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21 Oct 2010 : Column 363WH—continued

Alun Michael: I counsel the Minister that now is the time, when there is still something of a honeymoon going on, for him to build bridges across the Chamber as well. Contributions that are a little less partisan and some recognition of the considerable achievements of the last Government would help to create the consensus
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across the Chamber that will be very important for Ministers in future, as well as for good practice in Parliament.

Mr Blunt: I can well understand, given the quality of the inheritance that we received, why the right hon. Gentleman would be anxious for me to pursue that line.

Let me comment on some of the other contributions to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Mr Buckland) made the point that we can be either smart or stupid about our attitude to crime. He spoke about the need for confidence in community sentences, to which I want to return.

The hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd) was kind enough to take interventions from me in relation to his experience of a veterans court in the United States. I re-emphasise that I shall want to consider the evidence that he provides to me in that area. I just caution him to be slightly careful, in terms of commenting on leaks, numbers of job losses and everything else, about taking the opinion of some trade unions in this area too directly. Their record of accuracy is not highly precise. The National Association of Probation Officers over-estimated the number of veterans in the justice system by about a factor of three.

Mr Llwyd: No.

Mr Blunt: Yes.

Mr Llwyd: With respect, I can answer that straight away. NAPO estimated that about 8,500 service veterans-9%-were in prison. The Government scoping exercise excluded those under 21, reservists, of whom there are many in Afghanistan as we speak, women and those who served in Northern Ireland. If we process them back in, the figure is 9%.

Mr Blunt: I fear not. A very careful study by the Defence Analytical Services Agency assessed the number at 3.5%, but let us not be diverted by that. I was making a wider point about the reliability of the people whom the hon. Gentleman was adducing in evidence. I think that as the position becomes clear with regard to the consequences of the spending review, the probation service will realise that the Lord Chancellor has batted for it in a particularly effective way. If we are to address issues and change the balance in relation to short sentences-we do not expect any savings in terms of the prison system if there are changes in patterns and fewer people being given short sentences-the first thing to say is that we will not end the capacity of the magistracy and the judiciary to use short prison sentences if they feel that that is necessary, but we would obviously hope that their use would be reduced. That means either community sentences or longer sentences. Those are the two alternatives that arise from it, so it would be unwise to assume any reduction in the overall number of prison places required, as a result of a change in policy in that area, because some of the changes will involve people going to prison for longer so that they can be effectively rehabilitated within the safety of custody.

The other point that I want to make to the hon. Gentleman is that the public sector is not the only source of money. I commend to him the social investment model that has begun at Peterborough; it is a model
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that we will wish to widen. If we can get external investors to invest, so that savings can be made-that is much at the centre of the principle of the justice reinvestment report-it frankly does not matter where that extra capacity comes from.

In the end, this is not about just money; there is an enormous capacity in the community. In the voluntary sector, the charitable community and the private sector there are people who want to give their services, in whatever form, to the Ministry of Justice and to the state, to help us with the task of rehabilitating offenders. At the moment, our system is not very good at making it easy for those people to give their services, or to sell them to us, on a not-for-profit or indeed a for-profit basis, to grow this country's capacity to deliver rehabilitation. The responsibility that sits on me now, in terms of designing the policies-on rehabilitation in particular-that we will present in the Green Paper, is to create a system that will make it that much easier for us to draw on the capacity that is sitting out there in the country; to ensure that in co-ordination with the existing state services, in probation and elsewhere, we can deliver a much more effective rehabilitation package than we do today. This is not about replacing those services but about adding to them.

The other half of that process is to ensure that all the existing state services, particularly those delivered at a local level, are co-ordinated that much more effectively, to deliver the interventions that are needed to address the multifaceted problems that normally afflict most people who are on a cycle of reoffending and who need particular help to break free from that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) referred to our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and to the very good report that he oversaw as chairman of the Commission for Social Justice. Early intervention is not about just the criminal justice system but about what I have described as the entire life cycle of the offender and the potential offender, and that is why I have a place on the Social Justice Cabinet Committee, which is chaired by my right hon. Friend, precisely to start making interventions earlier and earlier in the process. It is about trying to keep children out of care. It is about looking at the whole business of family intervention programmes for when the indicators start arriving, such as when children are excluded from school and are sent to pupil referral units. Good work was done by the previous Administration, and I happily acknowledge that, but we have to encourage a culture in which we invest early to prevent problems later. At the same time, we are of course left with the responsibility of dealing with the problems that we have now, which is why it is essential to create extra capacity, in whatever form we can.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who I think will make a welcome contribution to the work of the Justice Committee, acknowledged that the previous Administration were perhaps not as tough on the causes of crime as they might have been. When the then Leader of the Opposition coined the slogan, "Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime," that slogan was empty, as is now clear in his own diaries and in his account. The policies to deliver on that had not been developed when the slogan
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was coined in 1994, and that is one of the dangers of dealing in rhetoric without there being the reality underlying it and-[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth is chuntering. The policies began to be developed from that point on, but at that point they did not exist. One has to be careful about the catchphrase that sounds great but does not have the policies-

Alun Michael: That is very petty; that is not true.

Mrs Anne Main (in the Chair): Order. I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to intervene from a sedentary position.

Mr Blunt: There is, however, much in the Committee's impressive report that resonates with this Government's plans for overhauling our approach to the rehabilitation of offenders. We share the concern that the size of the prison population is not just a numbers game, and we want to target investment where it is most needed. Most important, we know that we need to place successful rehabilitation at the heart of the criminal justice system, so that we can prevent people from becoming the victims of tomorrow. The forthcoming Green Paper on rehabilitation and sentencing will set out our plans for bringing about real and enduring changes in our approach to reducing reoffending. It will also bring much-needed clarity to the sentencing framework. I hope that members of the new Justice Committee and the right hon. and hon. Members here this afternoon will find much in the Green Paper that reflects and addresses the concerns raised in this debate.

We face huge challenges, and we will clearly work closely with other Departments. I have been asked on more than one occasion about our relationship with the Department of Health on the issues of mental health and addiction, and I am very pleased to be able to report that the Ministry of Justice is getting great commitment and interest from the Ministers and the senior officials in the Department. I am extremely hopeful that we will be able to build significantly on the position that we inherit.

The excellent report that we have debated this afternoon has already informed the thinking of the new Administration, and I suppose that that is hardly surprising. The report is consistent with the direction of travel in criminal justice, and we will present our views in the Green Paper. But again, it is a Green Paper, and we look forward to my right hon. Friend and the members of his Committee making a contribution in response. There is no monopoly on wisdom in this area, and we are open to listening to evidence as it comes in and to trying to find ways of ensuring that successful approaches to widening rehabilitation can be adopted by the whole criminal justice system. If the new Justice Committee is as well informed and authoritative as the report of the previous Committee, I am quite sure that it will do a signal service to our country during this Parliament.

5.28 pm

Sir Alan Beith: I can assure my hon. Friend that the new membership of the Committee is every bit as compelling as the old in its determination to work hard on these issues, and it has a great range of experience and ability. We have had a very good debate today and I
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want to thank right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part, bringing considerable experience to our discussions. Speaking as a Back Bencher leading a Back-Bench Committee, I want to say to the Front Benchers, "Come and join us in the consensus," because I think that the consensus is there. We all have our points of partisan disagreement, which the Front Benchers perhaps tend to emphasise, but the basis for consensus is there.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) on taking up her new responsibility. I know her well and am sure that she will do a very good job. She has an opportunity, I think, to develop policy, and there is a need to do so, because if we stick with the predict-and-provide approach there will continue to be
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a weighting in the system in favour of custody, and alternatives will be neglected. Although numerical targets are not the answer to the problem, I really believe that if we do not set ourselves some objectives and remain with the predict-and-provide approach, we will not be able to make the kind of developments that are necessary. I welcome the Government's willingness to do that, but we will be watching very carefully to see whether in a very difficult financial climate the Government and the Ministry of Justice are able to put in place the means to achieve what I think we now agree needs to be done.

Question put and agreed to.

5.29 pm

Sitting adjourned.

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