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5.15 pm

One of the things that I saw yesterday at HMP Wandsworth—I think that it is occurring at other prisons on a patchwork basis—was a restorative justice course called the Sycamore Tree programme run by a non-state organisation. I want to pay particular tribute to the people involved in that and to the governor and deputy governors of Wandsworth prison, who have permitted in their overcrowded facilities their overworked prison officers to facilitate the work of the programme. The prisoners whom I met yesterday on the restorative justice course really were for the first time coming to terms with the nature of the consequences of their criminal activities.

There was a group of 12 inmates in that room, at least three of whom admitted that they had been in custody, on and off, since they were 15. These were men in their 30s and 40s. At last, they had been brought face to face with their offending behaviour, and not only did they realise that it was a waste of their lives, but, as a consequence of a proper sentence plan—and that is what I would call proper punishment of offenders—they had come to realise that their criminal behaviour affected their families and children. One man was in tears as he told how his mother, aged 83, had recently died, ashamed that her son had spent his entire adult life, but for a few breaks, in prison. I did not have an opportunity to ask him questions, but I assume that he
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was unable to leave prison to visit his mother as she was ill and dying or to go to her funeral.

The proper punishment of offenders means not just locking people up; it means dealing with them in such a way that they come out less likely to reoffend.

Ian Stewart (Eccles) (Lab): I have seen the excellent work done in the education department at Forest Bank prison in my constituency, but does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that, although the rehabilitation of offenders is important within the prison environment, there must be a proper strategy for aftercare and resettlement, with proper facilities and proper support?

Mr. Garnier: I entirely agree, and if time permitted I was going to draw those sorts of conclusions in relation to proposed paragraph (e). It is rather like taking people up in an aeroplane, then throwing them out without a parachute and expecting them to land safely. That is what we do in our prison system. We do not rehabilitate people in prison, or not enough of them; we do not reform them; we do not enable them to come to terms with their offender behaviour, and at the end of their period in prison we say, “Here’s the door—out you go,” and expect them to behave. They cannot.

Offenders may be irresponsible people, but we must bear it in mind that they are in many respects damaged people, albeit ones who have done extreme damage to other people. They cannot behave unless we take care of them as they come out of prison and make sure that they have employment and housing opportunities and are enabled to restore links with their families—all the sorts of things that the Minister and I have discussed over the last 15 months. Without all that it is highly unlikely that we will achieve what we want with the prison system. I accept that we are talking about irresponsible and, in many respects, very criminally minded people, but they are redeemable. However, they will not be redeemed unless we provide, through the offender management system, adequate rehabilitation systems.

One of the most frightening things for a prisoner is those moments before release. I say this because of Jonathan Aitken. He was highly educated and had a family and a home to go to, but he said that the most frightening time for him after his period in custody was waiting to go out, because he did not know what would be out there. Before his release, he was sitting in an anteroom next door to an old lag—he did not use those words—who had been round and round the system. He said, “The most terrifying time is now. In prison, you are cocooned. In prison, you do not have to make decisions for yourself. In prison, you are told when to get up, when to eat, when to sit and so on. But I am about to be thrust out the back door into the streets.” I suspect that he felt like the man being thrown out of the back of the aeroplane without a parachute. The hon. Member for Eccles (Ian Stewart) is entirely right: the rehabilitation of offenders must include some form of resettlement and aftercare; otherwise, we will again lose people back into the criminal justice system.

I have spoken for far too long, so I shall not deal with paragraph (d),

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save to say that the ripple effect of one man’s crime—it normally is a man—goes beyond the individual victim. It can extend to the victim’s family, to the victim’s workplace, to the victim’s street, and to the wider community. That is something that the Sycamore Trust restorative justice course teaches offenders. Unless we have more of that work and greater strategic will on the part of the Government to ensure that all of the things listed in paragraphs (a) to (e) are provided within our criminal justice system, however well minded we are, we are wasting our time.

I shall conclude my remarks here. I hope that I have dealt with the various amendments and new clauses, and if I have not, it does not matter. What is important is that we get this part right— [ Interruption. ] It genuinely does not matter. I can tell the Whip, the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), that the issue is so important and we have had so little time to discuss it that we are letting down the public, we are letting down the taxpayer and we are letting down our fellow citizens if we do not get this part of the Bill right.

I have fundamental complaints about the Bill, and the House might hear more about that later, but in this discrete area, the Government are to be applauded for having got it right. It is just a pity that the provision fits within a mesh of legislation that does not get it right. None the less, in respect of the amendment, I applaud the Minister and wish him well in that part of his work.

Mr. Kidney: I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) on his success. He raised the matter in Committee and today the Minister has, in effect, accepted what he suggested should be in the Bill, so congratulations to him. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on listening to the arguments and the debate, keeping an open mind and tabling the amendment on Report, so well done to the Minister. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend recall that in Committee I argued that the wording was not good enough. I have not changed my opinion, so although I congratulate them both, I shall explain why I feel they should go further.

In Committee I said that the way in which the probation service was being established under the Bill would leave it a rootless organisation, free from values, free from an overriding strategy to achieve its purpose and free from directions for its staff in relation to what Parliament thought they were good for. I said that we could put that right by laying down statutory objectives. The Minister has gone some way toward doing that by, as he accepted in his opening remarks, repeating in the Bill the aims of the body that is currently the National Probation Service for England and Wales. That is good, as far as it goes. I shall support the amendment because it is better than nothing, but I remind the Minister that in Committee I said that some things important to the future service were not provided for.

First, because the probation service is part of this country’s criminal justice system, which does not work especially effectively, it would be useful to state in an Act of Parliament that one of the objectives of the probation service is to support the whole criminal justice system and make it more effective. That would tie in the service to a job that I consider important. Secondly, I think that probation officers, who work in the community, have an important role in educating the
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public about the criminal justice system; the importance of reducing offending, which we should all be pressing for; rehabilitating offenders as well as punishing them; and the role of the criminal justice system, as well as its limitations, which it is important that members of the public understand.

Thirdly, I said that I thought that there should be a statutory objective on the probation service’s role as regards victims. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough chided me about that in Committee, saying that that was already included in proposed new paragraph (d), but it is not. Paragraph (d) has the objective of ensuring that offenders understand the effect of their crime on victims, so it is offender-focused, not victim-focused. The probation service is particularly well placed to have regard to the needs and interests of victims, which our party claims to put at the heart of the criminal justice system. We are missing a big opportunity to say that it is important to look after victims, and to ensure that they are valued and are given a prime position in the criminal justice system in their own right.

In some Acts of Parliament, there are directions to the probation service about victims; in fact, there is one in the Bill. Back in the part of the Bill dealing with probation purposes, it states that one purpose is the provision of information to victims of crime. Victim Support, which gave Members a briefing for today’s debate, points out the way in which that purpose differs from the provision enacted in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. In the 2004 Act, there are broader requirements on the probation service. It must not only give information to victims of crime, but help them to make representations about particular elements of sentencing.

Admittedly, the 2004 Act provisions apply only to serious assault, sexual offences, and some offences relating to children. Arguably, the probation purposes in the Bill are broader than those in the 2004 Act, because in the Bill there is no limitation to serious sexual and assault offences, but in a way the Bill is more limited, because it relates only to giving information, and not to making representations that influence what judges, courts and hospitals do with the offenders who create such fear in the minds of their victims. As there is uncertainty in law about where victims stand, and about the probation service’s role as regards victims, a statutory objective about that would be a helpful addition. It would assure victims that they are at the heart of our criminal justice system. I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to undertake a little more work on those points before the Bill becomes, I hope, an Act.

Earlier, I spoke about end-to-end management of offenders’ sentences, and I do not want to end without saying that, given that we will eventually achieve much closer co-operation between prisons and probation, the statutory objectives would be more seamless if they included the role of prison officers, as well as the role of probation officers. Again, that opportunity has been missed, but perhaps such a provision will be included in the fullness of time. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister finds those comments helpful, and perhaps he will give a little more thought to the fact that there is still work to be done.

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Mr. Heath: This has been a remarkably sapient and valuable episode in our discussions, and I thank the Minister for the consensual way in which he introduced the amendment. I welcome the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) and the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who made some important points. The Government’s welcome acquiescence in the suggestion that aims should be set out has distorted the architecture of the part of the Bill that we are discussing. The set-up is now slightly peculiar: the meaning of “the probation purposes” is dealt with first. Provisions on functions follow, and the aims, which qualify the functions, come next. A bit of drafting is needed to get everything in a sensible order.

The Government blow hot and cold on declaratory statements; sometimes they like them, and sometimes they do not. Sometimes they think that they are useful, and sometimes they do not. I do not want to find fault with the Minister for listening to what was said in Committee, but perhaps in the Lords the provisions could be rearranged into a more logical sequence. The hon. Member for Stafford made an important point: not only should the transition in the criminal justice system between the Prison Service and the probation service be seamless, but there should be a seamless transition in their aims, as they share the same overall goals. It would be logical, therefore, for all parts of the criminal justice system to have a common aim.

5.30 pm

Finally, clause 2, which is qualified by the Government amendment, is rather curious. Its heading reads,

but it does not deal with responsibility or duty. It deals with the Secretary of State’s function, which is to ensure that

for the purposes that are qualified by the aims in the Government amendment.

It is not clear at what point a function becomes a duty. That may be a clever bit of drafting by the Home Office, seeking to defend its budget against the Treasury, or the lack of clarity may be inadvertent, but next time that there is a failure to protect the public, reduce reoffending or punish offenders properly or achieve any of the other aims that have been set out, I shall come to the House to say that the Secretary of State has failed in his function of ensuring that sufficient provision is made, and we could have an entertaining argument about whether he has a duty to provide more cash to ensure that the probation service does its job effectively. The wording is slightly odd. I expect that the issue will be revisited in another place and, as a result we will have a better Bill at the end of the day.

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire) (Lab): Briefly, I did not have the privilege of serving on the Bill Committee, so I shall rely on local comments that are relevant to the Government amendment.

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I endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) about responsibility for victims. Some of the complaints that I receive about the performance of the probation service concern its communication with victims when carrying out its responsibilities, so a clear and explicit responsibility in that regard would be helpful in giving due weight to the role of victims in the criminal justice system.

I wish to concentrate, however, on clause 2—the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) rightly identified its strange construction—as I could not find a clear requirement for the Secretary of State to manage the enhancement of the quality of all those functions as part of his responsibilities. I did not want to participate in earlier debates about the voluntary sector, because I am a committed supporter of its role in delivering such services, and I did not wish to add to the weight of opinion on the subject. My purpose in speaking now, however, is to address the subject of enhancing quality and the Secretary of State’s role in ensuring that quality is delivered. Quality is achieved not by insisting on uniformity of service provision but by designing services around individual needs, including the needs of prisoners, individuals on probation and other people who have direct relationships with the probation service.

That requires diversity, so we must consider—and I have raised this doubt with my hon. Friend the Minister—how to ensure the correct reflection of local knowledge and intelligence in determining individual service provision in a particular area. I do not have any particular anxieties about the generic use of private and voluntary sector contractors in the delivery of any of the aims to which the clause refers, but I am anxious about the loss of innovative edge of small contractors that may deliver excellence at a local level.

The reason for my anxiety is the tendency of larger entities to try and simplify their contracting functions by saying, “Wouldn’t it be easier if we had an overall contractor delivering this range of services across the area?” Yes, it would be easier, it would certainly be more efficient in contracting terms, but it would not deliver the innovative edge that allows others to learn from someone doing something new—that novelty can start small—and it would not necessarily be attuned to local capability to deliver the services that we want. I shall give a couple of examples from my area to illustrate my point.

There is an excellent footpaths group, as it describes itself, in the village where I live. It carries out a wide range of other environmental projects as well. For a long time the group has had a relationship with the local probation service, with prisoners coming to assist with some of the work that the group carries out. It has been a tremendously positive relationship. I have asked both the probation service and the group whether there have been any problems in delivering such services. Both sides say no, the relationship has been excellent. The prisoners have gained greatly from exposure to carrying out various tasks in the countryside and dealing with well intentioned voluntary workers, and the village has gained from some works carried out.

My anxiety is that those little projects and the little voluntary contractor who has been able to deliver something of tremendous value may be lost. There is another example, which has always struggled. A farmer
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who produces eggs has young offenders in particular coming to assist him on his farm. One of the Minister’s predecessors, who is now the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins), visited both projects and was extraordinarily positive about what he saw there.

I do not want to lose those little local initiatives to a big brother contracting function, albeit one that embraces the voluntary sector and the private sector. I would welcome my hon. Friend’s assurances about that. Some reassurance would come from scrutiny by local entities such as local authorities and the local police service, who very often know those links and can exploit them and help in using them in future. I hope that my hon. Friend can give a little reassurance about managing the quality function within the aims, delivering innovation and testing new ideas, which is often done on a smaller scale.

Mr. Sutcliffe: This has been a sapient debate. We have had the opportunity for an in-depth look at the problems facing our criminal justice system in relation to the aims and objectives set out in the clause. I am grateful for hon. Members’ acknowledgement that we have listened. My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) is right that we need to revisit the provisions affecting victims. I want to reflect on that. My hon. Friend is aware of the work that we are undertaking through victim care unit pilots to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, and I understand what he is trying to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Derbyshire (Mr. Todd) spoke about a subject that has been raised with me on numerous occasions—the innovative quality of small projects. We are taking care of that. I shall write to him outlining the safeguards that are in place. If he is unhappy with that, we can have a further discussion. If we need to do anything further as a result of commissioning, I look forward to his comments. I acknowledge and pay tribute to the work of the many small and innovative groups that manage to engage with offenders proactively. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale, East (Paul Goggins) will have enjoyed those visits and that experience.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) talked about where we all stand on this matter. There are no differences between us in terms of wanting to reduce reoffending and ensure not only that the punishment element of a sentence is present but that the other element of rehabilitation is put in place. I agree that the prison population is too high. We will have arguments about the reasons for that and about capacity, but we all agree that we must reduce that figure by giving people support. I can give the number of extra places that have been built since 1997 and go through a whole range of issues on capacity, but the key point is that we must stop people seeing prison as being a place where they feel comfortable. The chaos and disorder of criminal lives sometimes means that prison is seen as an easier option because people do not have to deal with the outside world. We have to stop people from being in prison for so many years of their life, and we can do that collectively by innovation in offender management.

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That is why I feel passionately about the Bill. I said earlier that it is about a change of culture, and I wholeheartedly believe that. It is incumbent on us all to acknowledge in our communities that wrongdoing must be put right but we must try to bring people back into society. I was recently told about young prisoners in London being released, picked up by a flash car, taken to accommodation, bought clothes, and given money for drinks or whatever else. They are being groomed for the next crime that is going to take place. We have to break that cycle, and that is why innovation is important. Those aims are in the Bill, but I accept that we need to revisit the matter in another place.

I am grateful for the acceptance that we have listened and commend the amendment to the House.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 10

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