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Personal Statement

4.44 pm

Nadine Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) (Con): On Monday 11 November, the Committee on Standards published a report on my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests which concluded that I had breached the rules relating to how I registered information. Mr Speaker, I wish to apologise to the House fully and unreservedly for what was a genuinely inadvertent breach of the rules, with which I have at all times sought to comply.

Mr Speaker: I thank the hon. Lady for that statement.

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Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords]

Second Reading

Mr Speaker: The amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition has been selected.

4.44 pm

The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Chris Grayling): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I should like to start by offering an apology to the House and to you, Mr Speaker. I shall not be able to be here for the wind-ups at the end of the debate because, in my role as Lord Chancellor, I have to take part in the formal proceedings of the Lord Mayor’s banquet this evening. I have written to the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) and to the Chairman of the Select Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith), to explain the position.

I have read with interest the reasoned amendment tabled by the Opposition, and it might be helpful to explain to the House what the Bill will do, and what it will not do. It will make reforms to the sentencing framework so as to bring to an end the situation in which a prisoner can walk out of the prison gates with £46 in their pocket and with no one to meet them, no one to plan for their release, and no one to ensure that they do not return to the same streets and the same people and commit further crimes with no one to try to stop them. The Bill will not make any changes to the probation service.

It is the plans to put an end to prisoners walking out of prison with no support that the Opposition are planning to vote against tonight. They are planning to vote against our plans to end the situation in which drug addicts serving short sentences are simply stabilised on methadone for a few weeks because the prison staff know that they will not turn up for rehabilitation when they leave and therefore think that it is not worth starting it. We also want to put an end to the situation in which a young person freshly out of care finds themselves in our criminal justice system and has no help or guidance to sort out their life when they are released. The Opposition are planning to vote against that proposal tonight.

Despite what is suggested in the completely flawed amendment, which is supported by the Opposition in the other place—and which on one reading would make it impossible for even the current probation trusts to alter their local delivery units without parliamentary approval—the Bill will do nothing to reorganise or restructure our probation services. It is not about probation. The changes that we debated two weeks ago are not part of the Bill. They are about our decision to put into action the reforms set out by the Labour Government in their Offender Management Act 2007, which provides us with the legal basis for our probation reforms. This Bill is not about those reforms.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): What will be the additional cost of the Government’s proposals?

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Chris Grayling: The proposals contained in this Bill will be delivered within the existing budget for our probation services.

In saying that they want to oppose and destroy the Bill, the Opposition are actually trying to set back for years the task of dealing with our biggest criminal justice challenge. That would simply create more and more victims of crime, which could have been prevented. Their short-sighted wrecking strategy will get them absolutely nowhere.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. I declare an interest in that I published a book last year entitled “Doing Time”. I support the Bill. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the policy being proposed in the Bill was originally put forward in the previous Government’s custody plus programme, which was derived from the Offender Management Act 2007?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Labour has argued for this, legislated for it and U-turned on it. The shadow Secretary of State has stated endlessly over the past few months that the Opposition now support the principle, but they are going to vote against it tonight. That is a sign of how poor an Opposition they are, how unfit they would be to govern, and how out of touch they are with the criminal justice challenges in this country.

It might assist the House if I started by summarising the issues facing short-sentence offenders. Many need housing; 38% of them need help finding a place to live when they are released. Many are out of work; only 30% have found employment within two years of being released, while 83% will have claimed out-of-work benefits in the same period. Huge numbers of them need help with education, with work-related skills. A fifth had a mental health or an emotional problem, a third self-report as having a drugs problem and 65% have used illegal drugs in the four weeks before going into prison custody. Those are the people who Labour Members want to leave prison with no support at all.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the reforms in the Bill will avoid what happened to my constituent’s son, who after serving nine months in prison was released with £16 in his pocket, a travel card and nothing else, putting him in danger of committing another offence because he lacks accommodation and the long-term support that he needs?

Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I cannot understand why Labour wants to vote against providing 12 months of supervision support for everyone who leaves prison, which should ensure that they do not reoffend.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): There is one reference in the Bill to the controversial changes to the probation service—found in the new clause 1, which was introduced by our noble Friends up the corridor. Will the Secretary of State reassure those of us who are reassured by that precautionary clause that no change to it will be attempted?

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Chris Grayling: The problems with the precautionary clause are twofold. First, it is worth saying that this House voted for the reforms by a substantial majority last week. Secondly, the precautionary provision would prevent any change whatever to the entire probation service from being made. The clause is completely flawed. It would prevent any kind of restructuring or reorganisation within an individual trust, let alone any other part of what is proposed. I am afraid that we will therefore seek to overturn that amendment in Committee because, as I say, it would make it impossible to run the probation service, even in its current form.

We are talking about people who have offended before, some of whom are often highly persistent offenders, and far too many of them go on to reoffend. In 2011, about 50,000 adult offenders were released from short prison sentences. Nearly 60% of that group went on to reoffend, committing a total of 85,000 crimes. That is 85,000 crimes too many—a depressing merry-go-round of offending, blighting the lives of men, women and children in all our constituencies.

Labour Members have talked about us taking risks with public safety, so let me tell them what really is taking risks with public safety. It is leaving the situation unchanged. Those 85,000 crimes include some of the most serious crimes that our society knows—thousands of them each year, including hundreds of serious sexual and violent offences. Yet we are leaving the people who commit those crimes to go on and on unsupervised.

Kate Green (Stretford and Urmston) (Lab): The probation service, of course, has never been asked or required to supervise that group of offenders before, so is there any reason why the Justice Secretary could not give the public probation service the opportunity to carry out this supervision when the legislation passes?

Chris Grayling: I refer to what Labour said in 2010—that it could not do that. The hon. Lady and her colleagues said very clearly that they could not afford to proceed with custody plus—the scheme that they brought forward that would enable the probation service to provide supervision for these offenders. We have come up with a way of doing that. Labour said that in 2010—just before the last election. That is the reality of what we are dealing with. We are talking about people who go on and on and on committing crimes, unsupervised. I see that as the real public safety scandal; it is a flaw in our system that I want to solve and Labour Members seem not to want to solve.

Sadly, it is no surprise that reoffending rates for this group are so high. The average time served in custody for that group is only nine weeks—not nearly long enough to tackle these issues while in prison. After that, they are released at the halfway point with £46 in their pocket and little or no support. Some engage with voluntary rehabilitation programmes after their release, but at the moment there is no mandatory period of supervision in the community. That is what this Bill changes. The core of the change in this Bill is the delivery of 12 months of supervision for those people.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): The 35 probation trusts across England and Wales have been judged either good or excellent. Why is it not right that they cover serious and persistent offenders who have served

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short sentences? The right hon. Gentleman feels that this change can be done within the current £8 billion decade budget for the probation service, but how can there be no cuts to probation and such an extension into short-term sentences unless the task remained with the probation service? Otherwise, probation services would have to be cut.

Chris Grayling: I am afraid that the hon. Lady has not understood what we are seeking to achieve. The Select Committee observed, in a good piece of work, that the present system was far too bureaucratic, and that only a minority of probation time was spent on working with offenders. We are seeking to create a simpler system in which we give much more professional freedom to those on the front line. We want to deliver an environment in which we can mentor and support people, and we want to bring together the best of the public, private and voluntary sectors, not only to make the system more efficient but to deliver high-quality mentoring.

The hon. Lady raised the question of performance. The probation trusts are currently hitting many targets, but there is one simple reality at the heart of all this: reoffending is currently increasing, and I do not think that that is good enough.

Let me explain some of what the Bill will actually do. Clause 2 provides for this group of offenders to spend the second half of their sentences subject to licence conditions in the community, like all other prisoners. Clause 3 creates an innovative period of additional supervision, which is added to the licence to make a total of 12 months' mandatory rehabilitation and support after release. I think that that is the least that we should have in our system; it is extraordinary that we do not have it already.

The supervision period is there not to punish offenders, but to help them to move away from crime. We want those who work with offenders to try new, innovative approaches to rehabilitation. I look forward to seeing the voluntary sector, for example, playing a much larger role. We all see good work done in that sector, and I want to see more of it being done in our formal systems.

A range of flexible requirements can be imposed during the supervision period. They are set out in schedule 1, and include participating in rehabilitative activities including restorative justice, being tested for drugs, and attending appointments to address drug misuse. Those requirements are designed to give those who work with offenders the ability to steer them during the months after their release from prison. The freedom to innovate will be critical to the driving down of reoffending rates in this group.

We are focusing particularly on drug use, which is common among offenders who are serving custodial sentences. Two thirds of those who are serving sentences of less than 12 months have used class A drugs, while three quarters have used class B or class C drugs. Drug use among prisoners is also strongly associated with reconviction on release. The rate of reconviction among prisoners who report having used drugs in the four weeks before custody is more than double the rate among those who have never used drugs. That applies to drugs in class A, class B and class C.

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Clause 12 expands the current power to test offenders for drugs while they are on licence to include class B as well as class A drugs. Schedule 1 creates an equivalent testing condition for the supervision period that will follow the licence period. All that is an essential part of trying to ensure that when people come out of prison, we do all that we can to move them off drugs as quickly as possible, in a regime in which they are obliged to take part.

Let me now explain what will happen if an offender does not engage with supervision. Breach of any of the supervision requirements will be dealt with by the magistrates courts, and there will be an important new role for lay justices and district judges. Clause 4 provides a flexible set of sanctions that magistrates may—not must—impose if a breach is proved. They can impose a fine, between 20 and 60 hours of community payback, a curfew with an electronic tag, or committal back to custody. There is no “escalator” approach requiring a more onerous sanction to be used if a lighter-touch one has been imposed before.

The Bill also makes reforms to the two types of sentence that are served in the community—suspended sentence orders and community orders. Reoffending rates following those sentences are less stark than those following short prison sentences, but it is no less important for us to address them. Nearly everyone who ends up in our prisons has previously served a community sentence, and many of those people experience problems similar to those experienced by short-sentence offenders: problems involving mental health, alcohol consumption and drug misuse. Clause 15 creates a new rehabilitation activity requirement to mirror the new supervision condition that will be available for offenders who are released from short prison sentences. As with the top-up supervision period created by clause 3, that will provide maximum flexibility for those working with offenders, enabling them to instruct them to attend appointments or participate in activities.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I have a question concerning the flexibility in the new rehabilitation requirements. Can the Justice Secretary give me an assurance about the current 2003 requirements, in particular the mental health, alcohol abstinence and monitoring requirements that have not yet come into force, and where there is a real need for the courts to ensure that the orders are carried out? I know from my own experience that, sadly, orders have not always been complied with. Can he assure me that those powers will still remain even though there will be that flexibility?

Chris Grayling: The powers will certainly remain. What will be different is that having a 12-month supervision period—a period of mentoring—for people once they have left prison, or for those going through a community sentence, will provide much more of a pressure-point to get them to turn up for rehabilitation and go for mental health treatment, because there will be someone working alongside them who gets to know them and to understand them, and who can cajole and encourage them.

It is worth highlighting the experience we have had so far in Peterborough. There has been a huge drop in the relative level of reoffending; the number of crimes committed by the cohort going through the Peterborough trial is much lower than that committed by their equivalents

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in other parts of the country. The overall reoffending rate has fallen as well. That is a success story we should build on, and we will build on it.

Guy Opperman: It is not just Peterborough, is it? There is also Doncaster prison, which is the flagship of modern prisons—and I should say that it was set up in its present form under the Labour Government, and rightly so. It has also seen drug-use figures fall. Some 80% of the prison intake was drug addicted or committed drug crimes, and that figure is now down to approximately 30% upon release, under the current programme. Does the Justice Secretary agree that that is a good thing?

Chris Grayling: I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work being done in Doncaster. There is good work being done in many parts of the prison estate. The Doncaster model is slightly different from what we are looking to deliver across the whole of the justice system, but it is equally delivering reductions in reoffending and that is to be welcomed and supported. Anything we can do to bring down reoffending rates has to be the right thing to do.

Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): My right hon. Friend mentions the situation at Her Majesty’s prison in Peterborough. Is not the moral of the story there that non-state actors can have a very important role to play in driving down recidivism? Indeed, both Peterborough prison as a private prison—with male and female co-located—and the social impact bond in Peterborough were pioneered by the former Labour Government, and it is sad that Labour seems to have engineered a U-turn on what is, and was, a very good initiative.

Chris Grayling: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The sad thing is that a partnership of the private sector and the voluntary sector and the state has been proven to work in many cases. In Peterborough it is working really well. When the Labour Government passed the Offender Management Act in 2007, they talked extensively about the benefits to be gained from such a partnership. It is sad that they are now seeking to block such a partnership in other debates, and today they are using that as an excuse to try to block a measure that they themselves say they support. Frankly, they are all over the place.

The other part of what we are looking to do involves the creation of a proper through-the-gate system. It is a key part of a wider programme to transform how we rehabilitate offenders. The providers that we will bring into the system will offer a resettlement service for all offenders in custody before their release of the kind that is being provided in Peterborough. It is important that we align the prison system and the geographic areas for release afterwards to make sure these reforms can be as geographically synchronised as possible. The changes we are making to our prison system to create a network of resettlement prisons will ensure that, where possible, the same offender manager will work with offenders in custody and continue their rehabilitation work in the community. I believe that can make a significant difference and can help reinforce the measures in this Bill.

Mrs Moon: There are no prisons for women in Wales. All women offenders sentenced to a prison term serve their sentence outside Wales. How will that be managed

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if we are looking at offender managers working from prisons and back in the communities? The majority of offenders are men, and the probation service has a proven track record of working well with women. How will the Justice Secretary ensure that the private sector does not just look at offenders as male, but has programmes designed specifically for women returning to Wales?

Chris Grayling: Clearly, we will see the same level of support provided for women and men. The hon. Lady will, of course, have seen in the document we published recently on women offenders that our direction of travel is clearly towards creating smaller units close to where women live, so that we can maintain the family ties. We are trialling a new approach at HMP Styal in Cheshire, whereby we will have a hostel under the wing of the Prison Service, but outside a prison institution, with open conditions. We are looking to see whether we can deliver a different kind of model for the detention of women offenders that can make a genuine difference to them. Successive Governments have wanted to achieve support through the gate for short-sentence offenders, and we will seek to achieve it for men and women alike.

Mr Burrowes: The model of good practice on through-the-gate mentoring is the transitional support service, the longest-running and largest mentoring service. G4S, which delivers the service, does get a bad name, but when one looks at the results and the evidence from the evaluation, one finds that this is a very effective practice model which works alongside the public and voluntary and community sector organisations to deliver through-the-gate mentoring for men and women. That example needs to be followed in Wales—[Interruption.] This is all about women in Wales. [Interruption.] That is exactly what the transitional support service does.

Chris Grayling: Of course, new Labour believed in public and private and voluntary sector partnerships, but those days are long gone. Such partnerships can make a real difference. Large swathes of Wales have no prison capacity at all, and this Government are seeking to address that by building a major new prison in north Wales, so that many prisoners currently detained elsewhere can be detained in Wales.

Successive Governments have wanted to achieve support through the gate for short-sentence offenders, and this Bill will finally deliver it. This Bill will provide rehabilitation to a group of offenders who desperately need it; it will give those working with offenders the freedom to innovate and tailor their interventions to what each individual needs; and it will stop the cycle of reoffending that creates so many victims in our communities. Its provisions should command the support of hon. Members from all parties. The fact that the Labour party wants to destroy it is just a further sign of how far that party has moved back to its political roots and away from a world of common sense. If the Opposition have their way, the losers will be victims of crime up and down this country and young people whose lives will be wasted.

Let us finish by reminding Labour Members what they are voting for tonight. This Bill does not reform the probation service—it does not create a new structure for the probation service. It simply provides support for people who get short prison sentences for 12 months after they leave prison. The Labour party has always

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said that it supported that and has said so all year, but tonight, in this House, Labour Members are to vote against it. I think that that is disingenuous to say the least.

5.7 pm

Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I beg to move an amendment:

“That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords] because the implementation of the proposals in the Bill depends on the Government’s proposed restructuring of the Probation Service; believes that this proposed restructuring will see the abolition of local Probation Trusts, the fragmentation of supervision of offenders on the basis of their risk level and the commissioning of services direct from Whitehall; further believes that the Government has failed to provide any costings for their proposals; notes reports that suggest the Ministry of Justice’s own internal risk register warns that the Government’s proposals could result in a high risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance; and further declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill on the grounds that none of the Government’s proposals has been piloted nor independently evaluated, potentially resulting in an unnecessary risk to the public’s safety.”

We support many of the Bill’s objectives, despite that awful speech by the Justice Secretary. The first part of the Bill, consisting of clause 1, was inserted by the other place because of its concerns about controversial plans to reform and restructure the probation service. Clause 1 requires any change to the structure of the probation service to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. We note that, so far, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) supports clause 1, but we will see as the evening progresses and as the votes transpire how he moves his position, and whether he decides to vote with conviction or do what the Conservative Whip asks him to do. I will return to clause 1 later.

The second part of the Bill, clauses 2 to 13, deals with the supervision of offenders released from short custodial sentences. All offenders released from sentences of less than two years would be subject to at least 12 months’ mandatory supervision in the community. It has always been a ridiculous anomaly that short-sentence prisoners, the group with the highest rates of reoffending, are the ones left to their own devices when released from prison. As the Justice Secretary just read out, the previous Labour Government tried to address that with the custody plus proposals. I will come back to those later—accurately, rather than by rehashing history in the way attempted a short while ago. Nevertheless, extending supervision to those who serve less than 12 months in custody should play a part in reducing reoffending.

The Bill would also put on a statutory footing the requirement to have regard to the special needs of female offenders when making supervision arrangements. We are grateful to Lord Woolf for his important contributions on that matter in the other place. For the avoidance of doubt, we also welcome the introduction of the new drug appointment requirements and the expansion of the categories of drugs that can be tested for. The third part of the Bill, clauses 14 to 18, would amend the community sentencing framework.

As much as the Justice Secretary would like us to do so, however, we cannot read the Bill in isolation. It is a smokescreen for fundamental changes to the way in which probation works in England and Wales.

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The motivation that the Justice Secretary relies on in public is his frustration that reoffending rates are too high, which he says means that something bold and radical needs to be done. He is in serious danger, however, of doing something that, bold and radical as it is, might make matters worse and increase the risk to the public.

We know that probation works, as those under supervision are less likely than those who are not to go on and commit more crimes. The MOJ’s figures for the most recent full year show that among those who received a sentence of between four and 10 years who were released and supervised by probation, 30.7% reoffended; among those who received a sentence of between 12 months and four years who were released and supervised by probation, 36.2% reoffended; and among those in custody for less than 12 months who were released and not supervised by probation at all, 58.5% reoffended. By the by, it is a shame that the Justice Secretary is not suggesting payment by results for the public probation service. However, I welcome the fact that he appears, at least on this particular aspect, to want to follow the evidence and to use it to inform his policy making. Offenders who receive probation support do better than those who do not. That must be why he wants to extend probation to those who receive a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. But why does he want completely to dismantle our probation service?

We can all agree that too many people are stuck in a cycle of reoffending. Just over a week ago, on a visit to the Justice Secretary’s flagship Oakwood prison, I met one young man who had previously been in prison six times and who could not have been more than 25 years old. It is precisely that group of people whom we need to get to grips with. It is not only a waste of taxpayers’ money, although we know that on average it costs £40,000 a year to keep someone like him in prison. There is a cost to society, too, as crime is estimated to cost the country £12 billion a year as well as creating, as the Justice Secretary said, needless victims of crime, heartache and misery. It is also a waste of human potential for people to spend their time locked up behind bars when, if properly reformed, they could contribute more meaningfully to society. Nobody would disagree with the need to address the offending behaviour of those individuals, but we do disagree with dismantling probation.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Is there not a competition among various Secretaries of State to see who can privatise the most? The Secretary of State is advocating a policy that was pursued the last time the Conservatives were in government, when the solution to all problems was either privatisation or banging people up.

Sadiq Khan: If the Justice Secretary was saying that he had evidence that privatising probation worked or that it would save money, he would have an argument. He is saying neither, which is why we suspect that this is all about ideology rather than the evidence of what works. Although we agree with the broad objectives of the Bill—[Interruption.] I am sorry, but I can hear chuntering from the Lib Dem Whip, the hon. Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt), which is quite distracting. I am not sure whether she is trying to persuade her

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hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham to vote with her, or to put me off my stride—




She is certainly better than the Justice Secretary at trying to put me off my stride.

Although we agree with the broad objectives of the Bill, there are some major areas of difference between us and the Government and some big questions remain unanswered. Those questions are so fundamental that they cast a shadow over the Bill and call into question whether its objectives can be implemented without taking a serious gamble with public safety as a result. The Bill has been brought forward against a backdrop of upheaval and change—change that is not informed by evidence or statistics, but driven by recklessness and ideology.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con) rose—

Sadiq Khan: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman before making progress.

Steve Brine: I am sorry to distract the shadow Secretary of State, but I want to ask him a question. We discussed this subject in an Opposition day debate recently, and we agree on the broad objectives of the Bill, as he says. So that I am clear, will he tell me whether, if he is Justice Secretary in 18 months’ time, he will repeal the Offender Management Act 2007, which paves the way for much of the Bill and for what I presume, all things being equal, will become the Offender Rehabilitation Act 2013 or 2014? Will he repeal both those pieces of legislation?

Sadiq Khan: The 2007 Act was permissive. It gave the Justice Secretary powers that could be used if probation trusts were failing. Probation trusts were supposed to commission services; I will come on to how the Act works in practice. As far as the Bill is concerned, if I were in a fit of pique, I would be an ideologue and do what my gut told me, but I look at the evidence on what works. That is what I will look at when I become Justice Secretary on 8 May 2015.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): For the record, it was made explicit in debates on the 2007 legislation that it would allow the flexibility to introduce the voluntary sector in particular, not the wholesale privatisation of the probation service.

Sadiq Khan: My hon. Friend reminds me that there are examples of probation trusts around the country that work with the private and voluntary sectors, and with charities. What the 2007 legislation was not about was a control freak Justice Secretary deciding from his desk in Whitehall who runs probation in different parts of the country. That is why there is a reasoned amendment in my name and the names of other right hon. and hon. Members. If the Justice Secretary has his way, in less than a year, there will be a system in place to deliver the measures in the Bill that is massively different from today’s. As the House will know, there is considerable alarm among experts, management, staff, the police, and MPs in all parts of the House at the proposed restructuring of the probation service.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford) (Con): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has repeatedly said that the Opposition support the supervision of

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short-term prisoners; will he explain to the House how he intends to ensure that that happens within the existing probation structure, without undertaking any kind of reform?

Sadiq Khan: I will; I will come to that in my speech, if the hon. Gentleman gives me time, but as the Justice Secretary would know if he got out of his office, some probation trusts supervise short-term prisoners now, within their budgets, because they believe that it is very important to do so.

On one side of the debate, there are at least three probation trust chairs warning the Justice Secretary to delay probation privatisation or risk deaths: the chief inspector of probation warns that the plans will lead to

“an increased risk to the public”;

The Economist magazine calls the Justice Secretary’s plans half-baked; and probation staff warn that the fragmentation of the service goes against everything that we know about what works in supervising offenders. The Ministry of Justice’s own risk register warns that there is an 80% risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance; with regard to dealing with offenders, that can only lead to higher risks to public safety. [Interruption.] The Justice Secretary is saying “No.” Will he publish his risk register?

Chris Grayling: Will the shadow Secretary of State remind the House how many times the previous Government published risk registers, which are, after all, only a management tool?

Sadiq Khan: Let’s make a promise: if the Justice Secretary publishes his risk register now, when I am Justice Secretary, should I do what he is trying to do —God forbid—I will publish the risk register. He crosses his arms, but he cannot deny that his risk register says that there will be an 80% risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance. That is playing fast and loose with public safety. He is not willing to publish his risk register.

I have not finished listing those who are on the first side of the argument. I have mentioned the probation trust chairs, the chief inspector of probation, The Economist, probation staff and the Justice Secretary’s risk register. The former chief inspector of prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, said that the Bill was “being rushed through”, and that “Many…questions remain unanswered”. That is not all. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, has said:

“I am afraid it is obvious that, because they are…in a hurry, the preparations that the Government have made for the introduction of this scale of change are very modest indeed.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2013; Vol. 745, c. 653.]

Mr Burrowes: I want to understand the position. The right hon. Gentleman has at last accepted that there was an anomaly for 13 years under the previous Government. They failed to provide proper statutory supervision for offenders with shorter sentences. Is he saying that he will urge all hon. Members today to decline to give the Bill a Second Reading and to decline to give any empowerment to ensure such supervision,

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which he recognises is needed? He is playing politics and will be letting down offenders, victims and taxpayers tonight.

Sadiq Khan: One cannot will the ends without the means. It is nonsense to suggest that simply pulling a lever will make that happen. It will not happen. We tried to do it, and I will shortly come to our efforts to put in place custody plus.

On the other side of the debate are a few loyal Back Benchers and the Justice Secretary who is purposely not bringing before Parliament his plans for restructuring probation, thereby avoiding proper scrutiny and debate, and is rushing ahead at breakneck speed in implementing these plans, not interested in whether there is any evidence that his plans will work, dismissing expert evidence and instead basing his decision to roll his plans out on his gut instinct—the same gut instinct that brought us the failing Work programme in his former role.

Guy Opperman: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sadiq Khan: One last time. I must make progress.

Guy Opperman: I thank the shadow Secretary of State for giving way. He talks about breakneck speed, but does he recall that in May 2006, when the Labour Government were still planning to introduce custody plus and a large proportion of the measures that we see today, in the House of Lords the noble Lord Bassam of Brighton, the Justice Minister, said:

“We estimate that, in 2007–08, 49,400 offenders will be starting custody plus orders”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 4 May 2006; Vol. 681, c. 566]?

Why does the right hon. Gentleman not now back a plan that has been in the offing for more than 10 years, which has finally been produced by this coalition Government?

Sadiq Khan: Because if done properly, it would cost £194 million a year. We could do it on the back of an envelope, as the Justice Secretary wants to do, but I do not want to do that. It is a risk to public safety.

Let me remind the House that at the same time the Justice Secretary says that he wants those who receive less than 12 months’ custody to receive probation supervision. Instead of supporting probation, as he should, what are his plans for it? Those plans are: abolishing local probation trusts and instead commissioning services direct from his desk, in Whitehall, on behalf of local communities; splitting responsibility for offenders on the basis of their risk level, despite risk not being static in 25% of cases; handing responsibility for serious and violent criminals to G4S, Serco, Carillion, A4e and the like; imposing an untried and untested payment-by-results model on providers; and, as I said, all at breakneck speed, adding up to a half-baked, reckless reorganisation of probation, without any evidential base—a monumental gamble with public safety.

Let us be frank. The Justice Secretary has wanted to keep all the major changes he is making to probation below the radar, purposely avoiding bringing those plans before Parliament. If not for the Opposition day

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debate, MPs would never have had the chance to debate them. He said in the Chamber 12 days ago that he was not afraid of debating his plans, but he left the Chamber almost immediately after his speech, not staying to hear any of contributions from worried and concerned MPs in all parts of the House. That is not debate in anyone’s book. Instead, it shows a disdainful arrogance towards Parliament and towards genuine concerns at his proposals. If he had stayed, he would have heard in the time-limited debate l8 MPs from all parts of the House express concern. More MPs wanted to speak, but there was insufficient time. Just three Members spoke in favour. I can see that he has done a better whipping operation today than he did 12 days ago. Many MPs, stakeholders, prison and probation staff and charities are labouring under the false impression that this is the privatisation of probation Bill. It is not. The Justice Secretary is trying to use the 2007 Act to do that.

Mr Stewart Jackson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sadiq Khan: I want to make some progress, then I will give way.

The Bill does make specific mention of the probation service, and I pay tribute to those in the other place for their work in trying to get proper scrutiny of the Justice Secretary’s plans. Clause 1 says that no changes may be made to the probation service without the approval of both Houses. That was the result of a successful amendment tabled by Lord Ramsbotham in the other place, not of anything that the Government did. It has taken almost five months since the Bill’s Third Reading in the other place for us to have a Second Reading debate today. Could the reason for that delay be that the Justice Secretary was desperate to begin the tendering process by which privatisation could occur before this important clause could be debated, because he was afraid of Commons scrutiny?

We understand why the Justice Secretary wants to get on with his plans and avoid proper scrutiny. Just two years ago, the Ministry of Justice—none of its then Ministers are now in post; all have been sacked—published a comprehensive competition strategy for probation services, and proposed

“the commissioning of six new PbR pilot schemes to carefully develop and rigorously test PbR for reduced re-offending”.

Note the phrases “pilot schemes” and “rigorously test PBR”. The Ministry of Justice knew that the Peterborough pilot, which was designed by Labour and began in 2010, was a very different beast altogether, and its results are not directly comparable with the Government’s probation plans.

In March last year, the Ministry published a further paper, proposing

“a stronger role for Probation Trusts as commissioners of probation services and a stronger emphasis on local partnership working”.

Note the reference to “probation trusts as commissioners”, not abolition, and to “local partnership working”, not control freakery from Whitehall. I have got to honest: we agreed with that approach.

Chris Grayling: As the right hon. Gentleman will know, something like 3,000 serious, violent, sexual and similar crimes were committed by people who received sentences of less than 12 months and were released

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unsupervised last year. He talks about testing. Given that situation, how many years would he wait before he introduced a scheme that supervised those offenders?

Sadiq Khan: If the right hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to speak to the probation trusts, he would know that in Manchester, for example, the trust is already working with the voluntary sector, the private sector and charities to address those who receive sentences of less than 12 months. If he had spoken to those in Avon and Somerset, he would know that the probation trust is already doing that. If he had spoken to the South Yorkshire trust, he would know that it is already doing that. If he took the trouble to speak to them, rather than G4S and Serco, he would know what works and what does not work. Instead, he wants to give contracts to untried, untested private companies, with no experience in criminal justice. If I were the Justice Secretary, I would have consulted the probation trusts. What does he do? He does not wait for any evidence or trials. Forget testing or rigour; he cancels the pilots and does a complete somersault, hoping that no one will notice either his change of mind or the fact that it is being done without any evidence, taking huge risks with public safety and reoffending rates.

Another important issue is how the plans will be resourced. A number of Back Benchers, reading the script, have asked about resources, and how we will we do this in the public sector and not use G4S and Serco to save money. As I have already said, extending supervision to those on short sentences is to be welcomed, but this cannot be taken as a resource-free commitment. An additional 50,000 offenders on top of the current 250,000 a year would need support and supervision. The impact assessment is of no help at all in shedding light on this issue. It says that

“the cost will be dependent on the outcome of competition”.

So, basically, the Government are asking for Parliament’s support, but will not say what the cost implications are of implementing the plans. Call me old-fashioned, but I would like to know how much it will cost before I decide to vote for it.

That is important for two reasons. First, if it is the case that there is going to be a considerable additional resource demand for these plans, but the Government do not want to commit more money—they may indeed wish to save money—existing resources will have to be spread more thinly. So while the Justice Secretary refers to the 3,000 short-term offenders committing offences, that could increase exponentially, because medium and low-risk offenders will be supervised less well because of his plans to increase supervision without proper resources. There are implications for the quality of supervision, and it is important that Parliament debates this.

Secondly, if the Government need to commit more resources, it is only right that Parliament should scrutinise those plans. Either way, the Justice Secretary must be honest with Parliament about the cost of the plans he wants us to vote for today. I find it hard to believe that the Ministry of Justice has not done any number crunching on those issues. Why is it not being made public?

That is all the more pertinent given the excellent contribution my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins) made in the Opposition day debate 12 days ago—I am not sure

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whether the Secretary of State was still in his place, but the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), was. My right hon. Friend pointed out that Labour had a similar scheme for extending supervision called custody plus, which a number of Back Benchers who have read their Whips’ briefing have referred to. He said, because he is an evidence-based politician:

“Ten years ago, it would have cost £194 million a year”.

That would have been for 50,000 offenders, the same figure the Government are proposing. My right hon. Friend went on to attack the lack of costings for the Justice Secretary’s similar plan—he will forgive me for embarrassing him—stating:

“I can put a figure on it, but he cannot. All we are told is that it will be paid for by the savings generated by the competition for low and medium-risk offenders. Frankly, I just do not believe it. Either that supervision will be inadequate or the existing provision will be weakened and reduced in quality.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2013; Vol. 569, c. 1003.]

The Justice Secretary, who is still here for a change, has an opportunity today to respond to that stinging criticism from a respected and senior Member of this House with considerable experience in this area, because so far he has failed to do so. I know that he has a supper to go to, but he still has some time to respond to that point before he leaves.

The Justice Secretary’s incompetence is compounded by his calculations on other matters. According to the MOJ’s impact assessment, extending supervision to prisoners serving less than 12 months will lead to around 13,000 offenders being recalled or committed to custody, increasing the number of prison places needed by around 600, at a cost of £16 million. Where will that £16 million and those additional 600 places come from? Last Friday we were told that there were only 658 prison places left in England and Wales, and next March he will close a further four prisons, with the loss of a further 1,400 places. That is from the Government who cancelled our prison building programme. He will forgive me if we lack confidence in his plans for probation.

Mr Stewart Jackson rose—

Sadiq Khan: The hon. Gentleman has been very patient, so I will give way.

Mr Jackson: The right hon. Gentleman will have to do a little better than this speech if he wants to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, because he does not have much of a tiger in his tank—that is after he has been Secretary of State for Justice, obviously. I admire his brass neck and chutzpah on this issue, given that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) said, six years have passed to right this anomaly, three of which were under his Government. May I press him again very succinctly to answer this question: if the circumstances have changed and independent evidence shows that the Government’s proposals are working, would an incoming Labour Government still repeal the Act?

Sadiq Khan: Well, I lost the trail of the hon. Gentleman’s intervention after the third minute. His party has been in government for three and a half years. It has had three and a half years to change the way probation trusts are measured. According to his measurement,

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every trust is either good or excellent. What is his policy solution? It is to abolish them. Call me old-fashioned, but that seems absurd, bearing in mind the evidence. Why not speak to the probation trusts and say, “Listen, we want to try to supervise those people who are not currently receiving supervision, so are you going to consider doing that?”, rather than taking forward back-of-the-envelope policies that all the evidence suggests will not work.

Chris Grayling: The right hon. Gentleman’s policy appears to be to ask the probation trusts whether they would consider supervising people sentenced to less than 12 months. Will he say very clearly before the House whether or not, if this country is unlucky enough to have a Labour Government after the next election, he will commit to providing supervision for those prisoners sentenced to less than 12 months?

Sadiq Khan: If the Justice Secretary has his way, within the course of 12 months those who receive a sentence of less than 12 months will be supervised and we will have to wait and keep our fingers crossed that there will be no risk to public safety. If there is no such risk and the Justice Secretary finally oversees a rehabilitation revolution, of course we will not stop that supervision—that would be ridiculous. The Justice Secretary’s problem is that he cannot tell us how much it will cost, how much reoffending will go down by, or how many fewer crimes will be committed. That is the big flaw in his plan. It is not evidence-based. It has been worked out on the back of an envelope. The last time he tried to do that was the Work programme, which was not a huge success.

Kate Green: Of course, one of the problems is that whoever undertakes the supervision activity will have to meet the requirements imposed by a sentencing court, which will be predetermined and come with an element of unbreakable cost. Is it not, therefore, something of a distortion to suggest that these are payment-by-results contracts when a substantial proportion of the cost will, in effect, be determined by the sentence passed by the court? Surely the Justice Secretary could tell us now what costing he has made of that.

Sadiq Khan: My hon. Friend has more optimism in the Justice Secretary’s competence than I have. The Social Market Foundation showed recently that it is possible for private companies to still make a profit based on the fee for service, without relying on the PBR element. The Justice Secretary has not even worked out what percentage will be PBR. Will it be 5%, 7%, 10% or 15%? He has no idea. He is the most incompetent Justice Secretary in history.

While I am on the subject of extending supervision, I should say that I, unlike the Justice Secretary, have met probation trusts and they have said that they would be up for taking on those on sentences of less than 12 months if only the Government would let them. They were never asked to do so by this Justice Secretary. Instead, he would rather trust G4S, Serco and the like. In fact, some probation trusts already work with the most prolific offenders in this group, even though they do not get the money to do so. They just see it as the right thing to do.

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Instead of abolishing probation trusts, why will the Government not give them the chance to prove their mettle with those on short sentences? Why has the Justice Secretary decided that the existing local structures, which have a proven track record in reducing reoffending, are to be ignored in favour of organisations with no track record in this area? Why have probation trusts been barred from bidding for the contracts to supervise low and medium-risk offenders?

Before I conclude, I need to address the issue of payment by results. The Justice Secretary is pretty good at briefing journalists that his reform of probation will mean that private companies will be paid only if they rehabilitate offenders. Who would not be in favour of a system that pays private companies only by result? However, the Justice Secretary does not brief journalists with the small print. We have absolutely no idea what percentage of the contract payment will be dependent on results—and neither does the Justice Secretary.

I want the House to be clear about what we do and do not support. We support attempts to reduce reoffending. We support extending supervision to those in custody for less than 12 months. We support attempts at through-the-gate support for those leaving prison. We will only support policies that are grounded in evidence of what works and that will not put the public at risk. We cannot afford to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system with ideological leaps in the dark that could risk public safety.

It is mendacious of the Justice Secretary to attack those who do not subscribe to his particular approach as being in favour of the status quo. The “you’re either with me or against me” approach does not wash. We do not subscribe to the Justice Secretary being judge and jury about what works without waiting for any evidence. We do not support him ignoring experts whose knowledge in this area is at a level he will never be able to match. Placing tabloid headlines ahead of what really works is a dangerous game.

If our reasoned amendment fails, we will table amendments in Committee and on Report to try to address the very serious concerns of experts in the field. We believe it is possible to work with the public, private and voluntary sectors, and that it is possible to reduce offending without taking a risk with public safety.

5.40 pm

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): There should be no disagreement about the key objectives and features of the Bill in respect of through-the-gate supervision. However, there is plenty of scope for disagreement and concern over the mechanisms that the Government are setting up, the timings and the unlimited nature of the Bill. That is a consequence of the fact that they have readily available legislation upon which to build this structure, which was passed by the previous Government.

The Justice Committee will tomorrow take further evidence from organisations and individuals with expertise in this field because it is considering the implications of the probation changes. Further evidence sessions are planned. I do not want to prejudge the Committee’s conclusions. Several members of the Committee are present for this debate. However, I will convey to the House some of the concerns that the Committee has expressed on previous occasions that are relevant to the Bill.

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Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD) rose

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab) rose

Sir Alan Beith: I give way first to my hon. Friend.

Roger Williams: When my right hon. Friend takes evidence, will he focus on rural issues, because dividing the service between high risk cases and medium and low risk cases might make it uneconomic to deliver because the number of offenders in rural areas is so low?

Sir Alan Beith: My hon. Friend would be surprised if I did not take rural issues into account, given that I represent the most sparsely populated areas of England.

I give way to the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), who is a member of my Select Committee.

Jeremy Corbyn: I look forward to the evidence session tomorrow morning. Would it not be far better if the Secretary of State delayed further consideration of this proposal until after our Committee has examined the issue and produced a proper report on it so that there is an evidence base for the legislation?

Sir Alan Beith: It is our intention to report quickly on these aspects of the probation changes. There has been a considerable delay since the Bill completed its passage through the Lords, as was referred to by the shadow Secretary of State. Although the process for implementing the Government’s changes is fairly rapid, the consideration of the Bill has been relatively leisurely by parliamentary standards. It is my intention that the Select Committee will still influence the shape of what emerges.

When the Justice Committee reported on the probation service in 2011, we said that a more seamless, through-the-gate approach to dealing with offenders was vital and that less of a probation officer’s time should be wasted on bureaucratic processes that do not involve direct engagement with offenders. We saw potential in payment by results, but some dangers as well.

We also wanted something that the Government do not intend to give us, which is local commissioning. That would enable decisions about what is provided to be taken in the context of local circumstances so that we no longer have the absurd position whereby prison is a nationally provided free good, in that it does not engage local authorities through the provision of any expenditure. It is a national expenditure, whereas almost all other kinds of provision have to be financed and funded locally.

The Justice Committee reported earlier this year on women offenders. I welcome clause 11, which relates to the concern expressed in our report that the system was designed to meet the needs of male offenders and must make appropriate provision for women offenders. The argument is not that women who commit criminal offences are less guilty than men who commit criminal offences, but that the circumstances that generate the offences committed by women and the means by which women can be guided towards not committing further offences are often different. That is another area in which we have given advice that is relevant to the Bill.

There are some important questions about the Bill and the structure of the probation service that will be necessary to support it that must be considered. The

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first is whether there is a market out there. Are there enough potential providers that could take on the contracts and that could engage, as is necessary, with the wide range of charities, voluntary organisations and other bodies in which there is expertise?




I heard a reference from the Labour Benches to G4S and Serco, and the contracts of both those companies, which were brought about under the previous Government, are now the subject of serious fraud inquiries. One implication of that is that a number of companies may effectively be excluded from the bidding process. We must await the outcome of the inquiries as we cannot reach conclusions at this stage, but even were the process still going on, it would exclude at least two major companies working in that field.

Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab): In view of those allegations, does the right hon. Gentleman think it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to withdraw or suspend those companies from the bidding process until the matters are resolved? So far he has refused to do that.

Sir Alan Beith: There are complex legal reasons that I will not try and go into now, but I cannot imagine that this House would want a company that is currently the subject of a serious criminal investigation to be awarded a criminal justice contract. Both companies, of course, have contracts in criminal justice in other areas of activity or other parts of government, and they have perfectly satisfactory ratings on some of those. It is a difficult issue to deal with.

John McDonnell: As the right hon. Gentleman said, we should be clear about satisfactory ratings. He should refer to the press this morning because G4S has been referred for prosecution as a result of the forgery of documents that allowed the deportation of a prisoner.

Sir Alan Beith: I think I have made myself clear about what view the House would take if a company that was the subject of a serious fraud inquiry were to be awarded a bid in those circumstances. I do not think Ministers are in any doubt on that point.

My point about the market was generally much wider because we must take proper account of whether the Department has the capacity to manage that market. Indeed, it has been said on at least one occasion that the Department wants to draw new entrants into the market and cultivate new capacity, but has it got the capacity to do that? We must consider that important question.

On finance and timing, the Government have not made publicly available any assessment of the financial risk of not delivering the programme to the agreed time scale, quality or cost. The risk register apparently suggests there is a 51% to 80% risk that the reforms will fail to deliver the promised scale of savings.

Sadiq Khan: Will the right hon. Gentleman ask to see the risk register from the Ministry of Justice, bearing in mind the important report he is preparing?

Sir Alan Beith: We may do, but I expect to get the same answer as we would have got from the previous Government.

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Sadiq Khan rose

Sir Alan Beith: I think the right hon. Gentleman has made his point and I have given my response. The Ministry of Justice has not provided an indication of how much it would additionally need to save to afford the cost of implementing the proposals, or said how quickly those savings would be realised. That puts my Committee in a difficult position when assessing the viability of the proposals.

There are also difficulties of risk management. The public probation service will have to assure itself about the risk management of up to 200,000 offenders for whom it has no direct responsibility, and we will need to ask many questions about how information will be passed between the public probation service, the police, and private sector providers. At the moment, transfer of information is relatively easy, but under the proposed arrangements it will become more complex and difficult. I hope the Minister will say something about that. That also affects other areas. I had a discussion with a victim liaison officer who is concerned about how far information of the kind she is able to get now will flow when reassuring victims about restrictions being placed on an offender, and whether that information will come so readily through the system the Government propose.

There are key confidence issues about how the proposals can be made to work. There is a confidence issue for the police on sharing intelligence. If police officers feel inhibited about sharing intelligence with the provider of these vital services, the effectiveness of the whole process will be impaired. There is a confidence issue for magistrates when considering how they can rely on a community sentence—a significant part of the Bill is on community sentences. We want magistrates to be able to pass community sentences confident in the knowledge that they will be carried out effectively. There is a confidence issue for those who deal with victims and, currently, for probation office staff, who are uncertain as to where they will end up. If they take no definite action to locate themselves in the new system, will they finish up in the public probation service or the private sector? Which way should they go if they want the opportunity to exercise their skills?

Guy Opperman: I echo the concerns the Chairman of the Justice Committee outlines and accept their validity, but the idea that there is no example of partnership between charitable organisations and the police is surely negated by the St Giles Trust—the Committee has looked at the trust in great detail. The trust is a charitable sector organisation that works throughout people’s time in prison and outside in partnership with the prison, probation and all other services. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the St Giles Trust is a good example of how things can be done?

Sir Alan Beith: There are plenty of good examples—my Committee has looked at a number of them—but no one should start from the presumption that the existing system is the only way of managing prolific and frequent offenders. On the contrary, the reoffending figures should tell us that we must do something differently. We must harness the talents that exist in the charity and voluntary sectors, which may also exist in the private sector.

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Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Alan Beith: No, I will conclude because many hon. Members wish to speak.

Elements of the Bill will provide the opportunity to realise the Justice Committee’s vision of how we can reduce crime through more effective use of taxpayers’ money. Currently, we waste taxpayers’ money in not dealing effectively with reoffending. That must change. However, there are significant risks in the pace at which the Government intend to implement the programme. We must ask questions about that, and my Committee will do so.

5.52 pm

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): Despite what the Justice Secretary tried to argue at the beginning of his speech, the Bill is part of a wider programme that changes probation services as well as how the offenders with which they deal are handled. As such, it is important to understand the background of the Bill in order to understand its intent, the provisions and the wider programme.

To do that, it is necessary to look at the policy routes of the consultation reports that precede the Bill. The coalition’s first criminal justice consultation—“Breaking the Cycle”—was in December 2010. It promised to open up probation services to the market. The second report, of July 2011, proposed six new pilots of a payment-by-results method and at the same time pledged not a comprehensive rehabilitation strategy for offenders, nor a comprehensive reoffending rates reduction strategy, but a

“a comprehensive competition strategy for…probation services”.

There is an obsession with the market, competition and privatisation. This is not the means to an end; it is the end. It is the purpose of the Justice Secretary’s programme—that and perhaps burnishing his credentials with the wilder right-wing of the Conservative party for the future.

If the policy end was to reduce reoffending rates for short-term prisoners, the means are in place—probation trusts, which have been responsible for overseeing falling reoffending rates for those they have supervised for 13 years.

Rehman Chishti: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

John Healey: I will finish my point and then give way.

If the end or purpose of the policy was better value for taxpayers without compromising professional standards or public safety, the means are in place with probation trusts, which have made savings of around 20% over the past five years and helped to reduce crime rates and maintain protection for the public.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

John Healey: I will give way to the Minister and then to the hon. Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti).

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Jeremy Wright: I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument closely. He was a member of the Government who passed the Offender Management Act 2007. If, as is his contention, the previous Government believed that probation trusts could do all those things themselves, why did the Act allow for competition? Why did it not prescribe that all probation work should always be done by probation trusts?

John Healey: The Minister was in the Chamber for the Opposition day debate last week and will have heard my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who was the Minister responsible for the 2007 Act. In July 2007, he mentioned

“trusts remaining public-sector based and delivering services at a local level”.—[Official Report, 18 July 2007; Vol. 463, c. 354.]

Essentially, the 2007 Act was not about abolishing local probation trusts, nor about trying to commission services from the centre from a desk in Whitehall; it was about using local partnerships and local professional expertise to secure the best mix of support that offenders needed and that the public required to keep them safe and protected from harm.

Rehman Chishti: I infer that the right hon. Gentleman would agree with rehabilitation being the end product. A key element of the Bill on rehabilitation and reoffending is clauses 12 and 13. Compulsory drug testing for class B drugs expands existing provisions, and clause 13 introduces compulsory attendance at appointments on licence for drug treatment and testing, which did not exist before. The key part is helping people who need help. The ones who are addicted to drugs are the ones who continue to go in and out of the criminal system. Clauses 12 and 13 deal with rehabilitation on that basis, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will at least agree with me that those clauses are the right way forward.

John Healey: There are some useful provisions in the Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) has said that the Opposition do not object to some of the Bill. Additional requirements as part of supervision orders are sensible. Extending the supervision requirement to those who are released from custody after short-term sentences is sensible. My argument is that the legislation is part of a wider programme, the policy purpose of which lacks evidence and justification, but not the ideology that drives the Justice Secretary. That purpose—that end—is the privatisation of our probation services. It is not about the means to a better probation service or better protection for the public.

Let me develop my argument. I have mentioned the first and second coalition consultation reports. To be fair, the third report—“Punishment and Reform: Effective Probation Services”—which was published in March 2012, restated the intent to open up the market for the supervision of low-risk offenders. However, it also proposed a stronger role for probation trusts and a stronger emphasis on partnership working. The report states:

“We intend that there will be a stronger role for public sector Probation Trusts as commissioners of competed probation services…We will devolve to Probation Trusts the budget for community offender services”.

At that time, the Government said:

“Trusts are best placed to work with courts and with local partners to design and commission services jointly…We will

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support the joint commissioning of services for offenders between probation and key partners such as local authorities, health and the police.”

Andy McDonald: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the current proposals run the risk of dispensing with excellent services in the not-for-profit sector, which Government Members say they want to preserve? Will the proposals not leave that door open, because such charitable organisations do not have the critical mass to enable them to bid for the contracts or withstand a payment-by-results mechanism?

John Healey: My hon. Friend is right. One of the real worries about this so-called reform programme is that it borrows from the Work programme, which the Justice Secretary introduced when he was Minister of State for Employment. Frankly, many of the failures, flaws and potential fraud in the Work programme could be replicated in our probation service.

Returning to probation trusts, I quoted from the March 2012 consultation report. What has changed since then? The Justice Secretary has changed. He has stopped the pilots; he has added medium-risk offenders who have served a custodial sentence, and those on community sentences and suspended sentences, to the list of offenders who will be handed over to the private sector; and he has issued the invitation to contract for £450 million of services before the Bill has even had its Second reading in this House. There has been no testing, no costing, no evidence to support such sweeping changes and no backing from any serious professional probation voices.

Clause 1 was inserted by the Lords as a vote of no confidence in the case that the Justice Secretary has been making. That was not a party political move, as it was led by Cross Benchers and a former chief inspector of prisons. Clause 1 was introduced and approved because there are still too many doubts about the Bill and the programme of privatisation—doubts about the viability, accountability, affordability and safety of services under a new, largely privatised system. How much will it cost? How much will it save? How will it be more effective? How will it reduce reoffending? How great will the risk be in putting serious offenders in the hands of private companies? How much money will be offered up front? How much will be held back and paid via payment by results? How will the repeated failures of the Work programme be avoided? How will the fiasco and fraud we have seen before be avoided in the Ministry of Justice’s management of contracts?

To justify the proposed legislation, the Justice Secretary has to address those concerns, and he has not. He has to be able to demonstrate that his plans are better than building on what is already in place. He cannot do that because all 35 probation trusts in England and Wales have been independently judged either good or excellent. All 35 probation trusts are hitting all the targets they have been set. Reoffending rates for those under their supervision have been falling every year for more than a decade. Imagine the credit the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government would take if all local authority children’s services were judged good or excellent. Imagine the purring pleasure of the Secretary of State for Education if all schools were judged good or excellent. Imagine the huge relief of the Secretary of State for Health if all hospitals were judged good or

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excellent. No other part of the public sector performs so consistently, and to such a high professional standard, as the probation service.

Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): I am listening carefully to the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. Is he suggesting that none of the 35 probation trusts should apply for mutual status, which would allow them to carry on their important work? Is he advising against that?

John Healey: That is a red herring. Unbelievably, probation trusts are prevented from putting forward proposals to bid for contracts to do the job they have proved they can do so well. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman comes across to south Yorkshire and looks at our probation trust, which is one of the best-performing trusts in the country. In the past five years, it has been top-ranked almost every year in reducing reoffending.

Sadiq Khan: I have been to south Yorkshire and, with the excellent police and crime commissioner, visited various projects that are examples of the probation trust competing with local charities to get the best possible project to rehabilitate offenders. What does my right hon. Friend think the probation trust would say if it was told, “We can guarantee seven to 10 years of funding, with a three-year contract extension, if you are allowed to bid for this contract”? What does he think its response would be if it was allowed to bid for the contract that the Government will allow G4S, Serco and Uncle Tom Cobleigh to bid for?

John Healey: My right hon. Friend raises an interesting point. Probation trusts want to do the work they already do, including with offenders who serve custodial sentences of less than 12 months. They require all their officers to be qualified to work with medium-risk offenders—the group the Government want to put out to the private sector—which is one reason why the results for reduction in reoffending have been so good in the past five years. I see no reason why probation trusts should not be able to bid to provide the service my right hon. Friend talked about. Ministers say, with a sweep of the hand, “They cannot possibly deal with the uncertainty of payment by results,” but that is not the case.

Jeremy Wright rose

John Healey: Let us hear from the Minister why probation trusts should not be allowed to bid under their own terms for the work he wants to put out to contract.

Jeremy Wright: I think the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what the answer is. A probation trust, as a wholly public body, cannot compete under a payment-by-results system, because that would put public money at risk. Of course he understands that.

John Healey: That is absolute nonsense. Public bodies, like local authorities, have reserves to deal with uncertainties. Why does the Minister not take a look at the legislation passed by his Government on local authority funding, which is based increasingly on business rates and contains

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an element of risk? Good, prudent public authorities can manage those risks, and there is no reason why probation trusts should not be able to bid for this work and do it as well as they do the work with the offenders they are already responsible for supervising.

Kate Green: Does my right hon. Friend agree that what the Minister has just said is Kafkaesque? The Minister is saying that he would rather contract out, with risk, to unproven private companies than retain in-house quality services without risk.

John Healey: To which I might add that the probation trusts have a proven track record—certainly in south Yorkshire—of dealing with the group the Minister is rightly most concerned about: offenders who have served less than 12 months in custody. That work is already done in south Yorkshire by the probation trust, with multi-agency teams including the police, drug workers and housing officers. The Justice Secretary’s plans will split up those cases and break the relationships on which such excellent work is dependent and currently undertaken.

Sadiq Khan: I am terribly sorry to intervene again. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concept of justice reinvestment? Manchester probation trust, for example, has excellent intensive alternatives to custody, and rather than being used to pay dividends to shareholders, the savings that are made are reinvested in other schemes that reduce reoffending even more. This is an example of a win-win situation, with public sector experts reducing reoffending and the money saved going to projects that reduce reoffending even more.

John Healey: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I was not aware of that. He is an excellent shadow Justice Secretary, and I am interested to hear what he says about Greater Manchester. I suspect that the point is the same with regard to south Yorkshire: the Government’s proposed changes are all about taking on the extra work that is already being done effectively. Many of the 35 probation trusts are now saying, “Give us the challenge and the opportunity to do this extra work and we will do it without the extra cost.” I ask the Minister: why destroy this local probation service, which the combination of privatisation and the Bill will do? Why dismantle the working relationships in place with partner agencies? Why privatise out of existence the people with the proven expertise and dedication to help the short-sentence offenders, whom he, in the Bill, rightly wants to support? Why run the terrible risk to the safety of the public with these changes?

The risk that Ministers talk about does not relate simply to the original crime committed. With these offenders, the risk changes, often rapidly and in response to personal circumstances—their stopping taking medication, breaking up with a partner, or suddenly falling into a circle of old friends and bad habits. Last year, one in four offenders moved, one way or the other, between the high and medium-risk categories. They are exactly the group that the Government want to see moving between the public and the private sectors—between the probation service and the contracted services. These individuals are likely to yo-yo between agencies, which will result in extra cost, paperwork and risk. The chief inspector of probation said:

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“Any lack of contractual or operational clarity between the public and private sector providers will, in our view, lead to systemic failure and an increased risk to the public.”

In other words, there will be increased risk as a direct result of the Bill.

I turn briefly to parts 2 and 3 of the Bill. Like my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State, I broadly support some of the provisions in part 2, including the ones that seek to reduce the reoffending rate among those who serve less than 12 months in custody, for whom the probation trusts do not have supervisory responsibility at the moment. That reoffending rate is around 60%. It is too high and the Government are right to want to tackle it, but this could have consequences for a rising prison population. First, the courts might well choose to make more use of short custodial sentences with this extra 12 months’ supervision added by the Bill. Secondly, if the new licence conditions available under the Bill are too tight, more people might breach them and be sent back to custody. The Justice Secretary has not answered, and cannot answer, such concerns—as he cannot the other concerns—because he will not test his plans in practice.

Finally, I turn to the amendment of the definition of “responsible officer” in part 3. It is being made so that the staff of private companies or charities can do the job that probation officers currently do. I wish to put on the record the words of a probation officer from Rotherham who can describe more forcefully and eloquently than I can how complex and tough this work is—it does not simply comprise a set of tick-box tasks. I received an e-mail late last night from this probation officer explaining that they and their colleagues averaged up to 60 cases in their case load. Typically, one third of their clients will be in custody, half a dozen or so will be high-risk and the others will be deemed low or medium-risk—exactly the group Ministers want to transfer to private contractors. They wrote:

“The job is one of constant juggling demands brought about by working with individuals who lead often chaotic lives. IT systems regularly freeze or crash… Another key service we provide is detailed reports to the Courts and Parole Board to aid sentencing and release considerations.”

I have not heard a word about such considerations from the Justice Secretary. They continued:

“Staff routinely work through their lunch breaks to ensure that work is completed in a timely manner and to exacting professional standards. Staff are known to work late”


“come in at weekends on a regular basis. This is true dedication and professionalism.”

The probation officer described a recent case:

“I arrive at the office at 8.00 completing administrative tasks. I have arranged to see my first case at 8.30 so as not to impact on the individuals work commitments. 9.30 I interview a person for a Court Report. I have not been supplied with the details of the offence by the crown Prosecution Service despite numerous attempts. I contact the individual’s solicitor who because they have respect and trust in the publicly run probation service sends me a fax copy of the documents. The individual…is distressed”


“discloses that they have a…plan to end their life… The pressing matter is to stabilise this person. I contact my colleagues in the Criminal Justice mental health liaison team. They arrange to see the person immediately after my interview with them. I contact a housing organisation with expertise in debt issues. They establish phone contact with that person later on in the day and arrange to

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see them the following day. My role is not just about undertaking the bare minimum but trying to assist people from the first point of contact regain control over their lives. In this case the individual was not classed as being a client of our service as they were awaiting sentence.”

This probation officer highlighted one other case concerning exactly the category of offender who will be put in the hands of private companies under the contracting and privatisation provisions:

“In another case the individual is being supervised for an offence of driving whilst disqualified…for drunk driving. He is assessed as presenting a low medium risk of harm, as there have been previous concerns relating to domestic abuse. In one incident he returned home intoxicated by alcohol and proceed to put his steel toe cap boots on and kick the family dogs to death in front of his young children. I become increasingly concerned about his behaviour. He informs me that he has missed an appointment with me because he had to take his 4 year old son”

to hospital

“with a broken collar bone”

that he said was the result of an accident. The probation officer had seen the “over-chastisement” of the child when the offender had come to the office the previous week. They continue:

“I share my concerns with social services. I begin to receive regular incident bulletins from the police of incidents they have been called to but no evidence of violence used. I assess his risk to be high. Eventually after his partner receives treatment for 3rd degree burns to her back, which are explained as accidental. Social services intervene. During this process I have been undertaking work behind the scenes to promote the safety of the child and partner”

while also

“undertaking work…with the client to challenge his behaviour and attitudes to alcohol.”

Probation officers deal with people who are often chaotic, volatile and vulnerable, and whose lives are constantly shifting; and these probation officers constantly have to juggle their priorities. Private companies will not have close relations with, or the confidence of, other agencies. Their staff will not go that extra mile, but will be under pressure to do the bare minimum.

Gareth Johnson: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

John Healey: I want to finish on this point, because other Members want to speak. The hon. Gentleman could have intervened earlier, but he did not.

At the end of his speech, the Justice Secretary talked about common sense. Common sense says: pilot these changes, pilot the provisions in the Bill and pull the proposed privatisation programme. To do otherwise would be totally unjustified; it would run a reckless risk with the lives of vulnerable offenders to whom we owe a duty of supervision, and a reckless risk with the safety of the public.

6.18 pm

Gareth Johnson: It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey).

As a practising solicitor, I accept that a very good relationship exists between the probation service and defence solicitors, for example—I have been privy to that on many occasions—but it would be wrong to suggest that a very good relationship does not also exist between defence solicitors and private companies, such

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as Serco, which often run the jailing operations within our magistrates courts. I submit that, yes, there is a very good relationship between the probation service and other organisations, but there is no reason on God’s earth why there cannot also be a very good relationship between private companies and other organisations.

I want to move on to the meat of the debate. The current system of tackling reoffending is not working, and we all need to accept that it requires fundamental change. The reforms represent one of the most important and effective developments in the drive to reduce reoffending that we have seen in this country. It has been fundamentally wrong to leave those on short-term sentences without support for so long, and I am delighted that we will see changes in that area. For years, people have claimed that short terms of imprisonment do not work, and they have held up reoffending rates as proof of that assertion. The reality, however, is that short terms of imprisonment can work, but they are less effective if there is no support for the prisoner on release.

The probation service does some fantastic work. I have worked with it on many occasions and observed at first hand its dedication to the job. Its members work particularly hard to try to rehabilitate offenders, whom they refer to as clients. They do all that they can to ensure that those individuals are rehabilitated back into society. That does not mean, however, that they are the only people who can help to reduce offending, and it is right that we are going to open up this work to others, bring in other expertise and allow other people to assist in the battle against reoffending.

Julian Sturdy (York Outer) (Con): I pay tribute to the probation service in my patch, in York and North Yorkshire. Is it not right to ensure that the expertise and skills in the existing probation service are fed into and used in any new system that we put in place?

Gareth Johnson: My hon. Friend makes an important point.

The right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) mentioned the fact that charities were already working hard to help to reduce reoffending. That illustrates the kind of excellent work that is being done by others working with probation officers. No one is trying to remove probation officers from the job of helping offenders. We are trying to enhance the present system to ensure that more people benefit and get the support that they need.

Sadiq Khan: At the moment, the local probation trusts set up the contracts with the charities. Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that, as a consequence of the Government’s plans, it will be the Justice Secretary in Whitehall letting those contracts? The evidence from the Work programme is that big companies get the contracts, rather than the small ones that are doing such a great job locally.

Gareth Johnson: Central Government are trying to help probation officers to create mutuals. They are working with the Cabinet Office to ensure that they can bid for the contracts, so that they can continue to provide the assistance that they now give. What is

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missing from the Opposition’s argument is the fact that the changes will enable us to help 50,000 more people. Surely, we should all be proud of that.

Kate Green: The Greater Manchester probation trust has been highly innovative in developing programmes with the private and voluntary sectors, and it has developed a successful programme called Achieve, which involves getting offenders back into employment. It has scored much higher outcomes than the Work programme. Can the hon. Gentleman explain why the trust, having prepared to take that programme forward and to bid for one of the new contracts in a mutual, co-operative structure, was told that it would not be allowed to do so?

Gareth Johnson: It is above my pay grade to give information on why a probation trust has been refused a contract. I find it heartening, however, that so many of the examples given by Opposition Members involve charities and other organisations outside the probation service working successfully with offenders. I welcome the fact that the Bill will roll out that programme to ensure that more people get that kind of assistance.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Is it not true that whoever works with offenders, whether they are from a private company or a trust, will have to be qualified and prove that they can do the job?

Gareth Johnson: It is highly unlikely that the Ministry of Justice would give any kind of contract to an organisation that it did not regard as fit and proper to provide those services.

I repeat that charities and private sector organisations are already involved with administering some unpaid work requirements and drug treatment orders. This can, and often does, work extremely well, and we should certainly not turn our back on it. I fear, however, that the genuine help that charities and private organisations can provide will not be made available if the instinctive rejection of the private sector by some Members results in the Bill being voted down. Some Members oppose the Bill simply because they do not want the private sector to become involved in state affairs, regardless of whether that would reduce crime.

Let us not lose sight of the central argument: the public are screaming out for less crime. I believe that the Bill will achieve that. It matters not to a burglary victim whether the perpetrator is helped to stop offending by an organisation in the private sector, the charity sector or the public sector. What matters to that victim of crime is that there should be less crime, and that they will not be the victim of further offending.

Mike Wood (Batley and Spen) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman suggests that the public are crying out for a reduction in crime. Will he tell us by how much serious crime has been reduced in the past 20 years?

Gareth Johnson: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, since this Government took over, we have seen a reduction in crime of some 10%. We should be proud of that. We have achieved that through Government initiatives as well as through initiatives involving the police and, yes, the probation service, but there is so much more that could be done, particularly for those serving short sentences.

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Prisoners who serve sentences of under 12 months are the most likely ones to reoffend and push up the crime rates, and we must use that knowledge to ensure that we reduce crime by supporting those people. The Bill will help that to happen.

The probation service is good at what it does, but it does not have a monopoly on wisdom in tackling reoffending. We have heard some rash statements today to the effect that the changes will jeopardise the safety of the public and put them at risk, but it is the current system that puts the public at risk, not our reforms. Under the Bill, the causes of lower-level and more serious offending will be tackled for the first time. Tackling the causes of crime will lead to the success of the measures.

It makes complete sense to give private providers the opportunity to help to reduce reoffending and, if they succeed, to reward them financially. It makes sense to ask the taxpayer to pay for what works, rather than for what does not. Payment by results is hardly a new concept. Tendering out has taken place right across the public sector for years, and there is no evidence to suggest that it has not worked in the criminal justice system. I see no reason why the tendering out of these services should not be a success.

The Opposition have said that they support the supervision of short-term offenders, but they also say that they do not support fundamental reform of the probation service. I cannot see how those two statements can be reconciled. How can we help 50,000 new offenders simply by asking the probation trusts to take on a few more clients? That simply would not work. The Opposition’s stance of supporting extra help for many prisoners without making changes to the system simply does not stand up to scrutiny.

The changes will help some of those who are in the greatest need of help—the perpetual reoffenders who appear before the courts again and again. I am not suggesting that it will be easy for any contractor to help those people, but it is absolutely right that they should try. For years, we have worked on the assumption that we could lock someone up for a short period of time and expect that, miraculously, on release, they would not reoffend. We now know, of course, that that theory was completely misplaced, so if we want to tackle reoffending rates, these reforms are not only overdue, but vital.

I maintain that this Bill represents one of the most significant and important provisions that the Government have put forward since I became a Member of Parliament, so I sincerely hope that it will receive its Second Reading.

6.30 pm

Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson). I am sure he will be pleased that he seemed to evoke a range of responses from different parts of the House.

Whether the Justice Secretary likes it or not, we are debating two issues here this evening. First, there is, of course, the Bill itself, whose central aim would, I think, be broadly welcome, although a number of important questions have been raised that the Minister will need to address in his response; I am sure he will. The second issue is the fundamental change to the probation service

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that Justice Ministers are bringing about. It is all very well for the Justice Secretary to say that all this is being done under legislation brought in by the previous Government. He cannot deny that some elements of what he proposes for the probation service relate directly to this legislation, not least to the extension of supervision, which is the principal aim of the Bill.

The link between the two issues has been made explicit in two ways—first, by the amendment tabled by Her Majesty’s Opposition and, secondly, by clause 1, which was thoughtfully introduced by the House of Lords, and under which there should be no reform of probation without the approval of both Houses. I was surprised by the rather dismissive attitude of the Justice Secretary towards clause 1. If, on the one hand, there is growing concern among those who lead and deliver the probation service, the police and crime commissioners and many others, while on the other hand Ministers have real conviction that their approach will work, what does the Justice Secretary have to be afraid of? If he cannot put his proposals with confidence to both Houses, subject them to scrutiny and gain an affirmative vote from both Houses, he should not be bringing these proposals before us at all. If he is so convinced that his proposals will be so successful, he should get behind clause 1 and be supportive of it.

We have a conscientious prisons Minister, but in truth Ministers must be becoming increasingly concerned about the implications of the scale of the reforms they are seeking to introduce. They know that their proposals are unpopular; they know that there is widespread concern about the changes they want to make; and, frankly, they are running out of road. This headlong rush to introduce a wholesale change to probation has to be achieved within a year’s time in order to fit the political timetable of getting it done before the general election. Frankly, I think this is a recipe for a car crash; even now, I would urge Ministers to reflect further on that.

Opposition Members are not the only ones making this point. As I have mentioned and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan) mentioned in his speech, senior representatives of the probation service are making it clear that these changes could bring about a major threat to public safety. There are serious concerns, too, about this false separation between low and medium-risk offenders on the one hand and high-risk offenders on the other. That flies in the face of the professional experience of those who deliver the probation service. We know that risk is dynamic—it changes over time and there has to be a way of managing it—but it seems to me that the Government’s proposals do not cater for that level of dynamic risk.

It is interesting and instructive to look at the figures put out over the weekend by the Justice Secretary himself to justify the changes that he is making. In 2011, according to him, 356 adult offenders released from prison sentences of less than 12 months committed serious violent offences, while 2,482 offenders serving the same term came out and committed serious acquisitive crime, including robberies, which are serious crimes against people. Those are serious crimes carried out by people who sound to me as if they might be—no, must be—high-risk criminals. Unless the Minister is going to correct me, under these proposals, when such individuals come out after serving their short-term sentences of

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less than 12 months, they would be among the low and medium-risk group, not the high-risk group. It looks as if the Minister is going to correct me, so I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

Jeremy Wright: I can help the right hon. Gentleman and correct him on that. When those people are released, they will be subject to a risk assessment by the national probation service, and the NPS will make a judgment as to whether they are high, medium or low-risk offenders—and they will be allocated accordingly.

Paul Goggins: That is reassuring to an extent, but my point is that risk is dynamic—it changes—and that the assessment carried out prior to release might be different from that carried out a month after release or six months after release. There is not the fluidity in the system that would allow the management of that risk among the different groups. That is my point, which I hope the Minister will reflect on further.

Sadiq Khan: My right hon. Friend is an expert in this area. I would like to remind him that the definition of medium risk in the offender assessment system is that

“there are identifiable indicators of risk of serious harm. Offenders may include those sentenced for domestic abuse, violence, sexual offences, possession of firearms. They may be in gangs, have serious mental health problems and/or drug and alcohol problems.”

The Justice Secretary claims to be concerned about the small number of serious offenders with sentences of less than 12 months, but on the other hand he is allowing those sorts of offenders to be “supervised” by the likes of G4S, Serco and Uncle Tom Cobleigh.

Paul Goggins: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. The truth is, of course, that because the Justice Secretary started with a model of how he wants effectively to privatise 70% of what the probation service currently delivers, he has to squeeze all that risk into that larger majority of the work. This top-down model simply will not relate to or reflect the kind of risks that many offenders pose.

John McDonnell: The point made by probation officers —my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) identified it, too—is the issue of professionalism in identifying the trigger that takes place and pushes the risks to a higher level, even from those on shorter sentences.

Paul Goggins: I agree with my hon. Friend, who is a great expert on this issue. I am happy to admit that he and I have not always agreed on every point about probation over the years, but he well understands that service, what happens on the front line and the difficult judgments and assessments that probation officers have to make when faced with people who can often be dangerous and difficult in the context of the chaotic lives that many of them lead. I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention.

Reference has been made to the concerns of police and crime commissioners. This is interesting, because these are the new people elected under this Government’s reforms, yet they, too, are expressing concerns. They are doing so because they understand the importance of

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local partnerships for reducing crime and managing offenders. They are deeply worried that this Government’s proposals will erode those relationships, weaken them and put public safety at risk. That is why they are expressing their concerns.

Another major issue is that two of the major private sector providers, which are the most likely bidders for the work on offer from the Ministry of Justice—G4S and Serco—are under criminal investigation, following allegations of their over-charging for services that they are already contracted to provide for the MOJ. I give credit to the Justice Secretary, because when he found out about this, he came to the House to make a statement and has taken appropriate action since then. I commend him for that, but the implication of his robust approach is that these two companies should be sidelined from the process of contract allocation at this stage. I say that not as someone who is ideologically opposed to the private sector having a role in this sphere—quite the reverse.

Mr Burrowes: What the right hon. Gentleman has just said prompts me to suggest that it is important to have a sense of proportion. It is true that an investigation is taking place in relation to G4S and Serco, but both the right hon. Gentleman and I are firm advocates of restorative justice, and G4S has done great work in that regard at, for example, Altcourse prison near Liverpool. The 70,000 G4S employees who are involved in the programme there are likely to be concerned about their own future, but many of them are working extremely hard to provide support and rehabilitation, and, not least, restorative justice.

Paul Goggins: The hon. Gentleman and I have discussed those issues in Committee and in the Chamber, and I know that he speaks genuinely, but the crucial question relates to who commissions the service. If a local probation trust that understands the local need asks G4S to do the job, fair enough, but that is not what is on offer in this instance. What is on offer is that the Ministry of Justice down here in Whitehall will decide which private sector organisation should do the job, whether it be in Greater Manchester, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, or elsewhere. That is what concerns me.

As I was about to say, I am not ideologically opposed to the provision of a role for the private sector. During the recent Opposition day debate, I referred to a report from Lord Carter of Coles which advocated greater contestability and a greater diversity of providers. I supported that report, and I still support it. I think that good work can come from the public sector, the private sector and the voluntary sector. What I am critical of is the straitjacket approach that the Secretary of State is imposing on the whole probation service.

Members in all parts of the House have already raised a number of important questions, even before we have dealt with the question of the untested payment-by-results model that the Secretary of State seeks to impose. I support innovation in the criminal justice system. We should be determined to lower reoffending rates, and we should be looking for new ideas in that regard. The Peterborough and Doncaster pilots are interesting pilots, but that is all that they are: interesting pilots. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) noted from a sedentary

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position earlier, they are voluntary. Only two thirds of those who are eligible to take part in them actually do so, and they are likely to be more motivated than others when it comes to cutting risks, stopping offending, and getting back on to the straight and narrow.

The Secretary of State has said that the results of the pilots so far are very encouraging, and we should take account of that, but I urge Ministers also to listen to the critics and experts who say “Let us be a little more cautious before jumping to national conclusions based on two local, voluntary pilots”—especially because those who have served short sentences often have the most chaotic lifestyles, are the most likely not to have jobs or homes, and are the most likely to reoffend. They are the most challenging group.

My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) made an interesting and wise observation earlier when, in an intervention, he spoke of the role of the voluntary sector in a payment-by-results system. Such a system ought to present an opportunity to voluntary organisations, but the danger is—and I have heard this fear expressed—that the context and culture of payment by results will deter and undermine the many voluntary organisations that are doing great work in helping to turn people’s lives around, and they will lose a role rather than gaining one.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting pointed out earlier, the Secretary of State has form when it comes to payment by results. I have looked at the latest payment-by-results figures relating to the Work programme. The September figures confirm that, even now, the system is not meeting even the minimum expectations of the Department for Work and Pensions. Indeed, three providers have already been penalised for poor performance.

It is instructive to look at what the Work programme has been doing for offenders, which is highly relevant to today’s debate. Of the 19,800 offenders who were released in 2012 and referred to the programme, only 360 had been found a job by June this year. I think that Ministers should be extremely cautious, rather than over-bullish and over-claiming, when it comes to the results of the Work programme and of payment by results.

There are obviously many questions to be answered, and that is before we have dealt with the practical issues of appointing staff, transferring cases, getting the IT up and running, sorting out the offices, renegotiating contracts, and ending existing contracts. All that must be done not in five years, but in five minutes; or, at any rate, in the weeks and months that lie ahead. Serious Ministers—and I include the prisons Minister in that class—should pause to reflect on precisely where things are at the moment. The prisons Minister should do what he has been asked to do—certainly by Labour Members, and, I suspect, by Government Members who have serious concerns—and organise a proper pilot that is properly evaluated. If he is right, that is fine, but if aspects of the model are not correct, he should think again. In other words, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tooting said, he should be led by the evidence and not by ideology.

As I have said, I think that the central ambition of the Bill is a good one, and in principle I support it. I said the same during the Opposition day debate a few days ago, and I was grateful to my right hon. Friend for quoting from my speech earlier. I wanted to implement

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custody plus, and I was frustrated by our inability to introduce it when we were in government, because—for all the reasons that have been given today—the people whom we are discussing are the very people who need help, supervision and support the most. The obstacle was the £194 million a year that it would have cost to introduce custody plus: I am happy to admit that, and to express my frustration about it.

Sadiq Khan: I do not know whether my right hon. Friend is aware that custody plus was still on the statute book until the former Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke)—who knows about finance—removed it via the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. He realised that the cost was exorbitant, whereas the current incumbent clearly does not.

Paul Goggins: Indeed. It is regrettable, in a way, that the Government took custody plus off the statute book rather than trying to build it up, and even work on a cross-party basis.

We are told repeatedly that the cost of supervising the 50,000 offenders who leave prison having served short sentences will be met from the savings generated by the competition that will take place for the rest of the work that has been allocated. I said two weeks ago that I did not believe that, and I say the same today. The maths itself tells the story. The Government propose that the private and voluntary sectors should be given 70% of the current probation work load: that is to be the deal. Some 220,000 offenders are currently being supervised by the probation service; 70% of 220,000 is roughly 150,000—and the private and voluntary sectors must find the resources to supervise another 50,000 on top of that.

When I go to the supermarket, I am used to seeing “Buy three, get one free”, but I am not used to seeing that when it comes to planning and paying for the supervision of some problematic offenders. It just will not wash. Ministers keep saying that they will not give us the figures because the information is commercially confidential and is all to do with competition, but they know that the figures will not add up, and they really ought to come clean about that.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) made an important point about the potential for an unintended consequence in the sentencing of offenders. There is a danger that, as a result of the Bill, more people will be subject to short-term prison sentences and the value of community sentences will be undermined. I am not saying that that is what Ministers intend, but there is a danger of it, and it is spelled out in the impact assessment: Ministers accept that there is a risk of so-called uptariffing—that people will get a more severe sentence than might otherwise have been the case.

We know that there will be 600 extra prison places as a result of the numbers of offenders who will be recalled to prison, but there is a risk of a change in the behaviour of sentencers, too. It is common sense that if a sentencer is being offered a choice between a package of community activity and supervision and, as an alternative, that package plus some prison beforehand, they will be tempted to go for the belt-and-braces approach. I would

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appreciate it if the Minister would tell us in his winding-up speech what discussions he has been having with the magistrates and the Sentencing Council to make sure that we do not see an overuse of short-term custody as a result of his changes, and an undermining of community sentences.

There is also a real risk that certain vulnerable groups will not be helped if the Bill’s provisions are interpreted in, as it were, an automatic way, because that will lead to more supervision and stronger sanctions. A higher proportion of female than male offenders receive a short custodial sentence, and many of them come out of prison to chaotic lives and with abusive relationships to deal with. If things break down, it may not be appropriate for them to go back to prison automatically. That worries me, and I would like the Minister to say more about the flexibility in the system he is introducing, so people do not too automatically go back to prison when their needs are rather different.

Kate Green: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for mentioning women offenders. Does he agree that there is a problem with payment-by-results contracts in that, because there are fewer women offenders and unit costs are therefore higher, and because their needs are often more complex, they are often more expensive to supervise and therefore may be particularly unattractive to private providers?

Paul Goggins: That is a very real concern and I am glad that my hon. Friend has had the chance to put that point on the record and introduce it into the debate. Groups with specific and additional needs—vulnerable female offenders or mentally ill offenders, for instance—will not be an attractive proposition to people who are looking to do things at the lowest possible cost.

Sir Alan Beith: I do not disagree with the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the voluntary sector has done some extraordinarily good work in giving opportunities to women offenders, and if we can integrate what we are talking about here with women’s centres around the country, there is a possibility of real improvement?

Paul Goggins: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, who is an excellent Select Committee Chair. I hope Ministers will still be listening to him and his Committee colleagues when they produce their report following the inquiry they are currently conducting. Many women’s centres are facing cuts at a time when we need them more than ever, so there is a very real difficulty, but I think all the points that have been made about women offenders are well made. I hope Ministers are gradually getting the message that they have to do something specific and different in relation to women offenders.

I mentioned offenders who are mentally ill. The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health have made a very impressive commitment to do more to try to help people with a mental illness who get caught up in the criminal justice system. The national liaison and diversion scheme, which was introduced following a recommendation by our noble Friend Lord Bradley,

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who has done some fantastic work in this area, is very welcome. Again, however, I put it to the Minister that there are real dangers of the policy he is trying to introduce in this Bill running headlong into the more positive policy towards people with mental illness that he and the Department of Health are trying to introduce. Again, I am looking for reassurances about flexibility in the way people with mental illness are treated at the point where consideration may be given to returning them to prison, which might not be the most appropriate thing.

Finally, I have a concern about care leavers. Some young people in care might go into prison as a child and come out as an adult and a care leaver. That could produce additional difficulties, because who will have the prime responsibility? Will it be the private provider of the supervision that comes after a prison sentence, or will it be the local authority which has continuing responsibilities for those who leave care beyond the age of 18?

These are matters of detail, but they are important matters which must be addressed if the Minister is to get this legislation into the best shape possible. Then again, if the Minister does get this Bill into the best shape possible, he still cannot walk away from the context in which he is seeking to deliver it. Even though I agree with the core aim of the proposed legislation, I am deeply worried that introducing it into the turmoil of change that he and the Justice Secretary are planning is a recipe for disaster, and that is why, regrettably, this Bill is unsupportable at this point.

6.55 pm

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Madam Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship for the first time.

I want to pay tribute to the wide experience we have across the House in relation to criminal justice. There are criminal defence solicitor practitioners such as me and my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Gareth Johnson), there is the Justice Committee Chairman, who has served in this House for 40 years, throughout that time championing the cause of rehabilitation, and there is the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), who has a good track-record as a Minister. It is a great shame, however, that we cannot unite cross-party around offender rehabilitation.

Members are saying that they agree, in their different ways, with the principle and substance of this Bill, but we cannot unite on it. Everyone who has been involved in this area, whether as a criminal defence practitioner, a Minister, a Select Committee Chairman or a constituency Member, will know what to make of what the shadow Justice Secretary referred to as an anomaly, which was the closest he got to an apology for the previous Government leaving this huge area unreformed. At long last we have a Government who are making offender rehabilitation the centrepiece of a criminal justice Bill.

Every year Members spend time in this House and in Committee scrutinising yet another criminal justice Bill and putting more offences on the statute book, responding, perhaps, to popular––or populist––demand, but not getting to the crux of the problem, which is offender rehabilitation and sky-high reoffending rates. What a

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shame that we cannot unite today to give a Second Reading to this Bill even though we agree on its main principle, which is tackling short-term sentencing and ensuring that rehabilitation is mandatory.

I pay tribute to the probation service, and many concerns have been expressed on its behalf. I know it well, as representatives of the service have come to see me recently, and I also know from my 20 years as a criminal defence solicitor about the excellent and diligent work done by probation staff. We have heard about the long hours they work, and how they deal with complex cases and issues. They cannot just tick a box to get someone out of the cycle of crime, and probation service staff are willing to go the extra mile and engage with non-criminal justice services to ensure someone gets into work, restores family relationships and addresses all the other areas that we know serve to drive down reoffending.

Although we must ensure that we keep those skills in the service and that the measures in this Bill support that, we must also recognise something we have not heard enough of: what members of the public, both victims and taxpayers, think when they see reoffending rates in respect of short-term sentences of 58%. That is failure. That is 58% service failure, and if any other service or business—although some people do not like talking too much about business—had a 58% product failure rate, people would say, “We have to do something about this.”

This is a catastrophic failure by the previous Government, not merely an anomaly. This is a massive gap in the previous Government’s policy in relation to criminal justice, despite the best efforts of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. Although they put custody plus on the statute book, they failed to implement it and ensure we could provide a better service to our constituents. They are the people who have had to live with and put up with—sometimes as victims—people coming back and repeating crime, as a result of that failure.

It is all very well saying, “We failed because of cost. We don’t have the cost”, but we heard no answers from the Opposition as to what they are going to do about that, apart from making this political point about clause 1. All they could say was, “We tried to put it on the statute book. But we did not do anything about it—we did not implement it—and we could not do it because of cost.” That is not good enough—it is not good enough for all those people are the recipients of that 58% failure rate—and we must do more. Whenever there is a 58% service failure, there is a need for change. There is a need for leadership change, and we have got that, because we now have a Secretary of State who is willing to be bold and radical, and wants to do something about the situation. That is why I applaud the principle of this Bill, which is about offender rehabilitation. However, we also need to change how we do that.

What is the bottom line here? Sadly, we have a dividing line, which is going to become evident at the Division, between those who support the Second Reading and the principle of the Bill—those who say that the status quo is unacceptable—and those on the side of the right hon. Member for Tooting (Sadiq Khan), who says, “The status quo is acceptable. We are just going to have to talk to the probation service.” He is going to talk, but what more? He is saying, in effect, that we

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should sideline this issue of service change for another 18 months and not get on with the job. We can talk about the issues of implementation and about how we need practically to carry out the principle of the Offender Management Act 2007, but why is he wanting to have dividing lines at this stage?

All hon. Members would like to see more mentoring to ensure that people actually get “through the gate”. I understand that 65% of offenders say, “If I had that mentor who took me through the gate, it would have a dramatic effect on my offending.” We cannot just have the status quo. As I mentioned in an intervention, there are cases where the private, voluntary and public sectors provide mentoring, but they are all too infrequent and the mentoring is voluntary, not mandatory. At its heart, the Bill is saying that there will be mandatory supervision, and that is about mentoring. We will not just have the same situation, whereby what people see through the gate is not that mentor who takes them into rehabilitation, but the drug dealer waiting for them, or their mates who are going to get them back into the same cycle of crime. For the sake of these people, we are not going to put up with the status quo tonight.

Sadly, 62% of these offenders will not get into employment after their release, and that status quo is also unacceptable. They are going to go on jobseeker’s allowance, and attempts will be made to get them back into work through the Work programme and other schemes. All too often, they get back into the only career they know, which they have learned all too well in prison: a repeated career in crime. That is not acceptable.

Nor is the status quo acceptable in terms of drug misuse, which, as we all know, is prolific. We know that 64% of prisoners will have taken drugs in the four weeks before going into prison. We can intervene and do all we can in prisons, and good work is going on in rehabilitation wings. RAPt—the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners trust—and other agencies are doing good work trying to ensure that we turn people around in the captive community of prison. However, what we need to do is ensure that when they get out of prison they are released into the hands of drug treatment providers and have the appointment that is going to be mandated in this legislation. That matters greatly and it shows why the status quo is not acceptable for these people, too. Too often, not only are they not getting off drugs, but they are getting more addicted to them in prison. If we cannot sort these people out in prison, we need to do more to ensure that we get them off drugs when they get out.

We have not heard so much about families in this debate, but 200,000 children in England and Wales have a parent in prison. That is extremely significant, as is the fact that at least 40% of these prisoners say that if there was that family support—those visits from family—when they are in prison and, crucially, continued support when they are released, it would have a dramatic effect on whether they reoffend. The status quo is unacceptable not only for the offenders, but for their families—their children. The evidence of intergenerational crime is growing, and for those children it is not acceptable for us to sit and argue around the edges today; we must take a stand and say that the status quo is unacceptable.

I declare an interest as a criminal defence solicitor. In some ways, I have a perverse interest in not voting for the Bill’s Second Reading tonight. In many ways, my

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trade has an interest in this reoffending cycle continuing, my filing cabinet being full, with lots of new clients coming through the system. In many ways, it is not in my interest to vote for Second Reading, but it clearly is because I have a duty to ensure that we do all we can to prevent reoffending. I will be on the side of the public and victims, who want to do more.

We have the framework in the 2007 Act that enables us to put in place the contestability to allow proper rehabilitation. In some ways, what I heard in some of the speeches from Opposition Members is a throwback to the olden days, but if they listened to what their colleagues said many years ago, they would hear very different things. If they had listened to the speeches made by the then Home Secretary in 2006, they would have heard the following words:

“There is only so much that internal reform of the probation service can achieve”.

They would also have heard:

“There is no need for all of these jobs to be done by the same agency…we need to match appropriate skills to appropriate tasks to free up professional probation officers to focus on the most serious criminals in the community.”

Those words were a precursor to the 2007 Act. How things have changed in the Labour Opposition’s rhetoric now; they are certainly going against the principles behind the 2007 Act.

Jenny Chapman (Darlington) (Lab): On that quote from the debate around the 2007 Act, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that those words were aimed at the establishment of probation trusts and not at their abolition, which is what this Bill will lead to?

Mr Burrowes: The quote’s focus is on matching appropriate skills to appropriate tasks. We must ensure that the skills of probation staff are properly matched, not only so that they can deal with serious criminals, but so that we can use the best people around to secure rehabilitation for short-sentence offenders. Of course probation staff are going to be needed. They are going to be in the front line, because they are the experts, to ensure that the new organisations that are working to deliver payment by results are going to do the job. Of course, they are not going to ignore these skills, but we need to focus on how we can match the appropriate skills to the demands we face.

We face new demands, because we have recognised that there is unfinished business here. Dealing with offenders on short sentences is unfinished business that we cannot simply ignore by saying it is a matter of costs. We need to find a way, a model, to deliver rehabilitation to these people. Payment by results has been mentioned, so I will go into a little more detail about that mechanism because I have some experience of it. We should not ignore the value of paying for success. It may provide an opportunity and, indeed, a profit for some companies, but success will be measured by a mechanism of ensuring that offending is reduced, but that has a dramatic effect on people’s lives, on rehabilitating the individual and on the public, the victims and the taxpayer.