Offender Management Bill
Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Minister of State, Home Office; Labour)
As we have now discussed the amendments for one hour and 32 minutes, I reassure Members who may be forgiven for having thought that they had wandered into a Second Reading debate that we are still in Committee.
Much has been said on which we all agree. I say straight away how much I agreed with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. As we heard in every speech, we all seek to be able accurately to identify risk and need—in relation to the offender but also in what the offender will need to rehabilitate them—and, thereby, to restrict and diminish the likelihood that that individual will reoffend.
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, in her statement that this is not about the service, it is about the offender and offender management and what we need to do to assist the offender to leave offending behind. I do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and I disagree—or indeed that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and I disagree—much about the end result that we want. There seems to be a degree of dissonance about how we get there.
I say with the utmost clarity that I can that this is not about the destruction of the Probation Service. This is not about change for change's sake. It is about creating a system that will help us better to deliver the change that we all seek. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, is absolutely right when she says that we could do better on reducing reoffending. We want to do better. My noble friend Lord Warner is right to make clear that we are talking about two different systems: the system of commissioning services and that of the provision of services. I agree with the analysis of my noble friend Lord Borrie about what is in Clause 1 and Clause 2.
To the right reverend Prelate, I say that I absolutely understand the dichotomy to which he refers. It is suggested that if one takes an aggressive approach to enforcing community penalties, saying that they are the best way forward and that we should use them on all occasions unless and until prison is unavoidable, that is presented as somehow soft. It is not soft, as the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, made absolutely clear. So there is much on which we agree. We do, however, want to be able to commission services from the best provider available, and to use organisations such as the NSPCC, Turning Point and NACRO, all of which bring valuable additional support to this effort, to supplement and partner public sector provision. Reducing reoffending is not a task for one sector or organisation in isolation. We want to be able to commission those services across geographical and organisational boundaries—spanning, for example, custody and the community, or very differently sized probation areas that do not always have the capacity to meet what sentencers want or what offenders need—where appropriate.
That is why we need to take the statutory power to the Secretary of State. Although probation performance has improved, which I have acknowledged on a number of occasions in this House, service delivery remains variable and variably available. Probation services have often tried to hold to themselves work that can be done better in partnership with others. As the statutory providers of probation services, this is their right, but we do not believe that this right has been well enough exercised in the fuller development of a partnership approach, either with each other or with providers from the third and private sectors. That is why there is a division between the provisions of Clause 1 and those of Clause 2. In practice, although some services will be commissioned at a national and regional level, where it makes sense to do so, the great majority will be commissioned from lead providers at the local level, who in most cases will be the public sector probation trusts, and in full co-operation with their local strategic partnerships to meet the local area agreements.
We will use our commissioning powers in the Bill to ensure that those providers in turn work in partnership with other organisations and subcontract work to other organisations where they are better placed to deliver them. That is why I can say confidently to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, that we will get the synergies that we need. We will be able to have the consistency, and we will be able to provide better for those about whom she cares so passionately, as do so many others in this Committee. We have said repeatedly that any changes to the system will be carefully implemented, and that there is no hidden agenda of quotas of work for any sector. We are, however, determined to get the best providers, be they public, private or third sector, to play to their strengths. This is what the Bill will enable us to do. In exercising these powers, the Secretary of State will have regard to the very same principles that are set out in the first amendment. That is what Clause 2(4) already requires him to do. It is there because we are introducing a process of commissioning.
The aims were debated in the other place, both in Committee when Her Majesty's loyal Opposition tabled a very similar amendment to the one that is before us today—I shall scrutinise it to see whether there is an "and", a "but" or a comma that differs—and on Report. When the Bill was first introduced, it contained no provision for aims to apply to the new arrangements, although in practice it had always been our intention that they should. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Gerry Sutcliffe, listened very carefully to the points that were put to him in Committee. He accepted the force of the arguments in favour of applying such aims to the new arrangements for probation services in the Bill, to provide a clear framework within which to develop the new arrangements and to reassure the service that its basic principles remain unchanged. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary therefore tabled an amendment on Report to apply these aims to the functions of the Secretary of State in ensuring the provision of probation services. It is the Secretary of State who will be bound so to do. We did not extend the aims directly to providers because, as my noble friend Lord Warner made clear, where at all possible under the new arrangements, their functions will derive from their contracts rather than from statute, as at present.
We want to avoid the risk of creating confusion for providers by subjecting them to both contractual and legislative obligations, not least because in future not all providers will be providing exactly the same range of services that boards provide at present. This means that the aims may impact on them in different ways. The sensible way forward is to use the legislation to require the Secretary of State to have regard to these aims and then to reflect as appropriate on the way in which he commissions and contracts for services. The contracts will then be drafted in such a way as to ensure that these aims are given appropriate priority.
That was the approach we took in the amendment tabled on Report in another place which was passed unopposed. Indeed, the honourable gentleman Mr Edward Garnier, speaking for Her Majesty's loyal Opposition in the other place, while voicing concerns about other aspects of the Bill, said:
"in respect of the amendment, I applaud the Minister and wish him well in that part of his work".—[Hansard, Commons, 28/2/07; col. 1007.]
I believe that our colleagues in the other place were right to do this and I therefore invite the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, not to press her amendment.
I turn now to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. As I have already explained, we believe that Clause 2 is the proper place for these principles. But I would like to comment on the amendment, which has the effect of removing from the list of principles the "proper punishment of offenders". In any list of aims or principles such as this there will be room for debate around the precise content. Indeed, I know that when this was considered in Committee in the other place a number of alternatives were suggested to build on the existing list. But no one in the other place suggested that it is inappropriate to have regard to punishment when dealing with those who have broken the law. I am confident that they were reflecting the views and expectations of the public in so doing.
Society has always expected that those who break the law should be punished. More recently we have enshrined that expectation in legislation in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, which currently governs the Probation Service and on which the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is based, and also in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which sets out the purposes of sentencing. This is now a well established concept and it is entirely right that the Probation Service, the main function of which is to execute the sentences of the court, should be mindful of the purposes of that sentence when doing so. Indeed, it would be very odd if it did not. I think that the experience as magistrates of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, clearly demonstrates to us why that is so. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, dissented from that.
I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said about wanting to oppose this but I have to say to her, as gently as I can, that I do not agree with her, in many ways, because of the many comments that have been made around the Committee and because of what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, so elegantly expressed as the "use of authority". Authority has to be used if people are to reform. I also agree with those who say that it is really tough to help someone to reform and change. It takes time and effort. It is certainly not soft or easy.
Punishment is the sense of loss of liberty or other rights and freedoms. Those losses are necessary in order to achieve crime reduction, public protection, rehabilitation and reparation. For example, the offender must give up his time to attend appointments, perform unpaid work or participate in offender behaviour programmes, and, where appropriate, must abide by prohibitions such as curfew and exclusion requirements. The offender manager is responsible for managing—and, yes, enforcing—the whole sentence. If the offender does not comply he must be returned to the court. Punishment is therefore an integral part of any sentence and cannot be disentangled from the other purposes. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to withdraw their amendments on that basis.
I was asked a number of specific questions, particularly—by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel—whether the Bill's effect would be in any way to reduce the authority and to increase the likelihood that proper supervision would not take place. I have no reason to believe that that is the case. We want to heighten the quality of provision given, to improve the acuity of assessment and, therefore, to improve the outcome so that more people will be successfully rehabilitated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said that there was a primacy of punishment over rehabilitation. I assure her that that is not the case. The whole Bill is about trying to enhance our opportunity to use what works to rehabilitate those who have offended so that they will not offend again in the future. That must be the best way of keeping the public safe. As I say, we are not abolishing probation, nor are we seeking to undermine good practice. We are trying to enhance the opportunity for change.
I say to the noble Lords who moved these amendments that the amendments are not necessary. We understand the basis on which they have been put. We understand their aims, but those aims are there, in Clause 2. Clause 1 is accurately framed in order to do the bidding of those around the Committee who have spoken. I invite noble Lords not to press the amendments.