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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I am heartened that one year after the Select Committee produced its report—as a member of the Select Committee, I was pleased to draft some of it—we are moving on and that my right hon. Friend is indeed talking about redesigning the Child Support Agency, because it has failed. That seems to be the conclusion of the new chief executive in his report, when he wanted so much money.

Can my right hon. Friend reassure me about two things in the interim? First, he spoke today about the huge cost of migration of old cases to the new system. Is EDS, the computer supply company, to be sued for that? Secondly, as an interim measure, will he address the issue that we found when we looked into the CSA—that too many staff were engaged in calculation, leaving none doing enforcement, so that enforcement always took the back seat? Will there be a division now, not after the redesign comes in, to ring-fence some enforcement staff?

Mr. Hutton: Yes, very specifically, in answer to my hon. Friend's last point. The chief executive is looking
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to redeploy resources significantly inside the CSA, so by the end of the period one in five staff in the CSA will be working in the area of enforcement. That will be a significant change. On my hon. Friend's point about conversion from old scheme to new scheme, it is true that that has been beset by IT problems from the beginning. We have reached a settlement of those disputes with EDS so we are not planning any litigation, but clearly the IT system across the CSA needs to improve very quickly indeed.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): At the start, I welcomed the Secretary of State's statement, but I am getting more and more concerned as I listen to his replies. He said in his statement that Sir David's terms of reference would be drawn widely, yet at the Dispatch Box the right hon. Gentleman has already rejected the idea of going back to the court system and transferring to the Revenue. Is there anything else that he has ruled out?

Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman will have to pay more attention to these proceedings. It was suggested by some on the Opposition Benches and some on the Government Benches that we should transfer all the existing functions to HMRC, and I have said that that makes no sense at all. It is not a serious proposition. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to study the terms of reference that we published today, and he will find that it makes clear, as I have made clear in my answers, that Sir David Henshaw will able to consider all the options for a more cost-efficient child support system for the future.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must move on to other business. We now come to another statement.
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Offender Management

1.3 pm

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Clarke): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement.

I am publishing today a five-year strategy for protecting the public and reducing reoffending. I believe that most people want three main things from the criminal justice system. They want to see justice done, with people who commit crimes getting caught and punished. They want to be protected from dangerous people so that they can walk the streets without fear. They want a system that gets people back on the straight and narrow, so that time spent in the criminal justice system stops reoffending, rather than just acting as a brief interlude in a life of crime.

More than half of all crime in this country is committed by people who have been through the criminal justice system. Prison does not work in stopping reoffending. The strategy that I am publishing today is designed to meet the challenge of reducing reoffending. I begin with our first duty, which is to protect the public.

The recent record of prisons is good, with no category A escapes since 1996. The best way to keep the public safe from violent and dangerous people is to keep them in prison for as long as is necessary and to improve the way offenders are supervised in the community. The new indeterminate sentence for public protection will mean that seriously dangerous offenders will not be released until the Parole Board assesses that it is safe to do so, which in some cases could be never.

We will do more to protect the public from all offenders who are still assessed as being dangerous. Through the multi-agency public protection arrangements, offender managers will be required to work with all agencies, including the police, to supervise dangerous offenders closely and send them back to prison if necessary. We anticipate bringing forward, as soon as parliamentary time allows, mental health legislation that will improve public protection, while respecting individual rights. Our second and third duties are to punish and to rehabilitate offenders.

The argument that I wish to make today is that prison is only one way of punishing offenders, and that it is best for the most serious offenders, particularly those who are dangerous. However, there are better punishment regimes for others. In particular, properly organised community sentences can be a powerful, effective and tough punishment that offers the best chance of stopping offenders offending again.

I recognise that community sentences need to win the confidence of sentencers, local communities and, most important, the public. The five-year strategy sets out the essential components for success—first, significant expansion of unpaid work in a variety of different settings, which are highly visible to the public and demonstrate reparation and payback to the community; secondly, full use of the range of rehabilitations, including health, education and other support; and thirdly, genuine aspiration to going straight for every individual, with a contract based on strong future prospects of employment, housing and social and family relations.
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All those can be delivered only through far stronger partnerships with local authorities and other public services, voluntary and community organisations and individual citizens, in the ways set out in the strategy document. Central to that is managing offenders better, whether in custody or in the community. A named offender manager for every offender will be responsible for ensuring that they are both punished and rehabilitated properly. They will work across prison and probation, which is why we have brought together all our work with offenders under a single organisation, the National Offender Management Service.

We need to develop closer links with communities. Later this spring, we will publish a new strategy for the prisons estate. That will confirm our vision for community prisons, with a modernised prison estate that is focused on reducing reoffending and facilities that can help to bridge the gap between custody and community. To achieve all that, we need to increase support to our staff and bring in the best possible people and organisations to challenge and to support every offender. We need to move to a system that has the flexibility to provide what will best cut reoffending. Many partners from the private and voluntary sector already work in prisons and the community, and the complex problems they face often need better partnerships. Our proposals take this one step further.

The National Offender Management Service, with commissioning at its heart, will harness the dynamism and talents of a broader range of innovative and effective providers from the public, private, voluntary and community sectors. The primary aim will be to drive up standards and reduce reoffending. We expect many successful bidders to be partnerships from the public, private and voluntary sectors, and we will shortly publish a prospectus to set out a phased programme of contestability.

We consulted last autumn on a proposal to change probation boards into probation trusts, which would have contracts with the commissioners in the National Offender Management Service. I will introduce legislation to make that change. We will carefully consider the results of the consultation to make sure that we can overcome any risks and practical difficulties, but still get the benefits of commissioning. We will commit to excellent, well trained and well supported staff, with new occupational standards and better support for good leadership. As we move forward, I intend to give more freedom to high-performing prisons and probation trusts.

We have already made some progress in cutting reoffending, but our progress has been slow and incremental. I have concluded that we need to underpin the measures in our strategy with fundamental structural reform. Taken together, our measures will ensure that we protect the public and also cut reoffending much more significantly, make the public safer, and reduce crime and criminality.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): I thank the Home Secretary, as is traditional, for advance sight of the statement, although much of it was trailed this morning in the press and by the right hon. Gentleman himself on the radio. It is called a five-year plan, but it has taken the Government eight years to come up with it. There is much in the Home Secretary's
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statement with which we agree. The prison estate is overcrowded and the reoffending rate is far too high. On that, there is no difference between us. There is a desperate need for better education and training in our prisons.

About two years ago, the Home Secretary's predecessor came to the House of Commons to announce the forerunner of today's five-year plan, the so-called Carter report. The report contained a number of grand plans, some of which the Home Secretary has reiterated today, but as Lord Ramsbotham, the former chief inspector of prisons, said this morning, little of it actually happened.

Realising that it would be at least 20,000 prison cells short, the Home Office decided to increase the number of community sentences and early releases and deter judges and magistrates from sending criminals to prison in the first place—incidentally, that policy was a complete reversal of the then Home Secretary's public rhetoric. It cannot be right or fair on the law-abiding public to address the problem of prison overcrowding by releasing dangerous or unsuitable prisoners on tags or by simply not sending such people to prison in the first place. Covering up the failure of planning has also proved to be a false economy. The greatest costs of the prison and probation service are not measured in the accounts, because they are the costs of failure— the Home Office has estimated that the cost to the country of reoffending is at least £11 billion.

Failure is the norm under this Government. For example, criminals sent on community punishment should be less hardened than those sent to prison, so their reoffending rates should be better. In practice, however, the reoffending rate among those subject to community punishment is at least as bad, if not worse, than that among criminals who have been sent to prison. The Government's flagship programme for punishment in the community is the intensive supervision and surveillance programme, which the Youth Justice Board has described as the

It has a failure rate of 91 per cent.

Under this Government, reoffending levels have risen to an all-time high—more than 60 per cent. of prisoners reoffend within two years, and the same is true of 73 per cent. of young offenders. There are reasons why that is the case. If a prisoner comes out of jail without a skill, unable to read and hooked on drugs, his chances of going straight are near to zero. And what is the current situation? Half of all prisoners cannot read as well as a typical 11-year-old, and four fifths of them cannot write as well as a typical 11-year-old. Half of all prisoners do not have any of the skills required by 96 per cent. of the jobs available to them, so most are virtually unemployable. That is compounded by the fact that large numbers of them are addicted to drugs, often crack cocaine.

How has that happened? The first problem is chaos in the system. Prisoners do not get the training that they need to get them back on the straight and narrow. Often, those who are lucky enough to start a course never complete it, because they are moved to another prison in the constant reallocations that occur as a direct result of the prison overcrowding allowed by this Government.
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Drug addiction is getting worse because of the Government's serial failure in that area—for example, drug treatment and testing orders have a failure rate of 80 per cent.

The Government's failure to stop reoffending rates spiralling out of control is no surprise, but so far under this Government community punishment has not been proven to be a success. On the radio this morning, the Home Secretary said that the Government had

Will he tell the House why we should expect any different now?

Some of the Home Secretary's proposals sound sensible enough. Sending 10,000 foreign prisoners home sounds sensible, provided that they are locked up in their home country and never come back here—although the fact that the figure is 10,000 in the first place prompts a question about the current management system. Local prisons are not a bad idea, and using charities and voluntary groups is a good idea, but those are minor changes in the face of a massive problem.

The public at large are not protected from a criminal who receives a non-custodial sentence. That issue has been thrown into sharp relief by those criminals who have committed crimes while on early release from prison—criminals who were released early have committed at least 7,000 crimes that we know of, including almost 1,000 violent crimes and at least two high-profile murders. All those crimes would not have happened if the criminals involved had been locked up, as they should have been. Would it not have been more sensible to await the findings of the inquiry into the murder of John Victor Monckton rather than making this statement in advance? Do we not need a thorough and wide-ranging look at the whole question of early release, parole and release on licence before the Home Secretary revamps the system yet again?

I would welcome much of today's announcement if it were the blueprint of a Government fresh into power, but it is not. As for gimmicky initiatives and new powers, we have been there and got the T-shirt—the only difference is that this time the T-shirt has "Community Payback" emblazoned on the back. In the past eight years, we have seen custody plus, custody minus, early release schemes, intensively supervised community service, cognitive therapy for prisoners and so on. The results include rocketing prison populations, high rates of drug addiction and revolving-door prisons with high reoffending rates. It is easy to trot out the figures showing that the current failing system costs the economy billions of pounds. However, hidden in that figure is the cost to local communities that must deal with the effects of criminals who are released on to the streets unreformed, uneducated and still addicted to drugs.

I should also ask about the cost to the offenders themselves. Most of them are largely uneducated, illiterate and innumerate young men aged between 16 and 25, whose crimes result largely from alcohol and drug abuse. They need not only punishment for their crimes, but some help to go straight and make something useful of their lives on release. Is not the taxpayer, who spends millions on prisons and community sentences, entitled to a real return on his
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investment in the criminal justice system? All that has come from the Government's multiple strategies thus far has been a lot of wasted money and even more wasted lives.

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