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Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill

3.6 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 2 [Aims of the Service]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 1:

("( ) ensuring offenders' awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crime and the public").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 2. In Committee, the Minister said:

    "It is no longer right to view the Probation Service as a social work organisation, as it has partly been seen in the past".--[Official Report, 2/10/00; col. 1142.].

I agree with that comment. That is one of the reasons why, when I was in office as Minister with responsibility for the Probation Service, I brought to an end the social worker training qualification for probation officers and set in motion more appropriate training for the Probation Service.

To make explicit that those in the Probation Service should ensure an offender's awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crime and on the public, neither narrows the work of the service--as was claimed in another place and repeated by the Minister--nor does it turn probation officers into social workers. How can it possibly turn them into social workers when one of their functions is to rehabilitate offenders and to reduce crime? Very often when offenders are brought face to face with the victims of their crimes, it has a powerful impact on many and has the effect of turning their faces away from crime.

In Clause 2(2) the aims of the service are described as,

    "(a) the protection of the public,

    (b) the reduction of re-offending".

I would add to that "the rehabilitation of offenders".

"Proper punishment" is set out as an aim in Clause 2. We and the Liberal Democrats agree that proper punishment is a function of the courts. Overseeing, supervising and managing the programmes meted out by the courts is the function of the Probation Service. I hope that the Minister will accept that making offenders aware of the impact of their behaviour on others is an essential part of rehabilitation and should be included on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend. Those of your Lordships who, in one way or another, have had experience of dealing with criminals, must be aware that, when going to a crime, the criminal is thinking only of himself and his own interests. Criminals never seem to have the imagination, the upbringing or the

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ethical sense of wondering what effect their crimes will have upon other people. Now that we are progressing, I hope, in the rehabilitation of offenders and enlarging the responsibilities of the national probation service, I suggest, as did my noble friend Lady Blatch, that it is very important that we make criminals aware of the effect of their crimes upon their victims.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on this amendment. The matter was debated at some length in Committee. We are dealing with the aims of the service. One developing aspect of the criminal justice system is the extent to which we deal with restorative justice. The Home Office is interested in the subject and I have attended a number of its conferences organised by the Minister himself.

Restorative justice effectively means ensuring an offender's awareness of the effect of the crime on the victims and on the public. I believe that it is a rightful aim to include in this clause. Crime will not be reduced unless there is a clear strategy for dealing with those who offend. It is therefore right to include the rehabilitation of offenders as an aim of the Probation Service.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, I support those who have spoken to the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, sentencing and punishment will not achieve their aim unless they are directed at rehabilitating the offender so that he is less likely to re-offend. I realise that the words "the reduction of re-offending" are on the face of the Bill, but I cannot see the argument against including as one of the aims of the service the rehabilitation of offenders.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I support both these amendments. The amendment before the House would improve the climate for restorative justice generally. The Government are well aware that that can take place on a semi-informal, community basis, which would be much more rapid in its effect than the normal procedure of going through the courts.

As regards Amendment No. 2, it must stand out a mile that offending will not be reduced unless offenders have been rehabilitated. They need a place to live and a job of work to do: they need to relate to other people, particularly to their families.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I, too, support the amendments. Prisons have become places of containment. They are rather like conveyor belts: prisoners go in and come out all the time. It is important that rehabilitation is emphasised, especially in regard to young offenders; otherwise it could be forgotten.

3.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, this has been a useful opening debate. I have listened to

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opinions from all sides of the House, and we had a similar debate in Committee. There is not much between any of us as regards what we expect of the Probation Service. It is more a matter of how that expectation is constructed and where it is placed in terms of the legislation and regulations.

The aims of the service have been carefully devised to inform everything that the service does. We want to position the national probation service within the criminal justice system as a law enforcement agency--as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said--not as a social work organisation. We are entirely at one on that.

We also want the new service to concentrate on those activities that reduce crime. It must have the purpose of crime reduction at its heart and its core. In many cases the way in which you reduce the likelihood of an offender re-offending is by assisting his rehabilitation. Again, we are at one. That is why rehabilitation is specified in Clause 1(1)(b) as an overarching purpose of the service. It is stated right at the beginning of the legislation; it is at the core of our argument. We do not believe that it needs to be re-stated as an aim of the service. To that extent, we are at one.

Part of the rehabilitation process is designed to ensure that the offender is aware of the effects of the crime on victims and on the public. For that reason, the Government have begun to ensure that the interests of victims are placed at the centre of our concerns in tackling and undermining the impact of crime. That is why we have consulted widely this year--and our approach has received wide support--on the development of, for example, victim personal statements, so that the views of the victim can be taken into consideration when courts deliberate over matters relating to those who are found guilty of offences.

But rehabilitation can go much wider than that, to include all kinds of social needs with which other agencies are better placed to deal. Adding specific aims such as these to the current list of aims--which has been devised to cover in broad terms everything that the service does--would deflect the focus of the service away from its primary role as a law enforcer.

During the passage of the Bill we have spent a great deal of time debating the aims of the new Probation Service. I still believe that in the amendment the noble Baroness is confusing purposes with aims. Rehabilitation is already a purpose of the service, as I have pointed out. It would be a nonsense for the same thing to be both a purpose--having accepted the fact that it is a purpose--and an aim, given that the purposes are required to be pursued with regard to the aims.

I have more sympathy with the noble Baroness's point about victims. Work in respect of victims is an important part of the criminal justice system and of the work of the Probation Service. We are already placing various requirements on the service in respect of this through Clause 66. We also propose to make regulations under Clause 1(3) to ensure that appropriate work not covered by Clause 66 is made a

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purpose. We shall consider whether we can also use these regulations to cover the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the impact of crime on victims. Our intention would be to include that in the regulations, where we believe it would be more appropriately located. Again, we should not confuse purposes with aims.

I trust that having heard what I have said in regard to the many valuable points made in this short debate, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. For clarity, I repeat: I do not think that we should confuse aims and purposes. We have examined the position carefully with regard to victims. While we do not believe that this provision should be stated as an aim, because we believe that it is more a purpose, it is our intention to consider whether it can be included in regulations as set out under Clause 1(3) which contains the reference,

    "Regulations may extend the purposes".

That is the area where we consider that we might regulate. Perhaps I may also remind the House that, under Clause 66, we are placing various requirements on the service with regard to the provisions of that clause, which most noble Lords will accept as being extremely important in the context of the Bill.

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