ‘exceptional’ and insert ‘special’”,
to try to make a meaningful distinction, but in the end the courts must be free to decide this issue, as has been commonly agreed. They have to be trusted to find the right balance between punishment and rehabilitation in the decisions they have to make based on individual circumstances and need. Punishment can be used but emphatically not for its own sake and should always be combined with rehabilitative requirements if the ultimate goal of reducing reoffending is to be achieved. It follows, therefore, that the various elements of a disposal must be compatible with each other. I echo what has already been said and remind my noble friend the Minister that all requirements do indeed represent a punishment where freedom is being curtailed. It is true that we have a long way to go before all community sentences are as effective as we would like them to be, but punishment for its own sake is not the answer.
My Lords, I support the gist of the amendments as they have been spoken to. I apologise to the Committee for turning up a bit late for this important debate. I emphasise the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that the sentence itself is the punishment, if one wants to use that word, rather than necessarily the elements within the sentence.
We recently dealt with the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill and the relevant training for magistrates and sentencers up and down the country is under way right now. In that training sentencers are told that suspended sentences could have no requirements at all, so that the suspended sentence is itself the punishment for the offence rather than any requirements that may be added by the sentencing Bench. In my view this clearly shows that the Government also agree that the sentence itself is the punishment and that there is no requirement at all in certain, admittedly rather unusual, circumstances for there to be any particular elements to that sentence. Therefore, I do not see what the need is for “punitive” in the first place. I agree with previous speakers that it is a piece of political grandstanding and does not add anything to the Government’s objectives as they are already being rolled out in the training of magistrates in relation to the previous criminal justice Bill.
My Lords, my Amendment 2 is designed to find out rather more about the reasons behind the Government’s thinking and how paragraph 2 of Schedule 16 is to be interpreted. The schedule clearly states that where a court makes a community order that must include,
“at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment, or … a fine”
unless there are exceptional circumstances. The Government have decided that there will be exceptional circumstances in around 5% of cases. It is not clear why the Government are going down this road. Their own impact assessment refers to research that has been undertaken by the Ministry of Justice, as I understand it. The impact assessment states:
“Offenders who receive supervision, punitive requirement (unpaid work or curfew) and a programme requirement were less likely to re-offend and committed fewer re-offences within a 2 year period of the community order, compared to those who receive supervision and a punitive requirement”.
It then goes on to say:
“There was no impact on re-offending of adding a punitive requirement to certain other specified combinations of requirements”.
Finally it says:
“Adding supervision to a standalone punitive requirement reduces re-offending”.
Most people would regard those statements as not exactly a ringing endorsement of the value of a punitive requirement. Further on in their own impact assessment, the Government come out with this statement:
“The Government considers that community orders are currently not sufficiently demanding for offenders”.
Is that all of them? All community orders are not sufficiently demanding? If that is the case, then what do the Government intend to do to make all community orders more demanding, since that does not seem to be referred to in any documentation? I hope the Minister will tell us whether that statement in the impact assessment represents the Government’s view when they say:
“The Government considers that community orders are currently not sufficiently demanding for offenders”.
It does not say some of them. It does not say the third that do not include the punitive element. It just says they are not sufficiently demanding for offenders. The Minister will, no doubt, respond to that point and tell us how the Government intend to make the community orders sufficiently demanding in their view.
It says further on—in paragraph 37 if the Minister is interested—in the impact assessment, which is, as I understand it, the Government’s own document:
“Given the need for community orders to remain proportionate to the offence committed, delivering a clear punitive element to every community order may, in some cases, cause certain requirements to be substituted by punitive ones. The research that we have undertaken does not tell us about the impact on re-offending of replacing requirements with more punitive ones”.
In other words, the Government do not know what the implications of their proposal will be for rehabilitation. Yet they are still proceeding. There is no other interpretation that can be put on that extract from the Government’s own impact assessment.
We have previously raised the issue of the victim surcharge and I would like to talk a little about that. The victim surcharge is for offences committed on or after 1 October this year—the beginning of last month. It will be, with no apparent exceptions, £60 where a community order is given as a sentence to an adult offender. Since for offences committed before 1 October this year there was no requirement to include a victim surcharge where the sentence was a community order, will the victim surcharge of £60—which I believe is now mandatory with a community order—be regarded as the equivalent of a fine, as referred to in proposed new subsection (2A) in paragraph 2 of Schedule 16? If it is, we need not concern ourselves much more with this part of Schedule 16, since every community order will automatically include what is, in effect, a fine, albeit called a victim surcharge, and meet the requirement to include at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment or the imposition of a fine.
If the new £60 victim surcharge for an adult offender, and £15 for a youth offender, which has, I think, just been made mandatory where a community order is imposed, is not to be regarded as a fine under proposed new subsection (2A) in paragraph 2 of Schedule 16, then why not? From the point of view of the offender, the effect is still the same whether it is a £60 fine or a £60 victim surcharge. They still have to pay the money or run the distinct risk of more severe action being taken, including the possible loss of liberty. This £60 victim surcharge is a new penalty to be paid by the offender, since it applies only to offences committed since the beginning of last month. It was not in existence at the time the Bill was being drafted. Has the victim surcharge of £60 to be imposed where there is a community order changed the situation and if not why, why not?
We have a situation at the moment under the Bill where presumably the court, with a so-called non-punishment community order, could levy a very small fine of, say, £15, because of the financial circumstances of the offender. That fine would be deemed to be the equivalent of a punishment under proposed new subsection (2A). The court would then have to impose a victim surcharge of £60—some four times higher than the £15 fine, which could cause the offender much greater difficulty in terms of payment. However, that would not be deemed a punishment under the terms of the proposed new subsection. That does not appear to make a lot of sense or have much logic behind it.
The wording of our amendment, which substitutes “may” for “must” would, among other things, enable the court to decide that the £60 victim surcharge, which is payable when a community order is handed down as the sentence, was sufficient as a punishment element, and the court would not also be required to include either a fine or a further requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment, as currently appears to be the case under proposed new subsection (2A).
I do not intend to go over other points. They have been eloquently made, and repetition would achieve nothing. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to all the points raised and questions asked in this debate.
My Lords, it seems a long time since I was looking forward to us reaching this part of the Bill, where, as noble Lords will recall, we slightly bent the rules—goodness knows what they are now—to allow for Clause 23 to bring in rehabilitation proposals. Of course, in a debate in which a former president of the Supreme Court, a former Lord Chief Justice, a former president of the Family Division and a former Her Majesty’s Inspector of Prisons give their opinions, I listen—as I indeed listened to the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe, Lady Hamwee and Lady Linklater, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. We had a very interesting discussion about the relationship and power of Parliament and the judiciary. I look forward to reading the noble Lord’s memoirs, which I notice have just been published in Welsh. Have they been published in English? I do not know.
They are on my Christmas list.
The proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a nuclear option, which I will address in my remarks. However, I will start by reassuring noble Lords that the Government fully recognise the point that underpins many of these amendments and agree that offenders who receive community orders are a diverse group, with wide-ranging characteristics and individual circumstances. For example, such offenders are more likely than the general population to have a disability, to come from low-income households or to receive work-related benefits. Many other examples were brought out in detail by the practitioners who responded to our public consultation on these proposals.
It is clearly vital that community orders take into account these diverse needs. We cannot have a one-size-fits-all approach to non-custodial sentences. At the same time, we also need to recognise that community orders cannot focus only on the reoffending needs of the offender. Many who receive community orders have committed not inconsequential offences. The sort of offences for which sentencing guidelines suggest community orders would be appropriate include actual bodily harm, thefts in the hundreds or low thousands of pounds and first-time domestic burglaries.
While it is critical to address the causes of such offending, it is legitimate to expect such behaviour to face punishment. It is clear that fines and custodial sentences provide punishment for an offender; but at the moment it is possible for a community order to be based solely on addressing the offending needs of an individual offender. Our argument is that, by including the punishment element, we will win the vital public confidence for the holistic response that is at the heart of our proposals: the rehabilitation of offenders.
Our provisions seek to balance the purpose of punishment with ensuring that the courts retain flexibility to tailor community orders around offenders’ circumstances. To that end, I remind noble Lords that we have already amended our original consultation proposal that courts should be required to include specified elements, such as community payback or a curfew requirement, in every community order. Practitioners were clear that, although some community order requirements such as curfews or unpaid work were more often likely to represent a punishment than others, in the right circumstances—this comment has been made by a number of noble Lords—all the existing 12 community order requirements could potentially be punitive for a particular offender. That is why Part 1 of Schedule 16 gives the courts the flexibility to choose which requirement would be a proportionate and appropriate punishment for an individual offender.
I also remind noble Lords that the existing community order framework gives courts and probation services significant flexibility to make reasonable adjustments to requirements to fit the circumstances of an offender. For example, the hours of a curfew can be flexed so that they do not adversely impact on an offender’s childcare, employment or education needs. The type of work involved in community payback can be adjusted to suit an offender’s physical or mental health. Similarly, the number of hours of work carried out per week can be built around an offender’s employment or caring responsibilities. Fines can be set at a level that takes into account vital outgoings; for example, so that they do not have a disproportionate impact on an offender’s dependants.
The provisions in Part 1 of Schedule 16 do not alter this existing flexibility. These provisions seek to balance the need to increase public confidence that community orders are a credible sanction for offending with the importance of courts having discretion to tailor sentences around offenders’ circumstances.
I turn now to the amendments tabled by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Linklater and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. I want to be clear that it is the flexibility of the existing community order framework that means that the Government envisage only a narrow range of circumstances in which a court would not consider it just to impose a requirement that meets the purpose of punishment. Courts will be able to consider which of the 12 current community order requirements, or a fine, might be a just and appropriate means of fulfilling this duty.
As I have set out, the courts can tailor any of those requirements to ensure that they do not have a disproportionate impact on offenders. That is why the current provision has a tightly defined threshold of “exceptional circumstances” because nothing in it changes the flexibility that the courts have to ensure that punishment is matched to a particular offender’s circumstances. Substituting “exceptional circumstances” for “particular circumstances”, “special circumstances” or simply “circumstances” would significantly lower the threshold at which courts could decide not to impose a requirement that fulfils the purpose of punishment.
Community sentences need to strike the right balance between punishment, rehabilitation and other purposes of sentencing. These amendments would prevent the provisions from securing that balance, and from providing the public reassurance that will, in turn, secure legitimacy for the use of community sentences to address the causes of offending.
Nothing in the Bill seeks to undermine the judgment and flexibility of the judiciary, but it puts rehabilitation as a key objective. It provides for what I would describe as rehabilitation with teeth. As this approach has had the endorsement of the Prime Minister and the new Lord Chancellor, I would have hoped that was the main gain that we have had and what the House should concentrate on.
I hope that noble Lords will accept the rationale for this provision, the flexibility that it preserves for the courts, and the reasons why in practice there are likely to be few cases where punishment is not an appropriate purpose for a community order. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will not press the amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked about the victim surcharge. It is not a fine and it is not part of the sentence. It will be regarded as a surcharge for victim services. I hope that I have covered this.
I would be interested to know where the Opposition stand on two things. First, with the victim surcharge we intend to raise considerable amounts of money from offenders that will go to victims. I presume that the Opposition are in favour of that. Secondly, we are determined to pursue offenders. I know that, particularly in this House, we always hear about the hard cases—but far too many people who offend and are given fines then do not pay them. We intend to pursue them and make sure that they do pay them.
We are certainly quite happy for people who do not pay fines to be pursued. I do not know why the Minister raised the issue of what the Opposition think of the victim surcharge. We have never voiced opposition to it. I think that he raised that issue in order to dodge the very direct question that I asked when I put it to him that the victim surcharge is very similar to a fine for the offender. They have got to pay it and if they do not they will be in the same kind of trouble as they would be if they did not pay a fine. The Minister raised the issue of the victim surcharge simply to avoid answering the very direct question that he was asked.
My Lords, I thank all those who made such powerful contributions to this very interesting and wide-ranging debate. Although I say “wide-ranging”, there was no doubt in my mind that everyone was focused on the primary issue throughout, and covered various aspects of it.
The Minister mentioned that the public sought confidence in the system. Confidence comes from proof that things work. What worried me in all the contributions that were made was that they disclosed vast gaps in things being carried out that have been put to the public as being matters in which they can have confidence. Too much is not proven and not known at present.
I will ask the Minister two questions. First, when can I expect a reply to my letter of 4 October to the Secretary of State, asking for a meeting on this? I have not even had a reply. I would like a meeting because, like many noble Lords, I am functioning slightly in the dark. The Secretary of State is an éminence grise and it would be enormously helpful to find out from him exactly what he feels and thinks.
Secondly, I hope that between now and Report it may be possible to have a meeting and a briefing about this so that we can get to the bottom of some of the issues that have been raised. I do not think that this is an appropriate time to test the opinion of the House. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Schedule 16, page 251, line 2, at end insert—
“(za) have regard to the need to promote rehabilitation,”
Our amendments in this group include a requirement to promote rehabilitation. This requirement appears to be missing from this part of Schedule 16, despite the words of government Ministers recently that promoting rehabilitation was one of their objectives. Indeed, the Minister waxed lyrical in his response to a debate in Committee by telling us that,
“here we had recently a Conservative Prime Minister talking positively about a rehabilitation revolution. That is very welcome and is something to build on”,—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 546.]
not apparently, though, in this schedule as that objective does not seem to be strongly reflected in the terms of the Bill, in particular, in paragraph 2 of Schedule 16. Can the Minister tell us why the Government decided not to make it a requirement on a court when making a community order to also include at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of rehabilitation unless there were exceptional circumstances in line with the provisions in proposed new subsection (2B)? There is not even a requirement, I believe, for a court to consider including at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of rehabilitation.
When we last discussed this matter, the Minister accepted the statistics given by my noble friend Lord Beecham about the nature of people who come into our criminal justice system in relation to educational achievement—or, rather, lack of it—drug and alcohol problems, mental health disorders, having been in care and having been unemployed. Indeed, the Minister has referred to these issues already today.
In his response to the debate in Committee, the Minister said that,
“the prize for getting rehabilitation on to the agenda is extremely important”,—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 546.]
but not, apparently, in this part of Schedule 16, which is all about mandatory punishment.
The Minister also told us:
“Somebody who may never have got up before noon in his life might classify learning to read and write as a punishment”.—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 548.]
He later said:
“The point I am making is that the punitive concept is widely drawn and is very much in the hands of the sentencer”.—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 549.]
In the light of those two statements, which conflict with the Government’s previously declared intentions as to what would be defined as a requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment as set out in new subsection (2A) in Schedule 16, perhaps the Minister could tell us when he responds what is the definition of the “punitive concept” which has been widely drawn and is very much in the hands of the sentencer. Perhaps the Minister could also tell us whether his statement that someone who may never have got up before noon might classify learning to read and write as a punishment means that a community order with a requirement to take a course developing reading and writing skills would be regarded as meeting the provision in new subsection (2A) in Schedule 16 of,
“at least one requirement imposed for the purpose of punishment”.
The Minister was undoubtedly right in drawing attention to the fact that programmes designed to help rehabilitate the offender and reduce reoffending to the benefit of everyone involve punishment. There is a requirement for an offender to attend at specific times, on specific days, for a laid-down period of time, to undertake a specified programme or a specified activity which they most certainly would not otherwise have done. Having to undertake that programme or activity involves loss of liberty for the time they are involved, as they have to do it, and failure to attend or to treat the programme or activity seriously is liable to lead to the offender being brought back to court and either having the programme or activity made more onerous or another punishment imposed, which could include being sent to prison.
Rehabilitative programmes often involve offenders being forced to face up to their behaviour and way of life in a direct way, which can be challenging and distinctly uncomfortable for the offender. In our amendments we have listed programmes and activities which would be regarded as a punishment requirement under the terms of proposed new subsection (2A) in Schedule 16. We have also included unpaid work, a curfew, and exclusion in that list. We have not included as a punishment a requirement that would involve purely supervision.
If the Minister meant what he said on 30 October about somebody classifying learning to read and write as a punishment, and he will agree that the punitive concept is widely drawn and very much in the hands of the sentencer, he will accept our amendments or at least agree to come back on Report with government amendments along similar lines. I beg to move.
My Lords, I think now is the appropriate time for me to deal with Amendment 8, which returns to the same problem indicated earlier. I hope I am right in assuming that the Government do not intend the provisions of Section 177 as amended to undermine the effectiveness of community sentencing. My amendment makes that clear by qualifying the requirement contained in the proposed new Subsection (2A) to exclude that provision where it is likely to reduce the effectiveness of the order in preventing reoffending by the offender. This at least gives the sentencing judge a way of not doing something that he knows will be destructive of the beneficial effect of community sentence.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord’s amendment goes to the heart of the issue. It would be ironical if what he is seeking to avoid were in fact to come about since all this should be about preventing reoffending. My Amendment 11 provides that none of this should affect the provisions of Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which sets out the purposes of sentencing. I realise that it would have been better drafting if I had just referred to Section 142(1), but never mind; one can come back to that at a later stage.
I am seeking to ensure that we do not impose a hierarchy of purposes and that we leave punishment where it is as one of five principles. I am sure that the Minister understands that this is the quite simple purpose of this amendment. I hope that he can reassure the Committee that nothing here seeks to alter in any way those well established five equal partners in principle.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions. Let us be clear: of course the five principles are intact but, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, queried earlier, why bring legislation if we do not intend to change things? We do intend to change things. The whole thrust of what we are trying to do is to use community sentencing effectively, couple it with a real drive on rehabilitation, and also—and we think we have public support in this—use the element of punishment to drive home both the rehabilitation message and the punishment message.
Part of that has come out in our debates. There are noble Lords who believe that “exceptional” covers around a third of offenders. That is exactly the problem we are trying to address because the idea that somehow a third of offenders cannot be punished is what undermines public confidence. That is why we are making the point that exceptional circumstances apply to a very narrow group and that it is possible to put a punishment element into a much wider range of sentences while giving the court the flexibility to take account of the circumstances of the person before it. However, as I said in the earlier debate, we are going to resist those who want to amend the Bill so that there is a three-lane highway of exceptions from what we are trying to do.
Amendments 3, 3A and 8 focus on ensuring that the courts,
“have regard to the need to promote rehabilitation”,
and that punishment is not imposed at the expense of rehabilitation. Amendment 9 looks at the detail of what requirements might constitute punishment for an offender, and finally, Amendment 11 looks at the impact of the changes on the purposes of sentencing as set out in Section 142 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. On the issues raised by the first three amendments in this group, I am happy to reassure the Committee that it is not the Government’s intention that any of these provisions should jeopardise the prospect of rehabilitation for offenders. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, I have already made the point a number of times that I am proud that the amendments we will be debating place rehabilitation so firmly on the agenda—and I keep on reinforcing what has been commended by the Prime Minister as part of this thrust of criminal justice reform.
Will the Minister forgive me if I ask him to indicate whether he thinks there cannot be a situation where a judge might conclude that the effectiveness of what is proposed by the Government might reduce the effectiveness of the order to prevent reoffending? If that is the judge’s conclusion with regard to the proposed new provision, does the noble Lord think that the judge should have an escape hatch?
Yes, of course, judicial discretion should remain. But what I do not want to do from this Dispatch Box is give the impression that on the one hand we are saying down the corridor and on public platforms that we are going to make punishment a key part of giving credibility to community sentences, and that on the other hand the House of Lords is giving a nudge and a wink that actually the judiciary can do what it wants. That would be wrong. I hope that a learned judge, on seeing an exceptional case that needs that kind of judgment, would exercise that judgment. But I hope also that judges will see it as exceptional and not applying to a third of the cases before them. I hope that that is a sufficient assurance for the noble and learned Lord.
Community orders can, in the right circumstances, be highly effective at tackling the causes of offending. The Government are very clear that we need to build on the reductions in reoffending rates in recent years. That is why the Government are proposing to retain Section 148(2)(a) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides that the requirement or requirements imposed as part of a community order should be those that are, in the court’s opinion, most suitable for that offender. That should provide reassurance on the point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has just made. I would also draw noble Lords’ attention to Section 177(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which requires courts to consider, when imposing two or more community order requirements, whether they are compatible with each other given the circumstances of the case. Again, the Government do not intend to change that requirement.
In short, these provisions will not prevent courts from imposing requirements that are focused on the offender’s rehabilitation or from imposing a combination of requirements that is most suited to the offender’s needs. While accepting the spirit in which Amendments 3 and 8 have been tabled, I believe that existing statutory frameworks already provide adequate safeguards.
Amendment 3A would change the nature of the punitive element provision so that the courts would be required only to impose a requirement that delivers both punishment and rehabilitation. It is of course true that many of the community order requirements can deliver two or more of the purposes of sentencing. If a court wishes to impose a sentence that delivers both punishment and rehabilitation, choosing a single requirement that delivers both is one possible option—but so is combining a punitive requirement with an additional requirement, ensuring, of course, that the total weight of the sentence is proportionate to the seriousness of the offence.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made a specific query about the example I gave. In theory, a single requirement, activity or programme along the lines that we talked about could fulfil this duty if a court felt it was appropriate for that particular offender. However, there will also be occasions where the court may decide that a purely or primarily punitive requirement is an appropriate response to a particular offence. We would not wish courts’ discretion to be limited so that they are required to impose both punishment and rehabilitation in cases where they do not believe both are necessary. However, as I previously stated, the Government firmly believe that all community sentences, bar in exceptional circumstances, should contain a punitive element. For this reason, while I entirely accept the point that punishment may often support rehabilitation, I do not believe that this amendment is desirable.
Turning to Amendment 9, a number of noble Lords have asked, both in Committee on 30 October and in today’s debate, which community order requirements courts could impose to fulfil this duty. I refer noble Lords back to the responses we received to our consultation on this issue. Practitioners were clear that, in the right circumstances, all 12 existing community order requirements could be punitive for a particular offender. The Government recognise the force of this argument. The courts are best placed to decide, on a case-by-case basis, what is punitive for a particular offender. That is why the Bill is drafted to give courts the flexibility to impose any community order requirement to fulfil the duty to include a punitive element, so long as they can be confident, on the evidence before them, that the requirement will genuinely prove to be punitive for that offender.
Of course, in practice, there are some community order requirements which courts are likely to make more use of than others. Again, this was a point that sentencers and those working with offenders made very clear in the consultation response. The consensus was that certain requirements, for the majority of offenders, are more likely to be punitive than others. The requirements they most commonly mentioned were curfews, other restrictions on liberty such as exclusion or prohibited activities, and unpaid work. That is why the Government would expect to see an increase in the use of such requirements if this provision is enacted. However, the Bill leaves it open to the courts to decide to impose other types of requirements if they believe, in the circumstances of a particular case, that this would fulfil the purposes of punishment.
Finally, turning to Amendment 11—
Yes, I was going to help the noble Lord. There are nine listed in that list whereas there are 12 possible as part of the community order. Maybe that is what the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, meant: the additional three that are not listed.
I will take that lifeline gratefully, but if there are other matters I will write to the noble Lord. I still cannot find the exact line.
It was requirements other than unpaid work, curfews or exclusions. I am now back on track. That takes us back to the point—we are now going full circle. Obviously, the concept of punishment is more likely to mean curfews, unpaid work, exclusions et cetera but, as we discussed earlier, it may be that there are other impositions which, for that particular offender, would be seen as a punishment. The court would have that flexibility to so define them. I hope that helps and I am sorry that I lost the thread. I am assured that I am on page 8. These notes are extremely useful.
I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for implying that he had not been an assiduous attendee. That was cheap. He asked a good question and I hope that I have now clarified it.
The point was that I was referring to the research that we had done. The consensus was that for the majority of offenders certain requirements are likely to be more punitive than others. As I said, the requirements they most commonly mentioned were curfews, other restrictions on liberty such as exclusion or prohibited activities, and unpaid work. That is why the Government expect to see an increase in those measures.
Finally, on Amendment 11, I am happy to reassure noble Lords that it is not the Government’s intention to detract from the court’s existing obligation to have regard to the five purposes of sentencing currently set out in Section 142(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. If these provisions are agreed by both Houses, courts will continue to be required to have regard to all five purposes, whether that is punishment, rehabilitation, reparation, and so on. It will continue to be a matter for courts as to what weight they place on each requirement when sentencing a particular offender.
I remind noble Lords, though, that some purposes are likely to be more relevant than others for particular sentencing powers. For example, courts’ powers to discharge offenders absolutely or conditionally are predicated on the assumption that, in the circumstances of the case, it is inexpedient to inflict punishment. Similarly, while a fine can punish and deter an offender, it may do little towards the purpose of public protection. At the other end of the scale, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that for any offender, the deprivation of liberty that results from an immediate custodial sentence remains and represents a punishment.
In these examples, the nature of the sentence being considered may draw courts’ attention to some purposes of sentencing over others, but courts are still bound to weigh the relevance of all five purposes of sentencing. The same is true of these provisions. While courts will be required to determine whether the circumstances of the offence and the offender justify imposing a requirement for the purpose of punishment, they will still have to weigh this against the relevance of other purposes when determining the overall sentence. Nothing in this requirement prevents a court imposing a single requirement that fulfils multiple purposes of sentencing or imposing multiple requirements to meet multiple purposes.
I hope I have been able to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I will of course read these debates carefully. I hope that noble Lords will read them, too, because they will find a recurring theme of flexibility and trust in the judiciary and its judgment which should deflect some of the worst fears that have been expressed about our intentions. Our intention is to carry forward a rehabilitation revolution and put effective community sentencing at the heart of that. I fully appreciate that this House, particularly in these two debates, has done its proper job of fine-toothed combing what we propose and seeking assurances about our intentions. I hope that, on reflection, noble Lords will feel that, as it will work and with the flexibility we are building in, some of their concerns are not justified. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, can my noble friend go just slightly further into Section 142? I indicated I had realised that my drafting was not what it should have been. I have only just realised that Section 142(2) says that subsection (1), which is the five principles, does not apply,
“to an offence the sentence for which is fixed by law”.
My concern is that the punitive elements imposed by the new schedule might be construed as being fixed by law and therefore override subsection (1).
My noble friend has been very good in not yet teasing me about the fact that all the arguments I made about punitive elements could be made against me on the issue of rehabilitation because they are within this schedule as well. The arguments could go both ways. I have asked my noble friend a pretty technical question that I wanted to get on the record. He seems to be getting some advice but if he feels that this needs to wait, I would be happy to do so. It is not fair of me to have bowled him so big a googly.
I shall simply blame my Box advisers if there was an opportunity to tease my noble friend which they did not draw to my attention. Perhaps there will be opportunity when we get to Report. I am always in awe of the assiduity with which my noble friend approaches her task. I will have a look at the point that she has made in the cold light of Hansard. The hot message from the Box is that the punitive element will not be a sentence fixed by law, but if there is any reason to clarify or modify that, I will write to my noble friend and make the letter available to the rest of the Committee.
My Lords, the Minister expressed the hope that we would read the debate carefully. I would have thought he accepted that I read them carefully—I have managed to quote from his speeches repeatedly. Quoting back at him precisely what he said is the strongest part of my case. I appreciate that in the light of the Minister’s explanation every other Member of your Lordships’ House may be completely clear, but there is one Member who is certainly not clear. As I understand it, the Minister has accepted that the case he referred to—that of a person who never got up in his life before noon might classify learning to read and write as a punishment and therefore a requirement to take a course developing reading and writing skills being put in a community order—could be regarded as a punishment under the terms of this Bill. I think that is what the Minister said when he responded to that specific question. Perhaps he would confirm that.
Yes. The noble Lord seems to be having difficulty. Yes, if the person turns up and learns to read and write, that is a good bargain. We are trying to get rid of the community sentence that suggests that someone clears up rubbish, but after two days he does not turn up and nobody follows it up. The only thing that happens—as I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Reid, in the last debate—is that the offender takes the orange jacket to wear as a fashion item at the Saturday night dance. It is that contempt for community sentencing that we are trying to get rid of, but I have no trouble with the illustration that the noble Lord gives, as long as the punishment or the purpose is followed through. The noble Lord knows the problem of illiteracy. If we can build into community sentencing a real sentence with teeth which makes particularly young offenders learn to read and write, it could be a turning point in their lives. The noble Lord does not set me any kind of difficult question by asking for that clarification, as long as the community sentence is effective.
The Minister is confusing two things. We are dealing with part of the schedule that refers to a requirement that would be regarded as a punishment. It has been defined elsewhere as, for example, a curfew, unpaid work or an exclusion. The Minister has now agreed—and it is presumably now on the record—that this could be extended to include the case of somebody given a requirement to learn to read and write, and that that could be regarded as a punishment. What the noble Lord then went on to say has nothing whatever to do with the part of the schedule that we are discussing, but with his concerns about people given a punishment. He quoted unpaid work, because he referred to picking up litter or something. That is unpaid work, which is defined as a punishment even in the noble Lord’s definition. However, making sure that it is carried out is totally different from what we are talking about in this part of the schedule. So I do not know why the noble Lord brought that in as an answer to my point.
He says that sentencers will have a degree of flexibility. If that is the case, why did he not accept the earlier amendments to change the word “exceptional”, in one case to “particular” and in another to “specified”? He would not move on that, yet now says, for example, that the kind of programme he referred to could be regarded as a punishment. I do not know why he is not prepared to accept Amendment 9 because it says,
“a punishment requirement may include”,
and it refers to “an accredited programme”. Of course, the answer is that the key thing the Minister has not budged on when he seeks to say that the sentencers will have discretion, is that 95% of cases will be regarded as the norm and will have the punishment element. The Minister will still put on a limit and say that only 5% should be regarded as exceptional. If he was prepared to accept Amendment 9, he would remove any doubt about that and back up his statement that a court may be able to take a view that a community order—for example, a requirement to take a course developing reading and writing skills—was sufficient and could be regarded as a punishment.
However, the guidance that the courts will get on sentencing from the pre-sentence report will be based on what the Government, through NOMS, want to tell the probation service. Clearly the probation service will be told that only in exceptional circumstances can a community order not recommend unpaid work, a curfew or an exclusion. To come back to what the Minister quoted, the ability of a court to decide on a community order that requires developing reading and writing skills is going to be very limited, despite what the Minister said about the sentencers having discretion. The significance of the fact that the Minister was not prepared to accept either amendment to change the guidelines to “particular” or “specified” gave the game away.
The Minister wants it both ways. He wants to stand at the Dispatch Box and say that accredited programmes could be regarded as a punishment and give the impression that sentencers will have a lot of discretion, when we know that they will not. On the other hand, he wants to make sure that exceptional circumstances really are very exceptional indeed. I have been asked to decide whether to withdraw the amendment. Of course, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendments 3A to 6 not moved.
7: Schedule 16, page 251, line 14, at end insert—
“(2C) Before including any requirement falling within subsection (2A), the court must consider whether, in the circumstances of the case, the requirement is compatible with any requirement imposed or which it determines shall be imposed pursuant to subsection (1).”
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendment 10. This can be brief, because I think the Minister has already pretty much given me what I sought. Amendment 7 provides that before any of the new requirements are included in an order, the court must consider whether it is compatible with other requirements that it is thinking about imposing as part of a community order. I took this from Section 177(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to which the Minister has already referred, and I think he has given me the acknowledgment I want. However, he will understand that I want to ensure that the punitive element is compatible with other elements of the sentence and does not undermine or negate them. As I have indicated, one might argue the same about the rehabilitative elements, but I am focused on the punitive.
Amendment 10 refers to the provision in the Coroners and Justice Act about sentencing guidelines. Section 120 provides for sentencing guidelines about certain matters and makes special arrangements for the guidelines that fall within, I think, subsection (3), including publication in draft of the guidelines and consultation, with specific consultees. In this amendment, I seek to add these new elements to that rather short list. I tabled this amendment in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Linklater before seeing the Minister’s letter following our previous debate on the Bill. I understand that he intends to explore the sentencing guidelines with the Sentencing Council, which probably gives me as much as I can expect at this stage. I beg to move.
My Lords, I had a witty response for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but it will have to wait. My best responses usually come about halfway home when I think, “Damn”.
This group of amendments looks at how the provisions relating to a mandatory punitive element will sit alongside existing features of the sentencing framework. Amendment 7 would require courts to consider, before imposing an element that meets the purpose of punishing an offender, whether that requirement is compatible with any other requirement that the court wishes to impose as part of the overall community order. I am happy to give an assurance that it is not the Government’s intention that these provisions result in a combination of community order requirements that are manifestly unsuitable for addressing the causes of an individual’s offending. It is clearly right that where a court imposes two or more requirements in combination, those requirements should complement each other rather than cut across each other.
That is why the Government propose to retain Section 148(2)(a) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides that the “requirement or requirements” imposed as part of a community order should be those that are, in the court’s opinion, “most suitable for” that offender. I should make it clear that, as a result of these provisions, this requirement would in future be subject to the duty to impose a punitive element. However, that does not change the fact that the courts, having decided on a punitive element, will still have to ensure that, if it is combined with another requirement, that combination is the most suitable for the offender before them.
I would also draw noble Lords’ attention to Section 177(6) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which requires courts to consider, when imposing two or more community order requirements, whether they are “compatible with each other” given the circumstances of the case. Again, the Government do not intend to change that requirement. I believe that, taken together, the existing framework already provides the safeguards that my noble friend is seeking.
Amendment 10 would place an explicit duty on the Sentencing Council to prepare sentencing guidelines for courts on the execution of their duty to impose a punitive element within or alongside a community order. I fully understand the intent behind this amendment. Since its creation in 2010, the Sentencing Council has played a vital and valuable role in supporting effective and consistent sentencing by the courts. While the council is of course independent, the Government are committed to exploring with it whether the provisions in this Bill will require changes to existing sentencing guidelines. For example, the council has an existing guideline on sentencing powers in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, including community orders. The current guidelines include material defining low, medium and high intensity levels of community order.
While this and other guidelines clearly provide important guidance to the courts, I would not wish the council’s existing, wide-ranging powers to issue sentencing guidelines to become too unwieldy or complex. The current power to issue guidelines has the twin virtues of simplicity and flexibility, while allowing the Government to request that the council considers issuing guidelines on a particular topic. I am happy to make a commitment to my noble friend that the Government will discuss this and other provisions in the Bill with the Sentencing Council. I hope that, on the basis of these assurances, my noble friend will be content to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Amendments 8 to 11A not moved.
12: Schedule 16, page 251, line 32, after “to” insert “meet the needs of the victims and”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 12, I shall speak also to Amendment 13. The purpose of Amendment 12 is to insert the phrase “meet the needs of the victims” to make it clear that the aim of the restorative justice requirement being imposed by the court is to include both victim and offender equally, which is after all the point of restorative justice. The amendment seeks to keep the needs of the victim at the centre of the process, where they belong.
It is a very welcome move by the Government that this part of the Bill makes formal provision for restorative justice to take place in this country. These provisions allow for the court to defer sentencing following a guilty plea for a restorative justice conference to take place, when all the necessary conditions are present. Of course, this may not always be the case. For example, all potential participants may not be sure that this is what they really want and they may need more time. However, the principle is being allowed for that restorative justice to be an integral part of the sentencing process and subsequent outcomes.
It has been said, rightly, that this is the biggest development for restorative justice since legislation introducing referral order panels happened in 1999, when those panels were set up to offer RJ to young, first-time low-level offenders via the YOTs. The principle is that when a court chooses a restorative approach, it is made clear that all concerned are involved in the process. This is good practice and is at the heart of what restorative conferencing is about: what the circumstances of the crime were both from the offender’s point of view and what it has meant to the victim. It involves developing a realisation by both parties of how and why the event occurred and what it meant to all concerned, both at the time and later. This then has a bearing on decisions of how amends can be made. It is extremely important that the offender gains an insight of exactly how much pain and trouble has been inflicted and that the victim can describe and explain this in a personal way. That can be extremely surprising to the offender, who has often not considered for a moment the outcome of his actions. At the same time, this can be a great help to the victim in coming to terms with the event and moving on in their life. I have sat in on restorative conferences and seen such processes at work. They are truly remarkable.
This amendment seeks to ensure that a restorative conference is a totally inclusive exercise, which is the essence of RJ. Indeed, it underlines the Government’s oft-repeated objective of focusing more on the needs of victims than in the past. There are huge challenges ahead to establish the framework, skills, understanding, acceptance and confidence of all concerned in the realisation of this plan, not to speak of the costs. It remains incumbent on the Government to spell out in much more detail exactly what their plans are in all these areas.
Amendment 13 involves deleting “Imposition” and substituting “Administration”. This follows on logically from my earlier argument; namely, that a restorative requirement should be administered and not imposed by the court. Indeed, the fact that the Government are using words in the Bill such as “Imposition” in this context demonstrates that they, too, have some way to go in understanding what RJ is really all about. This involves proper planning and can take time. It is essential that the participants in a restorative process have consented to do so, and that it has not been imposed or forced in any way. The practical reality is that this may take some time and may not always be possible before a court hearing or before a guilty plea has been entered. Some victims may not have been contacted or they may not be sure that this is what they want and need time to think, particularly if they do not know in advance whether there will be a guilty plea. There are also the practicalities of contacting others who may be involved as secondary victims of the crime, such as family members or supporters. Finally, there is the preparatory work with all the participants. Therefore, importantly, this amendment allows for a deferral period when all this work can be carried out to ensure that the best outcomes of the process can be realised.
I said at Second Reading that I believe it is vital for two reasons that proper provision is in place for the administration of restorative justice. First, we want it to succeed. If we do not, then, by default, we will set it back for a long time as belief and confidence in this subtle and sensitive process will be badly damaged. Secondly, success is important because in those places around the country where restorative conferences take place, they have been found to be very effective generally and are frequently transformational. The figures are encouraging: 70% of victims offered RJ at the pre-sentence stage said it had come at the right time for them and 85% of those taking part said they were satisfied with the experience. It has led to a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending, which is better than prison or even community sentencing. Sentencers welcomed pre-sentence conferencing because it provided significant information to aid their decision-making.
There is still a long way to go to deliver and hone the quality of RJ provision. Crucially, sentencers must understand, appreciate and buy into what it has to offer, which will mean training. They must know that the Government’s intention is that the option to defer for RJ should be available in all types of case, not just in those that are on the cusp of custody. That could be quite a facer for some sentencers. Everyone will need a lot of guidance. The number of well qualified, experienced facilitators must be developed. Support for victims is vital and the whole exercise must be properly and well funded.
Overall, the development of confidence will be critical, but we know, beyond peradventure, that it is an experience which can be life-changing. The Government’s commitment to RJ, which is now being put into statute, must be the key to its proper development. I commend these amendments to the Minister in the hope of seeing the Government getting things right at the start of this important policy initiative. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the widespread support restorative justice has received across both Houses. Through this Bill, Her Majesty’s Government aim to empower victims by giving them an opportunity to be heard, and also to ensure that offenders understand the impact of their actions on others and, more importantly perhaps, to motivate them to change. We seem to be in agreement that we should be working towards encouraging restorative justice to be used more widely—a sentiment that I know echoes across this House as well as the other place— not as a replacement to, but in parallel with, existing sentencing powers.
As we have heard from my noble friend Lady Linklater, Amendment 12 adds an explicit reference to the needs of the victim to our definition of restorative justice requirements, which is a sentiment I strongly relate to. The Government are aware that restorative justice can be very beneficial to victims, and our research in pilots demonstrates that 85% of victims participating in direct restorative justice conferencing with their offenders were satisfied, so we entirely agree that restorative justice, when used appropriately, can—most importantly—meet the needs of victims.
Therefore, I cannot argue with this point, and if my noble friend Lady Linklater is willing to withdraw Amendment 12, I will consider it in advance of Report and return to this subject at that time. I am sure that my noble friend will understand that I cannot give an explicit undertaking at this stage to bring forward a government amendment but, as I have said, the Government will give sympathetic consideration to the points she has strongly made.
On Amendment 13, I hope that it is fair to say that, as my noble friend acknowledged, we are at a turning point in relation to restorative justice. The Government are attempting to take a victim-led approach to restorative justice and to move away from the offender-led process. We are also making sure that the victim is aware of, and considers, restorative justice as an option much earlier in the process.
This amendment would allow the court to defer sentencing for restorative justice even when the agreement of all the parties, including the victim, has not been obtained. This is despite agreement being necessary for the activity to take place. The Government take the view that it is important that the victim is able to consider and decide whether to give his or her consent before the court defers sentence. We are therefore not convinced that a court would want to defer sentencing unless everyone was signed up to it, as this could ultimately lead to lengthy delays, which are in no one’s interest. We must also remember that additional delays can result in increased costs.
In addition to concerns that the amendment could increase court time, we need to consider the impact on the victim of deferring a sentence. This is about the victim. In many cases, the victim will want speedy justice and closure, if for nothing else than in order to put the whole episode behind them. Any victim of crime shares that sentiment. I wonder whether deferment without the victim’s agreement could look as if restorative justice was being imposed on the victim in the sense that, “We’ve already delayed the court case for you, so you may well wish to consent”.
As I said earlier, I welcome the strong support for restorative justice from across the House and particularly thank my noble friend Lady Linklater for tabling her amendments. Support for the victim is vital, and I totally align myself with that sentiment. In light of the points I have made and my commitment further to consider Amendment 12, I would be grateful if my noble friend Lady Linklater would withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I am glad that, overall, he has accepted my arguments. I shall have to read Hansard carefully and perhaps ask a few more questions about deferral because it is a new element of reticence that I was not expecting. I am therefore likely to want to come back to this subject, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Amendment 13 not moved.
14: Schedule 16, page 252, line 6, at end insert—
“Part 2AProvision for female offenders7A (1) Contracts made by the Secretary of State with probation trusts shall require each probation trust to make appropriate provision for the delivery of services to female offenders.
(2) Provision under sub-paragraph (1) shall include provision for women to carry out unpaid work and participate in programmes designed to change offending behaviour in groups consisting only of women.”
My Lords, I will speak about making provision for women—“female offenders”, as the Bill calls them. These new clauses are intended to make good the remarkable lack of reference in this Bill to women who offend, which is for me and many others impossible to understand. They also echo the thinking and recommendations of the Corston report, which were accepted five years ago by the previous Government and were generally welcomed around the country. Like many of my colleagues and friends in the House, I earnestly wish that some moves can now be made to address these issues which are so long overdue.
New Section 1ZA(7A)(1), to be inserted into the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000 under Amendment 14, simply affirms that:
“Contracts made by the Secretary of State with probation trusts shall require each probation trust to make appropriate provision for the delivery of services to female offenders”,
because it is now generally understood that existing provision, whether in prison or in the community, has been—and still is—largely designed for men. Therefore, it is totally unsuitable for women, as should be absolutely self-evident. Women’s needs are quite different from men’s and the provision must be different.
Jean Corston recommended that there should be separate, specially tailored services locally available, so that the disruption to family life, particularly to children, is minimised as far as is humanly possible. It is self-evident that the needs of the children and families of women who have offended have a huge bearing on their capacity to attend programmes, for programmes to be effective and for reoffending to be reduced. It also has a crucial impact on the risk of orders being breached.
Women’s needs are extremely complex and need correspondingly tailored and appropriate responses. As we heard in a previous debate, most such women are the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, which demands quite different skill sets on the part of the providers of services from those required for men. Currently, we simply do not have adequate provision throughout the country to meet the extent of this need. Therefore, we are failing these very vulnerable women. We are also failing our society’s needs and the needs of the many children involved.
Of course, there are probation trusts which make provision for women in their patch. I have visited some remarkably effective and impressive initiatives where women’s centres are turning lives around. I have visited centres where the women themselves are instrumental in making this happen through the understanding and support that they give each other, as well as the skill and sensitive work done by the probation services concerned. But the probation services are not required to do this: hence, the need for this amendment.
The recent joint inspection report on the use of alternatives to custody for women offenders reported a lack of women-specific provision for unpaid work and offending behaviour programmes. However, it said that women-only provision, where available, is often very successful. I know this to be true and have met women who have continued to visit their centre long past the end of their required attendance to help other women who are still under an order.
The second part of this amendment follows on from what I have just said. It states that each probation trust should be able,
“to carry out unpaid work”,
in women-only groups, as well as any offending behaviour work, such as drug and alcohol addiction programmes or domestic violence programmes. For the one or two women in an otherwise male group doing unpaid work, it is likely to be extremely threatening, intimidating and unproductive, and quite likely to end up with the order being breached. Tragically, that is likely to result in a custodial sentence. Indeed, a striking feature of the female prison population is the high proportion of women in prison for breaching a court order—an order originally imposed for an offence that might never have attracted a custodial sentence in the first place. That is a tragic irony.
I hope that the Minister will take this away and look at this serious omission in the Bill. It is not too late to rectify it and, in so doing, he would attract support and heartfelt relief the length and breadth of this land. I beg to move.
My Lords, in supporting Amendment 14, to which I have added my name, I shall speak also to Amendment 20, which noble Lords will note has virtually the same wording as Amendment 14 and for the same reasons. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has made abundantly clear, the needs of women as regards community sentences in particular are currently not being satisfied. Indeed, we are still waiting for the Government’s paper on strategic priorities for women, which we have been expecting for some time.
In his answers to the debate we had on 30 October, the Minister mentioned that there had been success with young offenders. In fact, for young offenders, one has to read “children” because the success has been with the under-18s, led by the Youth Justice Board. There is then a gap, which is variously described as being those between 18 and 21 or 18 and 25. That debate has been raging for ages. It means that there is a gap in the provision for people of a very vulnerable age who are in transition to adulthood. I must commend to the House the remarkable work done by the alliance which has the name Transition to Adulthood. I shall mention in particular two documents published by the alliance. One is called Pathways from Crime: Ten steps to a more effective approach for young adults in the criminal justice process. The other is Going for Gold, which was published last week. It has a bronze, silver and gold approach to community sentencing, which I commend to the Government.
In commenting on community sentences, Pathways from Crime recommends:
“The few existing examples of young adult specific community interventions that exist across the country should be replicated nationally, and similar effective interventions should be available to all sentencers when sentencing a young adult”.
I say “hear, hear” to that. I admit that I was slightly, I hope, confused when in an answer on 30 May the Minister hinted that instead of young adult community sentences being handed to the probation service to administer, they were going to be handed to local authorities. I am worried about that because one of the recent successes in this neglected area, as the House has heard many times, is the intensive alternatives to custody programme. It has been piloted in Manchester, South Yorkshire, London and other places, and was very valuably evaluated by Matrix Knowledge, which proved the value that the programme presented in terms of preventing reoffending.
The probation service has neglected this group for too long, although now, having tasted success with these programmes, it is very anxious to get into the game. I believe it is very important that, instead of leaving provision for this group up to individual local authorities, it should be made clearly the responsibility of the probation service so that intensive alternatives to custody and other programmes can be developed nationally and, therefore, have some hope of consistency.
I am very glad that the subject has been studied with such assiduity by Transition to Adulthood because, in its work, it is filling in a great gap which has existed for too long. On 25 July, the Minister told me that there was going to be a commissioning strategy for young adults from the Ministry of Justice, which we still await. However, I hope that by raising the issue at this stage two very important gaps—women and young adults—can be properly looked after in the community sentencing arrangements, which the Government say in Schedule 16 they intend to introduce.
My Lords, I will be very brief. I support both the amendments. They are vital and I hope that they will be adopted fully by the Government. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, has said, it is an extraordinary situation, after all the reports that there have been over the years, that still no special arrangements have been made for women offenders. We know that so many of them have suffered. Around half the women in prison have suffered domestic violence and one in three has been sexually abused. Most of them entering custody have committed non-violent offences. I remember going around a women’s unit some time ago where a radio and television station had been set up and they were being trained to be interviewers as well as the technicians on it. I was asked quite deliberately why I thought it was that women got more severe sentences than men who had committed equivalent crimes. I did not have much of an answer at that stage, but when I checked on it I found that what they said was very accurate. They were being penalised much more strongly.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, made a very important point about the children affected by this. It is absurd to break up families, particularly those that consist of just mothers and children. Quite often the fathers fall by the wayside when the mother goes in to prison. It is not just the break-up of the home that is traumatic—the home is often repossessed—but there is also the effect on the children of suddenly losing their mother and perhaps having to go into care. That is quite unnecessary if working together with the mother and the family can produce the best answer. I am quite certain that in the right circumstances it can.
I believe that Amendment 20, spoken to so effectively by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, is also crucial. We know that the cycle of deprivation concentrates on that particular group that comes in and out of prison, and so many of them are in that young age group. We are told that some of the reasons for this may well be that a lot of facilities available for children begin to fade away—the Prison Reform Trust has done an excellent briefing on all of this—and yet these children still have time to mature into adults and do not go through that transition until full adulthood which is reached at the age of about 22.
I hope that some of the experiments that have been reported on will be taken to heart. You have to have both the experienced and the expert there to help the young. Finding jobs or training is crucial if they are to be given an alternative to going back into the cycle. As well as the help of professionals, back-up with things such as HomeStart and people who know how to be supportive within a family are crucial for getting the young offender back on the right path. As we have heard already, there are experiments that have worked. Let us please ask the Government to back them. I am sure that they have exactly the same interests as we all have in this direction, so it is just a question of making certain that we get the right facilities and the right framework to enable this to happen.
My Lords, this has been an important debate. It is four-square with two instincts that I had when I came in to this job two and a half years ago and they have been reinforced by all the experiences that I have had over the past 30 months. The first relates to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, that women are different and need a different response from our criminal justice system. The other relates to the age group of young adult offenders—whether it is 18 to 21 or 18 to 25. Not only is that the age of a transition to adulthood; it can also be a transition to a lifetime in crime. It has struck me time and again that if only we could extend some of the lessons that we have learnt from the treatment of young offenders under the age of 18 into that age group, we might be able to have a similar impact.
One thing that is encouraging concerns my right honourable friend Chris Grayling, the new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. I have been impressed by the freshness of his thinking in some of these areas. It may be that, like me, he has the benefit of not being a lawyer and comes to it with a certain action-this-day, can-do approach. One thing I will accept that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to earlier. I will propose to the Lord Chancellor that he comes to this end of the building and that we have a meeting. I think that it will be to our mutual benefit.
On the point about women, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I make the point that women now have a new champion in the Ministry of Justice, Helen Grant MP. While Helen has been working her way into the job, it has caused a slight delay in the publication of the women’s strategy. She is entirely comfortable with the content and direction. As for when it will be ready, I am not sure which of the civil servants’ euphemisms I am allowed to use—before Christmas, shortly, in December—but work is well under way and she is taking a close and personal interest. I think that it will be greatly to the advantage of the priority that women are given within the Ministry of Justice that Helen is now in place. I also emphasise that, in developing that women’s strategy, we build on the work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, and the template that she laid down. As with the previous Administration, there is a difficulty with resources in some of our ambitions, but that does not take away from the fact that we are looking at a real and effective strategy, building on the Corston proposals and taking them forward.
Likewise, young adult offenders are a very important group, and if we are going to succeed in a rehabilitation revolution it is in that group that we have to find our success. We must explore ideas to get effective programmes for them. I thank my noble friend Lady Linklater and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for drawing the Committee’s attention to these important issues. This Government share their belief that it is important that the criminal justice system is properly responsive to the needs of female and young adult offenders. If we are successfully to rehabilitate both groups of offenders, it is important that we take into account the different profiles of women and young adult offenders, including the factors associated with their offending.
The Government are committed to ensuring that we, in conjunction with the voluntary and private sectors, deliver appropriate services that address the needs of female offenders. To support this, the Government have provided an additional £3.78 million to probation trusts to fund 31 women’s community services in 2012-13. These services aim to address the underlying factors associated with women’s offending, including substance misuse, mental health issues and histories of domestic violence and abuse. Furthermore, these centres offer options for the courts to support and complement the statutory work of probation trusts in the delivery of community and suspended sentence orders, and to support women in the successful completion of post-release licences. This additional funding is now embedded in the National Offender Management Service’s community budget baselines to allow for continued support of provision for women.
Probation trusts are already required by the National Offender Management Service Commissioning Intentions document, to demonstrate how they will ensure the appropriate provision of women’s services. All probation trusts have met this year’s requirement to provide appropriate provision for women and there are many good examples of a gender-specific approach to female offenders in the community, as a number of noble Lords have said. Furthermore, the unpaid work operating manual issued by the National Offender Management Service requires that women should be allocated to work placements that take account of their needs. This may be a placement with a beneficiary agency that is sensitive to the needs of women, or a specific female-only group placement. The manual also requires that when planning provision for women, the view of female offenders themselves must be taken into account, with the presumption that they will not be required to work alongside male offenders.
I would also like to add that the small number of female offenders in some trust areas means that female-only unpaid work programmes may not always be the most appropriate way of addressing their needs. It could, for example, result in women having to travel long distances. This has cost implications for these women, and could particularly create difficulties where a woman has childcare responsibilities. It is therefore essential that probation trusts have the freedom to make appropriate arrangements for female offenders that reflect local needs.
On Amendment 20 and young adult offenders, I can confirm that this Government share the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and are committed to ensuring we deliver services that take account of young adult offenders’ particular needs. We recognise that transition between youth and adult services is a potential point of vulnerability for young people and we are already working hard to ensure more consistent processes for supporting young people who are transferring between systems. For example, in September the Youth Justice Board launched a transitions framework, which provides guidance to those working with young adults who are transferring from youth offending teams to probation services. Furthermore, we are investing £3.7 million in a new youth to adult portal to improve how secure information about young adults is transferred from youth offending teams to both probation services and young offender institutions. Already, users have provided very positive feedback about the impact that this is having on their ability to respond to the individual needs of young adult offenders.
In addition to these initiatives, the National Offender Management Service is developing a specific commissioning strategy for young adults through its programme of work to define its commissioning intentions. Our initial thinking is that cognitive skills training and work to prevent recreational drug usage developing into drug dependency are particularly beneficial within this age group. However, individual assessment remains just as important with this group as it is with older adults, and the assessment can help to determine whether these or other interventions are most appropriate.
I hope I have demonstrated that this Government take seriously the needs of female and young adult offenders and that a bespoke statutory duty to this end is not required. In light of the points I have raised, I hope that my noble friend Lady Linklater will agree to withdraw her amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will agree not to move his. I can assure them that the arguments that they have deployed are in sympathy with the direction of travel of Helen Grant as regards women and of the Secretary of State as regards young offenders. I shall reflect whether that is best handled in amendments as proposed in this Bill or by other means. I hope that in that spirit the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment and I shall ponder on the points made in this debate.
My Lords, I am very grateful to have heard such a positive response from my noble friend and to hear him indeed affirm that women are different. I also thought interesting, although it was a slightly tangential point, the suggestion that we should extent the reach of the YJB to young adult women because they are indeed, in many respects, still children. I have to say that I have 40 year-old children, and I still call them children.
I want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The intensive alternatives to custody, which I have seen at work, are fantastically effective and should definitely be extended. I am very keen on the work of T2A as well. I welcome my noble friend the Minister’s suggestion of a meeting with Chris Grayling. I think we would welcome that enormously. I, too, have written to him and got no response. But I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will have no problem in that department. I am aware of Helen Grant being a good ally as a woman with responsibility at the other end.
Worryingly but not unexpectedly, allusion was made to resources. The argument about resourcing is that, of course, especially in this field and especially with the range of vulnerable people involved tangentially—that is, children and wider families when women are concerned—money spent at the right end can have a huge ripple effect when it is spent on issues facing women who may not go into custody but who certainly have to carry out a community sentence. If that is badly handled, it really can affect their lives. Money spent early is money well spent and saves a very great deal in terms of the quality, expectations and prospects of people’s lives, particularly the lives of children.
I still did not hear any response to my suggestion that probation trusts should be required to make appropriate provision and be appropriately funded for doing so, but for the moment I am happy to thank my noble friend once again for his positive response. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 14 withdrawn.
15: Schedule 16, page 254, line 33, at end insert “the use or”
In moving Amendment 15, I will speak also to Amendment 16. Again, I hope to be brief.
This takes us to the provisions about electronic monitoring, the first of which provides in new Section 215A(1) that there should be a code of practice relating to the processing—I stress “processing”—of
“data gathered in the course of … monitoring … offenders under electronic monitoring requirements”.
My amendment would extend this code to the use of data. I hope that it is pretty obvious what that is about. Processing is a mechanical matter. The use of data is how you apply what you have discovered. That takes us into civil liberties areas. I hope that the Minister will acknowledge that this is something more than processing and that we can find a way to cover it.
Amendment 16 provides for consultation in preparing a code. The Secretary of State will have the obligation to issue the code. I remember that in the Protection of Freedoms Act there was provision for consultation by the Secretary of State in developing a code of practice relating to camera surveillance systems. This amendment is very closely based on that provision. I have listed a number of post-holders and organisations that will have a particular point of view on what needs to be considered when electronic monitoring is to be a part of a disposal.
Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, told us that he would have to leave. I say in his absence that I am extremely flattered that he has added his name to a piece of my drafting.
My Lords, I would like to hear what the Minister has to say about each of the organisations. It will not take very much more of the Committee’s time. I do not know whether the noble Lord was trying to save time.
NOMS and the probation service will have views about the impact of monitoring on individual offenders who, as we know, are likely to have very different characteristics. The Lord Chief Justice has a responsibility for the work of sentencers and therefore will, I am sure, wish to make comments to the Secretary of State about how sentencers will use this tool. The police, as the law enforcers, will have a view and the Information Commissioner and the Chief Surveillance Commissioner have important civil liberties obligations and responsibilities. I will listen to what the Minister has to say and I hope to receive some assurances but it is important to put on record why I have chosen this list of candidates, together with, as I say,
“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Hamwee. As regards the list in Amendment 16, the probation service represents a very important element in the consultation and the setting up of the code. It is clear that supervision is appropriate only when it is coupled with other requirements, particularly probation support. In fact, it is a great mistake for electronic monitoring to be used without proper contact being established with a probation officer. That increases breach rates by 58% and higher levels of reoffending by 21%. You cannot just leave this matter to a bit of technology. It is very important that those who have direct contact with young, or not so young, people in this situation also have the support of people in the probation service who can add their skills and advice to this process.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 15 and 16. I noted with some amusement that my noble friend Lady Linklater said that her children were in their forties, which made me feel like a mere child on the Front Bench.
Amendments 15 and 16 in the name of my noble friend Lady Hamwee relate to the duty on the Secretary of State to issue a code of practice regarding the processing of data gathered under an electronic monitoring requirement imposed for either the purpose of monitoring compliance or monitoring whereabouts in short tracking offenders.
As my noble friend said, Amendment 15 is intended to extend the scope of the code of practice to include the use of data as well as the processing of data. In fact, the code itself would be designed to ensure such use meets the principles and obligations set out in the Data Protection Act 1998 for the processing of such data. “Processing” is defined in Section 1(1) of that Act to include the “obtaining, recording or holding” of data, including, among other things, the
“use of the information or data”.
To add the words “use of” to this provision could call into question the breadth of “processing” in relation to the code and could have the effect of narrowing the requirement, which I am sure is not the intention of my noble friend.
The code will undoubtedly cover the use of data obtained under this provision. It will fully and clearly set out the expectations, safeguards and broad responsibilities for the collection, retention, and sharing of data. For example, we envisage that the code will set out the circumstances in which it may be permissible to share data with the police to assist with crime detection.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, correctly pre-empted what I am going to say on Amendment 16. I am always astonished by the great wisdom in this House. Indeed, I can give the assurance that the Government fully recognise the need to consult all stakeholders during the development of the code. Accordingly, the Government intend to consult the Information Commissioner as well as all the other interested parties listed in the amendment to ensure that the framework for processing such data is transparent and lawful while being of value to organisations that are going to use it at an operational level. In the interests of simplicity and flexibility, and given the Government’s undertaking to consult key parties, I feel that this amendment is not needed. Therefore, I hope that I have been able to reassure my noble friend on both counts and that she will be willing to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am sorry that I did not do my homework adequately on the first of the amendments and I am grateful for the clarification. On the second of the amendments, will the noble Lord repeat what the Government will consult on? Although he said that the Government would consult these organisations, I was not sure that that extended to the point I made about the impact on offenders; in other words, pulling this into the whole package of taking us forward on the rehabilitative route. Towards the end of his response, the noble Lord explained what the consultation would be.
My Lords, the Government will consult on the full content of the code of practice. My noble friend listed several organisations, including the police and the Information Commissioner. All those listed in the amendment will form part of the consultation.
Amendment 15 withdrawn.
Amendment 16 not moved.
17: Schedule 16, page 257, line 22, leave out “wants” and insert “requires”
My Lords, Amendment 17 is a small but significant amendment and I am going to be told that the word “wants” is defined somewhere else. We now go into provisions about the disclosure of information. The amendment is to the paragraph allowing for further disclosure, once it has been disclosed through the first few parts of paragraph 27, to another relevant person, which is of course defined,
“who wants social security information or finances information”.
I suggest that “wants” is a very wide term. I can want something but I do not need it. We all know children who “need” sweeties or whatever, but they do not really: they want them. An official could want information because it makes life that much easier. “Requires” would be the proper term here. There should be an appropriate, underlying—I am struggling for a synonym —need, underlying requirement, necessity or something very close to necessity. It should not just make life a bit easier for the person who is asking for it. One might almost have referred, “to another relevant person who asks for it”. That would certainly have been too wide and “wants” is quite close to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 18 and 19 in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
Amendment 18 concerns information disclosed to a court, under the same paragraph—paragraph 27 of Schedule 16—as my noble friend’s earlier amendment; it relates to social security information and information to be disclosed by HMRC relating to a defendant’s finances. In both cases, the information is disclosed to assist the court in inquiring into the defendant’s financial circumstances. Sub-paragraphs (3) and (5) of paragraph 27 limit the purposes for which the disclosure is to be made and used—broadly for the purpose of assisting the court in dealing with the offender, with a general prohibition on further and wider disclosure. So far, that all seems entirely appropriate, but sub-paragraph (7)(b) appears to allow such information to be disclosed much more widely and outside the ambit of the proceedings before the court concerning the defendant, provided only that the information is summarised—what is sometimes called “gisted”—and anonymised by framing it in such a way that the defendant is not identified. That allows disclosure of social security and HMRC information relating to the finances of the offender for purposes other than his sentencing which was the purpose for which the information was originally obtained from the government bodies concerned.
What is the point of sub-paragraph (7)(b)? If there is a point to this collection of information, is this Bill and is this Schedule the place for its introduction? If we are to widen powers to obtain and use information in this gisted and anonymised form, then provisions authorising that should form part of a Bill concerning the collection of such information and not be added by a side wind in this way to a schedule which concerns sentencing and information required to assist the court with that sentencing.
Amendment 19 would ensure that, where social security or financial information about a defendant is obtained from the relevant government departments, the defendant must be shown that information and be told to whom it has been disclosed. It is fundamental that a defendant, about whom confidential financial information is obtained from government in connection with proceedings against him, should be entitled, as of right, to see that information to enable him to challenge and explain it, to know the information upon which the court is asked to act and also to know the identity of anyone to whom it has been disclosed. The paragraph, as drafted, permits such disclosure to him, or at least it does not prohibit it, by sub-paragraph (7)(a), but it does not require it and it should.
Will the Minister consider accepting the amendments or at least take them away and come back with amendments to the same effect?
My Lords, this group of amendments relates to provisions in Part 6 of Schedule 16 that enable the sharing of data between government departments for the purpose of setting fines and other financial penalties. My noble friend referred to definitions and what is where I will attempt in my response to Amendment 17 to make clear that, at each stage of the process, access to the data we refer to will be limited to only those with appropriate authority and a genuine need to see the data for the purposes of assisting a court that may wish to see it for sentencing purposes.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee referred to the use of the word “wants” in paragraph 27 of Schedule 16. This is intended to ensure consistency with subsections (1), (2) and (3)(a) of Clause 22. We have not used such words as “requires” or “needs” in the Bill because, technically, the court neither requires nor needs access to information held by the Department for Work and Pensions or HMRC. The information in question could be obtained by other means; for example, by requiring the defendant to provide details of their own financial circumstances. The relevant person “wants” the information because it comes directly from the Department for Work and Pensions and HMRC and this is the most reliable way of giving the court the accurate information about the defendant’s financial circumstances. It may arise that financial circumstances have changed. There will always be provisions within such proceedings to allow someone in such a situation to be allowed to present an up-to-date position of their financial circumstances.
Turning to Amendment 18, tabled by my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, I can confirm that Part 6 of Schedule 16 allows for the disclosure of financial information obtained under these provisions in a summary format. Nevertheless, paragraph 27(7)(b) only allows for the publication of financial information if it is in anonymised form. I remind the Committee that under paragraph 28, the publication of any financial information without lawful authority is a criminal offence, punishable by up to six months’ imprisonment.
The purpose of allowing the publication of summarised financial information obtained under this provision is to allow anonymised financial information to be shared for the purposes of research and statistical analysis. This information will be invaluable in helping to identify trends in the criminal justice system and the financial circumstances of offenders.
I turn finally to Amendment 19. In practice the information obtained by the court under this provision will be disclosed to the defendant or his representative. Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, highlighted, the defendant is entitled to know what information the court is relying on in setting his or her sentence and to challenge it if necessary. I can also confirm that a notice will be sent to such defendants, alongside the hearing date notice, informing them that data will be sought on their financial circumstances from either the Department for Work and Pensions or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.
As I have already said, if there is a discrepancy between the information that the defendant provides and the information obtained from either the Department for Work and Pensions or HMRC, the court may wish to confirm with the defendant which information is up to date before sentencing. It will then be a matter for the court to decide on what evidence it relies in sentencing the defendant. However, if a defendant does not attend their hearing and does not submit financial information, it is important that the court has the financial information on the defendant before it makes a sentencing decision. I stress that the financial information will not be part of the evidence used against the defendant to secure a conviction, and the court will have sight of it only if the defendant is convicted. If a conviction is secured, the defendant and his or her representative will be able to see any financial information available to the court.
I assure your Lordships’ House that at each stage of the process access to the data will be limited to those with the appropriate authority and a genuine need to see the data for the purposes of assisting a court that may wish to see the data for sentencing purposes. In practice those will be, for example, court officers who are dealing with the case for the purposes of preparing sentencing information for sentencers and, where the defendant is convicted, magistrates or judges. The data will not be accessible to any member of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service staff via the IT database on which it will be held.
I hope that in light of these assurances, my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Marks will withdraw or not move their amendments.
My Lords, of course I will not press my amendments. Nevertheless, I am not sure that the Minister has answered the point about the defendant’s entitlement to see the information. I accept my noble friend’s assurances that it is the intention of the Government that the information will be disclosed, but there is absolutely no reason why such a provision should not be in the legislation, rather than the current, rather negative, lack of a provision that exists at the moment.
My Lords, again, I assure my noble friend that the defendant would know of any such use of data. If any legal representative of the defendant wished to access that data, they would also be made available. I hope that we can clarify any other outstanding issues either before or on Report.
My Lords, it might be useful if at some point we could have a discussion whereby we can understand precisely what all the steps are. Like my noble friend Lord Marks, I am clear about the assurances that have been given, but I am not clear to what extent they are within the wording of the schedule and, even having listened to the Minister, how much they need to be there.
As regards Amendment 17, I will look at the references to the other provisions to which he pointed me when he said that there was a need for consistency. I understand that that is important so as not to suggest there is no difference in provision. I might need to ask him if he would be good enough to spend a little time with me, and perhaps my noble friend Lord Marks, to go through the steps in detail. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 17 withdrawn.
Amendments 18 and 19 not moved.
20: Schedule 16, page 259, line 18, at end insert—
“Part 6AProvision for young adult offenders28A (1) Contracts made by the Secretary of State with probation trusts shall require each probation trust to make appropriate provision for the delivery of services to young adult offenders.
(2) Provision under sub-paragraph (1) shall include provision for services which provide support and rehabilitation appropriate to the level of maturity of young adult offenders and which increases the likelihood of compliance with community orders.
(3) For the purposes of this paragraph “young adult offender” means a person who is aged at least 18 but under 21 when convicted.”
Amendment 20 not moved.
21: Schedule 16, page 260, line 24, at end insert—
“Part 8Reorganisation of the National Probation Service1 The Offender Management Act 2007 is amended as follows.
2 After section 15, insert—
“15A Power to reorganise the National Probation Service
(1) Any plans to reorganise the Probation Service for England and Wales must be instituted by regulations.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) shall be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of each House of Parliament.””
My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to enable the Government to say rather more about their intentions for the future of the probation service, given that an effective and properly resourced probation service will be crucial to delivering the Government’s intentions on community sentencing, which we are discussing, and the decisions of the courts. The Minister also referred to the probation service in our debate on community sentencing on 30 October. The amendment states that any plans to reorganise the probation service must be instituted by regulations, and that those regulations shall be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure of both Houses.
We know that the Minister is a great admirer of the probation service. He told us on 30 October that:
“I am a lifelong admirer of the probation service and am in awe of the responsibilities that our probation officers take on. I cannot imagine that any future structure would not draw on the experience and ethos that makes it such an excellent service”.—[Official Report, 30/10/12; col. 549.]
On the face of it, that could be taken to mean that the probation service as we know it today has a long-term future, particularly if it is the Government’s intention to raise the profile, importance and extent of rehabilitation as the means of reducing reoffending. On the other hand, the noble Lord’s words could mean very little.
He said that he could not imagine that any future structure would not draw on the experience and ethos that make it such an excellent service. What exactly did the Minister mean when he said that? One interpretation could be that the Government are nevertheless still looking to hand over to outside contractors large parts of the work currently undertaken by the probation service, and that the experience and ethos to which the Minister referred would be drawn upon because he would expect significant numbers of existing probation staff to be transferred over to those contractors. Is that an interpretation of the Minister’s comments that he would either accept as accurate or not be prepared to exclude?
He said that he was,
“in awe of the responsibilities that our probation officers take on”.
Yet, as I understand it, the Government have indicated that 60% of probation work will be put out to competitive tender. What then were the responsibilities that the Minister had in mind when he said that, and how many of those responsibilities is it the Government’s intention that the probation service should continue to undertake? Is it all of them, as presumably it should be, bearing in mind that the noble Lord is “in awe” and regards the probation service as an excellent service, and that its work will continue to be undertaken by probation officers in the years ahead?
Are the Government looking to reorganise the probation service and, if so, with what objective in mind, and in what way? If the probation service is already excellent, as the Minister told us last month, what improvements in the service do the Government believe can be achieved without potentially putting at risk the quality of the excellent service currently being provided?
We definitely do not want to see any attempt to reduce significantly or change the role of the probation service without Parliament being fully aware of what is going on, without the opportunity for a full debate—with Ministers having to justify their proposals to Parliament—and without Parliament having to agree to those changes. The new Secretary of State seems to believe implicitly in the private sector’s ability to do just about everything better than the public sector, and he is likely to try and outsource as much as he can work that is currently undertaken by the probation service. If that is not the case, the Minister has only to stand up and give a cast-iron guarantee that the probation service will continue to undertake its current activities within the public sector.
The Minister could also say how many staff are in the probation service at the present time and how many the Government envisage there will be in the future, taking account of their proposals in the Bill on community sentencing and their declared intentions on restorative justice and on the role of rehabilitation in reducing reoffending. We will listen to the Minister’s response and the words that he chooses to use—and the ones that he chooses not to use—with interest. I hope that his response will be consistent with the effusive words he used about the probation service in his response to our debate on 30 October. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Linklater has already put on record today, for the umpteenth time in this Chamber, our admiration for the work done by the probation service. I hope that is a fair summary. I will not take up the Committee’s time by repeating that or picking up the points of acclamation made by the noble Lord. I simply want to ask him a question. His amendment would insert a provision for the affirmative resolution procedure in the 2007 Act. The significance of the date of that will not be lost on the Committee. In other words, that legislation existed before the last general election. I was hoping to understand, from his introduction of this amendment, why, as that legislation allowed for plans to reorganise the probation service—I understand that must be so from his own amendment—there was no provision included at the time for the affirmative resolution procedure. I make it clear that my question is for the noble Lord, Lord Rosser.
I do not know whether I am flattered or worried about the assiduity—a world that seems to be creeping into these debates—with which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, reads my speeches. It is more worrying when speeches of a few years back are quoted back at one and it is perhaps even worse when someone reminds one that most of the powers that we will need to reorganise the probation service were included in the 2007 Act, which, as my noble friend has pointed out, was enacted under the previous Administration.
I would like to help the noble Lord further but he is well aware that we are looking at the probation service in parallel with the other reforms that we are bringing forward. The aim of our reforms will become clear. Noble Lords will know that the provision of the probation service in England and Wales is at present under review. Earlier this year the Government published a wide-ranging consultation paper, Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services, setting out proposals for the future direction of probation. The Government are carefully considering the way forward in the light of the comments received and the Government’s wider approach to reforming the justice system.
A key part of these reforms will be delivering a rehabilitation revolution that reduces reoffending rates and therefore better protects the public. The Government want to see offenders, both after release from prison and on community sentences, given the support that they need to keep them on the right track, rather than simply returning to crime. The Prime Minister has made it clear that this will be an ambitious programme, using payment by results across rehabilitation services to harness a range of expertise and to strengthen our focus on outcomes. We are clear that there will continue to be a critical role for the public sector probation service as part of a reformed system. The Government are aiming to set out a vision for the future system over the next few weeks. We will want to engage with probation staff, representative groups and all those who can make a contribution to this important work.
In light of these points, I would be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, would agree to withdraw his amendment. Work is under way; consultations are under way; and at the appropriate time we will bring forward proposals which, inevitably and quite rightly, will be subject to the scrutiny of both Houses.
I think the Minister has answered the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. We have not heard much since the conclusion of the consultation. The Minister has made it clear that there will be a reformed system and, by saying that the Government’s ideas will be around in the next few weeks, he has indicated that your Lordships’ House will not be able to discuss the Government’s proposals on community sentencing in the light of the Government’s intention for the future of the probation service. If that is wrong and if the Minister is telling us that on Report we will know what the Government’s intentions are for the future of the probation service, I will be very happy to give way so that he can tell us that fact. He does not seem to be too keen to stand at the Dispatch Box to confirm that that information will be available for us on Report.
It is with considerable suspicion that we view this Government’s intentions for the probation service. There is clearly a move to outsource more activities. The Minister has not taken the opportunity that I have given him to stand at the Dispatch Box and tell me that I have got it all wrong and that that is not what the Government are thinking of doing. That is the answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.
For the record, we are considering how to give effect to those parts of the Offender Management Act 2007 that open up provision of the probation service to a wider range of providers. In doing that, we will, of course, take a sensible and measured approach to any proposals introducing competition for offender management. Protection of the public will continue to be our top priority as we design our reforms.
My Lords, I would not say that the noble Lord was interrupted but an explanation has been given by the Minister. I did not expect the Minister to answer my question because it was not a question for him. It was a question about why the previous Government provided for the sort of reorganisation to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, but did not provide for the affirmative resolution procedure. I am sure he would have said, as I have, that one needs to ensure that all legislation is proof against succeeding and different governments. The noble Lord was not part of it so perhaps I am teasing him unnecessarily.
It was not our intention to do to the probation service what one suspects that this Government are contemplating doing to the probation service. Certainly, nothing that the Minister has just said will have allayed any fears or concerns about the Government’s future intentions for the probation service. We tabled an amendment to ensure that the matter is fully discussed and debated in both Houses and to point out that it requires an affirmative resolution procedure.
I am not surprised that the Minister has declined to answer any of the points that I have put forward in asking him about the Government’s intentions. He has effectively remained silent, which must add considerably to the worries and suspicion about what is intended, particularly since the consultation ended a while ago. However, I realise that I cannot force the Minister to say anything in response to questions that I ask. Therefore, I have no alternative but to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Schedule 16 agreed.
Schedule 17 : Deferred prosecution agreements
22: Schedule 17, page 261, line 27, after “unavailable” insert “for a period of or likely to be of more than 21 days”
My Lords, Amendment 22 is a very low-key and minor introduction to this important new schedule about deferred prosecution agreements. It deals with the provision of certain persons to be designated as prosecutors who can enter into deferred prosecution agreements. Paragraph 3(2) states:
“A designated prosecutor must exercise personally the power to enter into a DPA”.
If I split an infinitive, it was because I was quoting. Paragraph 3(3) states that,
“if the designated prosecutor is unavailable, the power … may be exercised personally by a person authorised … by the designated prosecutor”.
This is a probing amendment. I seek to understand what is meant by “unavailable”. I assume that it would mean something more than “unavailable because he has gone to the dentist that afternoon”, and would mean unavailable because he or she is having long-term treatment for a medical problem that keeps them away from the office and away from work. The amendment specifies that the unavailability should be,
“for a period of or likely to be of more than 21 days”.
I am by no means wedded to that. As I said, this is a probing amendment, because “unavailable” could be read as meaning a very brief period where it would not be appropriate for power to be delegated. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness raised a perfectly fair and reasonable point, to which no doubt the Minister will be able to reply. Looking again at paragraph 3, it strikes me that perhaps there are one or two other questions to ask. Paragraph 3(1) states that the prosecutor is designated by an order made by the Secretary of State. That is a very high-level appointment. It is emphasised by paragraph 3(2), which states that the designated prosecutor,
“must exercise personally the power to enter into a DPA”.
Again, it follows that this is a serious responsibility for somebody appointed at the highest level relevant to that appointment.
It would appear that the person then has a delegated power, in the circumstances which no doubt the Minister will elucidate of his or her unavailability, to appoint somebody else. There does not seem to be any procedure for that person necessarily to be one of a group approved in advance by the Secretary of State. It may be that a sort of panel system is envisaged, but that is not clear in the Bill. Presumably anybody could be designated—in theory they could be relatively junior—by the original designated prosecutor to carry out this very responsible work.
This thought had not occurred to me until the noble Baroness opened up the issue. However, it strikes me as a matter that the Minister should take back and look at. I would envisage that a panel system would apply, but surely it would be sensible to specify that that would be the case, rather than leave an untrammelled decision to the designated prosecutor in circumstances where he or she is not available to do the job. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, will take that back and look at it, in order to answer both problems that we have identified this evening.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for moving her amendment. When devising the new process for deferred prosecution agreements for England and Wales, the Government sought to ensure that it aligned with key strengths and aspects of the existing criminal justice system. To that end, we provided for decision-making throughout the process to be properly guided, including by the code of practice for prosecutors, and overseen by the judiciary.
Paragraph 3 of the schedule provides that the decision to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with an organisation should be exercised personally by designated prosecutors, namely the Director of Public Prosecutions and the director of the Serious Fraud Office. This is to ensure that there is prosecutorial oversight of each DPA at the highest level. It mirrors existing requirements for such oversight, including, for example, decisions to bring proceedings under the Bribery Act 2010. Offences under the Bribery Act 2010 are among the economic and financial offences for which we propose DPAs. This process should be available, as detailed in Part 2 of Schedule 17.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked what would occur when the relevant director, whom we hope in each case will make the decision personally, is not available. In order that due process can continue without delay, we have provided the power for the relevant director, if they are going to be unavailable, to designate another prosecutor to exercise the oversight and decision-making functions. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, asked whether they could assign this power to anyone. I suggest that someone who is qualified and in such a senior role will assign it to an appropriate prosecutor in their relevant area.
Consistent with similar powers for personal decisions by directors, such as those under the Bribery Act 2010, we have not sought to constrain the ability to delegate the power to enter into a DPA. We are not contemplating large numbers of deferred prosecution agreements each year, and are confident that the directors are fully committed to making decisions personally, as envisaged, and would designate another person to do so only in exceptional circumstances and with good reason—and, I will add, would designate only an appropriate person.
I consider it important in the interests of openness and consistency that DPAs should align as closely as possible with existing and established law, and with the processes of our criminal justice system. That is what we have sought to achieve in paragraph 3, and indeed throughout Schedule 17. I therefore hope that with this explanation my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response, but he has not quite addressed the issue. There is nothing in the Bill that would require the substitute prosecutor to be a designated prosecutor; they could be anybody nominated by the original designated prosecutor. I again invite the Minister to take this back and have a look at it. It seems—and I think that the noble Baroness agrees with me—that there is a lacuna here that needs to be filled.
My Lords, of course I will look in any direction that the noble Lord points me to in considering consistency with other legislation. I think that what we are being asked to do is to rely on the good sense, and good sense of responsibility, of those who hold the posts specified in paragraph 3(1)(c). I understand that and take the point seriously but, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, at least some further thought is required in order that we can be confident that enough constraint is in place. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment
Amendment 22 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.30 pm.