Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords]
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
David Slater, Kate Emms, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
‘() in subsection (4), for “that period” substitute “the automatic release period”,’.
It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair this morning, Ms Dorries, and I welcome all members of the Committee back for the last day of our deliberations. Amendment 15 is a minor and technical amendment that makes a small clarification to clause 10. Among other things, it amends the default period to be served by offenders who, while on licence, are recalled and who are considered by the Secretary of State to be suitable for release after a fixed term rather than being kept in prison until the end of the sentence.
Clause 10 provides that the fixed term recall period for offenders serving a sentence of less than 12 months will be 14 days, rather than 28 days as it currently is for offenders serving longer sentences. Amendment 15 makes a minor clarification to a provision in section 255A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides that an offender is a person suitable for release after recall for a fixed term, only if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person will not present a risk of serious harm to members of the public if released after a fixed term.
The amendment picks up a missed consequential point, which is needed because the length of the fixed term is no longer the same regardless of the length of sentence. As I have said, the fixed term recall period will be 14 days for sentences of less than 12 months and 28 days, as now, for longer sentences. Amendment 15 does not alter the substance of the provision and I hope the Committee can agree to it.
(a) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report on the provision of rehabilitative services for female offenders in the criminal justice system, and must lay this report before both Houses of Parliament.
(b) The report should include—
(i) an update on the provision of services for female offenders by all providers contracted to provide services under section 3(2) or 3(5) of the Offender Management Act 2007.
(ii) an update on the impact of post release supervision for female offenders who served sentences of less than 12 months in custody.’.
‘(c) summarise the information on the basis of which an assessment was made of the impact of the arrangements on female offenders and the reasons for the conclusions reached in consequence of that assessment.’.
Jenny Chapman: Clause 11 was inserted by the Government after pressure in the House of Lords. It provides that the Secretary of State must comply with the public sector equality duty in making any arrangements for the supervision of offenders; and contracts for supervision must identify anything in the arrangement that is specifically intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders. This is rather a groundhog day amendment for colleagues who have served on justice Bill Committees in the last couple of years. This is the third time I have spoken to what is virtually the same amendment. We are asking for the Secretary of State to publish an annual report on the provision of rehabilitative services for female offenders in the criminal justice system, and that this should be laid before both Houses of Parliament.
I shall briefly explain why I think this is a sensible suggestion. The Minister will appreciate that, although providers will be expected to deliver appropriate services for female offenders, it is our experience—and I know that it will be the Minister’s experience too—that providers do not always complete their contracts to the standard that we would like. The aim of the amendment is to build in a mechanism for regular public scrutiny of how well the duties are delivered, specifically around the needs of female offenders.
The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that his Government have already shown awareness of the need for transparency and monitoring on this issue. His colleague in another place gave welcome assurance that contracts and service agreements will be published—which we are pleased about—to allow for scrutiny of what is proposed and what we can expect to be provided for female offenders. I do not intend to go into the speeches that I and colleagues on this Committee have given in the House about the specific needs of female offenders. We all agree that they are a small part of the offender
The noble Lord also made a passing reference to the fact that the Government will report to Parliament on progress in dealing with women in the criminal justice system. That was very welcome, but is that still the Government’s intention and, if so, will he agree to the amendment and commit to putting this agreement to report on to a statutory footing?
We have a couple of specific concerns that I would like to seek assurance on. We are particularly concerned about the future of women’s community centres—centres for supporting women offenders in the community. They currently provide excellent one-stop shops and community alternatives to custody for women in the criminal justice system. Their continued funding is not guaranteed and some of the centres are in quite a precarious position, as I know the Minister will appreciate. Even with the duty to consider female offenders, we have concerns about how the centres will operate in a payment-by-results model when they deal, by their nature, with such small numbers of offenders. We do not want to see providers able to almost ignore the needs of female offenders because they can afford to under a PBR contract.
The Minister is also aware that the Justice Select Committee found that there has been a hiatus in progress on the Corston agenda, since the coalition Government came to office. I do not want to labour this point or have a lengthy debate but I have always assumed that there is almost a consensus across the House about the need for a holistic, local approach when it comes to dealing with female offending. The insertion of clause 11 demonstrates that agreement on the need for specialist interventions, which goes across both sides of the House. I know the Minister does not want to see progress slip backwards, but I am afraid that is the sense that we are getting. A lot of people who work in this area are also saying that.
Can the Minister assure the Committee that the impact of the transforming rehabilitation agenda on women’s centres will be monitored and that the recommendations of the Corston review, including the provision of holistic, local services will be taken into account by the MOJ when considering bids from potential providers? I am sure the Minister will be able to do that, but I want to mark his card, because this is something we are particularly concerned about and we do not want to see PBR undermining some of the excellent services that have developed in recent years. They are starting to become very effective and are growing in effectiveness. We would like to see that direction of progress continue.
Finally, the amendment makes specific mention of the need to monitor the impact of post-release supervision of female offenders. We know that the supervision model will significantly affect female offenders as well as prolific male offenders. In 2012, more than half of the women in prison were serving sentences of less than 12 months. We know that short spells in custody can have additional difficulties for women and their rehabilitation, particularly thinking about caring responsibilities and the family life of those raising small children. A system which will increase the number of breaches and recalls to custody for this group needs to be very carefully considered.
Members of the Committee may be aware that the Secretary of State has recently been written to by the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who was responding to concerns that the Government have not published an equality impact assessment for this Bill. Can the Minister update the Committee on whether the Secretary of State has replied to these concerns?
Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC): I want to speak briefly to amendment 58 and say that I agree entirely with the case that the hon. Member for Darlington has put before the Committee today. The Minister will know that the Justice Committee is very concerned about the issue of women in prison, and the need for a separate and distinct set of policies to deal with this problem. This has already been touched upon by the hon. Lady. Short-term prison sentences for women very often create huge problems for family units, with many issues including children being taken into care, loss of employment and loss of housing. To put it bluntly, there are far too many women in prison who should not actually be there, because their imprisonment is not based on any protection of the public nor indeed of themselves. The consequences of putting a woman in prison are far more serious, by and large, than of putting a man in prison. That is the point I would like to make in fully supporting amendment 58.
I will now speak briefly to my amendment 63, which again supplements what was said by the hon. Lady. This amendment would help to ensure that the likely consequences for women of the proposals are given due regard, as required under the public sector equality duty. It would also require the Government to provide further details, which would form the basis of an assessment of the impact of the arrangements providing for the supervision or rehabilitation of offenders, particularly female offenders, and the reasons for the conclusions reached in consequence of that assessment.
The Minister knows that after the election a head of steam built up in support of looking at a distinct set of policies and approach for women offenders. We are all aware of the excellent work of Baroness Corston and her report, but the last several matters within that report are yet to be brought in. Women’s centres are a tangential matter but one of extreme moment, and they may be undermined by cuts in the immediate future. As the hon. Lady said, clause 11 requires the Secretary of State to ensure that contracts or other arrangements providing for the supervision or rehabilitation of offenders must:
“(a) state that the Secretary of State has, in making the arrangements, complied with the duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (public sector equality duty) as it relates to female offenders, and
Clause 11 was tabled as a result of a Government amendment introduced in the House of Lords with the support of Lord Woolf, the chair of the Prison Reform Trust, and others. Despite the welcome commitment in the Bill to comply with the equality duty in relation to female offenders, the Government have confirmed that they will not publish an equality impact assessment of the Bill. They have not yet provided any gender disaggregated analysis in their impact assessment of the Bill.
When the Joint Committee on Human Rights considered the Bill’s impact on protected groups, it criticised the provision of information by the Government. According to the Committee, information has been piecemeal and lacking in detail, and was produced only in response to parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill and the transforming rehabilitation reforms. This does not provide much reassurance that the Government properly complied with their equality duty in the formulation of the policy.
Mark Hammond, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, to express his concern regarding the compliance of the Offender Rehabilitation Bill with the public sector equality duty, and to offer assistance to the Ministry of Justice in responding to the concerns expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. In that letter he highlights that under the public sector equality duty,
The commitment in the Bill to comply with the equality duty when determining provision for female offenders is very important, given the lack of attention paid to women in the transforming rehabilitation proposals. The Chair of the Select Committee on Justice, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), said on introducing the Committee’s report on women offenders:
“The Government’s Transforming Rehabilitation reforms have clearly been designed with male offenders in mind. This is unfortunately symptomatic of an approach within the Ministry of Justice and National Offender Management Service that tends to deal with women offenders as an afterthought”.
Unless we are very careful women offenders will be disproportionately affected by the proposals, as they are more likely to be low-risk and to serve very short sentences for comparatively minor offences. In 2012, those entering prison to serve sentences of 12 months or less accounted for 71% of all women entering prison under an immediate custodial sentence, whereas the proportion for men was 57%. More than 4,500 women entered prison to serve sentences of six months or less. More than half of them—2,458—were given sentences of three months or less; more than one in 10 were sentenced to four weeks or less, leading to all the problems I have mentioned; and 22 women received sentences of 10 days or less.
The Government estimate that extending statutory supervision to short-sentence prisoners is likely to result in up to 13,000 people being recalled to custody for breach of licence conditions. That has been said before. Unless monitoring and supervision arrangements accommodate women’s specific needs and circumstances there is a strong likelihood that more women will be recalled to custody for breach; that is already a significant driver of women’s imprisonment.
More than half of all women in prison report having experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child, compared with a quarter of men, and the majority of women in prison have the primary responsibility for dependent children. Because women will comprise a
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman and I work together on the Select Committee on Justice. He will remember the good and proven work that we saw on a visit to Adelaide house in Edge lane in Liverpool earlier in the year, so I hear what he is saying; but he will understand that the CRC covering that part of Liverpool is more than welcome to involve the services provided at Adelaide house, especially as they have been shown to be effective. It would be in the interest of the CRC to do that. Does he accept that point?
Mr Llwyd: I do, and the hon. Gentleman, my Select Committee colleague, knows that we were impressed by what we saw at Adelaide house. That unit is a beacon of hope and good practice, and if its work could be emulated in other parts of England and Wales we would be moving forward. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and I agree with him. We must ensure that centres such as Adelaide house are given as much as possible in the way of assistance and resources, so that they can carry on their excellent work.
I was talking about the fact that there will be disadvantage under the new payment-by-results commissioning. That is because the small number of women offenders means it is difficult to produce statistically significant evidence in support of gender-specific interventions when making the case for their services to first-tier contract holders. As the Justice Committee report—the hon. Gentleman and I were among those who deliberated on it—says:
The organisations to which I have referred are likely to become tier 3 providers, sub-contracted or grant funded by tier 1 providers. It is unclear how those arrangements will work, or whether those small organisations will be able to sustain themselves under the funding arrangements.
It is also unclear whether organisations that work with women offenders will be able to work with vulnerable women as well, and help to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. The report by the National Audit Office for the Justice Committee highlighted the impact on women’s centres of the continuing uncertainty over their funding, to which the hon. Member for Darlington referred earlier. That report also emphasised that measuring reductions in reoffending fails to recognise distance travelled by individuals and wider benefits to society, such as the improved health of the users of women’s services.
I have no doubt that hon. Members will want to clarify what weighting will be given in the contracting process to the provision of women-specific services and whether bidders will be fully scrutinised for their offer to women offenders. I would welcome clarification of the contractual safeguards which will be put in place to protect against perverse incentives. The recent HMI report on HMP Holloway noted that 44 agencies provided services to HMP Holloway resettlement unit. Under the new arrangements, unless a provider is in the contract supply chain they may not be authorised to deliver services to offenders. I am sure that hon. Members will want to ensure that women’s community organisations that are not in the contract supply chain will be able to provide resettlement and through-the-gate services to women in prison.
Centrally allocated funding for women’s centres is due to run out in March 2014, but contracts with first-tier providers operating in the 21 contract package areas may not be finalised until autumn 2014. In the other place, the noble Lord McNally gave a commitment during a debate on 25 March 2013 to report back to Parliament in March 2014 on progress towards improved provision for women offenders. Given the significance of the impending changes to community supervision to the delivery of its strategic objectives for female offenders, I, along with others on the Committee, would like a Government commitment to report annually on the sustainability of women’s community services in the new commissioning environment. There is a very strong case for exempting women from the proposals altogether and instead developing specific arrangements for women designed to reduce offending.
I finish by quoting briefly from one of the main conclusions of the sixth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Bill. I am sure that the Minister is aware of it, but it should be placed on record. It states:
“The provision of information by the Government in relation to its consideration of the Bill's impact on protected groups has been piecemeal, lacking in detail, and has been produced only in response to parliamentary scrutiny of the Bill and the Transforming Rehabilitation reforms. This does not provide much reassurance that the Government has properly complied with its equality duty in the formulation of the policy. We acknowledge that there is no legal obligation on the Justice Secretary to publish an Equality Impact Assessment. Like the Government, we are interested in effective assessment of compliance with the duty rather than a formalistic box-ticking exercise. However, in formulating the Transforming Rehabilitation strategy and the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, the Government has a duty to assess the potential impact of the reforms on protected groups of people. We are concerned about the lack of evidence provided by the Government so far to support its assertion that the proposals have been considered fully in line with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, and we call on the Department to publish the information which demonstrates this without delay. We would particularly like to see the Government's analysis of the Bill's potential impact on women offenders, young offenders and BME offenders”.
Jeremy Wright: I am not sure that I can live up to the introduction, but I will do my best. I shall deal with amendments 58 and 63. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Darlington and the right hon. Member for
Amendment 58 would sit alongside the duty in clause 11 of the Bill requiring the Secretary of State to ensure that arrangements for probation provision identify anything in the arrangements that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders. The Committee will recall that clause 11 was added to the Bill in the other place as a Government amendment, with support from all parties and Cross Benchers. I accept that it is important that we are transparent about the services being delivered to female offenders and the impact of the supervision that they receive. I hope that I can reassure the Committee that the Government are already committed to providing such information to Parliament and the public.
In practice, “arrangements” will mean either contracts for community rehabilitation companies or service level agreements for the national probation service, and I am happy to put it on the record that those contracts and service level agreements will be placed in the public domain. That means that the Government will be transparent about what they will require providers of probation services to deliver for women. If providers are not delivering those requirements, they will of course be subject to contractual remedies to rectify that. Data that we will require to be provided on the effectiveness of those services will be published in the autumn of 2016.
Regarding the impact of post-release supervision on female offenders released from short sentences, the Secretary of State is already required under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 to publish information to support justice agencies in avoiding discriminating against anyone on the grounds of race, sex or any other improper ground. The Government publish statistics every quarter, breaking down reoffending rates by sentence type and length and by gender. We also publish annually data on court order and licence completions and resettlement outcomes in terms of accommodation and employment, again split by gender. That information is supplemented by two Ministry of Justice reports that look specifically at gender issues. Statistics on women in the criminal justice system bring together a wide range of information on how women are represented in the criminal justice system, including the sentences given to female offenders and the reoffending rates for each.
The national offender management service’s offender equalities annual report contains information on order and licence completions and on resettlement outcomes for offenders with different protected characteristics. That will, in future, show outcomes for different CRCs and for the NPS.
Jenny Chapman: The Minister is right that the aggregated data are available. What we are asking for, however, is something more of a narrative. Given that the information is fairly easily to hand, we do not think that we are
Jeremy Wright: I understand the hon. Lady’s point, and I will look again if the information is not clear. However, as I have set out, that information is set out every year. It will be clear, when comparisons are to be made—between CRC areas in particular—on what is being done where. As I also said, that is supplemented by the requirements we will set out in contract, which clause 11 foreshadows. With all that, I hope it is clear that the Government are already committed to the spirit of the hon. Lady’s amendment, and I hope she will be happy to withdraw it.
Amendment 63, tabled by the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, would add to clause 11 a duty on the Secretary of State to provide a summary of the impact of any arrangements made for the supervision and rehabilitation of female offenders. It would also require the Secretary of State to demonstrate how that assessment was made.
The amendment would not do quite what the right hon. Gentleman may have intended. I suspect that his intention is to require a report or statement on the potential or actual impact of contractual provision on female offenders. Technically, however, the amendment would require arrangements for probation services made by the Secretary of State—in practice, contracts or service level agreements—to state the likely equality impact of the requirements. As I am sure he will appreciate, contracts are probably not the right place to make available such detailed statistical information.
However, I hope that I will be able to assure the right hon. Gentleman that the data that this or any Government would use to assess the potential impact of the probation services on female offenders are already published in the documents I have just mentioned—specifically, the characteristics of women serving for particular offences as opposed to men, such as the offences they committed and their previous convictions; the length and requirements of sentences given to women as opposed to men; and crucially, their reoffending rates for different types and lengths of sentences compared with those for men. That is exactly the sort of information that the Secretary of State will have to take into account in meeting his duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.
I would also point to the existing statutory duty on the Secretary of State under the Equality Act’s specific duties regulations of 2011. That requires him to publish information to demonstrate his compliance with the duty imposed by section 149, which has exactly the same effect as the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment. Given the existing statutory duties on the Secretary of State and the reassurances I have given about the mechanism that will be in place in future to demonstrate the effectiveness of services provided for female offenders, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.
I was asked specific questions, particularly by the hon. Member for Darlington, about women’s community centres. I understand the reason for the hon. Lady’s concern. We, too, want to ensure that there is a degree
After that, the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester is the right one. If these services are effective—and both Members who have spoken are right to say that there are good examples of effective services—there is no reason to believe that CRCs will not wish to continue to invest in them.
Jenny Chapman: The concern that I and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd have is that, because the number of female offenders is small, it is feasible that a CRC could deliver to a PBR contract and not be penalised, even though it may fail to deliver good quality services to its female cohort. We are very concerned that that should not be allowed to happen. We would like assurances that that will be specifically detailed in the contract.
Jeremy Wright: Yes, I can give the hon. Lady that assurance. Of course, that is the genesis of clause 11. We expect all those bidding for the contracts to demonstrate how they will address the particular needs of female offenders, and we expect that those arrangements will be reflected, where it is sensible to do so, in the contract. They will therefore follow contractual penalties if those arrangements are not subsequently made.
Steve Brine: When we visited various women’s centres, including Adelaide house, one grave concern expressed to us was that in the transitional period some of these centres could fall off the log. Then they would have to be reinvented, if possible, come the invention of CRCs. I put on record our thanks and welcome that the Government did respond with that transitional funding; otherwise, they might have had to reinvent the wheel.
I will pick up on the last specific point that the hon. Member for Darlington raised about the letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The letter arrived at the end of last week so, as she might expect, it has not yet been responded to. However—this also goes to the point that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd made—we have, as they would expect, done some analysis of the equalities impact of what we are proposing. I circulated a document to members of the Committee and I hope they have seen it. It has also gone to the Joint Committee in response to the letter it sent to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will respond to the letter in due course.
Jenny Chapman: I listened carefully to what the Minister said. It was pretty much what I had anticipated, because that is what we get told every time we table this amendment. Each time we go through this matter, I become more convinced that it is an important provision to ask for, and it is not that onerous a task to require of officials. I am quite happy to sit for a couple of days trawling through MOJ datasets on a website; I think that probably goes with my job, but I do not see why colleagues should have to do the same in order to glean the
‘(2) In section 64 (release on licence: drug testing requirements)—
(a) in subsection (1)(a), omit “for a trigger offence, and”,
(b) in that subsection, at the end insert “, and
(c) the Secretary of State is satisfied of the matters in subsection (1A).”,
(c) after that subsection insert—
“(1A) Those matters are—
(a) that the misuse by the person of a specified class A drug or a specified class B drug caused or contributed to an offence of which the person has been convicted or is likely to cause or contribute to the commission of further offences by the person, and
(b) that the person is dependent on, or has a propensity to misuse, a specified class A drug or a specified class B drug.”,
(d) in subsection (2), after “conditions” insert “mentioned in subsection (1)(b)”, and
(e) in subsection (3), after “specified Class A drug” insert “or specified Class B drug”.’
‘(1A) (a) Where the offender is sentenced to a community or suspended sentence order after being charged with an offence of a violent or sexual nature, a stalking offence or a domestic violence offence, the responsible officer must be an officer of a public sector provider of probation services.
Jenny Chapman: I hope that I do not impede too much the speed of progress that we are achieving. Clause 14 and schedule 4 is about officers responsible for implementing orders. This is of some considerable interest to Opposition members of the Committee, for obvious reasons. Clause 14 provides that the responsible officer managing those on community sentences may be an officer of any provider of probation services but specifies that certain duties—namely, advice to a court—must be undertaken by a public sector officer. The Offender Management Act 2007 provides that assistance to a court must be reserved as a duty for the public sector.
Our amendments are all identical to amendments that we pressed on clause 3, so colleagues will be pleased to know that I shall not go through every aspect of those arguments again, but they affect community sentences this time and the same sort of arguments apply. These amendments deal with important issues about managing risk, managing contracts and piloting the Secretary of State’s proposals. As I doubt that the Minister has had a change of heart on the merits of piloting, I will not rehearse the arguments again but will certainly look to address these concerns on the Floor of the House on Report, as I am sure he would expect. We shall not press the amendments to a vote right now, but we remain concerned about these issues and will return to them on Report.
Jeremy Wright: We return now, as the hon. Lady has explained, to issues that we have already covered fairly fully in the Committee, so I am sure I need not speak for long either. I shall deal briefly with the amendments before us.
Amendment 2 would prevent any organisation, other than the public sector probation service, from dealing with any offender who receives a community order or suspended sentence order after being charged with a violent or sexual offence. I suspect that the word “charged” in the amendment is not what the hon. Lady meant, because offenders may be charged with one offence but convicted of another, but I understand the thrust of the argument.
I shall not reiterate the arguments that have already been made in Committee, but of course I would rely on arguments already made in relation to the way in which risk of serious harm works, and the fact that conviction offences are not always a reliable indicator of the risk of an offender’s causing serious further harm to the public. Therefore, I suggest, Parliament should not set crude definitions relating to which agency should supervise an offender: professionals working with that offender should decide that question, based on a risk screening or assessment at the outset by the national probation service.
Amendment 6 would impose various duties on the Secretary of State, in order for him to be able to lawfully make arrangements for an officer of a community rehabilitation company to be a responsible officer for an offender serving a community order or suspended sentence order. I responded to the list of conditions in the amendment in the debate on amendment 33—the close identical twin of amendment 6—on periods of supervision. I do not need to list them all again, but it is worth putting on record that we accepted the Justice Committee report on CRCs and the Freedom of Information Act and will be issuing revised guidance to public authorities on sharing information.
We believe that seven to 10 years is the right length for a contract, to allow for a long-term view and to encourage innovation in reducing reoffending. On performance standards for CRCs, the Secretary of State already has a duty under the Offender Management Act 2007 to issue standards, and suitably modified standards will now apply to CRCs.
We will place additional contractual requirements on CRCs with respect to how they deliver community order and suspended sentence order requirements, so that we can ensure that these aspects of the sentence are delivered to time and quality. I will say again that in our view, the appropriate place for a performance framework is contracts, not secondary legislation.
‘(1A) The Secretary of State must prescribe minimum training requirements to be completed by the responsible officer in regulations to be laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.’.
Again, we are concerned that responsible officers will not be trained to what might be considered a minimum standard, so we want to probe the Government about what they consider to be the minimum level of training, supervision and qualification for such an officer. We are worried that people supervising offenders in the community will lack supervision with which they may make decisions quickly and accurately. We know what a highly skilled job this is. At the moment, safeguards are in place—professionals work in teams in which they are able to get support and supervision—but we are concerned that that might not be the case in future. We would like to return to the matter on Report, but I would be grateful if the Minister would make some comments about it now.
Jeremy Wright: The amendment is pretty much the identical twin of amendment 4, which we have already discussed. It deals with the Secretary of State’s existing powers to publish guidelines about training. As I said regarding amendment 4, section 10 of the 2007 Act provides that the Secretary of State must publish guidelines about
Amendment 5, like amendment 4, would duplicate that existing statutory duty to publish guidelines about any required qualifications, experience or training, so it is unnecessary. I repeat a point I made in responding to amendment 4: it is not necessary to make such detailed operational guidance subject to parliamentary approval. Section 10 of the 2007 Act does not stipulate that guidelines on training should be subject to parliamentary approval, and we believe that that approach was the right one.
I can reassure the Committee that CRCs will not be free to use inexperienced or unsuitable staff to manage offenders. CRCs will be contractually required to have and maintain a suitably trained and competent work force. Potential providers will be asked to demonstrate in their bids how they will ensure that their staff are competent to carry out the work and manage the level of risk posed by offenders.
Jenny Chapman: I will be happy to withdraw the amendment as I am—sort of—reassured by what the Minister says, given his reference to specific requirements under contracts. We will keep a close eye on this, however, and we will probably return to it on Report. The matter is of huge concern to the work force because they value highly the skills that they have gained over many years and they do not want the profession to be diminished in any way. However, I am happy to accept the Minister’s assurances for the time being, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
‘(3) This section may not come into force until such a time as the Secretary of State has piloted the provisions in one or more probation trust areas, and has laid before Parliament an independent evaluation of the pilot.’.
‘(1A) Section 14 comes into force in accordance with section 14(3).’.
Jenny Chapman: We have covered this issue extensively—I was going to say “to death”—as it is something about which Opposition Members care passionately. We feel that the measures should be piloted. They were going to be piloted, but the pilots were cancelled. We have been over this several times, and we clearly disagree with the Government. I should therefore like to test the opinion of the Committee on the amendment because it addresses something that fundamentally divides us.
I will always be convinced that these measures should be tested. I anticipate, as do many others on both sides, that there will be significant problems as they are rolled out. Had we taken just a little more time and allowed the pilots to be completed, we could have put ourselves in a position whereby mistakes could be have been avoided. If the pilots had not been cancelled, they would be well on their way by now. I would like to test the opinion of the Committee on the amendment.
Amendment 37 would require a pilot of the provisions in clause 14 and schedule 4 relating to responsible officers. Amendment 38 relates to the commencement clause of the Bill and is simply a reference back to the changes proposed in amendment 37. I understand what the hon. Lady is trying to get at, but there is some confusion about what amendment 37 is an attempt to do. Clause 14 is designed to deal with the current confusion caused by sections 197 and 198 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which created the role of the responsible officer for community orders and suspended sentence orders, and defined the functions of the responsible officer in delivering an order. Those provisions are complex and create uncertainty; for example, it is not clear under section 197 whether a responsible officer can change during the course of a sentence.
Section 198 of the 2003 Act includes the function of enforcing the requirements of a community order or suspended sentence, regardless of whether it is the public or another sector delivering the order. I remind members of the Committee that section 4 of Labour’s own Offender Management Act 2007 reserves the function of providing advice to courts to the public sector. However, that Act omitted to make the necessary changes to the role of the responsible officer to back that up. It is in fact to finish what the official Opposition started, while they were in government, that clause 14 and schedule 4 make changes to the responsible officer role and create a new enforcement officer role. Non-public sector providers will still be able to warn an offender for a first breach, but laying information before the court to initiate a breach hearing will be the responsibility solely of the public sector. I invite the hon. Lady to think again about amendment 37 before she chooses to vote on it in Committee, or returns to it on Report, because I am not sure it says what she thinks that it says.
I will not go through the arguments on piloting more generally again—we have heard them many times. Let me simply remind the Committee of what I said initially about how our reforms have been and will continue to be tested. We are working with 11 trusts between now and next spring to test key elements of the new model, including the new arrangements for dealing with breach of community orders and suspended sentence orders. Next spring, we will have the 21 community rehabilitation companies and the national probation service working alongside each other to deliver services. However, the CRCs will remain in public sector ownership for some months until the conclusion of the competition, which will provide further opportunities to test and refine the system. We therefore already have processes in place to test these changes, so I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.
Jenny Chapman: I am afraid that I will not be withdrawing amendment 37. We are not convinced—we are not confused—and this is a point of principle for us. I was not reassured by the speech that the Minister read out, so I would like to test the opinion of the Committee.
‘(1A) When a matter is referred to an enforcement officer under paragraph 5(1)(b) or 6(1) the matter should be dealt with within 24 hours of the referral.’.
‘(3) The Secretary of State must ensure sufficient enforcement officers are available to lay information before the courts.’.
To return to serious business, it is essential in my view—I am sure that I speak for others—that procedures are carried out swiftly. I therefore propose that a provider of private probation services must refer immediately to the enforcement officer following the discovery of any alleged breach, and that that should be done within a working day, excluding weekends, in all cases, if confidence in the provider is to be upheld. This is an important point—it might be an obvious one as well—because breaches can be extremely dangerous. A person may suddenly decide that he or she does not want to comply, meaning that all bets are off and we are back in a very awkward situation. I do not think it is unreasonable that the supervisor should make any alleged breach, as he or she sees it, known to the enforcement officer within 24 hours. It should be incumbent on the enforcement officer that the matter of the breach should be dealt with and referred to a court within 24 hours of him or her receiving it, which would ensure that all matters would be dealt with swiftly.
In some cases, the breach will be for a fairly serious matter, so it will be essential that it is dealt with without delay if public protection issues are involved. If the whole scheme is to be transparent, and if it is to have judicial and, crucially, public confidence, the process must be carried out quickly. There should not be a long time lag before a breach is referred to an enforcement officer, nor before the enforcement officer takes the matter back to court. There will certainly be concerns among the magistracy if a breach is presented by somebody who does not have overall responsibility for supervision, as they may wish to ask questions of the person directly responsible. However, I will not go further into that debate now, as the Minister reassured us last week that there is nothing to prevent a court, if it deems it necessary, from summoning a supervisor to give oral evidence at a hearing.
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend understates the importance of the amendments. They are extremely important because Opposition Members are concerned about the possible fragmentation arising from these reforms and changes to the probation service. It is essential that the magistracy has confidence in breach proceedings and that the system has credibility with the offender. Does he agree that any gap between enforcement and supervision would be very detrimental?
Mr Llwyd: My right hon. Friend is right. He brings to the Committee his ministerial experience of seeing at first hand how these things should work. To bolster his point, there might be a fairly serious breach and the person on the receiving end, to put it crudely, might believe that he or she could be going away for 14 days. If
I anticipate that the Minister will say that this will be a matter for internal regulation in the service as it develops. However, it is more important than that, given that we are putting in place a system that must command public confidence. Crucially, the magistracy and the Crown courts will want to know that these things are being dealt with swiftly and without undue delay. Frankly, I do not think that this matter should be left to internal agreement between the enforcement and the supervisory sides. It is important that we have this debate now, which is why I want the amendments in the Bill.
Paul Goggins: I talked about the need for confidence among the magistracy and credibility with offenders. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the public have confidence and know that, whether it is regarding community punishment or post-release supervision, there is no delay between a breach by someone and the proceedings starting?
Mr Llwyd: Absolutely. The driving feature of the Bill is the fact that the under-12 month cohort will now be dealt with effectively. If they are going to be dealt with effectively, they must be dealt with swiftly, sensibly and with due regard for circumstances. The process must be swift because otherwise the public will start to think that they have been sold a pup and that there is no system to deal quickly with potential breaches. Such speed is also crucial to ensure that other offenders are warned of what will happen if they breach without reasonable cause.
Jenny Chapman: I support the amendments. We think the public are being sold a pup with this programme of reform. The reasons for that, as have been identified, are escalating risk and problems with communication. We know that probation officers sometimes do not have confidence that the systems with which they are provided make such communication possible now. However, as they all know about their problems with IT, they are able to circumvent them in various ways. As they work together and know each other, and as they are all using the same systems and have established protocols, they are able to get around the glitches that occur from time to time, but that is unlikely to be the case under new arrangements. The right hon. Gentleman has rightly identified communication as one of the Bill’s key problems. If he wished to press his amendment to a Division today or on Report, we would happily support him.
Jeremy Wright: Let me deal first with amendment 27. As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd explained, it would require an enforcement officer, who must of course be an officer of a public sector provider—in practice the national probation service—to deal with a breach referral from a responsible officer within 24 hours.
First, it is not clear what the requirement to deal with the referral means. If a CRC alleges that an offender has breached a requirement of their community order and reports that to the national probation service, there are a number of actions that the service can take. It may conclude that there has been no breach, or it may decide that laying information is appropriate and initiate court action.
As I have said, it will be essential that the NPS comes to its own view of the appropriate action on breach. Indeed, the Bill’s provisions place that duty on it. That might mean asking a CRC for further information or reports on the alleged breach. It will not be feasible to carry out such an assessment—and, if necessary, to lay information before a court—in every case within 24 hours.
If the NPS received a breach pack on a Friday afternoon, it would not be able to comply with the amendment, as its effect is not restricted to business hours. The amendment would therefore place a statutory duty on the public sector probation service that I suspect it would—frequently, and for understandable reasons—not be in a position to meet. To make sure that existing high performance on the conclusion of breach proceedings is maintained, we will ensure that the CRCs and the NPS work to the same time scales that now exist in national standards, but in a way that ensures that the NPS has sufficient time to undertake a full review of the alleged breach before a summons is issued.
As the right hon. Gentleman says, timely enforcement action is important. That is why it is included in national standards. The current standards set out that a breach action, if there appears to be no reasonable excuse, should be initiated with a court no later than the end of the 10th working day following failure to comply. I hope that he will be reassured by that, since I think it is a better measure on which to hold the new national probation service to account.
I hope that I can deal briefly with amendment 28, which would place a duty on the Secretary of State to provide enough enforcement officers to lay information before the courts in regard to breach, because such a statutory duty already exists. Section 2(1) of the Offender Management Act 2007 states:
“It is the function of the Secretary of State to ensure that sufficient provision is made throughout England and Wales…for the probation purposes”.
Jeremy Wright: The right hon. Gentleman and I have discussed before, in Committee and elsewhere, the importance of communication in the new arrangements. It will be important that both CRC and NPS employees work together to ensure communication is swift and effective, which is what we expect. Although he says that such decisions are currently being taken within one organisation, it does not follow that they are being made by one individual. An enforcement officer, someone making a decision on breach, will often not be the same as the offender supervisor, so a need for information to transfer between individuals already exists. That information will still need to be transferred, and we want to ensure that communication channels are effective. It will be necessary to do that not only for this purpose, but also for the system more broadly to work as effectively as we would want. To give him what reassurance I can, the same standards and expectations that apply now in the process of breach will apply under the new regime. I recognise what the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd is attempting to do, but the amendment has some practical difficulties.
Jenny Chapman: The Minister knows that the Opposition are interested in the issue. When I pressed him on Second Reading, he said that he expected teams to be working together and sharing offices. That came as a bit of a surprise to those working in probation, because they do not know where those offices will be and are unsure as to how that will work in practice. Is it actually the case that teams will be sharing offices or is that more of an aspiration?
Jeremy Wright: They certainly will be sharing offices as of 1 April, because that is arrangement that will persist after the initial split between CRCs and the NPS. After that, it will be up to those on the ground to decide on the most effective arrangement. It really should not come as a surprise to her that we believe that co-location is sensible for such interaction. The Secretary of State has spoken about it many times, and it has always been a part of his vision of how the system should work. As I said, perhaps the hon. Lady was not here, the Secretary of State’s vision has come under some pretty heavy fire from Opposition Members, but if they were listening carefully to what he said, they would have picked up the point a long time ago.
Mr Llwyd: On amendment 28, I am reassured by what the Minister says about the duty already existing in section 2(1) of the Offender Management Act 2007. I think, however, that we need to discuss amendment 27 further. I will seek to withdraw it, but I intend to return to its purport on Report. I hope we will have a longer and deeper debate at that stage, because this is a crucial
‘(2A) In sections 177(1) and 190(1) (requirements that may be imposed as part of a
community order or suspended sentence order) after paragraph (j) insert—
“(ja) a restorative justice requirement (as defined by section 212A),”.’.
‘(c) restorative justice activities.’.
‘(7A) In this section “restorative justice activity” means an activity—
(a) where the participants consist of, or include, the offender and one or more
of the victims’
(b) which aims to maximise the offender’s awareness of the impact of the
offending concerned on the victims; and
(c) which gives an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by
other means express experience of, the offending and its impact.’.
‘(3A) After section 212 insert—
“212A Restorative justice requirement
(1) In this Part “restorative justice requirement”, in relation to a relevant order, means a requirement to participate in an activity—
(a) where the participants consist of, or include, the offender and one or more of the victims;
(b) which aims to maximise the offender’s awareness of the impact of the offending concerned on the victims; and
(c) which gives an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by other means express experience of, the offending and its impact.
(2) Imposition of a restorative justice requirement requires, in addition to the offender’s consent, the consent of every other person who would be a participant in the activity concerned.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a responsible officer does not count as a proposed participant.
(4) In this section “victim” means a victim of, or other person affected by, the offending concerned.”.’.
Jenny Chapman: This has become a bit of a tradition in justice Bills. I think this is the third Bill in a row where we have tried to do this. The Government favour restorative justice and want to see more good quality restorative justice taking place, and we try to nudge them a little further. These are probing amendments: we want to find out what the Minister has in mind about the future use of restorative justice, and about some of the benefits which we feel could be gained from its wider use. We are constantly learning how to use restorative justice more appropriately, and how more victims of crime can benefit from it.
As I say, these are probing amendments which address the issue of restorative justice provision. Amendments 59 and 62 would create a specific restorative justice requirement that could be imposed as part of a community sentence or suspended sentence order. Amendments 60 and 61 would specify that restorative justice activities could be prescribed as part of a rehabilitation activity requirement, alongside accredited programmes and broader reparative activity.
There is welcome cross-party agreement on the merits of restorative justice as part of the rehabilitation agenda. Of particular importance is the high approval rating of restorative justice among the victims who have experienced it, which is getting higher because practitioners are becoming more expert. They are constantly increasing the creative ways in which they are able to engage both perpetrators and victims in the process. It gives victims the opportunity to express the effect on them of an offence, and asks the offender to face up to their victim and hear the effects of their crime.
Once again, I pay particular tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East, who has worked tirelessly to try to widen and improve the offer of restorative justice to victims around the country. I have spoken in many debates in which he has also spoken on this particular issue, and I would say that he is an expert on restorative justice. We want to know what the Government have in mind and whether they will go any further, perhaps not by including this amendment on the face of the Bill but as the provision of community sentences changes and develops over time.
In the Crime and Courts Act 2013 the Government include welcome provisions to allow time to be built into the justice process for pre-sentence restorative justice activities. They intend these activities to be available as part of the rehabilitation activity requirement, under the broader umbrella of reparative activities. These amendments were originally tabled in the other place, and aim to open up the debate about whether more could or should be done to provide for and encourage the use of restorative justice wherever it is appropriate.
As the Government are updating the options available to a court as part of a community or suspended sentence order, the real question is whether it would be beneficial to put restorative justice activities on the face of the 2003 Act, or to encourage higher usage or allow the courts to mandate restorative justice as a requirement in its own right. We re-tabled the amendments to allow the Minister to update the Committee on the Government’s plans to encourage the use and availability of restorative justice, and again to ask about the Government’s thoughts on whether it might be beneficial to update the Criminal Justice Act to include a specific mention of restorative justice activity. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
Paul Goggins: I feel I ought to say something, given what my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has just said, although I caution her about the limits of my knowledge and understanding of this. I commend her for once again taking an opportunity with a major piece of legislation to bring the Committee’s attention to the importance of restorative justice. It is a fair challenge to the Minister. A Bill about sentencing offenders should not go through without enhancing the cause of restorative justice. I know that we are pushing at an open door with this Minister, who understands restorative justice and the important role that it can play. I commend him and his colleague, the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green), for responding in the Crime and Courts Bill in the way that they did, to make sure that where the opportunity arises where sentence can be deferred, there will be statutory guidance about how restorative justice will be operated. This is very important to maintain the standards.
Now is probably not the time to rehearse all the arguments about restorative justice, but it is again important to underline that its real benefit is for the victims of crime as much as for anybody else. It is they who can get an explanation and an apology, as well as the offender having to face up to the consequences of their actions. This is potentially a real win for the victims of crime, as well as a help in trying to rehabilitate the offender. In that sense, it has something for everybody.
We know that where restorative justice has been used, there are very high levels of victim satisfaction, which is encouraging. We also see a reduction in reoffending rates for those who are given restorative justice. Because all this has to be clearly voluntary, it shows that where the offender has an interest in this, real, substantial change can take place. In the Crime and Courts Act 2013, we in Parliament managed to provide restorative justice in a credible and proper way at a crucial time in the sentencing process. We know that this and earlier Governments have done much to try to enhance the cause of restorative justice at an earlier stage, as well as using it in prison.
Given that we are looking at the supervision of those who have had short prison sentences, it seems entirely fitting that where it is appropriate, those who supervise post-release—even for short sentences—should utilise restorative justice at that point as well, if the opportunity arises. I hope that the Minister will have some good news for us. He may be able to update us on progress since the Crime and Courts Act 2013 about how that particular provision is being taken forward. I hope that he will use this opportunity once again to send out a clear message that restorative justice is not an add-on, but should be at the heart of the criminal justice process.
Mr Llwyd: Briefly, I support what the right hon. Gentleman and hon. Lady said. The Justice Committee visited Northern Ireland some months ago and—as the right hon. Gentleman will know from his ministerial experience over there—it is a core function within the Northern Ireland youth justice system that in virtually every youth justice case there has to be consideration of restorative justice. It is a resounding success, not simply for the offender in terms of rehabilitation but, crucially, for the victim as well. I echo everything that the right hon. Gentleman said. Because we are dealing with a Bill
I am one of those who believes that of course it will not work for everyone, but it will work for very many people. It will have beneficial effects for the public in terms of rehabilitation, but also, crucially, it will have good effects for victims as well. I am sure that because the Minister is fully aware of this he will address the Committee on these points when he concludes his remarks.
Jeremy Wright: I am happy to join the consensus on this matter. I think I agree with everything that has been said. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East said, I am an enthusiast for restorative justice. It has an important part to play in parallel with the normal sentencing processes and primarily, as the right hon. Gentleman says, to support the interests of victims in the criminal justice process. For that reason, I am keen to see restorative justice develop. As he knows, we have not only plugged a legislative gap, as he describes, but, to a large degree, put our money where our mouth is by providing funding for restorative justice. I agree entirely with the sentiments that have been expressed. I agree, too, that the evidence for the effectiveness of restorative justice is persuasive.
Taken together, as the hon. Member for Darlington explained, the amendments would make it explicit that activities in which offenders are required to participate as part of the new rehabilitation activity requirement under a community order or suspended sentence order can include restorative justice activities. Again, I assure the Committee that that is absolutely the Government’s intention and that restorative justice activities can be delivered under the new rehabilitation activity requirement. Given the good evidence for the impact that restorative justice can have on reoffending, as the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East rightly said, I am sure that many providers will want to use restorative processes in appropriate cases. We certainly would not want to stand in the way of that, and clause 15 is certainly not intended to prevent it. I can, however, see the points raised by the hon. Member for Darlington and her colleagues, and I will consider further whether including something more obviously in the Bill would assist in that regard. If we conclude that it would, I will do so. On that basis, I hope she will not press amendments 60 and 61 to a Division.
Amendments 59 and 62, taken together, would create a new stand-alone restorative justice requirement that could be imposed as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. The Committee will know that courts can, and do, already order restorative justice activities as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. That is currently done through the activity requirement, which provides for activities that include a reparative purpose. Although clause 15 replaces the existing activity requirement, as I have already explained, it will still allow responsible officers to instruct offenders to participate in restorative justice activities. Providing separately for a restorative justice requirement that would be for the court to impose and would be focused entirely on restorative justice might lead to problems if a victim agrees to participate when the sentence is imposed on the defendant but subsequently
I reiterate that the Government are fully committed to encouraging the greater use of restorative justice and to ensuring that it is available at every stage of the criminal justice process. Although I see the wider intention behind the amendments, I hope that, given what I have said and the reassurances that I have been able to offer, the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment.
Jenny Chapman: I think we got a bit more out of that than we thought we would. It is always worth a try, is it not? I am very happy to withdraw my amendment, and I look forward to the Minister coming back to us with something else on Report. I am grateful for his positive words on restorative justice, and we look forward to hearing more from him.
Jenny Chapman: I do not want to delay the Committee. Clause 19 refers to the armed forces. Does the Minister have any thoughts on veterans’ courts, which were debated at length in the other place? Just to make the Minister aware, we intend to debate the issue on Report. If he wishes, he may take this opportunity to comment on veterans’ courts at this time.
Jeremy Wright: I do not think there is a great deal for me to add. As the hon. Lady knows, we are considering whether there is a place for the sort of work that goes on in the United States, to which she has made reference before. I do not think it directly relates to the content of the Bill, but as she knows, we are considering whether there are lessons to be learned from what goes on in the United States and other places in this context.
My concern goes back to an earlier discussion about the arrangements for breaching offenders when they do not comply with the requirements placed on them as part of the post-release supervision. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd ably introduced a number of amendments that he subsequently withdrew, although I think he intends to pursue some of the arguments on Report. They were on, I think, clause 15; the Minister will know better than I which clause they refer to.
I seek the Minister’s reassurance. One of my concerns, which I know is shared by others, is the question, what is the incentive for a private company that is being paid for the results that they achieve to breach an offender during the course of their supervision? Breaching that offender puts them on the road to failure, which presumably has implications for the payments that that company will receive.
Throughout the proceedings, the Minister has been keen to reassure us that the enforcement officer will be a member of staff of the national probation service, so there will be proper public oversight of the decision to breach. However, that still begs the question, what is the incentive for the private company that is supervising that particular individual to report the matter to the enforcement officer, so that the breach proceedings can begin?
It is incumbent on the Minister to set out for the Committee, as part of the assurance that he can offer to Parliament before the commencement of the Bill, how he will monitor that particular issue and ensure that all private and voluntary providers are on notice that they are being monitored for the quality of their decisions as to whether they refer a particular individual to the enforcement officer for breach of their supervision order.
This matter goes to the heart of the credibility of the new system the Minister is introducing. Our abiding concern is about fragmentation between the new private providers and the public national probation service. There is a clear gap that has to be joined up.
Paul Goggins: Indeed, very simply and with one sentence, Ms Dorries. Will the Minister reassure the Committee that, prior to the commencement of any sections of the Bill that relate to the issue I have raised, he will set out in a statement the provisions he is making to ensure that the issue is properly monitored?
Jeremy Wright: I think that I have said some of this before, but I will try to encapsulate it for the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. The decision as to whether breach proceedings should be brought in
The right hon. Gentleman asked why a CRC or contractor of any kind should be interested in reporting a breach. In practical terms, we expect all those delivering rehabilitation to have the objective of reducing reoffending at the forefront of their minds. Neither we nor they want to see the people for whom they are responsible reoffending and committing further offences. If a CRC believes that someone is or may be in breach of their community order, it is quite possible that the court will decide to impose greater restrictions on that individual in consequence of that breach. Greater restrictions may well mean a lesser likelihood of reoffending. I would suggest that there is every reason for those who are looking at reduction of reoffending as their primary objective to make sure that they use any levers available to them to ensure that the individual for whom they are responsible does not reoffend. I think that they will want to make use of the national probation service’s intervention and, in appropriate cases, the court’s intervention to make sure that, where they can, they make that happen.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issue of perverse incentives. However, that is precisely why we have removed responsibility for deciding on breaches from the contractors themselves. We will monitor the situation in terms of breaches as part of the performance frameworks and will therefore be able to compare the performance of different CRCs to see whether there is any anomalous behaviour between them.
‘( ) So far as sections 20, 21 and 22 confer power to make provision amending or otherwise relating to Schedule 1 to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997, they also extend to the Channel Islands.’.
‘( ) The power conferred by paragraph 19 of Schedule 1 to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (power to extend to Isle of Man) is exercisable in relation to any amendment of that Act that is made by this Act.’.—(Jeremy Wright.)
The amendment removes the privilege amendment that was added to the Bill on Third Reading in the other place. As the Committee will be aware, the financial powers of the other place are restricted by the rights and privileges of this House and by the terms of the
‘(1) Schedule 1 to the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (transfer of prisoners within the British Islands) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 8 (restricted transfers from England and Wales to Scotland)—
(a) in sub-paragraphs (2)(aa) and (4)(aa), for “and 64” substitute “, 64 and 64A”, and
(b) at the end insert—
“(7) Sections 64 and 64A of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (release on licence etc: drug appointments), as applied by sub-paragraph (2) or (4) above, have effect as if any reference to an officer of a provider of probation services were a reference to a relevant officer as defined by section 27(1) of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993.”.
(3) In paragraph 9 (restricted transfers from England and Wales to Northern Ireland)—
(a) in sub-paragraphs (2)(aa) and (4)(aa), for “and 64” substitute “, 64 and 64A”, and
(b) after sub-paragraph (5) insert—
“(5A) Sections 64 and 64A of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (release on licence etc: drug appointments), as applied by sub-paragraph (2) or (4) above, have effect as if any reference to an officer of a provider of probation services were a reference to a probation officer.”’.—(Jeremy Wright.)
‘No national tendering for any probation service shall commence before any proposed restructuring of such services has been the subject of a pilot scheme which is subsequently independently monitored and the results of such monitoring laid before both Houses of Parliament.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)
‘Any proposed restructuring of the Probation Service must first be the subject of an independently evaluated pilot scheme and the proposals should be laid before Parliament and be approved by resolution of both Houses.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)
‘In any scheme for the supervision of offenders under sections 3 to 7, probation trusts and local authorities shall be permitted to tender for contracts.’.—(Jenny Chapman.)
The new clause deals with something that has really got under the skin of people working in probation. It relates to something I am asked about every time I meet probation officers: the Secretary of State’s decision to prevent probation trusts from bidding from contracts. Probation officers feel very strongly about this.
We have included local authorities in the new clause because they are also well placed to lead on bids to conduct this work. They already play a leading role with youth offending teams, and they have good experience with crime and disorder reduction partnerships. They are suitable organisations to hold the ring on these issues.
Appropriately, the new clause brings us back to the wider concerns with which we began our debate on clause 1. It is in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and for Kingston upon Hull East and the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. It provides that probation trusts and local authorities should be permitted to bid for contracts to provide probation services.
Rather than building on the system we have in place, the Government have opted for a national, irreversible upheaval based on the Secretary of State’s gut feeling. I know we are back where we started, but the Opposition have not shifted their view of what the Government intend to do, and I am sure the Minister has not shifted his. It would be wrong to leave the Committee’s consideration of these issues without returning to our fundamental disagreement with the Government’s proposals. In some way, the new clause would make things a little better, although we still disagree with the Government’s direction of travel.
Lorely Burt (Solihull) (LD): I completely agree with the sentiment that as many experts as possible from the probation service should have a strong involvement in running the new system. However, will the hon. Lady explain how a probation trust or local authority that is funded by the taxpayer could take on a private sector contract? The whole point of such a contract is that the private sector takes the risk, but how can the taxpayer take the risk a private sector organisation should take? That does not seem logical. If the hon. Lady could explain that, I would be grateful.
Jenny Chapman: Whenever we raise this issue—I have raised it with the Minister, too—we hear exactly that question. As Members would expect, I take that challenge back, and I have to say that I am met with a great deal of bewilderment—and sometimes laughter—because local authorities, in particular, are risking public money all the time. Every time they embark on a protracted bidding process, for example, they are investing time,
Under the previous Government, we had local area agreements for local government under which there was effectively a payment by results system. Admittedly, the system was very bureaucratic and could have been slimmed down, but the principle was that local authorities would select some outcomes that they wanted to improve, such as figures for teenage pregnancy, on the basis of national indicators. If they were successful, a reward grant was available, so that was payment by results. We are talking about one arm of the state paying another arm of the state to do a job, and that, to my mind, is not putting public money at risk.
Lorely Burt : I am still unable to accept the hon. Lady’s argument because the whole point of the private sector is that it involves profit making, risk taking-types of organisation. The process for change has already been set out in legislation, as we have discussed. Will she explain why probation trusts could not convert themselves into mutuals? I would have thought that becoming a part of a mutual would be a beneficial way of delivering exactly what she is seeking.
Jenny Chapman: Some of the trusts will take the mutual route, but they will have to devote a lot of time, skills and resources to that process, which may or may not be successful. They should have been able to follow a far simpler route. I would have liked not only trusts, but other state organisations, such as local authorities, to be able to take part in the process in a far more straightforward manner than will be the case.
The hon. Lady asks about putting public money at risk and says that private sector companies are better equipped to take risk and make profit. They probably will be very good at taking the profit, but I think that we are the ones taking the risk. The proportion of the contract that will be given as a reward under PBR seems to be ever diminishing, and the Government are still unable to give—[ Interruption. ] I realise that this is probably wearing a bit thin with the Minister, but we still do not have an answer. We are still no clearer about what proportion of the contract will be paid regardless of performance, and how much will be gained if a company achieves its targets. If we are talking about a small reward element, it is difficult for us to understand why the process is not something in which an entrepreneurial probation trust or local authority could participate. If we had allowed probation trusts to carry forward surpluses to allow for longer-term planning, we might have more confidence in their capacity to take on such a task. I have confidence in them, but clearly the Minister and the Secretary of State do not. Probation trusts are some of the most entrepreneurial parts of the public sector, and I would rate their ability to take part in such a competition very highly. It is regrettable that they will not be able to do so without going through the whole unnecessary fandango of having to reorganise themselves.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): I also have confidence in the existing system. I have been consistently bewildered throughout the Bill’s passage because I have not yet heard a good example of why the existing system needs to change, nor a reason why we cannot hold a pilot and we have to move wholesale from a system that is working to one that is completely untested.
Jenny Chapman: My hon. Friend puts her finger on it. We are not that much further forward although, as we have discovered this morning, there is a great deal in the Bill on which we agree. We have just nodded through half a dozen clauses without debate. We have welcomed many of the Minister’s comments and been as collaborative as we can, but we disagree fundamentally about what the Government are doing to probation services.
The new clause would only ameliorate some of the difficulties with which the service is being presented. It would prevent the loss of some of the most highly performing organisations in criminal justice, if not the whole public sector. The Government claim that they want to harness the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors, yet they are not permitting local authorities to compete and they require trusts to undertake massive internal upheaval at the same time as they continue to manage their workload and safeguard the public. The Minister knows from his negotiations with staff representatives that morale in the service is low. Although the staff are trying to muster enthusiasm for the new system and thinking ahead—they have the needs of the communities they serve at heart—they are concerned and do not think that services for offenders, victims or the wider community will improve at all. They think that those services are being threatened by the Government’s reforms, as the hon. Member for Solihull will have heard from people working in the trusts.
Local authorities have significant experience in this area and are well placed to link up services such as housing, social services and youth offending teams, and to build on existing partnership arrangements. They are already at the table with community safety partnerships and are well placed to understand local needs. They have well-developed arrangements throughout the country with police forces and the voluntary sector specifically through crime and disorder reduction partnerships. If anything, the previous Labour Government were a bit shy about crowing about those successful projects that led to a reduction in crime.
Prior to the requirement to work in partnership, it was often difficult to find someone to take up an issue. For instance, we were told that antisocial behaviour or neighbour disputes involving threats of violence were not policing issues and not really to do with the local authority, and that we might have been able to get environmental health involved, if we were lucky. There was nobody to go to and say, “This is an issue affecting safety in the community.” When that changed, it made a big difference to people who had been suffering due to such crimes, sometimes for long periods, and we should be proud of that.
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend hits on an important point, so I hope that she will set out a little more of her thinking. Local authorities, by definition, are responsible for the neighbourhoods and areas to which offenders return when they have completed a short prison sentence. Local authorities have a huge incentive to ensure that those individuals do not reoffend and start becoming law-abiding citizens. Who has a better motive to get this right than a local authority?
Jenny Chapman: My right hon. Friend is, of course, right. Local authorities are also accountable. When the Government introduced police and crime commissioners, they said that they were keen on expanding democratic accountability for policing, crime and disorder. For all our deep scepticism about the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners and how they were introduced, it is worth having that golden thread of democratic accountability, so we should think about how we maintain it in our criminal justice system. That process would be helped through engaging with local authorities and allowing them to take more of a lead.
Local authorities are run by elected representatives who are answerable to their communities, so the Government will be missing an opportunity if such authorities are prevented from taking part in the process unless they go through unnecessary and ridiculous reorganisations—although I am sure that some of them would gladly embark on those, as they are in the habit of carrying that out. They should, however, be focusing on getting the job done. My area’s local authority, probation trust and police and crime commissioner are trying to get their heads around how they might create a vehicle that would deliver these services. However, it is not straightforward, and the process might not be successful. There has been talk of public money being put at risk, but that is already happening as a result of those bodies going through a process at the end of which services in the area may be delivered by G4S anyway. The Government should give more thought to that.
The probation trusts have the greatest experience and have been engineered to provide the service, yet rather than being allowed to provide stability, to take on new challenges and to build on their strengths, they are being told to pull themselves apart, to scatter staff in different directions and to create new companies in their spare time. They are meant to be providing the service that they have been giving for the past few years. When one visits a trust, it is a shame to find that all people want to talk about is their anxieties around how they will cope during the transition and which staff members will go where. In previous years, the talk would have been of rehabilitative programmes and innovative work with employers—those things on which 100% of trusts’ attention should be focused. The Government’s change is unnecessary and unasked for, and they may come to regret it.
The Government’s argument that trusts cannot compete because public money cannot be put at risk is spurious, given that the proportion of the contract covered by payment by results may be as low as 5%. I am happy to be contradicted on that 5% figure, but I never have been, so I assume that the proportion will be somewhere between 5% and 10%. The Secretary of State will not rule out the involvement of companies that are under investigation for fraud, but that really winds up people working in trusts. Their organisations are told that they cannot bid, yet organisations under criminal investigation are not told that. It makes no sense to people working in the field, as it makes no sense to me, that the Government have got themselves into that position. I wonder whether they regret saying that local authorities and probation trusts should not be allowed to bid. It would have made their lives an awful lot easier if they had allowed a competition involving the public sector, as is the case
The Government say that they want to create high-quality competitive markets for probation services, but preventing those expert providers with the knowledge and track record that offer the best-quality service from taking part in the process seems like a backwards step at the start of the programme. Probation trusts are significant local players. They participate in local strategic partnerships and children’s trusts. Although those organisations are no longer required by law, they still exist in many areas, and probation trusts know it is in their interests to take a leading role at the table.
If the Minister could wipe the slate clean and start again—many of us would say that he should—I wonder if, rather than introducing this market model, he would bring forward something that would genuinely allow expert public providers to compete for this work. We do not accept his argument that that would put public money at risk.
If the Minister could say that 20% or 25% of the value of the contract would be put at risk under a model of payment by results, there might be something in his argument, but he is giving us every reason to believe that a small amount will be put at risk and that those bidding for the contracts will be able to take a profit regardless of performance. If they could walk away without achieving any of the additional targets yet still make a profit, there would be a question of how they are putting money at risk. We think the Secretary of State is missing a valuable opportunity by ignoring existing organisations that are best placed to deliver these services.
The Chair: Order. The Committee is due to sit this afternoon, but we have made extremely good progress this morning. If it were the will of Members and brevity applied, we could report this Bill to the House at 11.25 am, which is when this sitting must finish.
It is entirely appropriate that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has brought the Committee back to where it started its deliberations by asking fundamental questions about what the Government are doing through their Bill and their other proposals for reform. I shall, briefly, make a number of points.
My hon. Friend spoke about the invaluable work that probation trusts do, but that has not always come easily. Probation trusts have had to earn their place at the table where local partnerships are brokered and developed. They have done that by sheer hard work, by proving their credibility, by engaging and by ensuring that they get good results. Probation trusts have made tremendous achievements in recent years. The trust in my area of Greater Manchester has brought reoffending rates down by 2.36%. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham has taken every opportunity to praise the South Yorkshire
Such substantial achievements have been achieved by probation trusts not only through hard work, but though imagination and creativity, an example of which is the intensive alternative to custody scheme that is run by the Greater Manchester probation trust, which I know that the Minister, like his predecessors, would acknowledge. That innovative scheme has made a difference to and had a real impact on a difficult group of offenders. Such organisations work diligently and in partnerships. They are effective and they bring down rates of reoffending.
Jenny Chapman: My right hon. Friend reminds me of the discussion during the Committee’s consideration of clause 1 about why we are not asking probation trusts to do more and take responsibility for more offenders, as some of them are already doing.
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right. The Government should be enhancing and developing the role of probation trusts, not scaling the trusts back and effectively dismantling them. It is a great regret to many of us that that is what the Government seem to be hellbent on doing.
Another aspect of the work of probation trusts is their evolving relationship with prisons. The Greater Manchester probation trust has worked effectively to develop partnerships with prisons, but those are at risk because of the Government’s proposals. Those offenders that the Minister is helping us to focus on through the Bill—those who get short prison sentences and often have chaotic lives—need a neat join between prison and the probation world, but that was not always in place. Successive Governments have tried to ensure that probation and prisons work ever closer together, but I fear that the changes under the Bill will impair that progress.
My hon. Friend made important points about risk. Manchester city council, which covers two thirds of my constituents, manages risks every day—not just in relation to the health and well-being of the citizens of Manchester, but regarding some of the big projects that have regenerated the city over the past 10 to 20 years. The council is in the risk business. The extension of the Metrolink system in my constituency is an investment worth hundreds of millions of pounds to bring the trams in to Wythenshawe and connect it to the airport and all parts of Greater Manchester. That huge project involves huge risks. All the investment has to be seen against what passenger numbers and income might be over 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. That is the risk business in which local authorities such as Manchester are engaged. Manchester airport, as well as being in my constituency, is the local airport for my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. The Greater Manchester local authorities created that airport and are still major shareholders in it. They understand the risks involved when 20 million passengers a year are passing through an airport. Local authorities therefore understand risk.
Jenny Chapman: The debate illustrates the Government’s ignorance about what actually happens in the public sector. The public sector takes risks with public money daily, whether by commissioning services or embarking on joint ventures with other authorities and, often, private sector organisations.
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend is right to point out that some parts of the Government do not seem to understand that local authorities are in the risk business, but others do. For example, the Department for Transport has worked with the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester on handing over the power to invest in transport infrastructure over the next 10 years. It is actually giving the money to the local authorities and therefore sensibly devolving decisions about how that money will be spent to the authorities of Greater Manchester, rather than leaving the matter for Whitehall. It is important that the Committee understands that local authorities are in the risk business.
We come back to a question that my hon. Friend rightly posed: what is the risk? If this were a system of payment by results that involved a 50:50 split, or 25% of the contract being paid up front with 75% paid if the company succeeded, it would represent a real risk. Local authorities would be very cautious if that was the proposal, but if we are talking about a system of 90% of the money up front and 10% to follow, what is the risk that these organisations will be taking? We need to consider the question of risk more carefully and seriously.
Local authorities are democratic organisations with a real feel for, and a sense of responsibility for, the neighbourhoods to which offenders return when they come out of prison. That creates a huge incentive for local authorities to have an active role in working with those offenders and making sure that they are rehabilitated. Local authorities are in a unique position to bring together housing providers, health services and those who provide advice on benefits, as well as those who provide help with the job search with which people leaving prison need to engage.
Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is well aware that the probation trust that serves Tees valley is one of the best—in fact, it is one of the two that have the highest accolade. Its close working relationship with local authorities, especially Stockton-on-Tees borough council, is extremely important. Health, local authorities, probation services and other agencies work very closely in partnership, and now the local authority is trying to take the lead to provide a model through which they can have such a contract. Is that what my right hon. Friend refers to when he talks about what could happen in the future?
Paul Goggins: Absolutely. My hon. Friend’s local authority and local probation trust, which has cut reoffending by 3.72% over the past five to six years, for which they should be commended, have understood the need to work together in partnership. I commend his probation trust and local authority. Many in the north-east have been ahead of the game by bringing services together and working effectively.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that probation trusts in the north-east are high performing and should be commended for what they do. If that relationship could be developed, we could drive down reoffending rates still further, because an incentive is present for local authorities to get it right.
Alex Cunningham: I would be interested to know how my right hon. Friend would develop that. What advice would he offer the Government on how they could make that happen? What would they need to do with legislation to allow local authorities to take a lead in a partnership?
Paul Goggins: A good thing would be to accept the new clause tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington. It would allow local authorities and probation trusts to be able to become providers under the scheme that the Government are introducing and seeking to develop. It would underpin the legitimacy of local authorities having a role in the matter and being able to bid for resources to run the services. They would have a unique and important role to play. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North for raising the matter.
Local authorities are engaged in the partnership business, including partnerships to cut crime, to improve health and well-being and a whole manner of things. That means that local authorities are working with all those providers of the essential services that are required if people who are leading chaotic lives and engaged in criminality are to get some order into their lives, start behaving themselves, and become positive contributors to society rather than a negative influence.
The newly elected police and crime commissioners, part of the Government’s great thinking since 2010 and the creations of this Government, are the ones who are now saying that such partnerships are so important. They, having been elected, understand that if we are to cut crime and to make our communities safe, local partnerships are essential.
Another reason why new clause 5 would be an excellent addition to the Bill is that it would enable the Minister to do the thing that the Opposition have been arguing for from the beginning, which is to pilot different approaches.
At the moment, the Minister simply wants to hand 70% of probation work to private and/or voluntary organisations, which may be working in collaboration with them. That is a limited model. There is no evidence to suggest that the model will work on a payment-by-results system.
We are asked by the Minister and the Secretary of State to take it just on trust that they know that it will work. Actually, they should be trying out different systems. So, let the Minister try the approach that he and the Secretary of State are advocating and hand some of the work on a trial basis in a pilot area to private or voluntary organisations, or combinations of the two. Alongside that, let a local authority bid for the work and be the provider. Let us see how well they do compared with private providers. Let us have a mix and evaluate who does what and how well they do it, and then make proper choices in steady time, in order to ensure that the reforms are conducted properly.
Sarah Champion: Does my right hon. Friend agree that all we are looking for is robust evidence? That is all we have been asking for throughout the proceedings—just to pause a little bit to try to get that robust evidence. That surely has to be the way forward.
Paul Goggins: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. She has made it several times, and I agree. I said in response to a good speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd the other day that, if the evidence was that a private provider was more effective than probation trusts in ensuring that the services were delivered, we would have to hold our hands up and say, “Okay, we got it wrong” and accept that the model produced by the Government is going to take us in a better direction. But at the moment there is no evidence and until that evidence is there we are sceptical and rightly so. Our electorate expects us to ask questions, not simply to take at face value the kind of proposals that are being offered to us. That is what is expected and, even at this stage, I would hope for more rigour from the Ministry of Justice on this issue.
A final reason why the Minister should agree to the new clause is that I still think that this is going to be a very difficult project for the Government to pull off within the time scale that they want to pull it off. Even if they remain hellbent on delivering their model to the published time scale, they could get into some real difficulties. The Minister might just like to have a plan B up his sleeve. One day, he might be grateful for the fact that there are some probation trusts and local authorities that would be keen to bid for some of this work and to be providers. In my argument, they would be very good providers and one day the Minister might just need them.
Jeremy Wright: I will not go through all the arguments that we have already had around piloting and the substance of the reforms that we are making. The Committee is well aware that the extension of statutory supervision and rehabilitative support after release, which clauses 3 to 7 would provide, can only under our proposals be delivered alongside radical changes in the existing system for managing offenders in the community. As part of these changes, we propose to replace the existing probation trusts with a single national probation service and 21 community rehabilitation companies.
The central component of our new system is the fact that the community rehabilitation companies will be paid by results, so that they will be paid in full only if they are successful in reducing reoffending and if they fail—
Jeremy Wright: In a moment. I know what the hon. Lady is going to say and I will try to deal with it in a moment. If they fail to make significant reductions in reoffending, they will lose a proportion of their overall payment. I give way.
Jeremy Wright: I can certainly commend the hon. Lady’s persistence, if not her listening skills, because she has asked this question a number of times and I have answered it a number of times. The hon. Lady knows that we do not intend to give that figure at this point, because to a large extent we believe it is sensible to engage in a process of negotiation with those who
Jeremy Wright: As I said, there is a process of discussion which we will continue in order to make sure that we get not just the best deal for the operation of the system, but the best deal for the taxpayer too. As I have said, the payment by results element in this system is an important motivating factor, which will drive those who have contracts to focus on outcomes, to innovate and to provide a high-quality service. To do that we need to be able to transfer financial risk to new providers in a meaningful way. In order to bid successfully, to own and run the community rehabilitation companies, bidders will need to meet the criteria we set, which will include the ability to take on and manage the necessary financial risk under our proposed payment by results mechanism. Any organisations that bid in our competition will be assessed in the same way against the same set of objective criteria.
The power to establish and abolish probation trusts lies with the Secretary of State for Justice; trusts are funded by the Ministry of Justice. Under our reforms, rehabilitation services will be delivered by the national probation service and, as I have said, by CRCs. Staff in the existing trusts will transfer to one of those organisations and the trusts themselves will at that point cease to exist. This means, of course, that trusts will not be able to bid in the competition because they will no longer exist, and we believe that approach is the right one. I need to make that point. Even if probation trusts were to continue to exist, they would still be funded largely by the Ministry of Justice, so we could not transfer financial risk to them in any meaningful way. If a probation trust failed under a payment by results system, the Ministry of Justice would still bear the financial cost of failure, which would not be true payment by results at all.
However—this is the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull—it is perfectly possible for existing probation trust staff to form a mutual or other appropriate vehicle capable of taking on the necessary degree of financial risk. In fact, a number of staff within probation trusts have already expressed an interest in being part of a mutual bid to deliver services.
Jenny Chapman: I know that the Minister is a reasonable man. Can he not see that if as little as 5% will be paid on delivery and the probation trusts will be prevented from taking part, it is causing no end of consternation among staff, who do not understand why they are being required to set up mutuals, new organisations and companies in order to take part? Can he at least indicate that he understands the consternation out there among people doing those jobs right now?
I should also say in relation to mutuals, which the Committee has discussed, that the Government announced on 20 May a package of measures to support the voluntary sector and mutuals. In particular, the Cabinet Office’s mutuals support programme is providing intensive one-on-one support to prepare fledgling probation mutuals for competition, including coaching on legal, financial and commercial issues. I understand that contracts for such support totalling more than £500,000 have been awarded.
I turn to the question of local authorities, which has been remarked on by many of those who have spoken in this part of the debate. Local authorities have general legal powers and much wider functions than probation trusts, it is true. Local authorities have a diverse range of funding streams, including commercial income, and therefore are not wholly dependent on central Government funding. Local authorities are not excluded from bidding in competition, either on their own or with partners. We would not exclude a local authority from the competition solely because it was a local authority.
However, like any other bidder, a local authority would have to convince us of its ability appropriately to take on and manage the financial and operational risks associated with payment by results. It is also important to remember that there are many ways in the new system to participate in service delivery. Local authorities might prefer to play a part in the delivery of the new services as subcontractors rather than bidding to own and run a community rehabilitation company covering a contract package area that may be substantially larger than the local authority area.
Jenny Chapman: It is good to hear that the Minister will consider bids from local authorities, but again, we return to the issue of whether a significant portion of the contract will be ordered. If I were the leader of a local authority considering whether to take part, the amount of risk—whether 5%, to pluck a number out of the air, or more—would play a significant part in my decision-making process about how much resource I was willing to devote to preparing to take part. Is the Minister talking to local authority leaders or perhaps Local Government Association representatives about the process? If not, he may be missing an opportunity.
Jeremy Wright: We are happy to talk to anyone who expresses an interest in the proposals. As I have said, there are numerous ways in which local authorities may choose to be involved. Indeed, I am aware that a number of local authorities have already registered as potential subcontractors as part of the process.
Steve Brine: Of course, local authorities directly is one thing, but each local authority also maintains a Community Service Volunteers; the one in my area is called Winchester Area Community Action. CSVs are very much involved in the emerging community rehabilitation company bids.
Jeremy Wright: My hon. Friend is right. He highlights that there is no one-size-fits-all approach; it will depend entirely on each local authority and how, if at all, it wishes to become involved. Again, it is worth pointing out that in relation to local authorities and any other bidder, there may well be an opportunity for them to say what they believe should be put at risk, and to talk about what might increasingly be put at risk in the future. That is another model that we, of course, will consider.
I finish by saying that, as others have said, we want to ensure that we have a broad and diverse market for this competition, and that as many organisations as possible are able to compete. I have explained why I believe that it is right that trusts themselves should not compete in their current form. However, we have taken many steps to ensure that the competition is open to those who are best placed to tackle the issues that lead offenders back to crime, including any staff who choose to form a mutual. We have ensured that the contract package areas are varied in size, and we have awarded funding to help the voluntary sector and mutuals to compete for contracts and deliver services to cut reoffending. As part of the rehabilitation competition, we have also run a registration process for the smaller providers, to maximise as far as possible the opportunities for them to be involved. In those circumstances, I invite the hon. Lady to withdraw her new clause.
Jenny Chapman: I am sorry to disappoint the Minister, but having listened to what he has said, we are still in a position where we disagree with him. We would like to include new clause 5 in the Bill. The reason is that he is rushing this and is not able to tell us exactly how much money may or may not be put at risk by a bid from a probation trust. It is not acceptable for the Minister to prevent organisations that have the strongest track record in providing these services from taking part and saying that they will put public money at risk, while not being able to tell us—even a ballpark figure—how much money that would be. We do not think this is good enough. I would like to test the Committee’s opinion on including new clause 5.
‘Arrangements made by the Secretary of State, in accordance with which functions are conferred on officers of non-public sector providers of probation services, must include provisions requiring that—
(a) contracts for the provision of probation services from such providers be published;
(b) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of such providers in discharging relevant functions be subject to National Audit Office assessment;
(c) companies under investigation for fraud may not bid for, nor be part of consortia bidding for, a contract for the provision of probation services, and
(d) companies with the status of prime contractor under the Work Programme may not bid for, nor be part of consortia bidding for, a contract for the provision of probation services.’.—(Mr Llwyd.)
Parliamentarians have avoided asking questions about the nature of private contracts on the grounds that these are subject to commercial confidentiality. In effect, this means that questions are not answered on the effectiveness or cost of these contracts, and on any deterioration that might occur to service delivery. Interestingly, those restrictions do not apply to public contracts, which are regularly the subject of parliamentary questions and freedom of information requests. If the detail of those private contracts were to be made available, including their cost, we could have proper parliamentary and public scrutiny of their effectiveness.
The contracts in question will involve matters of public safety, reconviction rates and public protection. The Government are considering letting 21 contracts to the private and voluntary sectors, with a further single contract for approximately a third of probation work that will stay in the public sector. The risk of inconsistency and variation in supervision standards, participation in programmes and, thereby, reconviction rates, is therefore huge.
Apart from the standard conditions on licence, the Government propose many other conditions that might apply in individual cases, which include participation in programmes and specified activities in attempts to reduce drug and alcohol addiction, for the treatment of domestic violence, and, in the state sector, sex offender treatment. The potential for variation in quality standards is huge; far more than under the current system where the probation service supervises all offenders. Transparent contracts would allow the public to know which interventions are most effective and which companies have the best impact on reconviction rates.
To return to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East said, if we were proved wrong following a pilot, clearly we would have to bite
Paul Goggins: I reflect on the point the Minister made in the last debate that probation trusts could not bid for the contracts because public money was involved and that could not be put at risk. However, public money is being put at risk: £500 million of it. Should not the public at the very least expect to know how that is spent?
Mr Llwyd: My right hon. Friend is quite right and he speaks as a former Minister with considerable experience. Often, when the Government talk about money, they talk about Government money, but, actually, that is the public’s money—it is taxpayers’ money. Whether it be spent on awarding fat contracts to people of unproven efficacy or to pay for public services directly, it is exactly the same thing.
I cannot see why, as no figure will be attached to the overall scheme, the Government cannot give us a percentage on payment by results without naming a figure. Surely that would not be commercially sensitive, as we would not know the overall figure. We are entitled to know what percentage of such a figure will be paid on payment by results. The Minister is pledged to silence on this matter, but that would inform our debates and make it easier for us to consider whether the Government are proceeding along a reasonable path. That hampers us in this debate.
The Government might think that opposition is for opposition’s sake, but it is clearly not. We are here to ask questions on our constituents’ behalf. They are taxpayers and members of the public who deserve, first, to know how much money is being spent on whichever service and, secondly, whether that helps to create an environment of public safety for them. At the moment, we are in the dark on those two important criteria. We are meant to be dealing with the Bill in detail in this Committee, but that is very difficult without a lead on some of these points. I hope that I am wrong, but I think that the wheels will fall off this system in short order and we will rue this day in two years’ time if the Bill goes through.