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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): May I follow the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) made? I am convinced that front-line probation and prison staff share the Home Secretary's objectives and that they will welcome his statement about partnership and co-operative working. However, as my right hon. Friend knows, there has been an underlying concern for the past two years that the Government seek large-scale or wholesale privatisation, especially of the probation service, but also of the Prison Service. Will he make it clear that that is not the Government's objective? Will he give us some indication of the scale, range and nature of the private sector involvement that he envisages?

Mr. Clarke: I am grateful for and perhaps surprised by the direction of those comments. The central objective, which is shared throughout the whole service, is to reduce reoffending. That is the test for the precise reason that the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) identified: by reducing reoffending, we make the greatest savings for society in terms of the overall economic position. The test applies to the public sector, whether the probation service or the Prison Service, voluntary and community organisations that want to work in the field and private sector organisations. That is the appropriate test: not cost cutting and its attendant aspects, but reducing reoffending. To tease out the details of my hon. Friend's important question, we shall shortly publish a prospectus that will go through our approach to different sorts of offender, different parts of the country and so on. By doing that, we will explore how different organisations want to meet the challenge of reoffending among particular groups.

Mr. Geoffrey Cox (Torridge and West Devon) (Con): Although I welcome a broader range of innovative and effective providers from the voluntary and private sectors, does the Home Secretary agree that it is important that any bidders or organisations that want to provide the service should receive transparent, precise and clear indications of the quality and other conditions that they should satisfy? I ask that question for a specific reason. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) referred to C-FAR, which was originally situated in my constituency but closed in circumstances with which the Home Secretary may be familiar. It is anxious to revive its valuable work for offenders throughout the south-west region. On the Department's advice, it attempted to engage with the regional offenders' manager. However, there was a spectacular failure to provide the precise indication that it needs of what it must do to receive support from the Department. Will the Home Secretary please examine that? Will he ensure that precise and transparent guidance is given? Otherwise, valuable people who do that sort of work will be deeply disillusioned.

Mr. Clarke: I entirely agree with the point about precision and transparency and acknowledge that that has not always been provided. That is why I believe that
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publishing a prospectus, which sets out precisely the matters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, including quality standards and targets for reducing reoffending, is the right way to proceed. Organisations such as that to which he referred can examine the document and decide whether they have a genuine contribution to make.

Sir Peter Soulsby (Leicester, South) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, and the apparent consensus that alternatives to prison play an important role in reducing reoffending for the significant proportion of prisoners with drug problems, mental health problems and learning difficulties. Does my right hon. Friend agree that making tough and effective alternatives a reality will require working with the probation service, using its considerable expertise, and providing it with the resources and training for education and rehabilitation that it will need in order to be effective?

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend, but again I must make the point that it is a question not only of providing the resources to the probation service, but of building partnerships between the probation service and other providers, including local government, which my hon. Friend knows well.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): Does the Home Secretary accept that a key ingredient in the problem is that we have not done enough to rehabilitate drug offenders? Will he undertake dramatically to increase the number of residential rehabilitation places available, so that we can cut down on the number of people entering the revolving doors of the prison system?

Mr. Clarke: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that he will acknowledge that there has been a substantial increase in the amount of places available for drug rehabilitation. Whether the right way to deal with this is through the use of residential places or other forms of support is a matter of constant, principally professional, debate. However, I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that residential provision has a substantial contribution to make.

Martin Linton (Battersea) (Lab): I, too, welcome the emphasis on community sentences in my right hon. Friend's statement, and the commitment to an expansion of unpaid work. Does he agree, however, that to win the full-hearted support of probation officers, he will need to ensure that the probation service—especially the London probation service—has the necessary resources and training to supervise that unpaid work? Does he also agree that the key to the success of community sentences—turning them from a soft option to a hard choice—is a well trained and well supported staff, as I am sure the National Association of Probation Officers would agree?

Mr. Clarke: I agree with my hon. Friend and, as he knows, the London probation service is recruiting at the moment. I say again, however, that while it is right that there should be well trained and well resourced staff, they must work in partnership with other agencies. It is important to realise that not all of this can be done exclusively by the probation service. Despite the recent
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major improvements in the London probation service, there remain central security issues in the whole approach, and they need to be addressed at the same time as these other issues are considered.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Will the Home Secretary tell the House how many hours a day, on average, a prisoner spends in education at the moment, and what that figure will be when the reforms come in?

Mr. Clarke: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman those precise figures across the Floor today, but I will happily write to him with the information. If the point of his question is to suggest that more time should be spent on education and skills, I agree with him. It is perfectly reasonable to report to Parliament on how much time is spent on those activities.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May I draw to the Home Secretary's attention the concerns of my constituent, Mrs. Anna Westaway, whose son Harry was stabbed in an unprovoked attack in the street while studying at university? Had he been stabbed an inch nearer to his heart, the charge would have been murder. His assailant has been given a poncey community order. Mrs. Westaway and Harry, as well as most of my constituents and I, believe that if someone commits a knife attack in the street, they ought to go to prison.

Mr. Clarke: Obviously, I cannot comment on that particular case. I agree, however, that prison sentences are appropriate for people who commit knife crimes. That is why the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is now being considered in the other place, will increase the sentence for those who carry knives. I also believe that the knife amnesty that I announced yesterday will be an important means of taking knives away from the population, and it is being backed by a series of enforcement and education programmes. I take knife crime extremely seriously, but I regret that I cannot comment on the case that the hon. Gentleman has raised; I simply do not know the details.       
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Points of Order

1.44 pm

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On Monday this week, the Regulatory Reform Committee produced a report that described part 1 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill as being of constitutional significance. On Tuesday, the Procedure Committee took evidence from the Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr. Murphy). The Chairman of the Committee subsequently wrote to the Leader of the House requesting that part 1 of the Bill be dealt with on the Floor of the House because of its constitutional significance. Today at business questions, the Leader of the House said that he was considering such a request from my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight). In these circumstances, would it be in order either for the Minister to withdraw the programme motion, or to table an alternative motion that reflects the deep concern of two of our most important Select Committees?

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