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Earl Russell: I thank the Minister for his courtesy and thoroughness in sending me copies of all the new government amendments tabled to the Bill. Since I merely attended, and did not speak at, Second Reading, I regard that as a truly formidable piece of care and observation. I am very much impressed. I also welcome some parts of the Minister's reply. I am pleased to hear that it will be a function of the service to see to the rehabilitation of offenders, but I cannot quite get my mind round the question: how will it be a key function of the service without being one of its aims? It is almost as if the Minister is saying that that is what the service will do when it is sleepwalking. I am sure that that is not his intention, but I do not quite follow the logic of that distinction.
From whichever quarter of the Committee we come, it is agreed that punishment will always be a key part of the system of criminal justice. It is not in dispute that where there is crime there must be punishment, but rehabilitation must always be one of the aims. The ultimate purpose of any attempt to deal with crime is that the person should not do it again, and normally punishment is a key part of that. There is a considerable overlap between the aims of punishment and rehabilitation but there is also a large diversion at the extremes. I had always understood that if, when a court decided whether to use imprisonment or probation, it chose the latter it was giving priority to the aim of rehabilitation because it believed that the chances of achieving it were sufficient to create a degree of optimism. That is a distinction of which any of us who have had any disciplinary power must have been aware in our own lives.
I shall not forget one of my pupils who, while an idle scapegrace, had considerable ability. My colleagues recommended quite stern disciplinary measures. Instead, I told him that I thought him capable of achieving a first if he thought it was worth bothering. My colleagues said that I was quite mad, but the individual in question did so. In that case, giving priority to the aim of rehabilitation had beneficial effects. There are a number of people who become involved in crime with a slightly smaller ration of mens rea than others. With a certain amount of help they can be put back on the straight and narrow, whereas if they
If the aim of probation is not rehabilitation, I do not know what it is. If we say that probation is seen simply as a punishment, a considerable part of the rehabilitative effect is diminished. A great deal of that effect consists specifically of the considered and calculated application of mercy, which Dorothy Sayers describes as the occasional generosity that is like a blow in the face. There are some who will be made to think about it, whereas if they are punished they merely become pigheaded and obstinate, which some people are quite good at. This restatement of the purpose may have the effect of diminishing the effectiveness of the whole service. I hope that the Minister will think again because this is a long Bill and, if we did not need to come back to the matter on Report, it could be in everybody's interest.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful for the interventions of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. In the light of the response of the Minister to all of the amendments, I too am in some difficulty about how the Bill reads. As I understand it, the Government say that it is the function and aim of the service to protect the public but not property, to reduce reoffending and to achieve the proper punishment of offenders, which we all agree is a matter for the courts, and that the supervision of offenders is not a matter for the Probation Service.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Do I understand the noble Baroness to say she does not accept that one function of the Probation Service is the supervision of offenders? Perhaps the noble Baroness will clarify her remarks.
Baroness Blatch: I am repeating what the Government say. The Government say that some things are aims and others are not. I tried to introduce the aim of effective punishment. Following debate, I believe that it is the effective supervision of punishment to which I refer, but that is not deemed to be an aim. The Government do not accept that one aim is to ensure the awareness of offenders of the effects of their crimes on victims and the public. It is not an aim of the Probation Service to educate offenders. I believe that it is preferable for "education" to be subsumed by "rehabilitation" because that is a broader term.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Baroness draws too many inferences from the position she sets out. We want to see effective punishment, education and rehabilitation in the community. We suggest that it is better to define the aims and functions in the Bill in a broader and more generic way. Those matters will have a bearing on the way in which the functions are carried out and how the aims of the service are interpreted. That is the important point which perhaps the noble Baroness overlooks. I do not seek to be
Lord Dholakia: I find it difficult to follow the noble Lord's argument. Does the Minister accept that the National Association of Probation Officers, which looks after the interests of the Probation Service among others, has asked for "rehabilitation" to be stated as one of the aims of the service? What is wrong with including that particular word if the Probation Service itself is comfortable with it?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Rehabilitation is clearly set out in Clause 1 as a function of the service. We see it as an overarching responsibility of the service to achieve rehabilitation. As many Members of the Committee have observed, rehabilitation is part and parcel of ensuring that people do not reoffend and have to be punished in future. Rehabilitation is important, and that is why it is in Clause 1.
Baroness Blatch: I cannot think of anything more broad and generic than "rehabilitation"; it covers so much of what the Probation Service is about. If the aim is ensuring an awareness of the effect of offenders' actions on victims and the public, and education and rehabilitation are not included, why is the protection of the public and the reduction of reoffending to be included? The reduction of reoffending is not nearly so wide as some of the matters that we suggest should go into the Bill. The Government dance on the head of a pin in seeking to produce arguments as to why the public should not be considered alongside property, the effective supervision of punishment and awareness among offenders of the impact of their activities on the public. What the noble Lord says is baffling.
The Minister also said in passing that the Probation Service is not a social work organisation. When I sat in the Minister's seat I made the same argument very strongly but received no support from his colleagues sitting on this side of the Chamber at the time. The fight to keep social work training for probation officers was vigorously fought in this place on all Benches. I lost miserably on that occasion. The argument was that the work of a probation officer was better served by social work rather than Probation Service training which made it central to the criminal justice system.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps the noble Baroness and I are at one on the issue of what is appropriate for training. I am glad that that is the case. My understanding is that the previous government unfortunately cut support for Probation Service training and indeed cut financial support to the Probation Service full stop. This Government have reversed those cuts and have begun to increase the level of investment into the Probation Service. I am grateful that the noble Baroness now supports our efforts to drive up standards, to improve training and the quality
Baroness Blatch: That was a wonderful piece of side-tracking. However, the point I was making was that there was no support from Labour shadow Ministers at the time for changing the focus of training for the Probation Service from social worker training to training for effective probation officer work.
The noble Lord may be willing to provide some more statistics. He rightly makes the point that one way to help reduce reoffending is to get people into work. It is a real part of the work of the Probation Service to rehabilitate people by finding employment for them, or, if it is unable to find employment for them, preparing them so that they are more employable. I agree with that. Given the rate of unemployment, which is, happily, at a low level, it would be helpful to know whether there is a correlation now between the level of crime and the success rate of the Probation Service. May we see some of the statistics over the past four or five years for the success of these new approaches and the degree to which they are working?