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No matter what we have heard, there are major players and, indeed, minor local players in the
voluntary sector who want to be involved. They feel that they have a contribution to make to reducing reoffending by supporting individuals to ensure that they have the capacity to live their life without offending. We need to have those people on board, working with the professionals in the sector. If the outcome is that only 10 or 15 per cent. of this work eventually goes out to the voluntary sector, so be it.
The qualitative difference, the influence on the rest of provision, will be significant. The Bill will make a real difference in reducing reoffending rates and help us to achieve our aim of helping people out of offending in the first place.
Ian Lucas: I rise to oppose the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), not because I disrespect him or the way that he has dealt with matters throughout the proceedings on the Bill but because I have real concerns about the effect of the amendments.
We have a system in which there is co-operation and good practice between local probation services and institutions in the voluntary and private sectors. I have met probation officers from my area to discuss their concerns about the Bill at length. I have long-standing working relationships with the probation service because of the time that I spent as a criminal law solicitor. I know that there have always been good working relationships between the voluntary and private sectors and the probation service. My concern about the proposals on which we are going to vote is that they could prejudice those relationships.
Earlier we had a discussion about sex offenders and the introduction of polygraph tests. I referred to an institution in my constituency which works with young sex offenders, including children, who are given the highest and most professional level of care to deal with the profound difficulties that they experience. It is an intensely specialised area and an intensely professional one. The individuals who work in that organisation have a very professional background in social services which has developed over many years. The institution is, howeverhorror of horrorsprivate. My clear reading of the amendments is that they would prevent that institution from delivering the services that it provides to very damaged young people in my community.
What is clear is that the wording adopted is such that, if the amendment were made, the Secretary of State could provide services solelythe word used in the amendmentwith probation trusts. We are therefore being asked to exclude voluntary and private sector providers from providing such valuable services.
The wording is not intended to stop any probation trust contracting with a voluntary sector provider. I accept that it will stop the Secretary of State contracting directly with a voluntary sector provider. That is the clear intention. If the Government were
minded to accept the general principle, I am sure that parliamentary counsel could draw up a suitable minor amendment to provide what we all agree we want.
I ask other hon. Members to think seriously about the effect of voting in favour of the proposed amendments, because they might prejudice high-quality and important care that is being provided in our communities by voluntary sector and private sector organisations. To vote in favour of the amendments would serve the political expediency of our opponents, but it would not serve the interests of our constituents.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am grateful for the contributions made by hon. Members on both sides of the House, because I know that their views are well held. I would never attack anyone for feeling strong emotion about the subjectexcept perhaps the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier), who set out the Conservative party position, which I will deal with later.
Fifty-eight per cent. of offenders go on to commit another crime within two years and more than 50 per cent. of crime is committed by people who have already been through the criminal justice system. As hon. Members, especially Labour Members, have said, it is not a problem of resources: the budget has increased by 40 per cent. in five years to more than £900 million this yeara recordand the amount spent per offender has also increased, by 12 per cent. between 2001-02 and 2005-06. I hope that hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friends, acknowledge the investment that has gone into the probation service and the increase in the number of probation officers.
What we are saying is that we wantwe needto do more, because as my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) said, it is important to move forward, not backward. I consider the commitment of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and other hon. Friends to be of the highest calibre, but their amendment would do what my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) said. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow admitted the technical drafting problems, but said that if the Government supported the principle, we could draft a new amendment. The Government will not do that because we do not share his view of the four elements that he wants to be protected.
Mr. Sutcliffe: My hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham made the point that if he votes for the amendment on the amendment paper today and it is passed, certain agencies will be excluded from consideration. I am simply making that clear to the House.
To support the amendment is to go backward. The amendment covers the provision of approved premisesa subject raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Judy Mallaber)which, if it were made, could be provided only by the probation
service. At present, approved premises are provided by organisations such as the Langley House Trust; the amendment would stop that happening. I understand where my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow is coming from, but the amendment would do those things and take us backward, which is clearly not where we need to go. We want to move forward cautiously. That is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I listened to the concerns put to us, and why we tabled new clauses 11 and 12, which set out the relationships that we think are important. We were told that court reports are a significant element of what needs to be protected, in the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. We understood that, and that is why new clauses 11 and 12 were introduced.
I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Patrick Hall) that clauses 11 and 12 go together. That is part of negotiation and achieving consensus, and we thought that we were moving in the right direction. Most hon. Members will know of my trade union background; I thought that, in negotiations, people on both sides gave a bit, but clearly that is not the understanding of some of my hon. Friends, as there has been no movement towards what we are trying to achieve.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen has a wealth of experience, as he is not only a former Minister but the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. He hit the nail on the head when he talked about the need for us to look for innovation and new ways forward. He was concerned about the pace of the changes that we are trying to undertake. I agree with him and, perhaps more importantly, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary does, too. That is why we have tried to be accommodating. We have tried to understand that the ideological background to some of the concerns is a worry that we are talking about pure privatisation, but we are not. The measures are about making sure that we raise capacity, so that we have the best providers. In 2006, we announced our intention to complete up to £250 million-worth of probation business. Both the public and voluntary sectors can bid for that work, and that is the important issue. The measures are about raising standards and making sure that the best providers are in place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) mentioned the letter from the YMCA, but that is only one letter. Hon. Members have received a number of contributions from voluntary sector bodies that say that they can and want to do more, but are prevented from doing so. Surely that is not right. We have strengthened local accountability, and hon. Members have accepted what we said about strengthening local area agreements to make sure that links are in place. The excellent work that has already been achieved, to which hon. Members have referred, can be built on. We do not want to remove the good work that takes place; we want to build on it and extend it further.
I share the enthusiasm of my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), who mentioned Circles of Support, a voluntary sector organisation that mentors sex offenders, and that works in difficult circumstances and achieves a superb reduction in reoffending rates, and that is what we want to happen, but under the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the
Member for Walthamstow, it would be prevented from doing that. If a public sector provider is good enough, it will have as much chance as anyone else of winning the work, and I think that in many cases, it will; we have no problem with that.
We have referred to the number of organisations that support what we are trying to achieve. It must be uniqueat least in my time as a Minister, as far as I can recollectfor the Local Government Association, numerous voluntary sector organisations and the CBI to accept what we are trying to achieve. That leads me to the role of the Opposition. What we see from the Conservative Opposition is outright opportunism, again. They supported the Bill on Second Reading. They said that they sought improvements to it, but that if those improvements were made, and we ensured that there was no top-down structure, they would support the Bill. Clearly, they are not prepared to do that; they are prepared to put party politics before attacking reoffending and related issues.
I particularly welcome the statement from Mr. Martin Narey, a former director general of the Prison Service. His background is in public servicehe supported the introduction of private sector operations in the prison regimeand he now works for Barnados, which is one of the main charities supporting children. He says that more can be done.
My hon. Friends should accept our assurances in the spirit in which they are given. We will not move too fast, and we will take time to make sure that we do this properly. We have put safeguards in place to ensure accountability, so we will achieve what we are trying to achieve, which is reducing reoffending rates and the number of people in prison, and making sure that offenders are rehabilitated and integrated into society. If we achieve that, we will achieve a great deal for our constituents.
I was asked what type of activity is covered by the Government amendments. The answer is all the work that the probation service does with the courts, including pre-sentencing and other reports, advice on breach hearings, bail and general assistance. As for the issue of offender management, we have made it clear that for the next few years we expect the supervision of individual cases and reports to courts and the Parole Board to remain in the public sector, which has inherited expertise in that area. Public protection is important, and we do not want to put the public at risk, which is why we want to proceed cautiously and make sure that we take people with us.
My hon. Friends ideological fears are fundamentally misplaced. This is not about privatisation but about making sure that we have the best provision to tackle reoffending. Multi-agency public arrangements, which are unique to the UK, are in place. It was this Government who introduced those arrangements, to make sure that the public were protected and that responsible agencies worked together. Across the world, MAPPA is regarded as a step forward, as it has established partnership between agencies which people did not think could work together. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough attacked NOMS, but 95 per cent. of its budget is spent on the front line. NOMS has been set up with existing resources, and it employs 69,500 front-line providers
and 2,500 back-office staff, so it is not top heavy. I hope that the House has listened to what we have said, and backs the consensus that this is an acceptable compromise by supporting the Government amendments.
Mr. Heath: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a door to the Lobby to be shut and for a Government Whip to stand blocking the entrance? The Whip has now moved away, but was standing in the doorway.
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