Committee (2nd Day)

Offender Rehabilitation Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 3:26 pm on 11 June 2013.

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Relevant document: 1st Report from the Delegated Powers Committee.

Amendment 24B

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

24B: Before Clause 12, insert the following new Clause—

“Presumption in favour of community sentence orders

(1) Section 152 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (general restrictions on imposing discretionary custodial sentences) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Where a court has discretion to pass a custodial sentence or impose a fine or a community sentence, the court must not pass a custodial sentence for a term of less than 12 months unless it is of the opinion that—

(a) the requirements of subsection (2) are satisfied, and

(b) there are special reasons which justify a custodial sentence,

and has had regard to the provisions of section 256AA.

(2B) A court passing a custodial sentence for a term of less than 12 months must state in open court the reasons for its opinion that there are special reasons which justify the sentence.”

(3) In subsection (3), after “(2)” insert “or (2A)”.”

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat 3:45, 11 June 2013

My Lords, this amendment, in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lady Hamwee, builds upon the general principle embodied in Section 152 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which is, in the words of the section, that:

“The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or … offences … was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence”.

That is a sensible principle that is soundly based on the wealth of evidence that short sentences are not only unhelpful but in many cases profoundly damaging. That evidence has been commissioned by the Howard League for Penal Reform and by many others. The findings are well known to the House. Short sentences are disruptive. They cut offenders’ ties with their communities, with their jobs if they have them, and with their families. They introduce offenders, particularly first-time offenders, to a culture where reoffending is the norm.

It is of course to be hoped that the impact of this Bill will reduce the reoffending rates of this cohort of prisoners by introducing periods of supervision, but balancing a hoped for mitigation of damage against the evidence that we have of actual damage still leads to the conclusion that short sentences are to be avoided.

Our amendment goes a stage further than Section 152 and is an attempt to address the risk that was identified by several noble Lords at Second Reading. The risk is that the availability of short sentences of imprisonment that will carry an automatic period of supervision upon release will make short sentences more attractive to sentencers. The point was put succinctly in particular by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who said:

“The Bill will create problems, as has already been indicated, as there will be a temptation in some courts to undermine the objective of the Bill by seeing the proposals for dealing with reoffending as justifying short sentences”.—[Hansard, 20/5/13; col. 653.].

A little later he said:

“What can be achieved by a short sentence in prison can always be better achieved, in my experience, by a community sentence”.—[Official Report, 20/5/13; col. 654.]

The existing provision in the Criminal Justice Act deals with the seriousness of the offence or offences. The suggested provision in our amendment would make it very clear to sentencers that the availability of a period of supervision should not lead to or encourage the imposition of short sentences. The court would have to be satisfied not only as to the seriousness of the offence or offences themselves but that there were special reasons to justify a custodial sentence, and those reasons would have to be stated in open court. The principle would be strengthened that short sentences are to be avoided unless they are really necessary in an individual case. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Williamson of Horton Lord Williamson of Horton Crossbench

My Lords, I have a favourable approach to this amendment, which would be a substantial change in practice. However, it is important that we do not present the question of short custodial sentences and community sentences simply in terms of hard or soft sentencing, although that is what actually happens in the media comment on some of these issues. For me, the real question is what arrangement is more likely to protect the public against continuing crime. That is the issue that we face in this amendment. At present, we have short custodial sentences, which do of course protect the public for a short period, but because the reoffending rate is high we also have periods when the public are not protected because we get a continuation of crime. The question is: can we do better?

The amendment does not take away the power of a court to impose a short custodial sentence where there are special reasons for doing so. Like the noble Lord who presented the amendment, I think that part of it is well drafted and correct and that we should concentrate on the special reasons. Furthermore, it requires the court to explain its decision in such cases. Over a period, such explanations will provide a good basis for assessing the effectiveness of the proposals. It is certainly possible—in my view, probable—that the proposal in the amendment, with a presumption for community sentences, will reduce crime and thus benefit law-abiding citizens. Therefore, I have a favourable presumption for the presumption.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

I am delighted to support this amendment, which sets out a new clause before Clause 12 and deals with the presumption in favour of community sentence orders, as has been rightly pointed out. This is very much a probing amendment to see how the Minister will react. I will be brief. My noble friend Lord McNally, the Minister, is aware that every time we have discussed legislation on sentencing, particularly lower-level sentencing, I have advocated a cautious approach in favour of community sentence orders in place of custody.

Prison sentences of less than 12 months are the argument that we are putting forward. We all know that under the present provisions, custodial sentences of less than 12 months achieve very little corrective behaviour. On the contrary, we have seen that the impact on an individual without supervision can be very damaging indeed. We want to avoid this risk. Our amendment would help guard against the risk that the welcome provisions of the Bill for post-release supervision for short-term prisoners could lead to the courts imprisoning more people. At present, courts may decide in borderline cases not to imprison an offender because supervision in the form of a community sentence is more likely to divert him or her away from offending. However, with the new supervision arrangements, the court might feel that by imprisoning the offender for a short period it can get the best of both worlds—both the punitive impact of imprisonment and supervision of the offender when he or she is released.

We have discussed similar provisions in previous legislation. The custody plus provision that we introduced at one stage is history now, but we know what happened to it. This would be a short-sighted view as even a short period of custody can lead to an offender losing accommodation and a job and fracturing family links, all of which make it more likely that he or she will reoffend, which is contrary to the provisions that we will discuss in our debate on rehabilitating offenders. Sentences of less than 12 months are too short for a sustained attempt at rehabilitation in custody but are long enough to damage the community ties which those supervising offenders can build on in trying to prevent them reoffending.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of options available to the courts when dealing with offenders. We know about simple things, such as matters of conditional discharge and fines. There are also community service orders, probation orders and attendance orders. These are just a few of the alternatives, yet prison remains at the heart of our criminal justice system, with other penalties often referred to as alternatives to custody. I believe that my noble friend Lord McNally is on the right track in the way in which this Bill deals with rehabilitation. He is right in putting the emphasis on society to try and deal with more offenders in the community rather than in prisons. That is not in doubt. We are now seeing the impact, which is less use of prison and a drop in the crime rate—a remarkable achievement by the coalition Government. No longer does the argument apply that prison works.

We are not suggesting that grave offences should in general attract other than long sentences, but past experience has led us to believe in two important principles of sentencing. This is not original, radical or revolutionary. In essence, it fits in with many Court of Appeal judgments over the years. First, the court should send to prison only those whose offending behaviour makes any other course unacceptable. Secondly, those who are sent to prison should stay there no longer than is strictly necessary. The amendment is designed to meet the Government’s objective on matters of rehabilitation. We should do this by avoiding the unintended increase in prison sentences. This would be an important discipline that would help against that unintended consequence. This probing amendment would make it possible for my noble friend the Minister to discuss the merit of our proposal with the Sentencing Council and to examine the possibility of setting up some indicators so that the process is adequately monitored.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Labour

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. As he said, the current position is that an offence has to be so serious that a custodial sentence is imposed, but his amendment would put in place a presumption in favour of a community sentence. The additional part of his amendment is that special reasons have to be given in open court. My question to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, if it is appropriate to ask him, is: what might those reasons be? Would a breach of previous community orders be a special reason for it to be announced in open court that a custodial sentence will be passed? While I am sympathetic to the objectives of the amendment, I am open-minded about how it will be applied in court.

The Government’s impact statement highlighted the potential risk of increasing custodial sentences of less than 12 months because the sentencers themselves know that there will be a licence followed by a supervision period, which might be attractive to them. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, making that same point in an earlier debate. My experience is that magistrates and district judges are always reluctant to commit an offender to prison and understand very well the current wording of the guidelines that an offence has to be so serious that only custody will do.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting amendment, which, as I said, I support. It will be for the practicalities of the Government to see whether there is a change in sentencing behaviour if the Bill goes through unamended. I am doubtful whether sentencers will change their behaviour; there will not be more custodial sentences because of the additional supervision period. Can the noble Lord, Lord Marks, give an example of the special reasons, to which he alluded, that might be appropriate for a custodial sentence?

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat 4:00, 11 June 2013

My Lords, before my noble friend replies, having been asked direct questions, perhaps I may reply briefly. I envisage that there would be a wide range of special reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggested, they would include a history of breach of previous supervision requirements. However they might also encompass areas of special risk to do with the particular offender. The shortcoming of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 at which this amendment is aimed is that under Section 152 only the seriousness of the offences is taken into account. There may well be reasons to do with the offender that could justify a custodial sentence, but the point of the amendment is to make it quite clear that in the absence of such special reasons, whether they are to do with history, special risk or other reasons, the presumption in favour of a community sentence should apply.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I have found this to be an extremely helpful debate, and as the movers have indicated that it is a probing amendment, I will take it away to consider, but in my reply I will make it clear that we do not think the amendment is necessary at this moment.

I understand the points that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has quoted, and that my noble friend Lord Dholakia mentioned, that the Bill might encourage judges to go for the best of both worlds by passing a short sentence that will immediately qualify for the 12 months of rehabilitation. I certainly share my noble friend Lord Dholakia’s view that short sentences are too short to rehabilitate, but just long enough to disrupt, the life of the person sent to prison and introduce them, perhaps for the first time, to all the bad influences that can be found in a prison. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, rightly recognised, we face media and—to a certain extent—public opinion that sees community sentences as somehow softer than prison sentences. Part of the aim of our reforms is to position community sentencing and the rehabilitation process that goes with it more positively in the eyes of the public, so that they have greater confidence in it.

I was grateful for the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, in his intervention, because there are two things that become one. He put firmly on the record that in his experience, judges will not be tempted to go down the road that my noble friends fear. I think that he has said before—certainly other magistrates have—that sometimes for a repeat offender or somebody whose circumstances make setting them back into the community even more dangerous to themselves and the community, a short custodial sentence can be of benefit, so the idea of ruling them out entirely is not the way forward.

As my noble friend has explained, Amendment 24B would create a new clause in an attempt to bolster what is often referred to as the “custodial threshold”: that is, the test set out in Section 152(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, to which my noble friend referred, with which all courts must comply when imposing a custodial sentence.

It is perhaps worth noting again what Section 152 says:

“The court must not pass a custodial sentence unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence.”

It is an onerous test. It means that a court cannot impose a custodial sentence unless the offence was so serious that a fine or community sentence will not do; in fact, it cannot be justified. It is also worth noting that this test has to be read in conjunction with Section 153 of the 2003 Act. That requires a court when imposing a custodial sentence to ensure that the sentence is for the shortest term commensurate with the seriousness of the offence.

My noble friend’s amendment would add to the existing provisions a requirement, where a court intended to impose a custodial sentence of less than 12 months, that there be “special reasons” which justify the custodial sentence of less than 12 months. We have already heard in debate that magistrates and judges do not believe that they impose custodial sentences other than as a last resort. It is natural to ask what are these special reasons or circumstances that are not covered by the original test. Could the special reasons relate to a history of previous convictions? If so, the current custodial threshold test already applies because, under Section 143 of the 2003 Act, a court must consider relevant and recent convictions as an aggravating factor which makes the offence more serious. It is seriousness that is the key driver in determining the nature of the sentence and meeting the custodial threshold test.

I suggest to my noble friend that the special reasons he may have in mind must already be considered when the court decides on the sentence and whether a custodial sentence is merited under Section 152. So although of course I appreciate what my noble friend is attempting to achieve—that is, a statutory presumption against sentences of less than 12 months—I am not convinced that the amendment would actually do what is intended.

Let me make the point that the Government do not intend or expect that sentencers will change their current behaviour in any significant way in response to the provisions in the Bill. We do not expect to see an increase in the number of short custodial sentences. Offenders who do not meet the custodial threshold should receive community orders or fines. I hope that noble Lords and noble and learned Lords who have judicial experience will agree that it would be wrong for any judge, and contrary to the provisions of the existing law, if a sentencer decided to “up-tariff” an offender into custody so that they could receive 12 months of supervision.

I should also deal briefly with the second part of the amendment, which would require the court to give an explanation of the special reasons that merited a custodial sentence of less than 12 months. I point out to my noble friend that the current law already requires all courts imposing any sentence of any length to give reasons for the sentence passed. That is contained in Section 174 of the 2003 Act. Invariably, a sentencer will begin their explanation of a custodial sentence by setting out why the offence is so serious that it merits a custodial term. The further provision is, I suggest, unnecessary. I understand the good intentions behind the amendment. No one in this House wants to see short custodial sentences passed for offences that do not justify them, but that is why we have the current threshold test and a right of appeal against sentence.

We need to is provide sentencers with a range of sentences in which they can have confidence. That is why we made the changes to community orders in the Crime and Courts Act 2013. We have to stop offenders reoffending to such a degree that they end up having to be considered for short custodial sentences in the first place. We also have to realise that some offenders will merit short custodial sentences. We need to focus on making those sentences more effective at rehabilitating offenders so that not only are they imposed as a last resort, they should be the last sentence that the offender receives.

I acknowledge the efforts of my noble friend on this amendment, but, although I recognise his intention, I ask him to withdraw it. Given the spirit in which it has been moved, I will discuss the matter further with the Lord Chancellor and others, but I suspect that our position as I have just set out will remain unchanged.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that detailed and helpful response, and for the indication that he will consider the matter with us. The question really is whether the existing safeguards are sufficient in the light of the additional supervision requirement and whether there is ground for the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, that there might be a temptation for sentencers to err. In that spirit, I withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment 24B withdrawn.

Clause 12 : Officers responsible for implementing orders

Amendment 24C

Moved by Lord Beecham

24C: Clause 12, page 11, line 41, after “services” insert “that is a public sector provider or a person commissioned by a public sector provider”

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, this amendment is the identical twin of Amendment 7A, which I moved last week in relation to Clause 2. As I said then, the effect would be to require the necessary supervision to be carried out either by a directly employed public service provider or by a person commissioned by such a public sector provider. I do not think it is necessary to rehearse the arguments again. I suppose that it is unlikely that the ministerial sinner will be in a repentant mood this afternoon, but I live in hope and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, I am like St Augustine; I want to give up sin, but not yet. I will deal briefly with Amendment 24C. It would mean that the responsible officer for the supervision of offenders subject to community orders and suspended sentence orders would have to be a public sector probation provider. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, this is essentially the same amendment applied to community orders as the noble Lord tabled on the first day of Committee for supervision of custodial sentences. As I said then, the Government are committed to providing new supervision for those released from short custodial sentences. To achieve this aim, we, as a responsible Government, have to be able to afford this additional supervision. To do that, we need to reduce the current costs of dealing with offenders.

We also want to encourage innovation among providers of probation services dealing with this group of offenders serving community sentences and suspended sentences. It is important to ensure that we continue to improve the reoffending rates of this group of offenders, as well as of those serving custodial terms. Paying providers in full only where they are successful at reducing reoffending will not only make savings; it will drive down our reoffending rates. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will withdraw his amendment now that I have clarified what the Government’s intentions are.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the repetition of the stance that he took the other night. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 24C withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed.

Schedule 4 agreed.

Clause 13 : Rehabilitation activity requirement

Amendment 25

Moved by Lord Woolf

25: Clause 13, page 12, line 9, at end insert—

“(2A) In sections 177(1) and 190(1) (requirements that may be imposed as part of a community order or suspended sentence order) after paragraph (j) insert—

“(ja) a restorative justice requirement (as defined by section 212A),”.”

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench

My Lords, this amendment is grouped with Amendments 27, 27A, 28 and 29. The group is separated by Amendment 26, which is to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and others after we have dealt with these amendments. As I have said before, I welcome this Bill’s emphasis on the rehabilitation of offenders. Those who have been involved in the criminal justice system as long as I have are in no doubt that reoffending is one of the most serious problems that it faces. We have been, until now, extremely unsuccessful in tackling it. Here and there, we have made some progress, often because of initiatives not of the big battalions but of the small ones, which concentrate on conduct directed towards the offender which changes his habits. We know, from experience, that employment, the home and the family are all important elements in determining whether reoffending will take place.

One of the improvements that have occurred in that field in recent times is restorative justice. To hear me talk about restorative justice in this Chamber is nothing new. We have made progress thanks to, among others, the opposition Front Bench, and I am delighted that I speak with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who joins me in making the proposals in certain of the amendments in this group. We are also grateful for the Government’s change in emphasis in relation to restorative justice. They now accept that it is something which has qualified to appear in legislation and, indeed, to be part of the panoply of action which can be taken to deal with offending.

The most important aspect about restorative justice is that it is strongly supported by victims who have experienced what it can achieve. My most important point in support of these amendments is that victims find that restorative justice does more for them than probably anything else that happens within the criminal justice system. Because the increased status of restorative justice is only recent, legislation was passed in 2003—the Criminal Justice Act—which made no mention of it. If one looks at both Sections 177 and 190 of that Act, one finds a menu of actions which can be taken by a court to help ensure that what happens in court achieves a cessation of reoffending. The amendments I am speaking to now are simply designed to remedy, or bring up to date, those provisions by ensuring that one of the programmes that can be availed is restorative justice and designed to do so in a way which will achieve the maximum benefit.

Amendment 29 proposes adding a new Section 212A to the 2003 Act, which would give,

“an opportunity to a victim or victims to talk about, or by other means express experience of, the offending and its impact”.

We have learnt that the fact that victims have that opportunity to face the offender and give them their views, if they wish to do so, is one of the most important elements in the success of restorative justice. In those circumstances, I urge the Minister to look sympathetically upon these amendments.

In considering what his action should be, perhaps I may be bold enough to give the Minister the benefit, I hope, of my experience in trying to achieve a change in culture. I believe that the Act, which we hope this Bill will become, dealing with offender rehabilitation requires a change of culture. You will attain a change of culture only if those in the criminal justice system give you their support. The first of those is the victims. If victims do not believe that this programme is to their benefit, they will not support it. In addition to victims, it is also important that the Bill has the confidence of those who have to apply it in the magistracy and the more senior courts. I should also mention, wearing my hat as life president of the Butler Trust, those who work in our prisons. They do not get much praise, but the Butler Trust gives them praise when it is deserved, and it is important that they should see what is proposed here as beneficial to the criminal justice system.

With the support of the main players in the criminal justice system, the Bill can achieve a great deal. Bringing in restorative justice in the places proposed in these amendments will help to achieve that end.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice) 4:15, 11 June 2013

My Lords, I commend again the noble and learned Lord for the tenacity with which he has pursued this important area of penal policy. I am entirely in agreement with the thrust of his amendments and I am sure that they will commend themselves to other Members of your Lordships’ House. However, I have one difficulty with his amendment.

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench

I hope I will be forgiven if I intervene to say that, with great perception, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, seeks in Amendment 27A to alter the proposal in Amendment 27. I should make it clear that I support Amendment 27A in preference to my original proposal.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am obliged for the noble and learned Lord’s intervention but perhaps I should decode what is happening for the benefit of those who do not understand—it took me some time—the effect of the amendment as originally drafted.

As originally drawn, the amendment would have removed from Clause 13(7) reference to,

“activities whose purpose is reparative”,

and substituted “restorative justice activities”.

The two things are not the same. Reparative justice will involve doing work, for example, of the kind that I came across when involved in a justice reinvestment project in the north-east. In fact, there were two significant projects: one led to the effective reconstruction of Albert Park in Middlesbrough and the other at Saltwell Park in Gateshead, both Victorian parks which had become very run down. Offenders were brought in to work on these and benefited from being taught skills, which it is to be hoped will be useful later. They made a visible contribution to the communities which they had damaged by their offences. It was a very good scheme.

Taking that out would exclude work of that kind. As the noble and learned Lord said, Amendment 27A reinstates that in addition to restorative justice so that the complete range of options would remain available. I hope that the Minister will accept the noble and learned Lord’s amendment, as amended by my restoration of the paragraph in the original Bill. It would be extremely disappointing, given that the Government are supportive of the principle of restorative justice, if statutory recognition was not incorporated in the Bill at this time and the opportunity not taken in its passage to lend weight to the growing support up and down the country for the concept in our system.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

Not having come with a long speech, I want to register my support and that of my noble friends on these Benches for these amendments and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham said, the growing support for the concept of restorative justice. The more I hear about that, the more it seems a very important part of rehabilitation. It has many aspects and one of those fits neatly within the thrust of this Bill and in the new Section 200A. Among the things it can achieve is redirecting offenders who can be described, as many noble Lords have done at previous stages, as having chaotic lives. Being able to put the chaos of one’s life into the perspective that this kind of activity can help achieve is an important objective of rehabilitation.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for the very long campaign he has fought to put restorative justice on a statutory footing. Although I am sure he is right to pay tribute to and thank the Opposition for their support, it is also worth pointing out that it was this Government who actually did that. In the battle to do so, I pay tribute to the former Prisons Minister, Crispin Blunt, who joined battle with me within the department to make sure that we got the first foothold as far as restorative justice is concerned.

I am glad that we have the eagle eye of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. Of course, reparative and restorative justice are not the same thing. I fully associate myself with the points that the noble Lord made about the value of reparative justice. It can be very significant, in not only what it does but also getting the confidence of the community—the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. The community sees a derelict site cleaned up or some piece of community work restored as part of reparative justice and has confidence that it is worth while.

I also fully agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, about what we are trying to do in this Bill. We are doing a little smoke and mirrors with the money we have available—I freely confess that—but even if we had all the money we wanted, it would still require that change in culture to which the noble and learned Lord referred.

I hope that we can make this work and carry it through. I am not sure whether we will ever carry the great British press with us. My office always gets very perturbed when I attack the British press. I merely observe that the regular comments on this area of policy always leave me in despair, not about humanity but about journalists.

However, I am sure we will get a change of culture from a public that sees results. I think we will get support from victims. I went to Thames Valley to have a look at the restorative justice operation that is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. Meeting victims there left me in no doubt that they found it an extremely restorative exercise in coming through the trauma of crime. I fully associate myself with the work of the Butler Trust. Anyone who goes around a prison knows what a difficult job we ask our prison officers to do. That change of culture is certainly part of what we want to do.

Both today and on other occasions in this House, noble Lords have made the powerful case for the importance of restorative justice. It is clear that there is little that divides us on this. As I say, anyone who has met victims and offenders who have taken part in restorative justice will know the positive impact it can have. For victims, it offers an opportunity to have their voices heard. For offenders, it provides an opportunity to face the consequences of their actions and the impact that they have had on others. The Government are firmly committed to ensuring that more victims and offenders can take part in restorative justice. I am particularly proud that in the Crime and Courts Act the Government were able to put pre-sentence restorative justice on to a statutory footing.

Let me deal with Amendments 27, 27A and 28 first. Taken together, Amendments 27 and 28 would make explicit that a rehabilitation activity requirement can include restorative justice activities. They would do this by removing the reference in Clause 13 to rehabilitation activities including those whose purpose is reparative. Amendment 27A does much the same, except it would retain the current provision that activities can include those whose purpose is reparative—what I would call the “Beecham sticking plaster”.

In response, I start by reassuring noble Lords that it is absolutely the Government’s intention that restorative justice should be delivered under the new rehabilitation activity requirements. Given the good evidence of the impact that restorative justice can have on reoffending, I am sure that many providers will want to make use of restorative processes in appropriate cases. We would not want to stand in the way of that, and Clause 13 is certainly not intended to prevent that—quite the reverse.

It may be helpful here if I explain what the current Clause 13 provides for. It creates a new Section 200A of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Subsection (7) of new Section 200A makes clear that activities an offender is required to participate in can include those whose purpose is reparative as well as rehabilitative. The clause is drafted in this way to refer back to the statutory purposes of sentencing. As noble Lords will know, the making of reparation to persons affected by their offences is one of these purposes. Restorative justice—as a process that can deliver various positive outcomes—is not a purpose of sentencing in itself, but by linking the new requirement to both reparation and rehabilitation, our firm intention is to give scope for providers to deliver restorative activities that can benefit offenders and victims. It is also worth noting that the same link to reparation applies to the activity requirements available under the top-up supervision created by Clause 2 of the Bill.

Schedule 1 to the Bill makes clear that if an offender released from a short custodial sentence is required to take part in activities, key parts of new Section 200A also apply, including the provision that activities can deliver reparation as well as rehabilitation.

In short, Clause 13 already gives scope for delivery of restorative justice activities. None the less, noble Lords have made a good case for bringing greater clarity to the types of activities that supervisors might require offenders to do, both as part of a rehabilitation activity requirement under a community order or suspended sentence, and as part of an activity requirement during post-release supervision. I am therefore happy to take this point away further to consider it and bring it back to the House.

Taken together, Amendments 25 and 29 would create a new stand-alone restorative justice requirement that could be imposed as part of a community order or a suspended sentence order. Noble Lords will know that courts can and do already order restorative justice activities to take place as part of a community order or suspended sentence order. This is currently done through the activity requirement, which provides for activities to include those with a reparative purpose. Although Clause 13 replaces the existing activity requirement, as I have already explained, it maps across this provision to allow for restorative justice activities to continue to take place under the new rehabilitation activity requirement. When the Government consulted on restorative justice as part of community orders in 2012, respondents did not identify that there was a major gap in the use of restorative justice as a requirement of non-custodial sentences. That was why, in the Crime and Courts Act, we focused on making provision for restorative justice pre-sentence.

While I therefore support the noble and learned Lord’s intention in tabling these two amendments, I do not believe that they are necessary. I hope that in the light of the undertaking I have given to take away the issues raised by Amendments 27, 27A and 28, and my explanation of the other amendments, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, will agree to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench 4:30, 11 June 2013

My Lords, I apologise for my failure to refer to Amendment 27A when I spoke to the amendment that was being moved. I should not have made that mistake.

I am very conscious that my successor as the Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, is in his place. If my memory is correct, one of the first things that he did on taking office was to get himself clad as though he was an offender and go off with other offenders to do reparative duties. On that occasion he had very favourable mentions in the media, which were fully deserved, although I understand that he did not find the reparative tasks particularly demanding. The noble and learned Lord has strange tastes when it comes to spending what leisure time he has; he continually indulges in activities that I would have thought were really not for Lords Chief Justice or, may I say, budding presidents of the Supreme Court.

That brings me to the only point that I wish to mention specifically in respect of what the Minister has so ably said about the proposed amendments: wherever possible, you always need clarity and certainty. The fact that I would not have the imagination to do some of the things that the noble and learned Lord does perhaps indicates why, even when you have experienced judges, it is a good thing to have clarity and certainty. Therefore, I ask the Minister to reconsider the amendments carefully and, if he sees fit at a later stage, to come back and tell the House that he welcomes them. That would give a very good signal to the world outside about the seriousness of this Government in tackling reoffending. In the circumstances, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 25 withdrawn.

Amendment 26

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

26: Clause 13, page 12, line 16, at end insert—

“(1A) In giving any instructions to the offender under subsection (1), the responsible officer shall have regard to—

(a) the suitability of any appointments having regard to any caring commitments the offender may have and the compatibility of activities with the offender’s family circumstances;

(b) the suitability of activities and place specified under subsection (5) if the offender is responsible for a child and it is desirable that the child accompanies the offender.”

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 30 in the same group. Amendment 26 concerns rehabilitation activity requirements, which are essentially instructions to an offender to attend appointments or to participate in activities. There are imposed as part of a community order or a suspended sentence order by a responsible officer, defined for these purposes as a probation service provider.

This amendment will ensure that such requirements do not conflict unnecessarily with the caring commitments or family circumstances of the offender concerned. That object will be achieved by requiring the responsible officer to have regard first to,

“the suitability of any appointments having regard to any caring commitments the offender may have and the compatibility of activities with the offender’s family circumstances”,

and, importantly, by,

“the suitability of activities and place specified … if the offender is responsible for a child and it is desirable that the child accompanies the offender”.

This may well be the case for people who have responsibility for children, cannot simply leave them and have to take them along to the activity.

Amendment 30 is designed to achieve a similar outcome for any other requirement that might be imposed as a result of such an order. It would amend Section 217 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That section currently requires the court to ensure that such requirements avoid conflict with, under Section 217(1)(a), “the offender’s religious beliefs” and, under Section 217(1)(b), the times at which the offender,

“normally works or attends any educational establishment”.

It would be entirely reasonable and desirable to add to that list of matters that are not to be conflicted with a requirement that orders avoiding conflict with the offender’s caring responsibilities. That is what Amendment 30 seeks to achieve.

These amendments are consistent with the Government’s desire to ensure that rehabilitation measures in this legislation are targeted particularly at helping women offenders, who often face particular difficulties within the criminal justice system. They would make the Bill more sensitive to those difficulties and to the demands of family life. The amendments are primarily aimed at avoiding conflict for women offenders who are the subject of community orders or suspended sentence orders, and are designed to enable them to fulfil the requirements of such orders without making it unduly difficult for them to meet the demands of caring for families. However, the amendments are gender-neutral, as you would expect, because many male offenders have similar commitments. It is important that appointments and activities can be arranged in a way that does not interfere unduly with family commitments, be those commitments to take children to school, to be at home when children are at home without alternative childcare or to look after elderly or disabled relatives. The same goes for all requirements, whether unpaid work requirements, curfew requirements or any others. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Labour

My Lords, I support the general thrust of the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. As he said, they would oblige a responsible officer to have regard to the offender’s caring commitments when arranging a community sentence.

My understanding of the present position is that in probation reports, done by what will be the National Probation Service, probation officers will take into account personal circumstances when making recommendations to the court on the likely sentence. It would be the responsibility of the responsible officer that the sentence is completed as required by the court and in a timely manner.

At present, the probation service, together with its own local service providers, will have a whole system of non-statutory guidance on how to deal with particular circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, has highlighted one aspect and referred to other matters, such as religious convictions, education requirements and the like. Although the amendment is quite specific, it raises a much wider question about how questions of judgment on behalf of the responsible officer will be implemented by the organisation for which the responsible officer is working. It is not too much to imagine a commercial organisation having particular requirements of a responsible officer which may be at odds with that responsible officer’s judgment.

I was thinking, with my commercial hat on, about what a commercial approach might be to this cohort of offenders. I have come up with a fairly crude approach which I will outline to noble Lords. I divide the cohort into three. The first group I call the “no-hopers”: people who are fully expected to reoffend or to breach, and so would need minimal input from the responsible officers. The second group I refer to as “worth a try”, which is where the bulk of the effort would go; there would indeed be a genuine effort to rehabilitate this group. The third group I describe as “easy money”, where there is every expectation that they will not reoffend and will therefore need minimal supervision.

Although I am sympathetic to the amendment as described by the noble Lord, it raises a wider question of how current best practice as provided by our probation service might be superseded by the commercial interests of the provider, particularly given that that provider will be paid by results, and when we are led to believe that the results bonus will be less than 5% of the total value of the contract. That raises a fundamental question about the judgment which the responsible officers must make and how that may come into conflict with that of their employer.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 4:45, 11 June 2013

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, in particularly my noble friend Lord Marks for highlighting in his contribution the importance of both family matters and, of course, sensitive issues of faith, which is also relevant to a fair percentage of our prison population.

This group of amendments would place an additional duty on responsible officers instructing offenders under the new rehabilitation activity requirement created by Clause 13, and would also place a new duty on the courts when imposing community orders and suspended orders more generally. To address first the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about organisations’ or providers’ commercial interests right away, it would be wrong and totally inappropriate for those to supersede any other offender requirements. The whole point of rehabilitation is putting the offender at the centre.

I do not agree with the noble Lord’s three cohorts—the groups he put together. Even the no-hopers are worth a try. We need to ensure, in all the reforms we put forward, that anyone—even people whom society at large perceives as no-hopers—is worth a try. We should seek to assist them to become productive citizens of society.

Noble Lords may also find it helpful if I briefly explain what Clause 13 provides. It creates a new rehabilitation activity requirement that will combine key elements of the existing supervision and activity requirements available under community orders and suspended sentence orders. At present Section 213 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides for a supervision requirement that may be imposed as part of either order. The requirement involves attending appointments during the period of the order with either the responsible officer or another person determined by the responsible officer. Section 201 of the 2003 Act provides for an activity requirement as part of either order. Under an activity requirement, an offender must first, present himself to a person specified in the order for a specified number of days, and secondly, participate in activities specified in the order for a specified number of days.

Clause 13 repeals both those requirements and merges them into a single rehabilitation activity requirement. Under the new requirement, offenders must comply with any instructions given by their responsible officer to attend appointments, participate in activities, or both. These instructions must be given with a view to promoting the offender’s rehabilitation, although they can serve other purposes as well. The effect of the clause is to allow the probation provider who is the responsible officer, rather than the court, to decide the exact details of what appointments or activities the offender should take part in to maximise their chances of turning away from crime.

Amendment 26 would require a responsible officer who is instructing an offender to attend appointments or participate in activities under this new requirement to take account of the offender’s family circumstances and, of course, any caring responsibilities that the offender might have. That would mean ensuring that appointments were suitable, that activities were compatible with the offender’s family circumstances, and that any place to which the offender was sent to take part in activities was suitable if the offender needed to take a child with them.

Amendment 30, although inserted into the clause about programme requirements, would apply to all requirements under any community order or suspended sentence order. It adds to the provision in Section 217 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 that already requires a court to avoid, as far as possible, any conflict with the offender’s religious beliefs and any interference with his or her work or education. The amendment would add to Section 217 a new duty requiring the court to avoid—again as far as is practicable—any interference with the offender’s ability to carry out any caring responsibilities that he or she might have.

As I am sure that noble Lords will appreciate, the criminal justice system at all points endeavours to accommodate the personal circumstances of an offender. Courts will always sentence an offender in the light of their individual circumstances, together with the circumstances of the offence. Indeed, the law requires, where a court imposes a community order, that the requirements chosen must be, in the court’s opinion, the most suitable for the offender.

In addition to these general requirements, I can assure all noble Lords that there are already important safeguards in place to address childcare and other caring responsibilities where an offender is sentenced by the courts. These issues are covered in the assessments carried out when compiling pre-sentence and other reports that are considered by the courts before sentencing.

Probation staff will also respond to requests by the courts for specific information about family circumstances and courts will sometimes adjourn briefly so that such issues can be considered. If an offender is reluctant to divulge information about their children for fear that they may be taken into care, a post-sentence interview will often elicit the necessary information or the offender might tell their lawyer. If necessary, liaison will take place with local authority safeguarding authorities, or social security emergency duty teams, to safeguard the child or vulnerable person in question. In addition, the Sentencing Council has made it clear in its guidelines that:

“Where the offender is the sole or primary carer of the victim or other dependants, this potentially should be taken into account for sentencing purposes, regardless of whether the offender is male or female”.

Both courts and responsible officers are public authorities within the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that they are required to balance the need for the offender to attend appointments and take part in activities in order to secure his rehabilitation against his right under the Human Rights Act to respect for his private and family life. This point was well made by my noble friend Lord Marks.

What this adds up to is a clear indication that the courts already take all possible steps to avoid, as far as is practicable, any interference with the offender’s ability to discharge any caring responsibilities that he or she may have. For this reason, I argue that Amendment 30 is unnecessary. With these assurances and clarifications, I hope that my noble friend will be minded to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am again grateful for that helpful explanation of the Government’s position. The difficulty, as I see it, is something that I hope that we can consider between now and Report. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, pointed out, we are entering an entirely new era in the provision of probation services. The Minister is entirely right to say that best practice and sentencing guidelines require the courts and responsible officers—who are now in the public sector probation service—to have regard to caring responsibilities. However, there is a risk that in the new regime, which is a new world for probation provision, there will be a departure from best practice or, at any rate, a temptation to depart from it. I hope that, by amending the Bill in a similar way to our amendments, we could send out the message that family commitments have to be taken into account just as faith and education commitments are. In those circumstances, I invite the Government to consider these amendments carefully and sympathetically before we come back. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.

Amendments 27 to 29 not moved.

Clause 13 agreed.

Schedule 5 agreed.

Clause 14: Programme requirement

Amendment 30 not moved.

Debate on whether Clause 14 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, my intention is purely to probe for information. Clause 14 seeks to amend Section 202 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 which, as the Explanatory Notes make clear, is about programme requirements for community orders and suspended sentence orders. As drafted, the clause removes from the Act the provision that an offender can only participate in accredited programmes in places approved by the local probation board or local provider of probation services. My purpose here is to obtain from the Minister an elucidation of what the implications of the amendment to Section 202 of the 2003 Act would actually be. What sort of programmes will be encompassed within the new arrangements? Will they be accredited and who will the providers be? It is as simple as that. If the noble Lord is not able to deal with those questions today I would quite understand, because the clause is not particularly revealing of its purpose. I would be happy to receive a letter which could be placed in the Library, if that would be of assistance.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:00, 11 June 2013

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for that clarification. His reasoning may not have been clear when he notified his intention to oppose the Question that the clause stand part, but it was in his explanation. It may be helpful to reiterate what Clause 14 intends to do. Currently an accredited programme can take place only in premises that have been approved by a probation trust or other provider of probation services. There is therefore a slightly redundant step built into the process for delivering accredited programmes, whereby trusts currently have to set up premises for programmes and then approve those premises themselves before courts can require offenders to attend. Clause 14 removes this requirement. Although probation providers will still want to satisfy themselves that a programme’s premises are suitable for those attending, as a result of the amendment there will no longer be a formal requirement in law for them to ratify or sign that off internally before courts can require offenders to attend.

Parliament has already approved a change in the law that means that the responsible officer, who is the person responsible for delivering the requirement, now chooses the accredited programme that the offender must follow. This was previously in the gift of the court. This change was made by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 and commenced in December last year. As a consequence, the court no longer specifies where the offender must go to participate in the programme but simply imposes a programme requirement and sets the number of days on which the offender must take part.

The detail of the requirement is now in the hands of the provider, who is best placed to know which programme is the most likely to promote rehabilitation. This also means that where it emerges that a different programme would work better—for example, the offender starts on a cognitive programme but it becomes clear that a domestic violence programme would be better—the responsible officer can switch the programme without taking the order back to court. The amendment in Clause 14 merely furthers the principle of operational discretion for providers by removing the largely redundant requirement for formal approval of a place as suitable for offenders subject to a programme requirement.

In closing, I reassure noble Lords that the Government see a continued place for accredited programmes under our new framework for delivering services for offenders. Accredited programmes are evidence-based and developed from the academic literature on what works. Where interventions have a substantial degree of evidence for their effectiveness, it is important that we build on that success. Those advising the courts through pre-sentence reports will continue to be able to recommend a programme requirement where a particular intervention is available locally, and where probation professionals believe that it is the right way of dealing with the causes of an individual’s offending. Based on that clarification, I urge that Clause 14 should stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am very grateful to the Minister for his clarification. It occurs to me to ask whether it would be envisaged that a provider of services in respect of the premises to which the noble referred could require, for example, repair work to be carried out for the benefit of the provider. That potentially would create a conflict of interest. I do not ask for an off-the-cuff response, but I would be grateful if the Minister would look at it.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clause 15 agreed.

Clause 16 : Duty to obtain permission before changing residence

Amendment 31

Moved by Baroness Hamwee

31: Clause 16, page 14, line 21, after first “The” insert “only”

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 32. I suspect that on Amendment 31 I am in for a little more teasing from my noble friend Lord McNally. The noble Lord shakes his head; that is a shame. In that case I am in for more teasing from the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad.

Clause 16 would insert a new section into the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with regard to the permission that is required before an offender who is the subject of a relevant order may change residence. In new Section 220A(4) we are told that there are two grounds available to either the officer or the court, which in effect is the appeal body here from a responsible officer’s decision. I would like to be completely sure that these are the only grounds. I am sure that they are, but I wanted to make the point.

We also wanted to add another provision which would, in effect, alter the presumption in these circumstances. When refusal was given, there would not simply have to be an opinion that a change of residence would be likely to prevent compliance with a requirement or hinder rehabilitation; it would go further. The purpose of the requirement or the rehabilitation would have to be significantly less likely to be achieved if the offender were to change residence. The reason is that a restriction on moving one’s home or one’s household—possibly having to move because of family problems such as the offender and partner splitting up, or because there are job prospects somewhere easier to reach from a new home—are all extremely important and part of rehabilitation. I am not convinced that every possible circumstance is covered by subsection (4)(a) and (b) of new Section 220A. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Labour

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised some interesting points about the role of the responsible officer when an offender applies to change their residence. When considering this amendment, I immediately thought of all the potential problems that might arise. There is also the general point about the level of independence of judgment of the responsible officer when considering these applications. Two questions came to my mind. What would be the position if somebody with a series of convictions for domestic violence wanted to move into a house with a new girlfriend? That might hinder rehabilitation; it would be a judgment that would have to be made by the responsible officer. I do not know what the result might be. I am not sure that the responsible officer would necessarily be told that that was the situation.

Conversely, what would happen if the girlfriend wanted to move into the offender’s current address? If told about it, the responsible officer may have a responsibility to the new girlfriend to ensure that she is informed of the offender’s previous convictions. These are difficult matters which need a lot of expertise to be able to deal with them and there needs to be guidance—maybe non-statutory guidance—for the officers. In general, I am sympathetic to the amendments which the noble Baroness has moved, but I am conscious that there may well be many problems with making those decisions.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hamwee for moving her amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his contribution.

Before responding to the substance of the two amendments, it may be helpful if I briefly set out the purpose of Clause 16. In essence, it would place a new duty on offenders serving community orders or suspended sentence orders to seek permission from their responsible officer or from a court before changing their residence. It replaces the existing requirement for offenders simply to notify their responsible officers after they have moved. It is intended to deal with cases where an offender moving from one probation trust puts at risk the effectiveness of their rehabilitation. For example, a move to a different area may bring to an end an established relationship with the offender’s supervisor. Instead, they may have to start again with a new supervisor from a different probation trust or, in the future, a different rehabilitation provider.

Noble Lords will know that the personal relationship between offenders and their supervisors is important to reducing reoffending. Evidence suggests that offenders with a positive relationship with their offender manager are less likely to offend. This will be particularly important with a move to a through-the-gate model of support, where an offender may have had contact with the same mentor or supervisor before and after release. Another example is a case where a specialist programme that the offender is attending is not available in the area that the offender is proposing to move to. In such cases, a court or responsible officer may consider that ending participation in that programme may set back the offender’s rehabilitation.

Clearly, there are many reasons to support, rather than prevent, an offender changing residence. For example, an offender may be moving to live with family or to take up a new job. We recognise that there will be many cases where a move would not have any negative impact on rehabilitation or on compliance with the order. For example, it may be a move of only a short distance which does not prevent the offender attending required appointments. Even with a long-distance move, programmes may be available in the new area that are equally as appropriate as those in the old area. We recognise this and have built it into the way that the clause is structured. The clause limits the circumstances in which a court or responsible officer can refuse permission to change residence to only two scenarios: where the move is likely to prevent the offender complying with a requirement of the order; or where the move would hinder the offender’s rehabilitation.

Amendment 31 would make explicit that these are the only grounds on which a court or responsible officer can refuse permission to change residence. However, the effect of the way that the clause is drafted is to provide already for these two circumstances, and only these two circumstances, to be grounds for refusal. I am very happy to make that clear to my noble friend Lady Hamwee. I hope that, on that basis, she will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who always comes to these matters with great experience and expertise, gave the example of an offender who had been committed for domestic violence. This situation would require a subjective assessment to be made and it would be for the responsible officer to weigh it up in the risk assessment. This is the sort of decision that professionals make on a daily basis. I listened with great care to the noble Lord’s suggestion about looking at the guidance. I am sure that we will look at it, and I take on board the comments that he made in that respect.

Amendment 32 would provide that a court or responsible officer cannot refuse an application to change residence unless the offender’s rehabilitation or compliance with a requirement of the order would be significantly less likely to be achieved. I hope that I can reassure my noble friend on a number of points. First, even if a move is likely to prevent compliance or would hinder rehabilitation, courts and responsible officers will still have to balance this with other factors. For the purposes of this clause, both courts and responsible officers, whether probation staff or from the voluntary or private sectors, are public authorities within the terms of the Human Rights Act 1998. This means that they are required to balance the impact of the proposed move on rehabilitation or compliance with the order against the offender’s interests in making such a move. They will have to consider the availability of rehabilitative support in the area that the offender wishes to move to, and the extent to which an offender could comply with a requirement in the new area. They will also have to consider the offender’s Article 8 rights. For example, an unemployed offender may wish to move to take up a new job or for family reasons—for example, if their partner is taking up a new job or if a parent is unwell and they need to provide them with care or support. In many cases, factors like these would outweigh concerns about compliance with a requirement or continued rehabilitation. It would be open to a responsible officer to take the order back to court to ask for it to be varied or revoked to suit the offender’s new circumstances.

I would also point out that the clause provides the safeguard of allowing offenders to apply to the court for a decision in cases where the responsible officer has refused permission to change residence, so in cases where offenders feel there are compelling reasons to move which outweigh any potential impact on compliance with a requirement or rehabilitation, they would be able to apply directly to the court to reconsider their case. I hope that these points reassure my noble friend, and, indeed, all noble Lords, that this clause provides a means of supporting the continuity of rehabilitation in cases where a change of residence could put it at risk without impinging on offenders’ wider family or work commitments. With those reassurances, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat 5:15, 11 June 2013

My Lords, of course, I shall not pursue the amendment. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, are very interesting, but I do not think that my amendment would alter the situation either way. He has no doubt made us all start to look at this from a different perspective, which is extremely helpful. The problems raised go wider than just this situation.

When the Minister started to explain some of the reasons that might be behind a decision here, I rather felt that we were going a little close to what might be for the convenience of the provider rather than to the benefit of the offender. I fully accept the importance of the relationship between the offender and the individual who is undertaking the supervision, but that could easily tip over from a company looking at this from a commercial point of view to what might tick the right boxes for that provider.

I was glad to hear the Minister say that there might be many reasons to support a move, but the provisions of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act would seem to provide higher obstacles to a challenge on the part of an offender than would be the case if something of the sort of my amendment on the issue of balance were written into the clause. The amendment would give much more straightforward, less expensive grounds for appeal, as it were, from the decision of the responsible officer to the court. Of course, Article 8 will apply whether we say so or not, but I know that the Minister would accept that praying it in aid to the extent of a challenge to a decision is quite heavy. I will read the Minister’s explanation, as well as having listened to it, but for the time being at any rate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 31 withdrawn.

Amendment 32 not moved.

Clause 16 agreed.

Clause 17 agreed.

Amendment 33

Moved by Lord Woolf

33: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—

“Provision for female offenders

(1) Section 3 of the Offender Management Act 2007 is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Arrangements under subsection (2) shall require providers of probation services to make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders which take account of the particular needs of women.”

(3) After subsection (5) insert—

“(5A) Arrangements under subsection (5) shall make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders which take account of the particular needs of women.””

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench

I have the advantage of moving this amendment with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. It deals with provision for female offenders, which is another area in which the criminal justice system has slowly—painfully so in this case—moved forward to recognising that female offenders have particular needs. The recognition of those needs, which are very great and cannot be disputed, is of the greatest importance if we are to achieve the purposes of the Bill with regard to avoiding reoffending.

There will always be a greater risk of females committing offences if their particular needs have not been taken into account. Of late, great strides have been made—I pay credit to the Government for this—in trying to give positive attention to this problem. There is now a Minister who has particular responsibilities here. Those in the criminal justice system who know her have great confidence in her, and I apprehend that what the amendment seeks to do is something the spirit of which both the department and the Government as a whole would support.

It is something that was considered very ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, in her well known report dealing with female offenders, which has not been given sufficient attention until now. I hope that one result of the new approach indicated by the Offender Rehabilitation Bill will be to enable the Government to acknowledge the importance of that report and give effect to its provisions, as suggested in these clauses. They require that the Offender Management Act 2007 should be amended to require providers of probation services to make provision for the delivery of services for female offenders that take account of particular needs of women with regard to Section 3(2) and (5) of the 2007 Act.

It would be a huge encouragement to those who have been involved in trying to improve the facilities and arrangements for female offenders if this amendment were to be accepted. I hope the Minister will give it careful consideration in due course. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, and, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, drew attention to the importance of this at Second Reading. I mentioned the matter as well. I hope that enough has been said on this subject in recent times to enable the Minister to respond positively to these proposals. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to support the noble and learned Lord Woolf’s amendment, which is an important one. The best thing about this whole Bill is the emphasis on keeping people out of prison if you possibly can, dealing with their problems and the rehabilitation required to get them back into society, where they can play a useful role. It is very much at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

However, I have to say that we are all puzzled about why women and their special needs are not part of the original Bill. They have been rather brushed to one side. The document, Transforming Rehabilitation: A Strategy for Reform, notes that quite a high proportion of the consultees themselves specifically wanted the special needs of women to be delivered on. The more one thinks about it, the more surprising it is that women have been put to one side, at least for the moment, despite the fact that the strategy makes the point also made by the Prison Reform Trust, with all its expertise, that,

“the review of the women’s custodial estate … will also strengthen services for women released from prison”.

However, it does not go on to explain how that will be done.

I want to emphasise several points before I sit down. Although I accept entirely the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, that carers come from both sexes, the vast majority of those caring for the children in a family and the heads of single-parent households are women. We know that many women prisoners themselves come from chaotic backgrounds and are likely to be have been abused in their own childhoods. As regards drug trafficking, quite a number of them—certainly the ones I have met in women’s prisons—have been used as mules for the purpose of transporting drugs at the request of their partners. All this shows that the one thing that must not happen, if it is humanly possible—of course there are exceptions where prison must play its part—is to send women to prison. It should be the last resort because it is the children who suffer. Often in such circumstances, the children have to be taken into care because the family home is broken up or the landlord can no longer accept the household.

I hope that we will be given an explanation of why specific attention has not been paid to women’s needs in this Bill. I know that we have been told that we will be given something later, but not taking these issues into account as the various plans unfold is something that I and others find puzzling and rather worrying. I shall give an example. A women’s prison is to be closed down because it is to be used to provide for the special needs of young offenders. That is fair enough, because those young offenders may well have special needs, but yet again one more place will no longer be available for women. No doubt it means that if they have to be sent to prison, they will be located even further away from their families.

I hope that all this will be taken into account and that we will be given an explanation of why women have been left to one side. I think that we need this more than anything else. I do not believe for a moment that the Government are thinking of women as second-class citizens, and yet that is very much the impression given by the fact that at this point, when we are looking at an important and valuable Bill, their needs are not being taken into account.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 5:30, 11 June 2013

My Lords, I, too, support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on this amendment. Like my noble friend Lady Howe, I am sorry that yet again we should be coming to an important Bill like this and raising the issue of women as something that has been admitted, rather than actually trying to discuss in more detail exactly what should be done with and for women.

We have discussed frequently women in prison, but we have not discussed women in the community so frequently. On several occasions when it has come up, I mentioned the need for specialist women offender teams around the country. We have also mentioned the possibility of a women’s justice board, which would be responsible, like the children’s justice board for children, for looking after both women in custody and women in the community. I hope that the Minister will recommend to his colleague, to whom the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, referred, that she should look very carefully at this because there will be a need for somebody to keep oversight over the cohorts of women around the country who are being subjected to myriad different providers, and there will need to be consistency as well as quality in the content of what is done for them, so I hope account is taken of that in considering this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Corston Baroness Corston Chair, EU Sub Committee E - Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection, Chair, EU Sub Committee E - Justice, Institutions and Consumer Protection

My Lords, I am delighted to support the amendment tabled in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. It is 15 months now since we had the first vote specifically on this issue that I can remember. At that time there was a tied vote and we were promised a strategy. Subsequent attempts to amend legislation to provide for gender-specific services have failed.

My reading of the current government policy on transforming rehabilitation is that we are going back 10 years, because we are going to have an offender strategy that can be tweaked for women, rather than asking what kind of strategic priorities we need for women offenders. Those are missing. We have a two-page statement, not a strategy, from the Government about what is going to happen for women. If this was a serious undertaking, this kind of amendment would have formed part of the Bill. It would not be up to Members of the House to try to put it into the Bill.

The other thing that I found very troubling during the course of my review was how many women knew that their lives were spiralling out of control but knew that there was nowhere they could go to get assistance. That is what was so amazing about the seed-corn money, although it was £15 million, that the previous Government put into keeping women out of prison by providing women’s centres as alternatives to custody. I know that the Minister has visited at least one, and I am sure that noble Lords who are interested in this area will have done the same. You hear stories of women who have gone through a period of the most amazing redemption because they have had these gender-specific services from people who understand the reality of women’s lives and the centrality of family and children. They understand that when women go to prison, unlike men, there is no one to keep the home fires burning, and they usually lose their children and do not get them back.

All these issues can be dealt with easily if you make provision statutorily for gender-specific services, because people have to think about it. It is not a question of women being an add-on. I accept that, given the overall prison population—there are about 86,000 men in prison and 4,000 women—you could say that women are an add-on. However, given that some 17,000 children a year are affected by their mothers’ imprisonment, and a significant proportion of those children end up in prison themselves, such provision seems to me to be the most important preventive strategy. I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are so reluctant to have this in the Bill, because it would be a matter of pride to do so. I know that the Minister will tell me how much has happened, and I will listen with patience but with some irritation, because, given my experience in the 21 years since I first set foot in a women’s prison, I know that it will not be enough. So I say to the Government: if this amendment is not accepted, we really want to see something that will work.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Marks spoke on the needs and importance of specific services for women. I hesitate to follow the noble Baroness because I cannot be nearly as powerful as she was, but I cannot keep silent either. I spoke on the issue on the previous day in Committee. I appreciate that this is a different amendment that addresses a different matter from those that we have looked at before. On short sentences and a period of supervision, I want to make one specific point before I come to the more general. Unless the supervision requirements are appropriate, for all the reasons that we have talked about, the likelihood of a breach of the requirements by the offender must be higher, and that will mean that she is back in custody. That is exactly what we want to avoid.

I know how strongly my noble friend Lord McNally feels about this, and I know that we are going to hear that work is under way, led by his colleague, Helen Grant. However, I will make one point and ask one question. My point is that a marker of some sort should be put down that shows the importance with which this House regards this issue—like the noble Baroness, one finds it difficult to find the words, but they are not specialist services, because they are not an add-on; they are a different group and they need different services. Furthermore, the marker should acknowledge the importance with which this issue is regarded outside this House by, I think, everyone in the offender management penal reform field to whom I have spoken.

My question to my noble friend, who is probably at least as frustrated as I am, is what amendment, if this is not accepted, would put down that marker, get past the Treasury, if that is where the problem is, and not restrict the progress of work done in the MoJ but enable us to make the point? Many noble Lords have put down a string of amendments. If none of those is going to get a tick from the Minister, can he help us—I know that he is on side—by suggesting what would take the matter forward at this stage?

Photo of Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Baroness Linklater of Butterstone Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I, too, cannot remain silent. I am so glad that we are privileged to have the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, to add her voice to this debate. The crucial thing is that we have not managed to listen hard enough before. There is no question that women are different from men. They are not just differently shaped; they have particular needs and they are absolutely specific. We have known this for years. It is possibly boring but quite graphic to look at just a few of the facts and figures. Women serve very short sentences on the whole, with 58% serving six months or less and many only four months, or a matter of weeks. The sentences are for non-violent offences; we do not need to be protected from these women. Some 81% are for shoplifting, and we know that most shoplifting is for food for their children or for drugs. About 60% of the women, in fact, are drug users.

The final thing, which the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, also mentioned, is that the collateral damage of the imprisonment of women is absolutely unquantifiable. If more than 17,000 children a year experience and suffer separation from their mothers, that damage does not really take a lot of imagination to assess. Some terribly graphic reports have been published. For many children, to be separated in this way from their parents is like a bereavement: in their eyes, their mothers have died. This is a terrible thing to have to experience, but this is what we are doing to this primarily non-violent, very vulnerable, group of people from whom we do not need to be protected.

The centres, which we have models for, do exist and it would not be difficult for the Government to develop them along those lines. Several years ago now, when I chaired the Rethinking Crime and Punishment initiative, we funded the Fawcett Society, which issued an important report, before even the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, saying that we should make this specialist provision. We now have one or two important Together Women groups, and a total in this country of about 55 groups altogether, which is not very many. We have the 218 service in Glasgow and the Willow partnership, which we are very proud of, but they are a drop in the ocean compared with the needs of these women. I have been to a women’s centre recently and not only were the women telling me how much their lives were being changed but there were people at the centre who had been users and were now coming back to support other people who were going through the same terrible experience.

The facts and the figures, as well as this kind of affective argument, seem irresistible. I hope that when this amendment talks about the particular needs of women that the Government will have ears to hear and will take this forward immediately.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Corston, to whom tribute has been paid again today—as it is regularly, and rightly, when these matters come up—has spoken with her customary passion about the problem which her report so significantly addressed. The implementation of her report has, alas, as yet not gone far enough by any means. The Committee will, I am sure, agree completely with the thrust of her powerful argument this evening. I certainly support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, to which other noble Lords have spoken.

It should not be necessary, but it still clearly is, to remind your Lordships’ House, and indeed others, of the impact of the present system on women offenders, particularly those who end up in custody. There is a shockingly high rate of suicide and self-harm for those in custody; it is much more significant than it is among male offenders. We are in essence discussing those who perhaps will be in custody for a short time, but even short-term prisoners will be subject to the temptation of self-harm, and that will apply, particularly again, to women. It is important that we look at this issue for a discrete group and take the sort of measures that deal properly with their problems. Although we are concerned today with the provisions of this Bill, that will need to be at various levels of the justice system. I hope we will have a sympathetic and practical response from the noble Lord when he replies.

I take this opportunity to refer again to resettlement prisons and women, because there is an issue here that that was mentioned on the last occasion in Committee and needs stressing: the proposal, which is welcome in principle, for resettlement prisons for those in custody who will be returned to the community to be nearer the place to which they will return. I pointed out that there are only 13 women’s prisons in this country and that there might well be a problem with housing women in a women’s institution close to where they live. It is a significant issue and a concern to organisations involved with this issue. It would be wrong to house women in an essentially male establishment simply because that happens to be nearer and there is no women’s institution in the appropriate geographical area. In fairness, in replying, the Minister did say:

“it is very important that we make the best use of the existing provision for women offenders in the prison estate, both taking account of its size and the geographical spread. We will be consulting with both providers and stakeholders to design the most suitable resettlement arrangements”.—[ Official Report , 5/6/13; col. 1270.]

It is only a week since the noble Lord addressed the issue, and we are not expecting a result now, but an indication of the timescale for the consultation and who will be consulted would be welcome and would help to allay concerns about this issue. I hope we can get a sympathetic response.

I also take the opportunity to raise a problem that has not yet been referred to in our debate on the Bill and is not yet the subject of any amendment: the question of black and minority ethnic prisoners. I remind the Committee that the statistics show that, for crimes of a comparable nature and for people with a comparable record, the rate of refusal of bail is much higher for BME alleged offenders, while custodial sentences are more frequent and longer than for non-BME offenders with similar records and for similar offences. The question occurred to me somewhat belatedly but is provoked by the perhaps comparable needs of the other neglected body that we are discussing with this amendment, namely women, and I raise it now because it will the last opportunity to do so before Report. Do we not need to pay particular heed, in the context of the Bill, to arrangements for BME offenders? That in no way minimises the importance of the issue which this amendment raises, which has been so long on the agenda, but this other item has not really been on the agenda to any significant extent. I hope that, in the course of the Bill, we might be able to look at that. Perhaps the noble Lord will consider it when he replies.

I hope particularly this evening that we have an unequivocal response to this matter and that the Government will support this amendment, or at least take it back with a view to embodying it in the Bill, and give some indication of what other progress we can expect on this critical issue, which after all affects half the population of the country.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 5:45, 11 June 2013

My Lords, this has been an extremely useful debate, fully living up to the reputation of this House for taking an ongoing interest in this matter. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in particular, for bringing it forward. We have had a very useful debate, with a number of interesting points being raised. We already realise that if the problems of women within our criminal justice system could be solved by reports, or even clauses in a Bill, they would have been solved a long time ago.

Perhaps part of the problem, going back to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, mentioned earlier, is that we also need a change in culture and general approach. We have made painfully slow progress in this area. Too many women are in our prisons. It is palpably obvious that women have different problems and needs and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has reminded us, the collateral damage from the imprisonment of women is substantial. Nothing divides us on this.

I was pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, made her contribution. I regret that her assessment is that we are going back 10 years. I do not think that we are. That is not the direction of travel. However, we face difficulties. She knows that her report was not implemented in full by her Government because of some of the financial constraints that face this Government. I have never moved away from the fact that her report is a template for action and we will re-examine it in the light of what we are trying to do with these reforms.

Of course, one of the key factors of these reforms is that we are picking up the challenge of dealing with sentences of under 12 months. As has been pointed out on a number of occasions, it is that cohort, if that is the new in-word to use, that has the greatest preponderance of women offenders. So, in that respect, this legislation gives us the opportunity to deal with and respond to the challenges posed by women offenders in a positive way.

A number of points were raised during the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned the review that is under way of the women’s estate. The Justice Secretary is conscious that female offenders have particular needs and that the custodial female estate should be organised as effectively as possible to meet gender-specific requirements while delivering best value to the public. That review is expected to report by the end of the summer. I do not know what that means. I was told today that summer has not yet started but it will report by the end of the summer.

Of course, although the implementation of the Corston review has not been complete, the National Offender Management Service accepted 40 of the 43 recommendations. Progress has been impressive, including ending the mandatory full searching of women in reception and moving to a risk-based approach; embedding gender-specific standards for women in all areas of prison regimes; encouraging greater use of specialist accommodation in the community for offenders who pose a high risk of harm; and introducing the women awareness staff programme for those in the criminal justice system and the community who work with female offenders. So, as I say, I do not believe that it is entirely negative.

The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made a valid point on resettlement accommodation for women. We will look at it and think about it. I agree that the issue poses real problems.

Interestingly—I lift the veil on the workings of the MoJ—we had an interesting discussion this morning when my noble friend Lord Ahmad made exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made about whether there is a lacuna in terms of black and ethnic minorities. If we had had the common sense to listen to my noble friend this morning, I would have had a full answer this afternoon. However, it is a point that should be looked at.

The approach of the Bill, which has given rise to some of the issues in the debate today, is, basically, let a thousand flowers bloom. Let us see what comes back in offers, ideas and approaches and consider how we can reshape the service to it. Again lifting the veil on the MoJ, I have argued at times whether the contracts should be women-specific—and, who knows, that might happen—but the reason that that is not there at the beginning is to encourage the widest possible contributions to the debate.

I am sure that no one in the House disagrees with the principle underlying the amendment. As the noble and learned Lord knows, the Government fully share his belief that service providers should take a different approach where there is a need to differentiate provision for female offenders. Where the challenges are different, our response should likewise be different. The Government’s commitment to ensuring the provision of services that recognise and address the specific needs of female offenders where they are different from those of male offenders is set out clearly in our recent Strategic Objectives for Female Offenders strategy. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, thinks that it is rather sparse, but it does point the way forward.

All probation trusts are required to make appropriate provisions for women in the community to address factors associated with their re-offending. One of the Ministry of Justice equality objectives for the period 2012-16 is the,

“provision of gender-specific community services to improve support for vulnerable women in the criminal justice system”.

Let me make it absolutely clear that this objective will continue to apply as we move to a new framework for supporting offenders in the community.

Our plan is to open up provision to a diverse market of large and small providers. This will provide the opportunity for groups delivering women’s services, which are often small, community-based organisations. Helen Grant, the Minister for Victims and the Courts, and I have visited a number of these women’s centres, as the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, mentioned, and I have been greatly encouraged by the work that we have seen being done with female offenders to help them turn their lives around. I pay tribute to the work of Helen Grant. She has made a significant impact since she came into her role. I know of her commitment to this issue and that she will particularly appreciate the tribute from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.

I am equally clear that our new framework must encourage providers to work in partnership with other public services to ensure that the broader life-management issues associated with women offending, such as drug misuse, domestic violence and sexual abuse, are addressed. As we design the new commissioning process, the need to ensure the delivery of services that take account of women’s needs and their often troubled backgrounds will be embedded into the new approach.

Service specifications for the commissioning process will include gender-specific outputs, where appropriate, which providers must meet. In order to win contracts, service providers will be required to demonstrate that they understand and will respond to the particular needs of female offenders where these differ from those of men. This will include, for example, taking account of women’s family and caring responsibilities. Many female offenders have children, and any activity requirement clearly must take account of their needs too. There will be a robust approach to evaluating bids to ensure that potential providers are offering innovative and effective services to female offenders.

The payment-by-results approach will in itself be an incentive to providers to take a gender-specific approach where appropriate. Put simply, they will not rehabilitate female offenders unless they take account of and address women’s needs and the factors that lead them to offend. I also reassure noble Lords that those safeguards for female offenders will not end with the commissioning process. Once contracts have been awarded, contract managers within the Ministry of Justice will monitor service delivery to ensure that key outputs for female offenders are being delivered. Service providers will be supported by guidance on working with female offenders and the sorts of provision that are known to be effective.

I am delighted that this is being prepared in collaboration with members of the new advisory board on female offenders. In fact, a workshop is taking place tomorrow to take that important work forward. The guidance will be completed in time to inform the competition process later this year. The advisory board, which was announced in March, has a key role in safeguarding the needs of female offenders as we take forward our reforms. The board brings together key stakeholders, criminal justice partners and senior officials from across Government. One of its tasks is to ensure that the needs of women are recognised and addressed in the new arrangements for commissioning probation services.

I was very impressed at the challenge and support offered to officials when this was discussed at the board’s first meeting last month, which I attended. I have every confidence that the board will continue to work to ensure that the interests of female offenders are an integral part of the new commissioning agreements. I hope that what I have said has reassured the noble and learned Lord that the Government are committed to ensuring that the particular needs of female offenders will be safeguarded as we take our rehabilitation reforms forward.

My noble friend Lady Hamwee accused me of teasing her—something I would never dream of doing. I admire the fact that she gets the same pleasure from taking to bed a 200-clause Bill plus schedules as some women get from Fifty Shades of Grey. I would not dream of teasing her. She asked me how you put a marker down here. That is certainly a challenge. As I said, it is a tribute to this House that it keeps concerns about women to the forefront of our agenda. Although I cannot give the House assurances today, I suspect that we will return to this matter on Report. I know the passion and interest in the House about this—which I share. One thing that has struck me most powerfully in the three years that I have been in the department is that it is just wrong to keep 4,000 women in prison. The move to get those numbers down has been painfully slow. I believe that the Bill will open up opportunities for a radical new approach. Certainly, the help, support and wisdom of the House in that direction is wholly welcome. I anticipate returning to this matter on Report.

Photo of Lord Woolf Lord Woolf Crossbench 6:00, 11 June 2013

I thank the Minister for that reply. I know the sincerity of what he says, but patience has limits. The House has indicated on previous occasions that it feels that something should appear in statute to make these responsibilities absolutely clear to not only Ministers but everybody concerned with female offenders. Although it is pleasing to hear that some things are happening, I fear that the reassurance that we get from Ministers will not continue to satisfy this House. On Report, I hope there can be something positive proposed to deal with a situation that has been left unacknowledged in legislation for far too long ere now. In the circumstances, I will not press the amendment and beg leave to withdraw it, but this is certainly not the end of the matter.

Amendment 33 withdrawn.

Amendment 33A

Moved by Lord Beecham

33A: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—

“Veterans’ courts pilot

(1) Veterans’ courts shall be established for the purpose of assisting the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel convicted of offences for which non-custodial sentences could be imposed by the trial court.

(2) Subject to subsection (3) below, before instituting the provision of veterans’ courts, the Secretary of State shall prescribe by statutory instrument a scheme for such a system, which shall be laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(3) Before such system may come into existence, the Secretary of State shall undertake a pilot scheme lasting three years in duration, which shall be independently evaluated to include consultation with magistrates, with the evaluation report laid before Parliament and approved by resolution of both Houses of Parliament.”

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, this amendment reflects the suggestion I made at Second Reading that the UK should follow the precedent set by the United States and establish veterans’ courts to supplement the trial courts when ex-service men and women plead guilty to or are convicted of crimes for which non-custodial sentences could be imposed, to assist the rehabilitation of those ex-service personnel. Consistent with earlier amendments moved in relation to payment by results and probation, it calls for such a scheme to be piloted before being eventually embodied in the system on the basis of a resolution to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.

There were two sources of inspiration for this amendment. The first was a report published in 2011 by the North East Regional Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, led by officers of Newcastle City Council, looking at the mental health needs of the ex-service community. The second and in many ways more relevant source was a recent seminar on veterans’ treatment courts organised by Justice for Vets and the Community Covenant—two voluntary sector organisations—and the city council. That took place in Newcastle about three weeks ago.

Estimates of the numbers of UK former service men and women vary. The Department of Health says that there are around 5 million in England while research by King’s College for the Department of Health and MoD in 2010 estimated only 3.8 million, with about 20,000 men and women leaving the forces each year—a figure likely to grow now that the size of the Armed Forces is being reduced. Around 2,000 service men and women a year are discharged on health grounds, with the main issues being adjustment disorders, depression and alcohol abuse. They have a significantly higher rate of post-traumatic stress syndromes than the general population.

Evidence collected by a community veteran mental health project in the north-east suggests that most mental health problems occur after discharge. There are varying estimates, too, of the numbers in the criminal justice and penal systems. NOMS figures are at the lower end of the range, but even if they are right, between 3% and 5% of the national prison population at any one time may be veterans, and many more veterans will have been before the courts and received non-custodial community sentences, probation or suspended sentences, giving a total of around 20,000. The incidence of mental health disorders among the 16-to-44 age group of veterans, their families and carers—the so-called ex-service community—is threefold that for the UK population, and combat stress referrals have risen by two-thirds in the past few years. Early service leavers who are young are particularly vulnerable to emotional and mental health problems and are up to three times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

The seminar to which I referred was addressed by a former state prosecutor from Little Rock, Arkansas, who has also served in senior positions in the state’s correctional service. He describes himself as “not a bleeding-heart liberal”. With that experience, one might well accept that. Nevertheless, he enthusiastically espouses and promotes the concept of veterans’ courts. The presentation included a video by a senior trial judge who also presides over the veterans’ court in Little Rock.

The US has some 20 million veterans, around five times the number in the UK, and in the last five years every state has established a veterans’ court. The offender can be referred from the trial court and is required to attend monthly so that progress can be assessed. A veteran mentor is appointed and systematic efforts made to help the offender deal with the range of problems with which he or she may have failed to cope. Substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of housing, skills or a job, family breakdown and other problems are addressed by development agencies. Failure to co-operate on the part of the offender leads to recall by the trial court and the possible imposition of a custodial sentence.

The system has proved remarkably successful. The court in Buffalo, New York, which I think was the first to be established, has a 100% success rate in avoiding reoffending. In Minnesota, reoffending rates fell very sharply for 83% of those participating. The potential savings were found to be considerable. In the analogous system of US drug courts around $5,700 was saved per participant. Even Texas, a state not known as a stronghold of bleeding-heart liberals, is looking across the board in its justice system for more cost-effective approaches than imprisonment. When considering the position of men and women who have served in the Armed Forces, it is surely time for us to extend the reach of the military covenant by piloting veterans’ courts here.

I suggest beginning with the north-east. The region is the largest contributor of recruits to the armed services, and veterans comprise around 5% of its prison population of 10,500 against an ONS estimate—which may be on the low side—of 3% nationally. The 2011 scrutiny report produced a series of recommendations covering services for veterans, especially in the mental health arena, which play such a significant part in offending and reoffending. This is influencing the necessary development of a more co-ordinated approach between the relevant agencies. The potential clearly exists to build on this experience so that the MoD, NHS bodies—including health and well-being boards, clinical commissioning groups, the national Commissioning Board and trusts—councils with their responsibilities for housing and social care and the Department for Work and Pensions can, we hope, help to prevent ex-service men and women from offending in the first place. Together with the probation service and the voluntary sector, these bodies will help to prevent reoffending should they fall foul of the law.

Having discussed the problems in terms of policies and statistics, I should like to illustrate their nature by recounting the story of one individual who was helped by probation and About Turn. About Turn is a charitable organisation in the north-east which is headed by a former serviceman and supports veterans.

Mr A comes from a service background with a father who served for more than 20 years in the Army. Now middle-aged, Mr A served for nine years as a young man before leaving the forces at the request of his wife. Unfortunately they divorced and he began to suffer alcohol problems. He joined the TA and a few years ago was employed as a training team instructor but lost the job after a serious accident caused by drinking. Depression and increased drinking exacerbated the effects of medication to treat the ongoing consequences of his accident. He was arrested for a serious offence of violence and was himself severely injured. Thanks to the probation service he was put in touch with this veterans’ charity following a community rehabilitation order and a suspended prison sentence. Under their auspices, with mentoring and support, he has obtained permanent accommodation and recognised qualifications, reduced his alcohol consumption, drug misuse and self-harm, improved his physical health, increased contact with his children and ex-wife and has avoided reoffending. He has engaged in 969 hours of positive structured activities organised by the charity. In a moving letter he says:

“At present I’m on a Veterans’ Mental Health course and would love to get involved with the next one. I have attended meetings on Civic level supported charity events and am at present laying plans for charity events. All of this has played an important part of me not reoffending, self isolating and drinking and it has also given me reason to look to the future”.

He concludes:

“It is a crying shame that I had to get into trouble to achieve all of this”.

It is also a crying shame that men and women who have served their country in difficult and often dangerous circumstances should fall into a similar state as Mr A, at such great cost to themselves and to society.

By systematically incorporating approaches such as those Mr A has successfully undergone into our criminal justice system, we can do much to reduce the likelihood of such damage, and the veterans’ court concept offers a real prospect of achieving that goal. The Minister expressed sympathy with the idea when I floated it on Second Reading, and Mr Damian Green, the Minister of State for Criminal Justice in the Commons, has agreed to meet my honourable friend Dave Anderson MP and others—I hope to be one of them—in the near future. I hope that the noble Lord’s sympathetic response—I know that he wishes to see this carried forward—will be reflected in a positive response tonight. I hope that we can look forward initially to the establishment of a pilot scheme and subsequently to rolling it out in the interests of society and indeed for the ex-service men and women. Those who serve our country under arms deserve no less. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 6:15, 11 June 2013

My Lords, in supporting the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, on this I should declare two interests, first as a former Adjutant-General—or personnel director of the Army—and secondly as president of the Veterans in Prison Association. I have been very interested in the attention given to this particular idea; and although I have not been to it, I have had reports of the activities in Buffalo to which the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, referred. I entirely endorse all his suggestions about the north-east being used as a pilot area. I have been in contact with organisations working up there and have been very impressed by the supporting network that is available. It is one of the crucial parts of doing this.

Unfortunately the figures on exactly how many ex-service people are involved in the criminal justice system are slightly distorted by the fact that numbers of them who claim to be members of the services failed even to make the training. While they may make the claim, they actually have no right to do so. I think, and always have, that it is very important to establish that fact right at the start. Some excellent work was done by the Kent police to try to work out exactly how many ex-service people came through the police stations in Kent. They found that it was very important to ask them for their service number and then to follow it up to establish whether in fact they were genuine ex-servicemen or—as it were— pseudo ex-servicemen who did not deserve the same treatment.

In presenting his case, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has very rightly focused on the support mechanism that is needed in addition to the courts. There needs to be something equivalent to the diversion scheme which the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, has pioneered for the courts in general. It is very useful to recognise—as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has done—that there is a vast network of supporting service charities which act on behalf of the individual servicemen in their long-term and short-term needs. This is something of which account should be taken.

I also commend some other excellent work that has been going on in this country. The Cheshire probation service have been funded by the Royal British Legion to train probation officers to understand the particular needs of ex-servicemen so that they can apply that when deciding exactly how they should be supervised should they be sentenced. What would be very important in establishing these courts—which I entirely recommend—is to make certain that the courts have got a very wide supporting network behind them which should cover things such as mental health and probation. They should also make use of the service charities in whatever action they take with these unfortunate people. I am also very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, mentioned that many of these people come into the sphere of the criminal justice system comparatively late. The average age of 48 was mentioned. Therefore you are not dealing so much with the young adult as the person who has fallen on hard times through trying to come to terms with civilian life and needs particular help to enable them to re-engage.

Photo of Viscount Slim Viscount Slim Crossbench

My Lords, I support very much the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. I like the way that he has gone into the depth of the problem. I declare that I deal with veterans, from 18 year-olds with one leg to 90 year-olds who have been in various campaigns. I find that middle age is a tricky time for veterans, and it is a big problem.

I do not want to rehearse all the arguments. I believe that the Minister should look kindly on this, and a trial period is what we need. A veteran today gets a fair amount of help when he leaves the Army but the Minister will find, particularly as 25,000 service men and women are in the process of being chucked out of the Army, that the problems are going to increase, and something more will be needed than what is being done at the moment.

I merely state that there is a problem and I do not believe that we are doing enough about it. These veterans’ courts are proven elsewhere; we ought to look at them carefully and trial them. I hope that the Minister understands the problem and is able to do something about it.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, I want to add only that just one court with a proper support network would be very much better than nothing.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for tabling this amendment. I listened carefully to the very poignant story that he told of Mr A’s experiences and how we can build upon that. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who is extremely well placed and well qualified to speak with authority on this subject, with his background in the Armed Forces, as a former Chief Inspector of Prisons and as president of the Veterans in Prison Association.

As my noble friend Lord McNally said at Second Reading, we share the concerns that have been expressed by all noble Lords in this debate and by the House as a whole—indeed, by Parliament as a whole—that ex-service personnel are ending up in the criminal justice system and, even worse, at times ending up in prison.

However, we should not make our genuine concern, which we have heard today, about our ex-service personnel appear unduly alarmist about service in our Armed Forces. To keep this in perspective, there is some evidence that points to the fact that having served in the Armed Forces is a preventative factor in offending—that is, those who serve in the Armed Forces are less likely to offend than the general population. However, many of those ex-service personnel who offend—Ifully acknowledge this, and I am sure that this sentimentresonates with everyone in your Lordships’ House—have served their country, and we owe it to them to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support them.

I do not want to go into the specific wording of the amendment because I acknowledge, and I am sure that this was the intention of both noble Lords, that it was designed to highlight this issue so that we could discuss it further. The amendment raises some fundamental and important questions about the different approaches that could be taken. For example, should we be looking at a body designed to divert ex-service personnel before they get to the criminal courts? Should we be considering whether there is a case for ensuring that courts have greater knowledge and awareness in dealing with this group of offenders? Or should we be considering an oversight role, looking at the most effective ways to rehabilitate ex-service personnel? These are questions that we will look at in conjunction with the judiciary, my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence and other government departments.

This is not to suggest that there is nothing going on in regard to veterans. It is true that some ex-service personnel will struggle to adjust to civilian life, but the Armed Forces do much more than other employers in retraining and reskilling staff who are leaving their employ. We are doing more to identify the particular needs of those offenders who end up in prison, including issues arising from their previous service. All prisons should now have a “veteran in custody support officer” to help with and co-ordinate the assessment and support of ex-service personnel offenders.

I should like to take a moment here, and I am sure that noble Lords across the Chamber will want to join me, to praise the excellent work that many voluntary sector organisations do both in prisons and in the community with offenders, notably the Royal British Legion and SSAFA, the Soldiers’, Sailors’ and Airmen’s Families Association.

Important work is therefore going on, and we will be looking at how that may be best developed. I should say that, as part of our plans to improve the rehabilitation of offenders, we will expect providers of probation services to provide flexible and tailored services to offenders, including addressing the particular needs of ex-service personnel. During meetings that we have had around the Bill with the Lord Chancellor, the Secretary of State and indeed with all Peers, I know that this issue was raised by other Peers. The noble Lord, Lord Reid, raised specific examples of what he had seen in Scotland. We have seen examples of this through the PbR pilots. For example, as part of the pilot at HMP Doncaster, ex-service personnel are being matched up with mentors who themselves are from service backgrounds to support their rehabilitation on release from custody.

I cannot say that we will bring back amendments in this Bill to create a new veterans’ court, and in fact legislation for a pilot may not be required. However, to pick up the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, I fully acknowledge that we need to give this issue particular thought and much more careful consideration, and the department is already looking at it. I invite all noble Lords across the Chamber to work with us in this respect; I would welcome the opportunity. That will enhance and develop our discussions further, and I think that we will benefit a great deal from the expertise in your Lordships’ House.

While we will continue to ensure good practice is continued and developed among providers, we will also consider what further options may be required for the longer term. I noted in particular the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, when he talked about the establishment of such a court and what surrounds that court—the need for support that goes much wider. It is important that the Government, and indeed the House in its contributions in looking at this matter, take a very holistic approach.

With those reassurances of our continued and passionate shared commitment, as expressed around the House today, to develop support for ex-service personnel, I hope that the noble Lords are able to withdraw their amendment.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I express a sense of slight disappointment with the Minister’s reply. I am grateful to the noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I rather expected the Government to say that they would at least go forward with a pilot, whether or not legislation was required for that. I would have hoped that they would acknowledge that there would be space in the Bill to allow for the establishment of these courts if legislation were required for that, although maybe it is not—it will be interesting to find out on Report if it would require legislation to establish this system—and for the Government to allow for such an eventuality after a pilot. If the Government are not prepared to give an assurance that a pilot will be mounted, it will be necessary to bring this amendment or something like it back before the House and, perhaps, to test its opinion. Sympathy is welcome but, as we have heard already this afternoon, sometimes it only goes so far.

I acknowledge that both Ministers are sympathetic. I hope that in the discussion with Mr Green we will be able to take matters further; but if it does not appear that significant action is clearly on the Government’s agenda, I will invite the House on Report to ensure that the Bill reflects what I suspect would be the view widely shared across the House, that we should get on with this and not allow another situation to develop in which sentiments are pronounced but nothing much happens. This is too important an issue to allow that to occur. We have already seen this afternoon, in an area of policy not entirely dissimilar to this, how disappointing it can be to wait for action to be taken. Having said that, and hoping that we will see something more positive and more immediate than the Minister’s reply suggests is perhaps on the agenda, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 33A withdrawn.

Schedule 6 agreed.

Amendment 34

Moved by Lord Ramsbotham

34: Before Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—

Secretary of State’s duty

(1) The Secretary of State shall in each year publish a report on the financial and resource costs and benefits of the implementation of this Act.

(2) A report published under subsection (1) shall include, but need not be restricted to, information on the financial costs and benefits associated with—

(a) the supervision of offenders following release from custody,

(b) breaches of supervision requirements,

(c) changes in arrangements for the provision of probation services,

(d) any changes in sentencing practice attributable to the implementation of this Act.

(3) Publication under subsection (1) shall be effected in such manner as the Secretary of State considers appropriate for the purpose of bringing the report to the attention of persons engaged in the administration of criminal justice and of the public.”

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 6:30, 11 June 2013

My Lords, this is a probing amendment drafted by the Prison Reform Trust, reflecting a great number of concerns put to it by practitioners. Although there is general approval of and welcome for the intent of the Bill, as has been voiced throughout this Chamber today and on the previous Committee day, there is concern that we do not know a great deal of the detail. Based on experience, those of us who have been involved in the criminal justice system in one way or another are concerned that it is the very lack of detail that it is likely to inhibit the advance of whatever is proposed. The amendment therefore does not aim to put a spanner in the works—far from it. Like many other noble Lords, I want to see the Bill come to fruition. I want something to be done about this terrible reoffending rate, if that indeed is the right term. What is more, I want whatever is introduced to be sustained and not a sort of one-day wonder.

At the heart of a lot of what of being proposed is the introduction of payment by results. I declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Penal Affairs Group. We have been involved with the drug and alcohol recovery pilots, eight of which are currently running. They went live in April last year and are being run by the NHS. There was a long two-year period before they were introduced and they are being academically evaluated over three years by Manchester University and Birkbeck University. I think that they are very relevant to what is being proposed for the criminal justice system because they involve practitioners in the field. Those monitoring these pilots in the National Health Service have looked at the payback mechanism straw-man proposal for this Bill which, like all the papers we have before us, was published only last month. Although saying that in some respects what is proposed looks promising, they point out that it raises questions, many of which relate to the absence of numbers or qualitative weighting—or, indeed pilots—which does not give one a great deal of confidence in what is alleged.

In addition, they are concerned that there is no mention of the overlap and tension for both users and providers involved with other payment-by-result schemes such as the Work Programme, the NHS alcohol treatment programme, the NHS dual-diagnosis programme, the troubled families programme and indeed, in the case of the Ministry of Justice, the drug and alcohol recovery programme, all of which are connected with the offender rehabilitation programme and some of which could impact on the plans made and payment claimed for an individual who is subject to more than one payment-by-results programme. There does not appear to have been any resolution of that.

Various concerns suggested by other payment-by-result initiatives do not seem to have been fully addressed. For example, there is considerable concern about what is referred to as gaming—the public’s private sector providers playing games with the payment, the assessment or the people they actually put forward for it. To get over that, the National Health Service has put in place a mechanism called the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, which has treatment outcome profiles and local area assessment and referral services, because it found that unless it does that, there is a great danger of it being taken for a ride, which it cannot afford.

There is also something proposed called the learning-curve discount scheme that nobody seems to know much about because we do not know whether providers are going to be able consistently to reduce costs and/or improve performance and therefore come up with something earning a discount. Also, there is no mention of the significant transition costs of payment by results, which other people have found both in establishing the data management systems for managing the outcomes and the substantial bureaucracy required to manage them. If they are being managed by the current system, which is working flat-out to manage current offenders, I wonder how it will cope with the problems of the payment-by-results schemes. There is also the problem of verification of outcomes which when they are delayed can cause problems with cash flow and therefore the whole payment-based system. I mention those not to be a Jonah but to say that I hope that all these have been taken into account by the Ministry of Justice, which, not having pilots of its own does not have the advantage of practical experience. I hope that it is cashing in on the experience of others to make certain that it does not fall into the same trap.

I admit to two other doubts which I must voice. The first is about costings, and I refer to an answer given by the Minister to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, on Amendment 7A when he said that,

“competing the community payback contracts in London saw a £25 million saving over four years”.—[ Official Report , 5/6/13; col. 1214.]

It is true that the Serco bid undercut the probation service bid by £24 million for a four-year contract. However, that started only last year and that £25 million does not include the costs of running the competition which went on for more than two years and must have been substantial. We also have to consider, when looking at value for money, that the contract has only been running so far for less than a year with three years to go. The probation service is very sceptical that someone such as Serco will put in quite such a low bid next time when recompetition comes up based on actual experience of running the thing. It would regard its bid as being more realistic based on its experience. So the jury is out and I am concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on savings that have been made when a contract has cost less when we have not yet seen the outcomes. The Prison Service has a bad track record on this. I remember complaining once when it excluded central administrative costs from a competition bid with the private sector to run a prison and then claimed that it had won. When the National Audit Office looked at it on a level-playing field it found that the bid had not been put in correctly.

My second doubt concerns time. I refer to the chart on page 34 of the White Paper, which sets out the Government’s timetable. This says that the new probation service, which presumably will include the 77% of privatised elements, will be introduced by autumn next year, after which the new competed services will go live.

If it took two years to compete the London community payback, and if it took two years for the National Health Service to set up its eight pilots for the drug and alcohol recovery schemes, I wonder whether it is realistic to expect that, in the one year between now and then, the Ministry of Justice will be able to complete all the contracts, all the recruiting and all the training of all the people who are needed to carry on with what is proposed while, at the same time, with the same staff, conducting the essential work that has to be done now with offenders. As I say, it is not that

I doubt the intent but I question the practicability. I therefore wish that we would be given a more realistic timetable based on actual possibilities rather than the allegations we have been given on page 34.

My last request is that the Minister, who said that he hoped to have the new impact assessment with us by Report, will make certain not only that it is with us by Report, but that it is with us in plenty of time for us to consider it before Report, to make Report a more meaningful exercise.

That is why I am asking the Secretary of State to produce an annual statement of how all this is working out. Certainly, if I were the Secretary of State, I would want such a document on my desk every year anyway. Therefore, rather than asking for something additional, I am asking for something which I presume will be produced to be shared with both Houses so that we can keep abreast of what is going on in this hugely important venture which, in intent, enjoys the support of the whole House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, the noble Lord has fired a salvo of questions and critiques of the Government’s proposals. It will be interesting to see what defence the Minister can put up to them. The noble Lord has made many telling points, not least the question of the timetable, which looks ridiculously short. The Secretary of State in his previous capacity introduced the markedly unsuccessful Work Programme, which was also rushed through with pretty abysmal results. There must be some danger, particularly if the exercise is rushed, that we will see repetition of that. It occurred to me to think as the noble Lord was talking about this transition that one can envisage staff members being involved in that transition. Does that mean that they take, for example, their caseload with them? Will the cases of those who are being supervised and who will transfer into the payment-by-results system remain with probation or, if the probation officer in question is to be moved over—presumably some of that will happen—will the case go across to the payment-by-results providers? Or will they be excluded? It all seems highly mysterious.

I cannot resist, largely because I have been asked to do so by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, recounting something that he reported to me which illustrates some of the problems that one might well encounter with the involvement of these private contractors. A colleague of my noble friend apparently visited a building scheme to which Serco had brought offenders to be involved in a community payback scheme. Several of them were standing around doing nothing. My noble friend’s colleague asked what was happening. “Oh,” said the representative of Serco, “the beneficiary” —that is, the owner of the building—“hasn’t provided the paint”. In other words, people were standing around doing nothing because the system had not operated in such a way that the materials required were on site. That was either the fault of Serco for not doing it, or of a contract which did not specify that they should do it, or of the beneficiary for not providing it if he was expected to do so. It is an illustration of the problems that we can easily get into, and a telling case to support the noble Lord’s amendments to require rigorous scrutiny of and regular reporting on what will ensue if this legislation is passed.

However, the point raised tonight about the timetable requires urgent attention in itself. It does not look realistic—unless, of course, pre-legislative implementation is already under way again and contracts are already being discussed and developed with some of these suppliers. If that were happening, it would be quite wrong.

I hope that the Minister can give us some assurances, and I entirely endorse the noble Lord’s repeated request for information to be made available in advance of Report stage which is, after all, only a few days away, on 25 June. If we are going to consider amendments, they will have to be tabled before then. We have only a week, really, in which information can be meaningfully made available. If we cannot have that assurance then I am afraid that Report stage will be unsatisfactory from the perspective of the House and embarrassing for the Government. I hope that the Minister can avoid such an embarrassment.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 6:45, 11 June 2013

Deary, deary me. If the best we can do is some anecdote about paint not turning up on time, that must be a sign of some pretty thin paint. Of course, we are at the very start of the Bill’s progress; it is the second day of Committee in its first House. I am perfectly happy to acknowledge that noble Lords can ask all kinds of questions about what is done—“Give me firm answers now”. However, the truth is that we are doing something extremely radical, which the previous Government tried and backed off from. Let nobody doubt that payment by results in this area is exciting.

By the way, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, should take full responsibility for that paint story. I cannot imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who is a gentle soul, would attempt such a malicious intervention. It has Beecham fingerprints all over it. Let us be clear on that.

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

Yes. I have never suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is trying to throw a spanner in the works. I know that he wants this to work as much as I do. One of the values of the parliamentary process is that legitimate questions are asked about how this or that will be done. As the process unfolds, I will do my best to make sure that the House is informed.

We are working at this moment, not in advance of legislation but within the department, on how contracts and competition will work. We are not entirely flying blind on this because, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has said, payment by results has been tried in other parts of Whitehall. Of course we are taking advice and learning from both the successes and the failures of other departments. That is being built into our process. The noble Lord referred to gaming in the NHS experience. That will certainly be looked at. He mentioned transition costs being built in, and verification. We are working and consulting with other departments on these matters. It is very interesting. I can remember the first prospects for privatisation of prisons and a lot of the debates that went on. Even the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would acknowledge that with the privatisations of prisons lessons and efficiencies have been shown and standards set which have been to the benefit of the prison system as a whole. We anticipate that a similar process will take place in this case.

The Government are very clear that we are trying to carry through quickly a very radical programme, addressing a problem which defeated the previous Government. As earlier debates today have shown, our attempts to address it have widespread support across the House.

We will need to have a good understanding of the support that probation providers give to short-sentenced offenders during licence and supervision. We will need to keep a very close eye on the proportion of offenders breaching supervision, and on how magistrates decide to respond. We will also need to watch very carefully for any changes in sentencing practice.

As I have made clear, it is not the Government’s intention that this Bill will result in changes in sentencing practice, and nothing in the Bill alters the existing custody threshold. However, let me reassure noble Lords that we will be monitoring this and other issues extremely closely. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is quite right that there are a lot of other initiatives. This Government are exciting and radical, and are doing things across the piece. Of course, progress we are making in other areas will impact on the criminal justice system, just as our successes will impact on other parts. That is what happens when you have a radical Government.

We will also make sure that we are open and transparent about sharing data and information wherever we can. There are already well established mechanisms for making available many of the types of information that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has highlighted in his amendment. On changes in sentencing trends, for example, we publish every quarter a Criminal Justice Statistics bulletin that includes detailed information on sentencing outcomes and trends. This is a national statistics publication, so it is subject to the appropriate checks and safeguards. Any changes in sentencing practice will be clear from this report. In addition, the Sentencing Council has a duty under Section 130 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to publish a report every year on the impact of changes in sentencing practice on prison and probation costs. Any changes to sentencing practice as a result of this Bill will fall under that duty. The independent council, with all its expertise on sentencing, is best placed to carry out that analysis.

Similarly, on breach we already publish licence recall statistics every quarter in the Offender Management Statistics Quarterly Bulletin. Again, that is a national statistics publication. We want to make sure that, in the future, that includes recalls of prisoners released from sentences of less than 12 months, and includes committals to custody for those proven to have breached a supervision requirement. Likewise, we publish proven reoffending rates every quarter, broken down by type and length of sentence. That is also a national statistics publication.

I hope this makes it clear that we are not starting from scratch. I also take pride in the fact that this has been one of the most proactive Governments in putting out their statistics and information, allowing various parts of the Government to be checked on performance. The Government have worked hard over the past three years to improve the transparency of the criminal justice system, and we would look to make available much of the information that Amendment 34 details through the existing mechanisms we have.

The Secretary of State is already subject to a duty to publish information of this sort. As I suspect the noble Lord is aware, given that his amendment follows some of its language very closely, Section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 requires the Secretary of State every year to publish such information as he considers expedient on a range of topics, including information that allows those working in the justice system to become aware of the financial implications of their decisions and information that allows those working in the justice system to understand the effectiveness of different sentences in preventing reoffending.

We already consider it expedient to publish not just annually, but quarterly, much of the information that Amendment 34 mentions. That will continue to happen if the provisions of the Bill receive the agreement of both Houses. Therefore, while I understand, welcome, and agree with the intentions of the noble Lord in tabling this amendment, I hope that what I have said reassures him that the Government are committed to understanding and sharing the impacts of this Bill and to being as transparent as possible in delivering it forward.

In doing so, I remind noble Lords that costs for extending supervision will ultimately be dependent on the outcome of competing offender services in the community. If we were to give figures at this stage, it would put at risk our ability to agree value-for-money contracts with providers. However, I hope that my commitment last week to take away the impact assessment for the Bill and to consider how we could expand it will provide some additional assurance. Work is under way to revise the impact assessment as I speak, and I hope to be able to bring back a revised version soon. I know what has been said about the value of that on Report. In the light of these assurances I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Treasury has set a fixed sum for the transition to the rehabilitation of short-term offenders and for the changes to the probation service? If so, how big is that sum, and over what period?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords

One of the things I have learnt in three years is that when a noble Lord asks me a question like that, I promise to get advice and write to him for the benefit of the Committee. I am quite sure that on almost every aspect of life the Treasury has fixed sums in mind, but I will check on that and report back to him.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply, and for the dialogue we have had about the various issues that were raised. The noble Lord has quite rightly appreciated the deep interest that all Members of this House have in this issue. It is too important to be let go by default. We have a certain amount of expertise, as well as interest, in this House, which we are extremely anxious to deploy if we possibly can. Therefore I am very happy at this stage to withdraw the amendment, but I would like to consider the content of the impact assessment before deciding what action I take on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 34 withdrawn.

Clause 18 : Consequential and supplementary provision etc

Amendment 35

Moved by Lord Beecham

35*: Clause 18, page 17, line 17, leave out subsection (2)

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, provokes a vision in my mind. I see him as a sort of parliamentary Caliban, proclaiming constantly: “Oh brave new world, that has such legislation in it”. I cannot say that he is altogether persuasive in the claims that he makes for this legislation, well motivated though it is, let alone the rest of his Government’s exciting and radical agenda.

In these amendments I look at two exciting and radical parts of the Bill. Amendment 35 addresses the provision in Clause 18 that empowers the Secretary of State to make an order that may,

“make different provision for different purposes, and … amend, repeal or revoke legislation”.

These are probing amendments only, but it would be helpful to know what the Minister envisages by, to quote the preceding subsection,

“consequential, supplementary or incidental provisions in relation to any provision of this Act”.

Can he exemplify the sort of thing that might be covered by the order-making power conferred by Clause 18(2)?

Amendment 36 relates to Clause 19, the substance of which goes even further in giving the Secretary of State power to,

“make other transitional, transitory or saving provision in connection with the coming into force of any provision of this Act”.

Such an order may,

“make different provision for different purposes”,

and so on, and,

“An order … is to be made by statutory instrument”.

Would that require the affirmative procedure or only the negative? The power is potentially so wide, as is the power in the previous clause, that it should require the affirmative procedure rather than merely the negative procedure. Will the noble Lord elucidate the position?

Photo of Lord McNally Lord McNally Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 7:00, 11 June 2013

The noble Lord beat me. I have been racking my brains for a suitable Shakespearean quote to come back at him. I suppose we could say that this is a “Government of wonders”. I am reminded of the late Lord George Brown, who, when he was Economics Minister, stood up at the Dispatch Box, banged it and said “This Government are running the economy in a way that it has never been run before”, and was then surprised when the Opposition cheered him to the echo.

In this last group of amendments, we turn to the provisions on consequential and transitional arrangements. The provisions in Clauses 18 and 19 are mainly technical, and are also fairly standard constructions, which can be seen, for example, in the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, seems to be saying that these amendments are designed to ensure that Parliament has a say before order-making changes are made.

Clause 18 allows the Secretary of State to make provision that is consequential, supplementary or incidental to the provisions of the Act by an order that is subject to the negative procedure. This clause mainly amends other statutory schemes, some of which are complicated and technical in nature. It is therefore eminently sensible for there to be a power to make the consequential or other changes needed to ensure those provisions work well with the provisions of this Act.

Those changes should be subject to the negative procedure where possible. Clause 18(6) makes clear that where an order under Clause 18 is made that amends another Act, it is subject to the affirmative procedure. Amendment 35 would remove Clause 18(2), which makes it clear what the power can be used for. The power itself is conferred by subsection (1), so the amendment makes it unclear what the power may be used for: it would not remove the power. There will be an opportunity to scrutinise the technical changes made by any order made under Clause 18. I do not believe that these have to be affirmative orders, and where the order is not subject to the affirmative procedure it will be subject to the negative procedure.

Amendment 36 is more specific in that it would make any order made under Clause 19 subject to the affirmative procedure. Clause 19 makes arrangements for transitional provisions and introduces Schedule 7, which sets out in what circumstances the changes made by the Bill apply. For example, it sets out how the new supervision changes apply to different sentences in different circumstances. The power to make transitional, transitory or saving provisions can be used only if those provisions are related to a commencement order. Under this Act, commencement orders are, as is usual, not subject to a parliamentary procedure. It would therefore be odd for the power to include transitional, transitory or saving provisions on commencement to be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Clauses 18 and 19 are needed to implement primary legislation flexibly, and they are often technically complicated. I do not think that noble Lords would particularly welcome a detailed debate on affirmative orders. I do not know: I could think of one noble Baroness who would relish a detailed debate on affirmative orders. Oh, she has gone. We teased the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, earlier. I am not convinced that such a debate is a good use of your Lordships’ time, or is what this amendment actually intends.

In asking the noble Lord to consider withdrawing these amendments, I take the opportunity to say that this has been very useful and productive Committee consideration of this Bill. We will return to detailed points on Report and we have already had a few Mafia-like warnings—you know where we live—that there will be consequences if we do not respond. However, I have appreciated the general support on all sides of the House for what we are trying to do in tackling the problem of re-offending, which has proved very difficult for successive Administrations. We claim no genius in our solutions, but we are genuinely trying to find both the resources and the flexibility to tackle this problem. The contribution of this House to getting it right is enormously appreciated.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply and his essentially good-humoured approach for most of the time we have been discussing the Bill. I made it clear at the outset that these were probing amendments only, so he perhaps went a little further than he needed to in responding. Nevertheless, I am grateful. I echo his words about the proceedings having been useful. How productive they have been will very much depend on the Government’s response on Report. I hope it will be a little more positive than he has indicated, or has been allowed to indicate, so far. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 35 withdrawn.

Clause 18 agreed.

Clause 19 : Transitional provision etc

Amendment 36 not moved.

Clause 19 agreed.

Schedule 7 agreed.

Clauses 20 to 22 agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.