Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment
of Offenders bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Kate Emms, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
‘( ) This section is subject to section 128(7) of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980 (remands to police detention for periods of not more than 3 days); but that provision has effect in relation to a child as if for the reference to 3 clear days there were substituted a reference to 24 hours.’.
This is a technical amendment that replicates an existing provision of section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 in chapter 3, and it is not a change in policy or practice. The amendment extends the powers set out in the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 for a court to commit a child whom it would otherwise have the power to remand into police custody for a period of up to 24 hours, if it is necessary to detain them in order that inquiries into further offences can be undertaken.
I will make just very brief remarks, although having said that I have had a text message from my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland to say, “Can you keep talking until I get there?” Given the slightest encouragement, I will do so, and will address the issue of measures affecting young people in remand and custody. The Government will not get a lot of trouble from us in relation to them. We are in broad agreement with the approach, although I will have something to say when we discuss the amendments that we have tabled to clauses 81 to 84.
It seems sensible—at least in prospect—that a remand in local authority accommodation is a remand in which local authorities will be more engaged. In terms of consistency of care and supervision and probably in terms of cost, that will make sense in the long run.
The Public Bodies Bill will soon deal again with the question of the Youth Justice Board. I do not intend to spend a long time on that subject now, but it seems that the approach that the Government are taking in this clause is rather at odds with their approach in abolishing that body. What we want to see is a concentration on young people. As we have said in previous amendments, young people should be dealt with in a discrete way and in a way that is different from how adult offenders are dealt with. I think that that is what the Government are doing in a number of clauses. They are not doing that, however, in early parts of the Bill, where they lump together children and adults. We saw that in terms of the long periods of supervision, mental health treatment and other matters of that kind, and we certainly see that in the abolition of the Youth Justice Board.
There is therefore an inconsistency in what the Government are doing, and we need a clear definition of “a child”. That definition includes persons under the age of 18 in clause 74 (5), which removes the anomaly regarding 17-year-olds. I will not have a great deal to say on the early clauses of chapter 3, other than to say that we support the approach that the Government are taking.
Mr Blunt: I suppose that we do not all owe the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland a favour for the request she made to the hon. Member for Hammersmith, but at least he has managed to sit down before she graces us with her company again.
On clause 74 and chapter 3 in general, it may be useful to make clear what we are trying to do in chapter 3, which makes provision for the remand of children otherwise than on bail. We have introduced the changes to update the current provisions; apply them to 17-year-olds who are treated as adults by current legislation; provide clarity; and remove the current differing treatment by age and gender. I am grateful that the hon. Member for Hammersmith has welcomed this. We have chosen to rewrite the provisions in chapter 3 rather than make further amendments to the existing legislation, which was a method favoured by the Labour party when they were in government. It managed to amend section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 eight times in 13 years. I hope that members of the Committee will agree that our approach is rather better.
The clauses in chapter 3 set out how a child can be remanded in custody and the different criteria that have to be satisfied before such a decision can be made. The clauses also set out the steps to be followed by courts and local authorities when a child is remanded. Courts must first consider a child’s eligibility for bail under the Bail Act 1976. Those provisions remain unchanged. Existing legislation governing the remand of children and young people is repealed by virtue of schedule 11.
Clause 74 sets out who the subsequent clauses apply to, and in what context they will apply. Under the provisions of the Bill, a child or young person who is not bailed must be remanded to local authority accommodation, or, where conditions set out in clauses 81 to 84 are met, to youth detention accommodation. The provisions in chapter 3 have been widely welcomed by children’s charities and interest groups such as the Prison
Mr Blunt: Amendments 367 and 377 are a minor tidying-up exercise, which places the definition for a looked-after child in clause 89. Clause 89 provides definitions of terms used throughout chapter 3 of part 3. The term “looked-after child” is used in clauses 85 and 87 as well as in clause 75. It is therefore appropriate to insert the definition of the term into the interpretation clause for the chapter. This is so that any reference to a looked-after child in any of the relevant clauses in chapter 3 is to be construed in accordance with the definition of a looked-after child under section 22 of the Children Act 1989.
One of the key aims of the remand provisions is to give all children who are remanded to youth detention accommodation looked-after child status. Section 22 of the Children Act 1989 is the mechanism that allows this. It places duties on a local authority to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. All children remanded to youth detention accommodation will benefit from the same level of service and care that is afforded to other children who are looked after under the welfare provisions.
Mr Llwyd: It is a great pleasure to see you back in the Chair, Mr Sheridan. I will not detain the Committee for long, but I have to say that I have an uneasy feeling about tagging a child of 12, even for a short remand period, and I have that unhappy feeling because it is almost as if society is giving up on them if we cannot deal with them more appropriately. It may be argued on
When driving under a bridge outside Telford on my way home from London one evening, I saw two small individuals who could not have been much more than 10 or 12. It was 2 am, in the Maastricht days when we had to drive home from Parliament on Thursday evening. A brick was dropped from the bridge and bounced over the bonnet of my car—thankfully, or I would not be here to tell the tale. What were those two individuals doing out on the street at 2 am? God knows—I say that advisedly. I thought then that if I ever came across their parents, I would have a few things to say to them.
I know that people look back and see that in days gone by things were sometimes done differently. In my local town, Dolgellau, up to the 1950s, if a child under 13 was seen on the street after 9 pm, the local constabulary helped the child home. That scheme would breach all sorts of rights today, but it was so useful and well regarded that members the local Dolgellau male voice choir, including me, wore badges showing a clock tower with the time at 9 o’clock. That worked in those days.
My point is that it is not a new phenomenon for children of that age to drift around, but it is perhaps a new phenomenon for some of them break the law as regularly as they do. I appreciate that only a handful in every community get up to mischief, and usually only a tiny handful is responsible for a huge amount of vandalism and crime. I am aware of that, but I hope that it is possible to find another means of keeping track of such youngsters. Twelve-year-olds are children, and I feel uneasy. The Minister will say that the proposal is an alternative to remanding them in local authority care. I imagine that that is what he will say. [ Interruption. ] I must be hearing noises, but I hope that it will be possible to find another way. I will not press my amendment to a vote, but I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says.
Mr Blunt: The right hon. Gentleman is, as usual, prescient. These amendments seek to raise the age threshold for the electronic monitoring of children remanded to non-secure local authority accommodation from 12 to 14 years of age. I listened to his account of ancient history, and the police still use safeguarding powers to return children home. Those powers are still available to the police but, regrettably, we are discussing circumstances in which the Government believe that we cannot do without tagging of 12 and 13-year-olds, and that is what the amendment provides for. The age threshold for the electronic monitoring of children on remand is set at 12, whether the child is on bail or is remanded to non-secure local authority accommodation, and we believe that that should be maintained in both cases. Furthermore, the same age threshold should apply to each one, which would not be the effect of this amendment.
The availability of electronic monitoring may be the deciding factor for a court in giving bail to a young offender when it would otherwise remand them to local authority accommodation or, in the case of clauses 77 and 78, to local authority accommodation when it would otherwise securely remand them in youth detention
By removing the power of the court to use electronic monitoring with 12 and 13-year-olds, the amendments would push courts to remand more young children in secure accommodation. Not only would that be contrary to the policy underlying the provisions, which are aimed at reducing the use of secure remands of children and promoting greater community provision, I do not believe that that was the right hon. Gentleman’s intention—that is pretty much what he said.
Electronic monitoring is also a vital tool to ensure the compliance of children who do not meet the test for a secure remand but who nevertheless pose a risk of further offending. That risk is best matched with a remand to local authority accommodation subject to curfew. Removing the power to electronically monitor children under the age of 14 would create a gap in the powers of the court to manage properly children aged 12 and 13 who regrettably engage in serious criminal behaviour. I do not need to urge the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendments, because he has made it plain to the Committee that he is not going to press them to a vote, but I hope that he can see why we would resist them if he did.
Mr Slaughter: The Opposition do not oppose the clause; it is a necessary and logical step to take. It is in the power of a constable to arrest without a warrant a child whom the constable has reasonable grounds to suspect has breached the conditions imposed under clause 76, which is a necessary clause.
However, I noticed that in its submission—the Minister may wish to respond to this—Justice raised the issue of holding children under 16 in police cells. It said that the rate was running at perhaps 50,000 a year, 13,000 of whom are between nine and 13. There are logistical issues involved, and also concerns about children who fall through the gap into the adult system. We have raised that a number of times and will do so again now.
We are signatory to the UN convention on the rights of the child. The accommodation is not age-appropriate. We go to a great deal of trouble in this country to provide age-appropriate accommodation, and both the Labour and Conservative parties have, in government, tried to design a type of institution for children to be
Mr Blunt: The hon. Member for Hammersmith raises a simple issue of practicality. The clause sets out the procedures that have to be taken when a child is arrested by a constable who suspects that the child has broken the conditions of their remand.
First, a child who is arrested has to be brought before a justice of the peace as soon as possible—in any event, within 24 hours of arrest. When a child is arrested under these provisions, they will be dealt with by the police in accordance with the requirements of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In all but the rarest cases, a child who is not granted police bail during the 24 hours before they are brought back to court must be detained in secure local authority accommodation, rather than in a police cell, and that will remain the position.
(e) the sentencing condition (see subsection (7)).’.
‘(7) The sentencing condition is that it appears to the court that there is a real prospect that the child will be sentenced to a custodial sentence for the offence mentioned in subsection 74(1) or one or more of those offences.’.
Mr Llwyd: The amendments are designed to apply the “real prospect” test to children. With the Committee’s leave, I will refer to amendments 424, 425, and 357 to 360, all of which are in my name, so that I can deal with the whole argument at one go to save time.
The amendments would extend the “no real prospect” test introduced in clause 73 and schedule 10, and included in the second set of conditions for remand to youth detention accommodation, to the first set of conditions. They are designed to encourage Ministers to explain in greater detail why the “no real prospect” test is not needed in clause 81 as well as in clause 82.
That is the gist of the amendments. Several organisations, including the Prison Reform Trust, have welcomed the introduction of a single remand order for children and the specific requirement in clause 82 that a child should be remanded to youth detention accommodation only if there is a real prospect that he or she will be given a custodial sentence for the offence.
I support the “real prospect” test being incorporated in clause 81, as the 14-year threshold in subsection (3)(b) would apply in the case of a child who had committed certain non-violent offences. That is the gist of the
Mr Blunt: I do not propose to reply to amendment 357 in this speech; we will deal with that separately. Amendments 424 and 425 would insert into clause 81 the requirement that a sentencing condition should be met, in addition to the existing conditions listed in the clause, that there is a real prospect of custody before a court may remand a person under 18 to youth detention accommodation.
That additional condition is not necessary in respect of the clause. The clause sets out four conditions that must be met for a child to be eligible for remand to youth detention accommodation. Only when each of those is met can a child be so remanded. A key condition that must be satisfied is that the offence with which the child is charged, or of which they are being convicted, is a violent or sexual offence
Violent and sexual offences are defined in clause 77(8) as offences specified in schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. By their very nature, offences of that type are likely to result in a custodial sentence, even in the case of a person under the age of 18. That would render the application of a sentence condition in clause 81, of a “real prospect” of custody, redundant in the large majority of cases whose offences, listed in schedule 15, will warrant custody.
The sentence condition—the “real prospect” test—is necessary in clause 82, which sets out an alternative set of conditions for a remand to youth detention and accommodation. That is because the relevant condition there is only that the offence, for which the young person is charged or has been convicted, is one that can be punishable by imprisonment. That could include some relatively minor offences, such as petty theft. Where the offence is not serious or violent, we do not believe it is right to remand young people in custody if there is no real prospect of them getting a custodial sentence. For those reasons, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.
Mr Llwyd: The amendments seek to increase the age condition in clauses 81 to 84 from 12 to 14. None of us would like to see children of the age of 12 locked up unnecessarily, but I have certain misgivings about the provisions. I would prefer the age limit to be 14, not 12. More than that I cannot say, but I would be grateful if the Minister were to respond.
Mr Blunt: Amendments 357 to 360 seek to raise the minimum age at which a child can be eligible for remand to youth detention accommodation from 12 years of age to 14. If that were to be accepted, then a remanded child under the age of 14 would only be able to be held in secure accommodation where the local authority with responsibility for the child applied to the court for permission to do so.
The Government cannot support the amendments. We believe that it is right to retain the current age threshold of 12 years for the secure remand of a child, and for the decision about whether a child of that age or above poses such a high risk to the public that they should be securely remanded to be for the court to make, not the local authority.
It is the case that 12 to 13-year-olds sometimes commit serious offences and present such a risk of harm that remanding them to a secure establishment is the most appropriate way of dealing with them. The amendments would place the burden on local authorities to decide whether they thought the risk posed by a child in that age group was so great that they should be securely detained. We do not think that that is a decision that they should be making. Furthermore, where the child represents such a risk, it is not only right and appropriate that the Justice Secretary has the responsibility of deciding where they should be placed, but unfair to leave it to the local authority to seek a secure placement, for the following reasons.
The Ministry of Justice has access to the resources of the entire youth secure estate. The expertise and experience of the placements team is used to select the right secure establishment based on the needs and characteristics of the individual remanded child. In many instances, that will be a secure children’s home. However, there are cases where a child of 12 will have characteristics and needs that are more commonly seen in older children. In such cases, those needs may be better met in a secure training centre, and a local authority has no power to arrange such a placement. It is important to retain the flexibility of placement that the remand process in the Bill provides for all children aged 12 to 17.
We distinguish the principle of secure remand for 12 to 17-year-olds from the arrangements for 10 and 11-year-olds. In the case of those very young children, a remand to local authority accommodation remains the right route. Serious offending is very rare in this age group and most 10 and 11-year-olds are unlikely to present a risk that cannot be managed in the community. In such isolated cases, questions will need to be asked about their welfare more generally, and it is therefore appropriate for the local authority, with its welfare focus, to manage the accommodation of such children during the remand period. When the local authority considers that it cannot properly manage the child without placing him in secure accommodation, it can apply to the court, under section 25 of the Children Act 1989, for the power to do so. For those reasons, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.
Mr Llwyd: I am grateful to the Minister for his response, and I do not want to nit-pick. However, he says that it is preferable for the courts, not the local authority, to evaluate the risk, when the courts will
Mr Slaughter: Following the example of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, I will speak generally to the amendments and will not rise again on amendments 342 and 344. The four amendments together are to clauses 81 to 84, with those to clauses 83 and 84 simply replicating the other two with regard to the special circumstances for extradition cases. To some extent, and although they approach the matter from the other side, the amendments serve the same purpose as amendments 424 and 425, in that they are probing amendments to try to get a more coherent response from the Government about what they are trying to do.
The amendments question whether it is appropriate to tie the sentencers’ hands in the way the clauses appear to. However, for various reasons of principle and practice, we do not regard the provisions in exactly the same way as we do schedule 10 under clause 73, which applies to adults. There is a distinction to be drawn between children and adults, and we hope that the Government will recognise that more clearly. We appreciate that difficulties arise from the remand of children, and from my experience of talking to sentencers and others in the criminal justice system it seems that children unfortunately get caught up in a system, the logistics of which are designed primarily to deal with adult offenders.
The classic case is when children are brought before adult magistrates benches or do not have the full benefit of youth offending team assistance and, for want of proper information or alternatives, are remanded into custody when otherwise they might not be. The Minister frowns, but that is a common occurrence, particularly when children are arrested on a Friday night and brought before a magistrates court on a Saturday when the appropriate staff are not in attendance and the appropriate court is not sitting. After being remanded for seven days, they might be brought in front of a youth bench and dealt with more appropriately but, in any event, we would wish the Government to consider how the system works. As they are probably matters also of resources, I see little prospect of the Government addressing them, even though they are of concern to the courts themselves, particularly to youth district judges and lay benches. If the provisions go some way towards improving that situation, that will be a positive step. In fairness to the Government, I ought to say that the clauses are better drafted than schedule 10 and clause 73. They make a
I shall illustrate the areas in which we look for a more coherent response from the Government by citing an article in The Guardian yesterday, entitled “Unicef criticises Britain for jailing children over riots”, which the Minister may have seen. The article looked at the current practice in the courts compared with our obligations under the UN convention on the rights of the child. It noted that 40% of children coming before the courts consequent on the summer disturbances were remanded, as opposed to a remand rate of 10% last year. Certainly, nothing that the Government have said either in Committee or outside it has suggested that they think that that is wrong.
On the one hand, there is the intent that is stated in the clauses, and on the other there is the practice currently happening in courts throughout the country, which the Government appear to endorse. That contradiction is best summed up in the comments of the MOJ spokeswomen at the end of the article:
“Sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary… When custody is used, it is generally as a last resort for the most serious or persistent young offenders where it is necessary to protect the public.”
“We are taking forward measures in our Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill to restrict the use of remand for those young people unlikely to receive a custodial sentence if convicted.”
The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that they wish dramatically to restrict and define the circumstances under which young people can be remanded in custody, and at the same time say that sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary.
I seek clarification from the Minister about the Government’s approach to remand for children and adults, particularly given the criticism from the judiciary—for example, the Sentencing Council, Her Majesty’s circuit judges and the Magistrates’ Association. How do they justify the restrictions on discretion in the Bill? Our amendments relate to the first and second sets of conditions, which are on behaviour and seriousness. If the Government wish to maintain a system based on judicial discretion, they will need to dispense with the subsections mentioned in the amendments.
We do not intend to press the amendment to a Division, because there has to be a balancing act. As is not so strongly the case in relation to adult offenders, there are mitigating factors and there is wide concern, to which the Minister has already alluded. Many non-governmental organisations and bodies concerned with the criminal justice system believe that we need to take a different approach to children.
I started by saying that we support the Government’s approach in relation to children, and I am not resiling from that and I shall not push the amendment to a vote. However, the Government need to practise what they preach and justify what they are preaching. They need to explain in Committee, because its proceedings will be read by sentencers in future, first, the approach that they are taking in approving current remand levels that are four times what is customary in the courts and,
Mr Blunt: I was upbraided for frowning during those remarks. Having heard the arguments adduced in support of the amendments I think I am entitled to frown, and to be confused. We have been upbraided for presiding over a system that remands more people into custody, but the amendments would mean more children being remanded into custody. There is a certain inconsistency kicking around here.
Perhaps I may first deal with the issue of the response to the violent disorder in August. Both adults and children who were charged as a result of the riots would meet the criteria set out in the first set of conditions under the Bill. A violent offence is defined in the Bill as one listed in schedule 15 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That includes offences such as violent disorder, riot, affray, arson, actual bodily harm, assault with intent to resist arrest, robbery, burglary of commercial dwellings in limited circumstances, burglary of residential dwellings and possession of firearms.
Young people charged with less serious offences, such as handling stolen goods, would not be caught by that offence condition. They could, however, meet the criteria set out in the second set of conditions for secure remand, which is based on whether there would be a real prospect of a custodial sentence if they were convicted.
I shall deal with the amendments, rather than the slightly curious set of arguments used to advance them. Amendment 341 would delete the requirement in clause 81 that the offence condition should be met before the court could remand a young person between the ages of 12 and 17 in youth detention accommodation. The offence condition is that a young person has or is alleged to have committed a violent or sexual offence, or an offence that carries a sentence of 14 years or more in the case of an adult.
The effect of amendment 341 would be that the court could remand any young person in that age group in youth detention accommodation if the other conditions set out in clause 81—relating to age, necessity and legal representation—were met. Amendment 343 relates to clause 83—the removal of the offence condition in extradition cases—and mirrors the effect of amendment 341.
The amendments would undermine the Government’s intention that only those young people who have committed, or are alleged to have committed, particularly serious offences, should be remanded to youth detention accommodation. I thought that we were in the same place as Her Majesty’s Opposition on those matters. The other conditions outlined in clauses 81 to 84 are designed to reinforce that position.
In 2010, 61% of those young people remanded to youth detention accommodation went on either to receive a community penalty or to be acquitted. The Government are confident that a young person can be remanded either on bail or in local authority accommodation without increased risk to the public or the young person. Where necessary, a court will be able to impose conditions to support such placements in the community.
Members of the Committee will recall that earlier clauses, in part 3 of the Bill, provide for a robust system of monitoring and ensuring compliance with conditions
I am interested in the nature of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, because he has now, for the second time, referred to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, with which his amendments would seem to be marginally in conflict. The offence condition that he referred to in amendments 341 and 343 is currently contained in section 23(5)(a) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, which is to be repealed by schedule 11. That offence condition reflects exactly what we propose in the relevant clauses.
The hon. Gentleman proposes to abolish the existing offence condition to enable more young defendants to be remanded to custody. We cannot widen the scope of existing remand-to-custody arrangements. Youth custody should be used sparingly, and it is extremely expensive, but prolific lower-level offenders will continue to be caught by the legislation as reframed. They will be offending while on bail, and for lower-level offences, and that will open up the possibility of a custodial remand.
I hope that I have been able to reassure the hon. Gentleman. He has said that he will not put his amendment to the test, and will withdraw it, and I hope that my arguments make the Government’s position clear.
Mr Slaughter: The Minister should sometimes remember that he is part of the Government so it is for him to justify the measures that he is proposing. I am sure that he welcomes our support and constructive criticism. Earlier, he dealt with the issue of rioting. In withdrawing clause 71 this morning, he made it clear that he was, in part, responding to the riots this summer rather than to the fact that the Attorney-General had a running battle with the Lord Chancellor in relation to those provisions.
The Minister mentions violent offending. He says—not entirely accurately—that the 14% of young people coming before the courts who have been remanded at the moment would not be affected. It may well be that the number is affected. The situation may be different because not all those offences were offences of violence and not all of them attracted a custodial sentence. There may have been other reasons for a remand. Indeed, there was substantial variation around the country in the numbers who were remanded. I have already mentioned the fact that of those on remand, 60% had no previous conviction and 45% had no contact with the judicial system. Only one of 50 youths awaiting sentencing in Manchester was remanded in custody, while in London the figure was 85 out of 219. To blithely say that there is no issue and no conflict is wrong. I hoped that the Minister would address my points. I am not sure what the point of a probing amendment is if there is nothing to probe, but there it is. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr Blunt: These are technical amendments to replicate existing provisions. They allow the Secretary of State to direct that a child given a custodial sentence be placed in a specific establishment in the youth secure estate, which can be a secure children’s home, a secure training centre or a young offenders institution. The power will be exercised on behalf of the Secretary of State by a centralised placements team with established expertise of making placements of under-18s. The team has access to and maintains a central database of youth detention accommodation. Currently, it is run by the Youth Justice Board and has responsibility for placing all under-18s who receive a custodial sentence. The team assesses each child and arranges for them to be accommodated in the best possible establishment, having regard to factors such as age, vulnerability, home location and, where relevant, prior experience of custody. That ensures that the welfare of children is promoted during their detention and that children are placed promptly in suitable accommodation.
Amendments 254 and 255 would replicate such practice for children who are remanded to youth detention accommodation to ensure that they receive the same benefits and protections as the centralised system offers. Local authorities are content that that practice is replicated for all children remanded to youth detention accommodation.
Mr Blunt: I beg to move amendment 368, in clause 85, page 64, line 12, leave out from ‘designate’ to end of line and insert ‘a local authority as the designated authority for the child for the purposes of—
(a) subsection (8),
(b) regulations under section 86 (arrangements for remands), and
(c) section 87 (looked after child status).’.
Mr Blunt: Amendments 368 and 369 remove subsection (9) and make consequential amendments to subsection (6) of the clause. We reviewed the subsection and concluded that requiring a local authority to receive a child remanded to youth detention accommodation cannot be right when the Secretary of State for Justice will be directing the placement of the child. The provision under clause 87 for all children remanded in youth detention accommodation to be looked after is sufficient to engage the designated authority with the child. As a result of the deletion of the subsection, consequential amendments will be made to subsection (6) to clarify the purpose of the court designating a local authority under the chapter. A further consequential amendment is made to clause 89 to change the definition of a designated authority for the purposes of the chapter.
The amendment is straightforward. The Minister described the current system for the specialist team that allocates young people to the secure accommodation that is available. The Labour Government introduced the system early in their period of office, when the Youth Justice Board was set up. I have visited the accommodation and have seen how the system works, as I am sure has the Minister. The team’s staff is dedicated and the system works very well.
When the Minister responds, will he explain the current plans for the service? I understand that it is envisaged that it will continue to operate in much the same way as it does at the moment. However, I do not know whether it will operate on the same premises and whether it is envisaged that the same staff will be retained if the Government proceed with the abolition of the Youth Justice Board. A single facet of the Youth Justice Board was that it made a sea change in the way that young offenders were remanded in custody and dealt with before and after the body was set up, and it would be of great concern to us if in the process of abolishing of the Youth Justice Board—if that goes ahead—the integrity of the system was lost.
The most appropriate thing the system does is to ensure that young people go to the most suitable accommodation in respect of their needs, their family and where it is. From then onwards, they are kept under review within the system when they move. One of the issues is the speed with which that is done. I referred earlier to where young people are held pending either appearing in court or after court, if they are remanded, to where they are remanded. The amendment would ensure that such action is carried out expeditiously.
At the moment, the system is a good one. Whether it will be in the future, I do not know but, in any event, it is wrong for the system not to operate efficiently, and it would be more likely to operate efficiently if statute provided that that should be the case. Our amendment says
Mr Blunt: There is a marginal technicality. I get the sense from the debate that we shall accept amendment 369, although perhaps I am being presumptuous. Amendment 340 amends clause 85(9), which would be removed by amendment 369, which we have not yet considered.
The amendment’s intention appears to be to ensure that a child remanded to youth detention accommodation is delivered promptly to the establishment where the Secretary of State has directed they should be detained. Contractual arrangements with providers of escort services are, in our view, the proper way to proceed, and such arrangements will include conditions relating to the timely delivery of young people.
The contractual obligations on escort services will reflect a range of factors, such as the distance to be travelled in order to accommodate the young person, what arrangements need to be made for them and the delays in journeys that will inevitably occur. It is a perfectly laudable aim to make the delivery period as short as possible, but the amendment will not achieve that. I have some sympathy with hon. Members’ intentions, as expressed in the amendment, that such transportation should be timely, but it is not appropriate to specify a time limit in primary legislation. I note from how the hon. Member for Hammersmith framed his arguments that he plainly does not think so either. In light of that, I hope that he will not press his amendments.
(i) section 80(1)(a) to (e) of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (escort functions) read with section 92(3) of that Act, or
Mr Blunt: Amendments 370 to 374 make various technical changes to clause 86, which concerns arrangements for children remanded in youth detention accommodation. Amendment 370, which deals with subsection (2), ensures that the clause refers to all relevant existing legislation connected with transportation to and from youth detention accommodation. Clause 86 gives the Secretary of State the power to make financial arrangements regarding remands to youth detention accommodation, including transportation arrangements.
A key aim of our remand proposals is to ensure that local authorities are incentivised to provide community-based support for young people who are remanded during criminal proceedings but do not need to be placed in secure accommodation. The current level of secure remands of young people is too high—about 28% of the total youth custodial population are on remand—and if the cost of remand continues to be met centrally, local authorities will lack the incentive to address the issue. The amendment ensures that transportation can be included within regulations by the Secretary of State governing the recovery of costs.
Local authorities already pay for transportation to and from certain types of youth detention accommodation. Nevertheless, we recognise that the full cost of remand is not a burden that can simply be imposed on local authorities. That is why the clause also provides for the Secretary of State to transfer funding to local authorities to cover the additional costs that will fall to them. The issue of future transportation arrangements is being discussed with private sector contractors, local government, the Department for Communities and Local Government and representatives of the Welsh Government. Any changes will be set out in secondary legislation.
Amendment 371 ensures that regulations made by the Secretary of State may permit him or a local authority that provides youth detention accommodation, such as a secure children’s home, to recover from a designated local authority the costs of providing remand accommodation. The Government have no interest in increasing bureaucracy by unnecessarily altering existing arrangements. Some providers already recover costs from local authorities, and the amendment provides the flexibility for that process to continue as appropriate. These funding arrangements are complicated and require careful planning and flexibility over time. Following discussion with interested parties, we will set out detailed arrangements in secondary legislation.
Amendments 372 and 373 make an important change to clause 86(7). If local authorities are to take steps to reduce remand levels, they need to be provided with funding in good time. Currently, 61% of children who have been securely remanded do not receive a custodial sentence. The amendments will therefore allow the Secretary of State to provide local authorities with funding to address the reasons for unnecessary remands before they take place by, for example, investing in bail support schemes. Given the financial complexities involved, the precise timing and size of those payments will be set out in secondary legislation.
Finally, amendment 374 makes a change to clause 86(7). That is consequential to the deletion of clause 85(9) provided for in amendment 369, which we discussed earlier. The term “receive” is redundant in this context because a child will be remanded to youth detention accommodation, as directed by the Secretary of State. It is therefore no longer necessary for clause 86(7)(b) to specify that the Secretary of State must make payments in respect of a local authority receiving a child. Payments in respect of a local authority’s responsibilities as a designated authority are already provided for under clause 86(7)(c).
‘Prison Act 1952 (c. 52)
In section 43(1) of the Prison Act 1952 (power of Secretary of State to provide young offender institutions, secure training centres etc), at the end of paragraph (d) insert “and in which children who have been remanded to youth detention accommodation under section74(4) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011 may be detained”.’.
Mr Blunt: These are minor and technical amendments, which flow from the remand provisions in chapter 3 and schedule 11. Of the consequential amendments set out in the schedule, the repeal of section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 is the most important, and many of the amendments flow from it.
‘Child Abduction Act 1984 (c. 37)
The Child Abduction Act 1984 is amended as follows.
In section 1(8) (offence of child abduction: modifications in relation to children remanded to local authority accommodation etc), for “to a local authority accommodation” substitute “otherwise than on bail”.
In paragraph 2 of the Schedule (modifications of section 1 in case of children in places of safety etc)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (1), in paragraph (b) omit “section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969,”,
(b) in that sub-paragraph, at the end of paragraph (ba) insert “; or
(bb) remanded to local authority accommodation or youth detention accommodation under section 74 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011.”, and
(c) in sub-paragraph (2)(a), after “place of safety” insert “, local authority accommodation or youth detention accommodation”.
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60)
In section 17(1)(ca) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (powers of entry and search of premises for purpose of arresting child or young person remanded to local authority accommodation), for the words from “or committed” to “that Act” substitute “to local authority accommodation or youth detention accommodation under section 74 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011”.
Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (c. 23)
In section 22(11) of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 (time limits in relation to preliminary stages of criminal proceedings: interpretation), in the definition of “custody” for the words from “to
‘Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 (c. 26)
In section 1(10) of the Bail (Amendment) Act 1993 (prosecution right of appeal against grant of bail: application to children and young persons)—
(a) for the words from “child” to “Act 1969)” substitute “person under the age of 18”, and
(b) in paragraph (b) for the words from “section 23” to “accommodation” substitute “Chapter 3 of Part 3 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011 (remands of children otherwise than on bail)”.’.
‘( ) In section 38(4)(d) (definition of “youth justice services”: placements pursuant to remands to local authority accommodation) for the words from “or committed” to “1969 Act”)” substitute “to such accommodation under section 74(3) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011”.’.
(a) paragraph (i)(iii) (agreements for the provision of accommodation for detention under section 23(4)(c) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 as modified by section 98 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998), and
‘( ) In section 57A(3) (use of live link for accused’s attendance at preliminary or sentencing hearing: interpretation), in paragraph (a) of the definition of “custody”, for the words from “to which” to “Act 1969” substitute “or youth detention accommodation to which a person is remanded under section 74 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011”.’.
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.
In section 242 (interpretation of provisions about crediting periods of remand in custody)—
(a) in subsection (2)(b), for the words from “or committed” to “that section” substitute “to youth detention accommodation under section 74(4) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011”, and
(b) omit subsection (3).’.
‘Policing and Crime Act 2009 (c. 26)
In paragraph 14(3) of Schedule 5A to the Policing and Crime Act 2009 (detention order for breach of injunction: meaning of youth detention accommodation) for paragraph (c) substitute—
(c) a secure children’s home, as defined by section 85(10) of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011.”’.
‘( ) In section 92(3) (application of prisoner escort provisions to persons remanded etc under section 23 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969)—
(a) in paragraph (a), for the words from “or committed” to “1969 Act” substitute “to local authority accommodation or youth detention accommodation under section 74 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2011”, and
(b) in paragraph (b), for “such accommodation” substitute “accommodation in which a person is or is to be accommodated pursuant to such a remand”.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
‘as the designated authority for the child’.
‘( ) In this Chapter, references to a child who is looked after by a local authority are to be construed in accordance with section 22 of the Children Act 1989.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
Mr Blunt: It may be helpful to the Committee if I lay out what we are seeking to achieve with this aspect of the Bill. Clause 90 is the first in a series of provisions in the Bill designed to deal with the current complexity of the statutory provisions governing the release and recall of prisoners. It is important that custodial sentences are subject to a set of clear and unambiguous provisions that determine how long prisoners are required to serve and on what basis they will be released. Such provisions need to be easily understood and applied, but at the moment they are spread across a number of different statutes and subject to commencement orders with complex and difficult to follow transitional arrangements and savings of repeals, which have subsequently been further amended. Unsurprisingly, that has created an intricate web of provisions that are very difficult to understand and follow, even for criminal justice experts and practitioners, let alone prisoners themselves and the public.
There have been a number of legal challenges in which the courts have had to grapple with the provisions and to make sense of how Parliament intended them to apply. That is not always clear and has been open to different interpretations. Judges have rightly been critical of how the legislation in this area has been allowed to evolve in such a piecemeal and complex way and have called on the Government to sort it out. Well, now they have a Government who will do so. [Laughter.] I referred this morning to the infectious sense of humour of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland. I shall see whether I can inoculate myself from it in further explaining these requirements.
Our objective with chapter 4 of the Bill is not to add to the problem by making further piecemeal changes or to make any substantive changes to how custodial sentences currently operate. Instead, we intend to simplify and clarify the current release and recall provisions for determinate sentences, primarily by ensuring that they are all brought within a single statute.
It is all very well to be light-hearted about our trying to sort out the mess that we have created as a legislative body, but of course for the poor people who have been on the receiving end and trying to make the calculations, it is a serious matter. We are approaching it in two stages. The first is to make the necessary amendments to the current provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to establish the release regime that we want to apply to determinate sentences. That is what clauses 90 to 100 will do.
The second stage will be to consolidate within the 2003 Act the provisions of the Criminal Justice Acts of 1967 and 1991 that will need to continue to apply for prisoners who still fall to be released under those previous arrangements. We intend to introduce amendments to achieve that consolidation. That in itself is a difficult and complex task, which is why we need to take the time to get it right and ensure that the full range of sentencing scenarios is covered. I reassure the Committee, though, that the provisions will be purely technical and consolidating. They will not make any changes to the release arrangements that currently apply to the 1967 Act and 1991 Act prisoners. Their purpose is simply to bring the relevant provisions into the 2003 Act and to set out how they should operate in the context of that Act.
In the meantime, clause 102 provides an order-making power for the consolidation to be achieved through secondary legislation if for any reason it is not possible to achieve it under the Bill. I will say more about that when we discuss clause 102, but our intention is to remove that order-making power from the Bill when the consolidating amendments are tabled.
Clause 90 deals with how remand time is to be calculated and applied to a prisoner’s sentence. It removes the current requirement in section 240 of the 2003 Act for courts to direct how many days spent in custody on remand are to count as time served towards a custodial sentence in respect of sentences imposed for offences committed on or after 4 April 2005. In its place, a new section is inserted—section 240ZA—that provides for the Prison Service to administratively credit all relevant remand time automatically.
Currently, for remand to custody to be credited towards a sentence imposed for an offence committed on or after 4 April 2005, it must be directed to count by a court. However, for the court to be able to direct the number of days that should count, it first requires the Prison Service to provide the number of remand days that are available for direction. That requirement has proved to be operationally problematic, resulting in the original sentencing court or appeal courts being required to reconsider directions where it is subsequently found that the direction was based on incorrect or incomplete information. That has imposed a heavy burden, taking up valuable court time.
The Prison Service already has the power to administratively credit time spent in custody on remand and in respect of custodial sentences imposed for offences
The approach taken by the proposed new section 240ZA will simplify the process for the application of remand time and thereby remove the burden currently imposed on the courts. It ensures that any day spent in custody on remand that is relevant to the offence for which the sentence has been imposed counts as time served towards that sentence, unless it is a day spent on remand that was also spent serving a separate sentence.
If an offender is remanded to custody for one offence but sentenced for a second offence, the clause provides for the remand time in respect of the first offence to be counted as time served towards the sentence for the second offence, as long as the second offence is founded on the same facts or evidence as the first offence. The clause ensures that a period of remand time may be counted as time served only once.
‘( ) subject to any requirement imposed for the purpose of securing the electronic monitoring of the offender’s compliance with a curfew requirement,’.
Mr Blunt: Amendments 378 and 379 are technical and drafting provisions. Clause 91 clarifies how the court must calculate the number of tagged bail days available for it to direct as time served towards the sentence that it imposes. One of the aims of the clause is to simplify the provision in section 240A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 by setting out in the 2003 Act rather than in separate rules made by the Secretary of State the circumstances in which tagged bail time must not be counted as time served towards a subsequent sentence. The rules prevent time spent on tagged curfew as a requirement of another sentence from counting towards a subsequent custodial sentence. The intention of clause 91 is to replicate fully the effect of those rules in the 2003 Act. However, the original drafting of the clause omitted some of the circumstances in which tagged bail time should not be counted. The amendments correct
( ) before the definition of “electronic monitoring condition” insert—
““curfew requirement” means a requirement (however described) to remain at one or more specified places for a specified number of hours in any given day, provided that the requirement is imposed by a court or the Secretary of State and arises as a result of a conviction;”;
( ) ’.—(Mr Blunt.)
Mr Blunt: I beg to move amendment 380, in clause 92, page 70, line 3, leave out ‘“section 240 or 240A” substitute “section 240A”’ and insert ‘“a direction under section 240 or 240A includes a direction under” substitute “section 240ZA includes”’.
Mr Blunt: The amendments are technical, and the majority are needed to ensure that armed forces legislation reflects the changes to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 made by clause 99. Earlier in the proceedings, I said that I would move the necessary amendments to armed forces legislation formally. However, there is a minor wrinkle here, so it is important that I make that clear and that I make the necessary consequential amendments.
Amendments 380 to 385 relate to the provisions that refer to the armed forces. They will ensure that the provisions regarding the crediting of time spent on remand in custody are applied appropriately to sentences imposed under both civilian and armed forces legislation. Amendment 383 will give effect to new schedule 2, which will amend the Armed Forces Act 2006 to bring it into line with civilian provisions related to the crediting of time spent on remand.
Amendment 386 is unrelated to the armed forces provisions. It will make technical and drafting amendments to clause 98, which makes miscellaneous amendments related to release and recall. The amendments correct a drafting error in section 263 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and remove any potential ambiguity about the effect of that section, in so far as it provides for the duration of the licence period to which a person will be subject on release from concurrent sentences. Neither amendment will change the effect of the provisions.
Amendments made: 381, in clause 92, page 70, line 19, leave out ‘“section 240” substitute “section 240A”’ and insert ‘“a direction under section 240 includes a direction under” substitute “section 240ZA includes”’.
‘( ) In section 269 (determination of minimum term in relation to mandatory life sentence)—
(a) in subsection (3)(b), for the words from “any direction which it would have given” to “certain types of condition)” substitute “section 240ZA (crediting periods of remand in custody) or of any direction which it would have given under section 240A (crediting periods of remand on certain types of bail)”;
(b) after that subsection insert—
(3A) The reference in subsection (3)(b) to section 240ZA includes section 246 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (crediting periods in service custody).”’.
‘( ) Schedule (Crediting of time in custody: Armed Forces amendments) (crediting of time in custody: Armed Forces amendments) has effect.’.
‘(2) A person sentenced to more than four months but less than 12 months shall be supervised by the Probation Service on their release following their requisite custodial period until the full sentence has expired.’.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair this afternoon, Mr Sheridan. Amendment 411 would enable a person who has been sentenced for more than four months but less than 12 months to be supervised by the Prison Service on their release until the full sentence has expired. We discussed that to some extent in this morning’s debate on custody plus, but I want to explain to the Minister why we have tabled the amendment. It is for consistency with our view that people given short sentences should receive more attention from the probation service. The Minister will be pleased to know that over lunch, I had time to do some arithmetic to address the issue of cost, which he raised.
The overriding problem is that people who are on short sentences do not get proper attention. Their offending behaviour is not fully addressed, so they reoffend. In association with the Prison Governors Association, the Howard League has produced a paper entitled “No Winners: The reality of short term prison sentences”. The paper states that prisoners on short sentences
“generally reported the motivation of short sentence prisoners to attend courses and address their offending behaviour to be low, on the basis that they were only serving a short period of time and would soon be released. Lucy, a prison officer said, ‘We had one yesterday, he was refusing to do the assessment on induction because he’s only got three weeks left’.”
We also received interesting information from the National Association of Probation Officers. Its view is that those currently sentenced to 12 months or less receive no statutory supervision from the probation service. It notes the reconviction rate, which we discussed this morning, and that most of the crimes are acquisitive, sometimes involving antisocial behaviour and acts of minor violence. It said that many short-term prisoners have problems with drugs, alcohol or both and are prolific offenders.
I want to give the Committee a sense of the size of the population that we are talking about. The total number of receptions into custody in 2009 was 126,000. Of those, 50,400 received sentences of six months or less and a further 9,000 were sentenced to 12 months or less. In terms of the daily prison population, those serving six months or less accounted for 6,000, and those serving six to 12 months accounted for a further 2,500.
The Minister raised the issue of cost on custody plus, but if he just took a view—not a long-term but a medium-term view—he would see that custody plus could probably save money. If we assume that all 9,000 people get the most expensive kind of probation for six months, the cost to the public purse would be £30 million. If we assume—we discussed this in September when we were looking at the effectiveness of programmes—that the programmes reduce reoffending by 20%, we can then look at the reduction in the number of people in prison for, I assume, six months, which saves £40 million. I suggest that the Exchequer would be quids in, but more importantly, the community would be quids in, because it would be a more effective way of dealing with such people to the benefit of the community, and to their benefit.
Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): I want to speak about two programmes running in my constituency in Greater Manchester, which are pertinent to the amendment. The Minister may be aware of them, and I am interested in his comments on what is being learned from them. The first programme is the Choose Change project, which is being run by the Greater Manchester probation service in association with three Greater Manchester boroughs, of which Trafford, my own borough, is one. The programme works with prisoners on short sentences of less than 12 months who are likely to be released early, halfway through the sentence, to ensure that they are not left without any support when the custodial element of the sentence is concluded and they are back in the community. Choose Change works, as it says, through the gate to ensure that probation officers bring to bear a range of other support professionals to work with an offender.
All Choose Change’s work is currently in men’s prisons. It begins when an offender is in custody, but continues when he is released, which enables several things to be
However, it is important to say that the programme has been rigorously evaluated. An interim evaluation last year was encouraging, but the full evaluation has been more ambiguous about how well the programme has worked—in relation to reoffending, at least. It has been very successful in several other ways, including in engaging with prisoners and ensuring that proper community support is in place for them on release. It is instructive, however, to consider why some of the reoffending results have been regarded as more ambiguous in the evaluation of the full three-year programme.
Choose Change works with some very prolific offenders—I was told of offenders who had dozens of previous convictions before they came into the programme. To wait until someone has committed more than 40 or 50 offences, and has been given a custodial sentence, before we begin to think that there might be some more effective interventions is leaving it a bit late. It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s view on whether heavy-duty interventions such as these programmes earlier in a person’s offending history might produce a long-term saving to the public purse if they reduce the ongoing rate of reoffending. In addition, the point at which an intervention begins in an offender’s sentence should be considered further. If it starts too near the date at which the custodial element of a sentence is about to be completed, there is not time to embed the relationship and put in place the support needed beyond the prison gate.
Choose Change offers some early lessons and I would be interested to hear to what degree the Minister is following the project. Both the Prison Service and the probation service in Greater Manchester are keen for further work to be done in connection with some of the ideas that Choose Change has started to develop. Manchester Metropolitan university, which has been responsible for the evaluation, has also provided useful pointers about possible further investigation.
I draw the Minister’s attention to a second programme, which has been running specifically in Trafford. It takes a multi-agency approach and, again, it is directed at prolific offenders who are on release and in the community. Those offenders would usually have no support or intervention from the probation service following release because of the length of their sentences, so there would be no requirement to continue to oversee and supervise their activity in the community. However, the agencies in Trafford—the probation service, police, and community safety team in the local authority and so on—have recognised that if prolific offenders are cast loose into the community following their release, they are likely to cause a great deal of grief to local residents.
Again, there is a cost-effectiveness—and certainly a quality-of-life effectiveness—in continuing to be interventionist in relation to such offenders. I have been to visit that team and have seen them in action. I watched
There is no obligation on prolific offenders to participate in the programme, which is called Spotlight by the agencies involved. They cannot be required to do so because there is no statutory requirement for supervision of offenders after release, but there is no doubt that offenders are encouraged to participate, because it will count in their favour in many ways in future sentencing.
Kate Green: The main concern of the probation service that is running Spotlight in Trafford is not just its own capacity to continue the effective programme, given the impact of the 24% cuts over three years to probation services in Greater Manchester, but also the fact that the multi-agency approach needs the co-operation of other services that are under pressure, in particular local authority services and the police. I appreciate that neither of those bodies is within the Minister’s gift, but I encourage him to consider the programme’s success and to discuss with ministerial and local government colleagues whether the model should be encouraged more widely and, if so, how it could be supported.
We are in a learning phase in Trafford, with two initiatives that are interesting and worthy of as full an exploration as possible. I hope that the Minister indicates his interest in such approaches, and I look forward to his remarks.
What the hon. Lady describes as going on in Trafford—the Choose Change programme and Spotlight—is typical of the kind of integrated offender management, particularly of persistent and prolific offenders, that is starting up all over the country. She describes the emerging good practice of the local probation trust, together with the police, the Prison Service and the local authority, which is essential, particularly in the management of prolific offenders. Such offenders include, for example, drug addicts engaged in shoplifting, whose sentences, because they are shorter than 12 months, do not bring them probation supervision. It is a blinding glimpse of the obvious that the local services will manage such people better if they engage with one another than if they do so separately. Local services provide interventions for
Schemes such as the ones the hon. Lady described have proper integrated offender management with a distinct strategy for each offender, depending on whether they are prepared to engage in rehabilitation and to try to put themselves back on the straight and narrow and deal with their addictions. Such offenders are followed while in prison, assessed on release, then managed in joint meetings. I have not been to meetings of the group in Manchester, but I have seen meetings up and down the country, including those of the probation trust in Leeds, where people case-manage the prolific offenders individually.
For those who attempt to make a go of dealing with their addiction issues and who engage properly with the drug addiction services that are available locally, the local authority and the police will try to support them out of prison as they attempt to put their life back on track. A constant assessment will be made about whether they are making a genuine effort to better themselves and to try to get themselves out of the cycle of crime that they are in.
For those who decide that they will not engage with their addictive behaviour or address the underlying causes of their criminality, the strategy will be straightforward: to catch and convict them as fast as possible and to put them back inside, where they cannot create more victims of crime. That strategy should be applied to such prolific offenders until the penny drops and they understand that the system outside has the same interests as they have in turning them into pro-social citizens who will better themselves and become employed, tax-paying members of society.
The hon. Lady has described schemes that operate in her constituency, and I hope that they will be caught by the memorandum of understanding signed by the Ministry of Justice with the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Peter Fahy. Manchester is where we have one of our justice reinvestment pilots, which is a payments-by-results scheme in which, if the local authority, the local police and local probation trust get together to drive down the reoffending rate of those they manage, they will produce savings to the Ministry of Justice. If offenders have got back on to the straight and narrow, we will not be putting them through the courts, providing them with prosecutors and defenders, and supplying prison places for them; and that covers the whole cohort of offenders in Manchester.
We therefore hope to be able to share the savings to the Ministry of Justice with the chief constable of Greater Manchester and the other parties, particularly the local authority, so that they can invest earlier in the cycle of crime and, through that early intervention, start to divert people who would otherwise come into the criminal justice system. That will create the resources for earlier interventions, with all the savings that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland suggested would be available from the effective supervision of offenders and from earlier intervention to prevent people who are vulnerable to becoming offenders from doing so.
Ben Gummer (Ipswich) (Con): I am pleased that the Government are proceeding with that pilot. Colleagues on the Justice Committee heard evidence in Brighton about a prototype of integrated offender management that has been put in place with the local authority. Not only did it achieve striking success in reducing reoffending, but it produced significant cost savings that could be ploughed back into early intervention. I am therefore glad that the Government have taken that model and expanded it elsewhere.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston drew the attention of the Committee to what is happening in her area. Regardless of the memorandum of understanding between the Ministry of Justice and the chief constable of Greater Manchester, what she described in the management of priority and prolific offenders is starting to happen throughout the country. People are beginning to understand that different authorities have to work together better to deliver integrated offender management and that that is in everyone’s interests.
Speaking to her amendment, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said that there would be £30 million in, £40 million out. That was the rough calculation that she presented in Committee. Unfortunately, we do not of course have £30 million of extra money to start investing in the probation service—I would love it if it were true that we could do that, but she will have to explain it to the Committee. She is inviting us to provide statutory interventions for the group of offenders sentenced to less than 12 months. That has never happened before, and would come at considerable expense. She posited a sum, but those funds simply do not exist in the current climate.
We must therefore think about doing things differently, which is why we are considering payment by results and why we have a memorandum of understanding with Manchester and five London local authorities. It is why the social impact bond operates in Peterborough jail and the scheme with Serco operates at Doncaster prison. It is why we will roll out this way of working much more widely, particularly through an offender stream within the Work programme. That will mean that Work programme providers will go into our prisons and that offenders leaving prison will have immediate access to the Work programme and its support.
Hon. Members will understand that there is an enormous overlap between the interventions required to get a drug-addicted offender in prison into work as a tax-paying employee and the Work programme. If offenders can be sustained in work, it is highly likely that they will not reoffend. I hope that from March or April next year, the Work programme will be made available to offenders and will catch them at their time of maximum vulnerability, as they leave prison. I think that it will make a substantial contribution towards the rehabilitation of offenders and prevent other people from becoming victims of crime, which is our objective.
In the absence of a loose £30 million at my disposal—and now, happily, with a majority on the Government side of the Committee—I invite the Committee to resist the amendment. It would be nice if we could implement such measures. However, there is an advantage to the
What the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston described in relation to prolific offenders who are not caught by statutory legislation does not prevent the police, local probation trusts, the Prison Service and local authorities from getting on and addressing the problems caused by that class of people who bedevil their communities. That cannot be seen as distinct from a wider social justice agenda that tries to ensure that we create the conditions for finding investments to prevent prolifics from entering the justice system in the first place.
The hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen) and the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston did excellent work while their party was in government with my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr Duncan Smith) and his Centre for Social Justice. That work is now going forward with the new Administration. Local authorities are working together with the police, the probation service and prisoners as described. I am happy to say that cross-party work is still under way, and the hon. Member for Nottingham North is developing ideas to give the wider social justice agenda early investment to divert people away from the criminal justice system.
This is a particularly exciting moment, and I hope that we can deliver the integrated offender management approach sought by the amendment. It would be nice if we could mandate it from the state, but in the absence of available money from the state, this is a much more creative way—and I hope, much more effective in the end—to deliver our shared objectives.
Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): First, the Minister seems to place a lot of emphasis on the support that will be given to police and local authorities, for example. We all know that budgets are being stripped down, so they will not have the resources necessary to support his scheme. Secondly, the Minister seems to imply that he is dependent on payment by results as a mechanism for stopping reoffending. How much will he pay those companies? What estimate has been done on the likely number of people who will succeed through the payment-by-results scheme? How much will it cost and what impact will it have on reoffending? Has he done that assessment?
Mr Blunt: There are times when I want to pick up Opposition Members and get them out of “old think”. It is not about simply prescribing a particular set of interventions and getting them all paid for. All these organisations must find savings by doing things collectively. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go and see the work being done by Westminster city council, which has identified its particularly vulnerable families and found that they are engaged with 14 different agencies of the state in one form or another. All of the agencies are reinventing
Having presided over the economy in the way it did, the hon. Gentleman’s party has happily presented us with absolutely no alternative but to think about how we can rehabilitate offenders more effectively. That is what is happening up and down the country and it is exactly what was described by the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston. We should not be at odds over this. The options presented by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland in her amendments and by the hon. Gentleman in his intervention are simply impossible, because they require up-front cash, which the state coffers do not have.
We must find another way of dealing with this matter. By enfranchising our professionals and getting the best out of them, we are on the verge of a substantial change in the way in which we deliver public services: watch this space as far as payment by results is concerned. I will make this prediction to the hon. Member for St Helens North. [Interruption.] I will finish here and not let him intervene because he will spoil my peroration. He should watch this space because the way in which we will change the delivery of public service provision and the way in which we will enfranchise professionals on the ground will be followed around the world in exactly the same way in which the privatisation agenda was followed in the 1980s.
Helen Goodman: I am pleased to be able to follow the Minister’s extraordinarily self-congratulatory speech. I should like to ask him a few things and point out a few things. First, the Choose Change project that my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston discussed began three years ago under the Labour Administration. Secondly, the family intervention project, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North is particularly interested, began two years ago under the previous Labour Government. Thirdly, the payment by results project at Peterborough was designed and commissioned by the previous Labour Government. I want the Minister to realise that he does not have a total monopoly on innovation and creativity.
We know, and we have said all along, that the deficit must be tackled, but his Secretary of State accepted the biggest cuts in Whitehall—25%—which was irresponsible and foolish and leaves the Minister with inadequate resources to do the things that he and we would like to do. The previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), proposed a perfectly coherent plan to halve the deficit in four years.
Ben Gummer: First, the cuts accepted by the Department are 23%—there is a difference—over four years. Secondly, almost every amendment tabled by the Opposition has cost money. I have not yet been able to add it all up.
Ben Gummer: I asked at the beginning of the Public Bill Committee whether some of the more expensive items relating to legal aid had been passed by the shadow Chancellor. There was no answer, and so it has progressed. It behoves the hon. Lady to be just a little more reticent when talking about cost commitments, given the fact that almost every amendment that she has tabled entails more expenditure.
Helen Goodman: After self-congratulation, we come to pomposity. I do not know which is worse. The hon. Gentleman agreed to these massive cuts, which are absurdly large. They put the Ministry of Justice in an extremely difficult position, but it has chosen to be put into that position.
Mr Watts: It is worrying that the Government still seem to be in Opposition mode. They keep becoming interested in what we are doing. It is not our job to promote; it is their job to introduce legislation and to justify their proposals. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, when I asked the Minister how effective he thought his policy would be, he was unable to give any indication about the impact of the Bill? Secondly, he talked about Westminster council as some sort of icon for what can be achieved. That is one of the wealthiest local councils in Britain—probably one of the most inefficient, by the way, but it is one of the most affluent local authorities—with resources that many of us can only dream about. How effective will the proposals be in other parts of the country?
Helen Goodman: The Minister presents a view that is so lazy as to be absurd. What savings will be produced in Manchester? Will they make up for the large cuts that Manchester constabulary, like that the rest of the country, faces at the moment? We do not need to hear that now. If he has that information, he can write to members of the Committee at a later stage. I do not wish to detain the Committee. We have had a thorough debate. I think we all know what we think about this matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr Llwyd: I want to query one or two points relating to clause 94. There is a proposal to prevent anyone serving a sentence of four years or longer from being eligible for early release and home detention curfew. I just pause for a moment to posit the question of whether that could prove detrimental to public safety. It will, of
Mr Blunt: The right hon. Gentleman is correct, and when a prisoner is serving more than four years under the 2003 scheme as it stands he is eligible for home detention curfew release only if he can demonstrate exceptional circumstances to overcome the policy presumption. That policy presumption is that someone who has been sentenced to an overall term of four years should be ineligible for home detention curfew. The right hon. Gentleman wants to address an offender’s proper reintegration into society.
The decision was taken, and the Government stand by it, that someone with a sentence of that length and severity should not be eligible for home detention curfew or to get out of prison before the halfway point of a sentence, even on HDC. However, that does not exclude the right hon. Gentleman’s objective that, when someone is released on licence at the halfway point of a four-year sentence, the licence conditions may include precisely the home detention curfew effectiveness that he seeks. If it is thought necessary, part of the licence conditions and oversight of that offender being released from his sentence at the halfway point may include the home detention curfew arrangements that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. Tagging would then be a contributing factor in ensuring successful reintegration into society.
Helen Goodman: We are rather concerned about the clause. The Labour Government overhauled the further-release-after-recall system through the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, so the provisions have been on the statute book for only a short time. They provide a comprehensive system for ensuring that prisoners are released automatically after recall if suitable, or kept in prison if that is in the interest of public safety. There is insufficient experience to demonstrate that the provisions are not working.
Furthermore, the Government’s proposed changes seem to increase the Secretary of State’s powers to release prisoners, and diminish the Parole Board’s role.
The issues to be borne in mind are: the risk the prisoner would present to public safety; the risk of further offending by a prisoner on temporary licence; the likelihood of the prisoner’s failing to comply with any conditions attached to the licence; the propensity to abscond; and the availability of suitable accommodation where an overnight stay is contemplated.
I remind the Minister, although I am sure he already knows, that release on temporary licence is not an entitlement but a privilege for which prisoners must apply. The Minister is changing the system to make release on temporary licence so automatic that these risk factors will not be taken into account. There is an issue of public safety, so we are minded to oppose the clause.
Mr Blunt: The hon. Lady makes a perfectly serious point and I hope that the detailed answer that I give her will provide her with some reassurance, so that she can support the clause and what we are seeking to achieve.
The clause makes changes to existing provisions for the release of recalled determinate sentence prisoners. The aim, as I set out in the debate on clause 90 at the beginning of the discussion on clauses in this chapter, is greater consistency and to help avoid the unnecessary prolonged detention of offenders who do not present a serious risk of harm to the public on release and who could be safely managed in the community.
We are making some changes to the existing scheme and rather than re-amend provisions that have already been amended, and in the spirit of simplifying the release and recall legislation, the sections have been reproduced in full. Subsection (1) of the clause replaces sections 255A to 255D of the Criminal Justice Act 2003—which deal with further release after recall—with new sections 255A to 255C. Making the changes in this way ensures that it will be easier to make sense of the legislation as a whole in the future.
In the same way, it might help the Committee if I first explain the current recall provisions before highlighting the changes. At present, there are three different recall systems. The first is for those prisoners who are recalled following a breach of home detention curfew conditions. They are re-released at the conditional release date, which is the halfway point of the sentence, when they would have been released were it not for home detention curfew. We are not changing that system.
The second is a fixed-term recall, where the prisoner is automatically released after 28 days. This is available to offenders who are assessed as not presenting a risk of serious harm on release. Certain groups of offenders are currently ineligible for a fixed-term recall: an offender subject to the home detention curfew scheme; an offender who has a fixed-term recall during their current sentence; an offender serving a sentence for a sexual or violent offence, as specified under section 224 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003; and offenders serving an indeterminate sentence or extended sentence for public protection.
The third system is the standard recall, which is available to those who are neither eligible nor suitable for a fixed-term recall. Re-release is subject to an assessment of risk and may be made either by the Secretary of State or the Parole Board, except in the case of prisoners serving indeterminate or extended sentences. Such prisoners must be referred to the Parole Board for it to consider re-release. We are not changing the basic structure of the existing regime. At the point of return to custody, the Secretary of State will continue to make a decision about whether a determinate sentence prisoner is suitable for a fixed-term recall or whether the prisoner needs to be subject to a standard recall, thereby making them potentially liable to remain in custody until their sentence expires, subject to periodic review by the independent Parole Board.
The first change that we propose is to the eligibility criteria for fixed-term recall, so that all determinate sentence offenders, with the exception of those serving an extended sentence, will be eligible to be considered for a fixed-term recall. It is important to emphasise that that change does not alter the requirement that, in order to be suitable for a fixed-term recall, the Secretary of State must be satisfied that the offender will not present a risk of serious harm to the public when released after 28 days. We are making that change because we recognise that the fixed-term recall is a valuable tool in managing offenders. It allows for the swift removal from the community of offenders whose current behaviour or situation is giving cause for concern. It removes the offender from a deteriorating situation for the 28-day period. It serves as a sharp reminder of the need to comply with supervision arrangements. It also allows time for the risk management plan to be reviewed.
Fixed-term recall will never be suitable for offenders who are assessed as posing a risk of serious harm upon their release. Such offenders can be released only when it is considered that their risk can be safely managed, or when the sentence set by the court has expired.
In practical terms, three groups of offender will become eligible to be considered for a fixed-term recall. The first are those offenders who have been released on home detention curfew. That is not those who have been recalled for breach of the curfew, for which there are separate recall provisions, but those who breach the standard licence conditions. If such offenders are assessed as not presenting a serious risk of harm, there is no reason why they should be treated differently from other supervised offenders and assessed as suitable for a fixed-term recall. However, because we are extending the provision to those on home detention curfew, we need to make changes to subsections (6) and (7) of new section 255B to ensure that no prisoner is re-released on home detention curfew without the necessary curfew arrangements being in place.
A similar requirement is made in relation to standard re-release in subsections (6) and (7) of new section 255C to prevent re-release in the absence of suitable HDC arrangements, in cases where the Parole Board recommends release. That is necessary because we need to ensure that those offenders released before the halfway point of their sentence are always monitored through the home detention curfew scheme. Further consequential amendments are made in subsection (2) to override the automatic release date of the sentence, to ensure that such recall prisoners can serve the full 28 days, if required.
The second group of offenders are those serving sentences for sexual and violent offences, specified by section 224 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The third group are those who have previously been re-released following a fixed-term recall within the currency of the sentence. We recognise that many offenders from both those groups may be unsuitable for a fixed-term recall. It is unnecessary for the law to prevent consideration of the merits of such cases. Each case should be considered on its own merits and on the basis of professional risk assessments, prepared by the probation service, with public protection being the overriding factor. Cases where the offender has previous convictions for sexual or violent offences must always be considered with particular care. There will be cases where a short return to custody is precisely what is required to bring the offender back on track.
Subsections (8) and (9) of new section 225B allow the Secretary of State to change a fixed-term recall into a standard recall in any case where information comes to light showing that an offender is not suitable for a fixed-term recall. That is an improvement on the existing provisions, which do not offer that flexibility. A further change under new section 225C extends the Secretary of State’s power to re-release recall prisoners to include those serving an extended sentence. That power can be exercised only when it is assessed that continued detention is not necessary for the protection of the public. It facilitates the swift re-release of recalled offenders at the optimum point when new risk management arrangements are in place. That power is already being applied to positive effect to other determinate sentence prisoners. It is consistent with the Government’s view that offenders should be recalled to custody for no longer than is necessary to protect the public and to prevent reoffending.
Given the safeguards in place, there is no good reason for treating extended sentence prisoners differently from other determinate sentence prisoners. Any release decisions arising from this power will be made on the basis of professional risk assessments prepared by the probation service. The overriding priority will always be to protect the public. Subsections (3) to (5) are amendments in consequence of the redrafting of these provisions. With those reassurances, I hope that the mind of the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland will be put at rest, and that she will feel able to support the clause.
Helen Goodman: Obviously, it will be crystal clear to the entire Committee precisely how the clause will work after the Minister’s explanation. I would like to ask him one question. If I understand him correctly, he is saying that the same risk assessment will be done, but that the administration of it will be different in order to speed it up, and presumably to cut costs. On that basis, he wants us to go ahead. I want to ask him another question. The
Mr Blunt: I hope that I do not have to restate what I have just said, because I was grateful for the hon. Lady’s compliment about how clear I was. The clause will achieve sensible flexibility within the recall arrangements, so that we do not simply exclude whole classes of offender from fixed-term recalls, when that is appropriate. However, it does not mean that there is not then a proper risk assessment or that the existing standard recall arrangements do not continue to apply on the basis of such an assessment.
We need to understand that clause 96 largely restates the current arrangements. It will make the narrow change to which the hon. Lady has drawn attention, but my point is that, in cases where fixed-term recall becomes available to particular classes of offender, it does not obviate the ongoing requirement for a professional and probation service-based assessment of risk, which can then turn the recall into a standard one if so required.
Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation, and I am pleased that there will be a proper risk assessment. All we can do on the matter is say that time will tell. I do not wish to detain the Committee with a further vote.
“( ) In this section—
“specified Class A drug” has the same meaning as in Part 3 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000;
(a) has the same meaning as in that Part, unless paragraph (b) applies;
(b) if the offender’s term of detention was imposed for an offence under section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (criminal conduct), means such an offence as respects which the corresponding offence under the law of England and Wales is a trigger offence within the meaning of that Part.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
‘( ) In section 263(2)(b) (concurrent terms: authority to release), for “section 244” substitute “section 246”.
( ) In section 263(2)(c) (concurrent terms: licence period), for the words from “for so long, and subject to such conditions, as is” substitute “—
(i) until the last date on which the offender is required to be on licence in respect of any of the terms, and
(ii) subject to such conditions as are”.’.—(Mr Blunt.)
‘(6) After s.254 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 insert—
“s.244A Duty to Cooperate
The Secretary of State must make arrangements to promote co-operation between—
(a) the local authority where the prisoner will reside;
(b) each of that local authority’s partner authorities; and
(c) such other persons or bodies as the Secretary of State thinks fit.
(2) The arrangements are to be made with a view to reducing reoffending and managing the prisoner’s transition from prison into the community.
(3) Each partner authority must co-operate with the responsible local authority in the making of arrangements under this section.
(4) The responsible local authority and each partner authority must, in exercising their functions under this section, have regard to any guidance given to them for the purpose by the Secretary of State.
(5) A responsible local authority and any partner authority may for the purposes of arrangements under this section provide staff, goods, services, accommodation or other resources.
s.244B Definition of Partner Authority
(1) For the purposes of this Part, each of the following is a partner authority in relation to a responsible local authority—
(a) any district council which is not a responsible local authority;
(b) a police authority;
(c) a chief officer of police;
(d) a Strategic Health Authority;
(e) a Primary Care Trust;
(f) a youth offending team established under section 39 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998;
(g) the Probation Trust;
(h) a Department of State.
(2) the Secretary of State may by order specify other Partner Authorities.”.’.
Helen Goodman: I think that all members of the Committee understand that if we could manage the period shortly before and the few weeks immediately after a person leaves prison, it would be one of the ways we could have a significant impact on reoffending rates. I think that the whole Committee agrees that that is what we are aiming to do. Of course, the issues about co-operation between statutory agencies apply in the medium term as well.
I told the Committee of my concerns about women with children being released without their housing being sorted out well in advance. I cannot remember whether I also told the Committee, when we were discussing the mental health provisions of the Bill in September, about my concerns in that regard. The case that I am thinking of involved a woman who had almost killed one of her children because she had Munchausen syndrome by
The Minister will say that everyone can be very creative in the rosy world that he is creating, but my experience of the public services is that when people are under pressure, they do the “need to” things, not the “nice to” things. Co-operation with other agencies that have an impact on the person in order to ensure that the whole person is dealt with and that all the issues that will impact on their behaviour and quality of life are dealt with is not properly being addressed at the moment. Therefore, I am promoting in the amendment a duty to co-operate. I know that it works legally because we put it into the Child Poverty Act 2010 in the last Parliament.
I am suggesting that the prison authorities should have a duty to co-operate with the local authority where the prisoner will reside and with the partner authorities. The definition of partner authority includes a district council, because in some places the local authority and the district council are different and the district council would probably have responsibility for housing; the police authority; the chief officer of police; the strategic health authority; the primary care trust; a youth offending team if it is a young person; the probation service; and a Department of State. What I had in mind as the Department of State was the Department for Work and Pensions in order to sort out the person’s benefits.
We need those statutory bodies to co-operate so that we handle people as well as possible, and I am not convinced that the Minister’s competitive model, which he keeps throwing back to us as the ideal, will necessarily work in all circumstances. Everyone with whom I have discussed the matter, whether they are in the voluntary sector or the statutory authorities, has said that they would welcome a duty such as the amendment proposes; they think it would be very helpful and that it would enable the people who work in the authorities to reorder their priorities in a sensible way to the benefit of the offenders and the rest of the community.
Mr Blunt: The amendment is designed to amend clause 98 by putting in place a duty for the Secretary of State to promote co-operation between the local authority, each of their partner authorities and other persons or bodies as the Secretary of State sees fit to reduce reoffending and to manage the prisoner’s transition from prison to the community. In turn, each partner authority must co-operate with the responsible local authority to provide staff, goods, services, accommodation or other resources, and such bodies must have due regard to any guidance given to them by the Secretary of State.
As the hon. Lady will anticipate, I think the amendment is unnecessary, because statutory provisions and other partnership approaches from local bodies to reduce reoffending are already in place. The proposals require
The hon. Lady has spoken to all the agencies that want to do the right thing, yet for some reason they cannot be trusted to do the right thing; they have to be told what to do and precisely how to do it. In my experience, from what I have seen of the regulation of the probation service and the Prison Service that I inherited from the previous Administration, the hon. Lady’s approach is consistent with the philosophy that sits behind the proposed amendment, which takes us to a completely over-regulated, over-controlled and over-managed service that is told very precisely what to do and not given the freedom to exercise proper responsibility to try to deliver the objectives that everyone engaged in offender management wishes to achieve.
Responsible authorities—the police, police authorities, local authorities, fire and rescue authorities, primary care trusts and probation—already have a statutory duty to reduce reoffending through legislation introduced in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, supplemented by the Offender Management Act 2007. We are not talking about a situation where no duty exists. Statutory multi-agency public protection arrangements are also in place and are operated by criminal justice and social care agencies to protect the public and reduce serious reoffending by sex and violent offenders.
In addition to statutory requirements, there are many other mechanisms through which local partners are encouraged to work together to reduce reoffending. Integrated offender management, which we discussed earlier, is a framework that brings together local agencies—statutory and non-statutory—to tackle the offenders causing the greatest damage to their communities, ensuring that they are prioritised for appropriate interventions.
The Green Paper, “Breaking the Cycle”, laid out our clear intention to take a radically new approach to rehabilitating criminals and reducing reoffending. We have already commenced our pilot programmes to introduce payment by results, and I am happy to acknowledge that part of the design of the Peterborough programme began under the previous Administration. I am delighted that they want to sign up to this approach, because it will enfranchise the professionals—the people at the sharp end who are dealing with the situation—to focus on the outcome that we all desire and get away from prescribing the inputs.
The memorandums of understanding that we have with Manchester and with five London local authorities are specifically aimed at motivating more effective partnership approaches to tackling crime and reoffending. We are giving those local partners the opportunity to share in the savings released in the justice system, which they can then reinvest in activity to reduce reoffending in their communities.
The amendment does not enhance the statutory arrangements that are already in place. I hope that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland will feel able to withdraw the amendment and not further add to the complexity of the environments that our harassed professionals already operate in.
Helen Goodman: I do not think the proposal is complex; it is simple and straightforward. The Minister has misdescribed it. I do not understand why arrangements that apply to MAPPA—as previously discussed—should not apply more widely.
In September, we had an interesting debate in Committee about the fact that there are, of course, examples of good practice in the criminal justice system, but the difficulty is ensuring that that good practice becomes common practice. The amendment is designed to do that. I remind the hon. Gentleman that officials always show Ministers the best examples and the things that are really working well. Ministers always see the most innovative practice. It could be said that Opposition Members are always shown the biggest problems and the worst scenarios. We are trying through the amendment to make good practice become common practice. Co-operation between the agencies is important, so I shall be pressing the amendment to a Division.
Mr Watts: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, unlike the Minister who is obviously worried about not having the appropriate answers to questions. One of the reasons why the statutory agencies may be seeking partnership, or would be obliged to do so if it was a statutory duty, is that the Government would then have the duty and responsibility to provide the resources. Is it the case that although those statutory bodies would like to achieve such a partnership and deliver the service, they do not have the resources so they are using the proposal as an opportunity to make the Government fund what they want to deliver?
Helen Goodman: No one has said that to me, in terms, although it may indeed be the case. However, we are taking a common-sense approach. I am disappointed in the Minister; his whole attitude to the Bill has been extremely self-satisfied. He has behaved as if it cannot be improved in any way. The amendment is not designed to make political points, but to improve the system and I shall press it to a vote.
“s.244C Discharge grants for certain offenders
(4) A prisoner with an infant formerly held in a prison mother and baby unit shall on release from prison be entitled to a discharge grant of £96;
(5) The Secretary of State may by order amend this sum if it appears to the Secretary of State that there has been a change in the value of money”.’.
The discharge grant given to prisoners has remained at the same level for a long time. Given the financial constraints, I understand why the Government do not want to increase it generally. However, when I discovered that the discharge grant is the same for a mother with an infant leaving a mother and baby unit as for other prisoners, I knew that it was simply not reasonable. In fact, a child protection issue is at stake. I remind members of the Committee that the discharge grant is £48.
Do Members seriously think they could survive on that amount for 24 hours with an infant under the age of 18 months? On leaving prison with an infant, one is bound to buy a pack of nappies at a cost of £6.50, some formula milk at £8.46 and a steriliser set at £45.99. It is some time since I had infants, so I went to the trouble of getting the up-to-date figures. Government Members are chuntering, but they know perfectly well that many such mothers are drug addicts, and it would be dangerous to suggest that they should breastfeed; they are bound to be giving their children bottled milk. A pack of baby rice costs £1.69 and a jar of food costs 59p, which brings the total to £63.23, and adding in a kettle to actually make some milk is another £12. So we are looking at £75, before the prisoner has even had anything to eat or paid a bus fare.
What we propose is a small measure, to help the most destitute and vulnerable group of people. The total cost to the Exchequer would be no more than some £10,000, because only 200 such mothers leave mother and baby units every year—[ Interruption. ] Does the hon. Gentleman want to say that the taxpayer cannot afford £10,000 for that group of vulnerable people?
Helen Goodman: People in prison need the grant because they have no other resources. Many of them are homeless, and have no job or family to go to. I would have thought that all that was common knowledge, and that it was not worth disputing that this is a vulnerable group that does not have resources. We could do this small thing to address their needs, and I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment.
Mr Blunt: I recognise the hon. Lady’s intention to assist offenders with parental responsibilities on release from prison, but we need to decide whether it is appropriate to put the kind of provision she suggests into primary legislation, and we do not think that it is.
The purpose of the grant is not to provide for all the prisoner’s needs after release. It is intended solely to assist them in the first few days, before they might reasonably be able to get a job, or get an appointment at a jobcentre and begin to access state benefits. It is not intended to assist with travel costs because released prisoners additionally receive a travel warrant or the payment of fares to their release address.
Mr Blunt: We could get into a debate about the purpose of the discharge grant, but this is a narrow point about whether we should add £50 to the grant for mothers in such circumstances, and I want to limit the debate to that. If we do not, we could get back into a debate about what we are doing with the offenders stream of the Work programme and about what an excellent improvement that will be on the rehabilitation of prisoners system that we inherited from the previous Administration. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will not want me to go there, and I suspect that you, Mr Sheridan, would not let me. There is a proper answer to the hon. Gentleman’s point, and we have already given it.
An eligible prisoner is one who is sentenced to and serves more than 14 days in custody, although there are some exceptions, such as those who are leaving the country, or those who have savings at a level that would make them ineligible to receive income support. Payment of the discharge grant is not set in any legislation at present. That would not be helpful generally, as it is necessary to take current benefit provisions into account. The move to universal credit will, I hope, begin to address what has been identified as a real issue about the benefit gap on release. However, again, this debate is not the appropriate moment to explore that.
It would certainly be perverse to require payment at this rate for the very small number of female prisoners who have been held in a mother and baby unit. We need to remember that eligible mothers in custody receive child benefit. While they are expected to use that for their child in custody, they are able to save some of that money for provision, on release, towards the expected costs that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland identified. When dealing with mothers and babies for whom there is an immediate accommodation issue, then of course governors have discretion to make an additional payment of £50 directly to a genuine accommodation provider to help the prisoner secure a release address. For that combination of reasons, the proposal is an inappropriate way to make this kind of provision and deliver the kind of care obligations that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland drew attention to. It is not right to put this in statute when the £46 level is not in statute. I would invite the Committee to resist the amendment.
Helen Goodman: I am disappointed and astonished by what the Minister has said. He could have stood up and said, “It is not in statute, but I accept what the hon. Lady says and will make administrative arrangements to do this”, but he did not do so.
Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Could the hon. Lady help me in this respect: is she saying that for the last 13 or 14 years women were being effectively turfed out, destitute, from custody with their babies? If that was the case for the last 13 or 14 years, could she enlighten us as to what the last Government did about that, and, if they did nothing, why?
Helen Goodman: The hon. Lady seems to think that on each side of the Committee we should present a picture of our policies as perfect and unimprovable. That is the stance of the Minister and the hon. Lady: I do not suffer from that illusion. I do not suffer from the illusion that everything that the last Labour Government did cannot be criticised, or that there are no gaps in provision. The hon. Lady herself knows that these are the most destitute and vulnerable of people.
Anna Soubry: I would like to know the evidence to be placed before this Committee for the number of women being discharged from mother and baby units who are, to use the hon. Lady’s word, “destitute”. Where is the evidence?
Helen Goodman: The evidence comes from those voluntary sector organisations that work with these women. Charities, such as Babies in Prison or Action for Prisoners’ Families, all report very serious need. It seems to me to be a common-sense approach. Someone with an infant obviously needs more money than somebody who does not have an infant.
Kate Green: Does my hon. Friend also acknowledge that there is a very high incidence of single parenthood among women in prison, and therefore it is unlikely that they could rely on a partner being ready to receive them and their child and to have the resources there to support them?
Helen Goodman: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. My hon. Friend has also reminded me that the current level of child benefit, to which the Minister referred, is around £18. I ought to know—I get it.
Helen Goodman: There we are, marvellous. As I set out in my earlier remarks, that is not enough, No one imagines that they can keep a child on child benefit alone—it is there to help keep a child. No one in their right mind believes that a child can be kept on £18. I fear that the Minister gave the speech that his officials wrote for him before they had heard the justification for my proposal. I have not mentioned accommodation; I simply refer to the infant’s immediate needs in the first 24 or 48 hours after a mother’s release from prison. I should have thought that we would be on common ground about the need for provision in that situation.
Ben Gummer: I thank the hon. Lady for allowing me to intervene again. I hope she has read the Prison Reform Trust’s excellent report on women in prison. Although I do not agree with all its conclusions, I do not recall there being one recommendation for an increase
Helen Goodman: In response to the hon. Gentleman, this is not an issue about women; it is about children. That report was about women, but my concern is with the child, and the Children’s Commissioner has also expressed such concern. I had not intended to press the amendment to a vote, but, having heard the position of Government Members, I must do so.
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall take all reasonable steps to inform the prisoner in writing in his own language of the effect of an order for the prisoner’s removal made pursuant to this section.’.
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall have a duty to notify the appropriate authority of that country or territory to which the prisoner is being returned of—
(a) the offences for which the prisoner was convicted;
(b) the length of sentence the prisoner has served.’.
‘(6) The Secretary of State shall not exercise his power under subsection (3) unless he makes a declaration that any offender repatriated under this section is not at risk of torture or persecution.
(7) A declaration must be in writing and be published in such a manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.’.
‘( ) The Secretary of State shall have a duty to consider the impact of a removal under subsection (3) on any child of the prisoner liable to removal.
( ) In exercise of this duty the Secretary of State shall make a declaration that in his opinion any rights of the child under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child are not infringed.
( ) A declaration must be in writing and be published in such a manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.’.
Helen Goodman: During the Conservative party conference last week, there was much coverage of the disagreements in the Cabinet about the removal of foreign prisoners, which was presented as a joke. That matter is not a joke; it is a very serious one, which raises some difficult issues. Of course, sending foreign prisoners back to their countries is largely a sensible policy, and it must be done expeditiously. As hon. Members will know, the previous Labour Government negotiated an agreement with the European Union to increase the number of people who could be sent back.
Helen Goodman: As I was saying, it is important to take a proper approach to the removal of foreign prisoners, which is a tricky issue, and the Government only partly acknowledge that in their explanatory memorandum.
I know that the Minister is interested in sending in text messages, but I am about to ask him a question. Last week, there was a big debate between the Secretary of State for Justice and the Home Secretary about the removal of foreign prisoners and the interaction between doing so and article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which concerns the right to a family life. From what the Secretary of State for Justice said, it was not clear whether he is aware of clause 100. I am assuming that the clause is not intended to override article 8, but I would be glad if the Minister responded specifically to that point. The only human rights issues that are referred to in the explanatory memorandum, which, as I have said, is rather inadequate, relate to whether the provision would discriminate against British nationals who are victimised on discrimination grounds. There is no mention in the explanatory memorandum of the issue that was the source of the most heated debate at the Tory party conference, as far as the rest of us could discover, so I ask the Minister for an answer.
Another question is whether there is not a loophole in respect of citizens of other member states and what happens to them if they return after having been removed,
because if people on indeterminate public protection sentences are returned at the end of their tariff, but before a parole board and without undertaking a parole board assessment, the Minister will not be in a position to know whether that person presents a risk. I suggest that relations with other countries will nosedive if people are released who might commit crimes in other countries, in that if they had been British citizens they would have been kept in prison because they would have had a full parole board assessment, but as they were foreign, they were sent away. I suggest that the Secretary of State should have a duty to notify the appropriate authority in the other country, which seems to be the only reasonable way to behave, and I would expect other countries to deal with us in the same way.
It is also unclear whether the clause can be applied to countries with which we have not signed bilateral agreements or which are not party to international agreements on prisoner transfers. I understand that our current international agreement covers not only European Union countries, but Libya, so not all of those countries will have fantastic human rights records. Furthermore, I do not understand from the drafting of the clause whether it means that it applies to new countries, where we do not know their human rights records, so we have raised that concern by tabling amendment 410.
Finally, amendment 417 returns to the issue of the family rights under article 8. Here my concern is over the rights not of the offenders themselves, but of any children the offender may have who reside in this country. Those rights could be breached if their parent was sent to the other side of the globe. I am not saying that we should not have a proper policy for removing foreign prisoners; I think that we should, which is why the Labour Government took steps to improve the situation. None the less, these are sensitive matters.
Jessica Lee (Erewash) (Con): When balancing article 8, it is right that a court will always consider the rights of a parent to parent their own child and also the rights of a child to have a family life. That balance is always taken into account by any court when it considers article 8.
Mr Blunt: It will come as no surprise to the hon. Lady that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is not only keenly aware of this clause in the Bill but a strong supporter of it. Having sat and discussed the matter with him as we prepared this Bill, I think I can reassure her on that point. She may also have noticed that he has signed the declaration on the front of the Bill, which makes it clear that the measure is compliant with the European convention on human rights.
Mr Blunt: Let me provide a detailed response to the hon. Lady’s points. She asked for those general points to be addressed and I have done so. These amendments apply to clause 100, which provides a power for the Secretary of State to remove from the United Kingdom those foreign national prisoners who are serving life or indeterminate sentences and who have served the minimum term, or the tariff, set by the court.
Amendment 410 would ensure that the Secretary of State does not exercise his power to remove a foreign national prisoner under this provision unless he makes a written declaration that they will not be returned to serve their sentence in a country in which there is a risk of torture or persecution. Amendment 417 effects a similar requirement in relation to children, but the Secretary of State must make a declaration that, in his opinion, any rights of a child of the prisoner being removed under this clause are not infringed under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. I should make it clear that prisoners removed under this provision are not being repatriated to serve their sentence in their home country, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland implied.
Clause 100 provides a power for the Secretary of State to authorise the removal from prison for the purposes of removal from the United Kingdom of those offenders who are subject to deportation or administrative removal from the United Kingdom without a Parole Board recommendation for release. These are offenders who have no rights to remain in the United Kingdom. The provision simply allows removal to take place as soon as the prisoner has served the minimum term imposed on him by the court.
We need to make it clear that clause 100 is not a deportation power. It is about the time at which the UK Border Agency is able to deport someone. It takes account of article 8 issues when making the decision on whether to deport. Of course, the offender has rights to appeal against deportation that are not affected by the clause. Deportation cannot take place if it would breach the United Kingdom’s international obligations under, for example, the ECHR or the refugee convention. The rights of the individual are assessed in all cases, and the
Similarly, under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, the UKBA has a duty to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in the UK. The best interests of the child must be a primary consideration when making the decision to deport. The impact of the removal on the prisoner—
Mr Blunt: Before the Division, I was saying that the impact of the removal on the prisoner or any dependents is taken into account by the UKBA when considering whether to deport, and the prisoner has a right of appeal. If the prisoner is not subject to deportation or administrative removal from the UK, the provision outlined in clause 100 cannot apply. Therefore, at the point at which these provisions come into play, the matters raised by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland have already been taken into consideration.
It is important that prisoners understand the implications of deportation from the UK. To that end, a leaflet has been produced for foreign national prisoners who are facing deportation, providing general guidance on deportation, appeal rights and where to go for further help or advice. Since 1 April 2010, it has been sent to foreign national prisoners who are assessed at an early stage as meeting deportation criteria. The leaflet has been translated into 17 languages. In addition, copies of 15 of the most commonly used generic letters and documents used in deportation and removal proceedings have been translated into the top 20 languages spoken by foreign national prisoners. These documents have been developed by UKBA and made available for use in all prisons.
Our prisons hold offenders from more than 150 different countries, and it is simply cost-prohibitive to provide all documents in all languages used in those countries. We believe that the current provisions ensure that the overwhelming majority of prisoners can access documentation in a language they can understand. Where that is not the case, local arrangements will be made to ensure that the prisoner understands the deportation process. That may be done through local translation services, or translation by staff or other prisoners with a common language.
We do not believe that the disclosure of criminal information on removal should be a matter for legislation. That attends to the point raised in amendment 416. Any disclosure of such sensitive and personal information will need to be necessary and proportionate, and the UK criminal justice agencies, the UKBA and other