Moved by Lord McNally
1: After Clause 10, insert the following new Clause—
“Arrangements for supervision and rehabilitation: female offenders
In section 3 of the Offender Management Act 2007 (power to make arrangements for the provision of probation services), after subsection (6) insert—
“(6A) The Secretary of State must ensure that arrangements under subsection (2) or (5) for the supervision or rehabilitation of persons convicted of offences—
(a) state that the Secretary of State has, in making the arrangements, complied with the duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (public sector equality duty) as it relates to female offenders, and
(b) identify anything in the arrangements that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders.””
My Lords, I am pleased to move Amendment 1 which seeks to recognise the needs of female offenders and put them firmly in the Bill. It requires the Secretary of State to ensure that arrangements for the supervision and rehabilitation of offenders state that, in making those arrangements, he has complied with the public sector duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 as it relates to female offenders. The arrangements must also identify any provision that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders. It applies both to the contract with private providers and services provided by the public sector probation service.
I pay tribute to those noble Lords who have argued for such statutory safeguards for female offenders. I am particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for his earlier amendments and for his constructive discussions with me about this amendment. I am delighted that he has agreed to put his name to the amendment today. I likewise thank my noble friend Lord Marks and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for adding their names.
The amendment inserts a new subsection in Section 3 of the Offender Management Act 2007, which relates to making arrangements for the provision of probation services. Under the first part of the amendment, arrangements for the provision of supervision or rehabilitation services must state that the Secretary of State has complied with the public sector equality duty at Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010. This means that the Secretary of State must consider evidence on the particular needs of female offenders where they differ from those of men, and consider whether any adjustments or special provision for female offenders is necessary to address these needs. Where a particular need is identified, this will be reflected in the contractual or other arrangements, which will include outputs specific to female offenders.
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. We will be looking for providers to come up with innovative ways to deliver gender-specific services that are responsive to local needs, and we will expect them to make links with partner agencies to provide a holistic service at a local level.
As I have mentioned to the House on previous occasions, service providers will be supported by guidance on working with female offenders and the sorts of provision that are known to be effective, which is being prepared in collaboration with members of the new advisory board on female offenders. Once bids have been through a robust evaluation process to ensure that potential providers are offering innovative and effective services to female offenders, the second part of the amendment requires contracts and other arrangements to identify anything in the arrangement that is intended to meet the particular needs of female offenders. Noble Lords will also be pleased to hear that, in the spirit of transparency, details of contracts and service level agreements will be published. This will mean that people can see what provision is being made to meet the needs of female offenders and hold us to account. Contract managers within the Ministry of Justice will also monitor service delivery to ensure that key outputs for female offenders are being delivered.
I hope that noble Lords will welcome and support Amendment 1, which I firmly believe will provide the recognition and safeguards for female offenders that the House has been seeking. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should remind the House, particularly in view of the generous way in which the Minister introduced the amendment, and his references to myself, that I am the chairman of the Prison Reform Trust, and received considerable help in putting forward the matter from that trust in that capacity.
This is a considerable step forward in the way in which we treat criminal offenders who are female. It has been well recognised that their needs are different, and it is certainly time that those who are responsible for meeting those needs should have responsibility clearly set out in statute. I am particularly grateful that the Minister and his advisers found ways in which that could be done in the shape of this Bill. The amendment is not as clear as I would have liked but it has to be recognised that what we are achieving is being done by using three pieces of legislation, which is not the ideal way to legislate, but it achieves a purpose. I am very conscious that we are told that we must not look a gift horse in the mouth when it is offered, but I have to confess that this gift horse, if that is an appropriate description, was examined most carefully.
I am particularly grateful for the way in which the Minister introduced this amendment. He stressed the importance of clarity and transparency with regard to various connected matters, so that it achieves the purpose he identified. During debates at the earlier stages of the Bill, the Minister indicated that there would be an annual statement of progress so we can all see that it is moving forward as we would hope. Does he not agree that this is one matter that can be dealt with that way?
It is possible that, when three pieces of legislation are involved—as in this case—the time will come when they are initially disconnected. If this does occur, I believe—and I am sure the Minister will confirm this—that the department will ensure that no prejudice is caused to female offenders as a result of any gap in time. I repeat my gratitude for this amendment and would strongly recommend it to the House.
My Lords, in supporting this amendment, I would associate these Benches with everything that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has said in welcoming it and in thanking the Government and congratulating them on the way in which they have considered and recognised the particular needs of women in the system. In Committee, we moved certain amendments which would have required the recognition of those needs at various points in the system and we are content that this all-embracing amendment meets them.
I would also associate myself with what the Minister said in tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who has campaigned so hard for recognition of the needs of women in this area. As a spokesman on these matters for one of the coalition parties, it gives me particular pleasure to note that we have made a great deal of progress on two of the significant issues for which he has campaigned—restorative justice and women offenders.
I particularly welcome the commitment in this amendment to transparency because, as has been pointed out during the passage of this Bill, we are entering a new era for the probation services. The ability to monitor what is being done after this legislation is passed is of considerable importance.
My Lords, I join the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and thanking him for bringing this matter to the fore in the debates on the Bill. I am happy to break the habits of a brief parliamentary lifetime and congratulate the Minister on his constructive response. I hope he finds this habit catching, in which case I promise to reciprocate.
Like other noble Lords, I have received a briefing from the Prison Reform Trust. While welcoming the amendment, there are a couple of matters on which they seek some assurance—and I would echo their request. First, that the Government should require the contractors to specify—within the contract specifications —what particular services would be provided for women, and that the tender criteria, in turn, as part of the contract, would give sufficient weighting to that element. I imagine that should not present any difficulties but it would be good if the Minister could confirm it. Equally, the commissioning bodies will be given guidance along those lines.
Perhaps I may raise a point related to women prisoners that is not specifically covered by this amendment but which has been referred to in the course of our debates—that is, resettlement prisons. It is a welcome concept and certainly should help to reduce reoffending by ensuring that women serve their prison sentences, or at least the latter part of the sentence, closer to where they are likely to return on release. I raised a question in earlier debates about the specific position of women in this respect because, as I understand it, there are only 13 women’s prisons in the country and they are not necessarily geographically distributed in such a way as to facilitate the Government’s intentions. I am not asking the Minister to confirm specifically today, but it would be good to know that that is being considered and that it is an objective which it is hoped the Government will seek to achieve. It would largely complete the work raised by the concerns now embodied in the amendment, which these Benches certainly fully support.
My Lords, I support the amendment and I am extremely glad to see that it has been introduced by the Government. For many years people have been hoping that there would be an improvement, and therefore it is to be warmly welcomed. The amendment refers to arrangements for supervision. I would like to raise one point in connection with that because the supervision, of course, involves the probation service.
As noble Lords will know, each of the 35 trusts has a volunteer probation board which is the employer of all the probation staff working in a trust. Apparently, there is an expectation that board members do not criticise the wishes of the Government because although they are volunteers, they are not civil servants. They have been reminded by the head of Transforming Rehabilitation that they should have regard to the constraints imposed on civil servants. I have had representations from board members about the vote which was passed in this House on Report about the requirement for the Secretary of State to allow us to discuss changes to be made to the probation service. Apparently, the board says that planning is going ahead on the timetable which I outlined on Report regardless of the vote in this House. Probation staff around the country are, as he described it, lost for words because it was expected that at the very least the Government would respect the vote of this House and reconsider their proposals, or at least appear to do so. As it seems that that is not happening, and this amendment is all about the supervision of women offenders,
I should be grateful if the Minister could tell the House exactly what is happening following the vote on Report.
My Lords, perhaps I may deal with that matter first. The Bill is now in this House. It will then go to the other place, which will also have views about an amendment which the noble Lord was told at the time was defective and which remains defective. I do not think I can go any further than that. We will see what the other House thinks about the amendment and in due course it will come back to this House to be dealt with.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his kind remarks. He will find that that gives him a warm glow and so I recommend that he continues to make a habit of it. As my noble friend Lord Marks has said, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has a good strike record on these Bills and I very much enjoy working with him and benefiting from his wisdom. On the question of the report on progress in dealing with women in the criminal justice system, we will be reporting to Parliament and we will be able to see the progress not only of these measures, but of others that we are taking.
With regard to the prison estate, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has drawn attention to an issue that we are currently looking at. We have a number of thoughts on this matter and a study is being undertaken of the prison estate. We will come forward with specific ideas about how released prisoners and the specific issue of women offenders will be dealt with.
On contracts, the contract specifications will set out the services that contracts are obliged to provide. The contract will contain specific outputs designed to meet the needs of female offenders. In order to comply with this new duty, the contract will state that the Secretary of State has,
“complied with the duty under section 149 of the Equality Act”,
and will also draw attention to the specific outputs. As my noble friend Lord Marks pointed out, we will publish these contracts and they will be brought forward with all possible transparency. I hope that this will give confidence and that the House will adopt the amendment.
Amendment 1 agreed.
Moved by Lord Beecham
2: After Clause 17, insert the following new Clause—
“Provision for veterans’ treatment courts
(1) Within one year of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State shall report to both Houses of Parliament on the case for establishing veterans’ treatment courts for dealing with ex-service personnel convicted of offences for which non-custodial sentences could be imposed by the trial court (“relevant ex-service personnel”).
(2) The report under subsection (1) shall cover but not be limited to the following—
(a) the statutory basis of veterans’ treatment courts;
(b) the composition and functions of veterans’ treatment courts;
(c) whether veterans’ treatment courts would be of most effect in diverting, where possible, ex-service personnel from the criminal courts or in overseeing the rehabilitation of ex-service personnel offenders sentenced by the criminal courts;
(d) an estimate of the impact of veterans’ treatment courts on the rehabilitation of, and in reducing re-offending by, relevant ex-service personnel;
(e) an analysis of relevant international comparators; and
(f) an account of consultation which shall be undertaken with all relevant parties including magistrates.
(3) Within six months of the laying of the report under subsection (1), the Secretary of State may by statutory instrument make provision for one or more pilot schemes for veterans’ treatment courts, to extend for two years.
(4) A pilot scheme under subsection (3) shall, within six months of its conclusion, be independently evaluated, and a report of that evaluation laid before Parliament.
(5) Within six months of the laying of the report under subsection (4), the Secretary of State may by statutory instrument make provision for a permanent scheme for veterans’ treatment courts.
(6) A statutory instrument made under subsection (3) or (5) shall be laid before, and be subject to approval by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.”
My Lords, this is the fourth iteration of the concept I floated at Second Reading and which we have debated in Committee and on Report. I can claim no credit for the idea. It was conceived in the United States in 2008 where it has been applied with remarkable success in terms of the reduction in reoffending by ex-service men and women and in promoting their welfare, with courts now established in every state. It is now seen as embedded in the justice system and is an integral part of what we in this country call the military covenant, under which we recognise the special responsibility we have as a society for those who have served their country, often in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
The veterans’ treatment courts do not adjudicate on guilt or innocence. Nor do they deal with those who are convicted of, or plead guilty to, crimes for which only a custodial sentence would be appropriate. Their purpose is to promote the rehabilitation and prevent the reoffending of men and women who often find it hard to readjust to civilian life, which is so different from the collective existence—perhaps better described as the regimented existence—that, of necessity, military service often involves. Some will have suffered, and may continue to suffer, combat stress or post-traumatic stress disorders and a number will fall foul of the law, with crimes of a violent or sexual nature being particularly common.
The courts in America are presided over by the relevant judge. A veteran mentor is assigned to each offender, who has to attend monthly court sessions and is helped in a variety of ways to adjust to life in the wider community, receiving practical, psychological and, where necessary, clinical support. Failure to co-operate with the treatment court leads to a return to the sentencing court and the risk of a prison sentence.
It must be said that there is no certainty about the numbers that might be involved in this country were we to adopt the system, even for those serving prison sentences. The MoD estimates that some 3.5% of prisoners at any one time are ex-service personnel. However, other estimates rise as high as double figures. A survey by Mr Colin Back of the Regular Forces Employment Association, who has worked extensively with this group and who attended a recent helpful meeting with the Prisons Minister, Mr Damian Green, has produced an estimate of those claiming and proven to have served in the Armed Forces to be an average of 6% of the inmates in a wide range of establishments, with a lowest figure of 3% and a highest figure of 11%. It is likely, however, that these figures are understated because some of those in prison do not wish to disclose their status to other prisoners or to those who, like Mr Back, are inquiring as to their position, because of concerns about how other prisoners will react or fear of loss of pensions and the like.
Be that as it may, it is clear that the number of ex-service men and women who come before the courts will substantially exceed the number who end up in prison. Even 3.5% of those who receive non-custodial sentences such as probation or community sentences will amount to several times the lowest estimate of those in custody, which is around 2,500. I do not find the number quoted by the Minister on Report for this group of non-custodial offenders of some 5,800 to be particularly credible, except perhaps as an annual figure. Therefore, over time the offending group will be quite substantial and the cumulative total must be considerably higher. We must remember that the figures are but a snapshot at any one time so the total who will have been in the system over time, whether in prison or—particularly relevant here—on non-custodial sentences, will be correspondingly greater. Moreover, at current reoffending rates, the figure would be further inflated. Obviously, addressing the general reoffending rate is the whole point of this Bill. Finally, those who have served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan are due to return and 20,000 will leave the forces, so the potential for an upward spike in numbers is all too apparent.
Therefore, it is clearly in the interests of those who leave the services and who face—or cause—difficulties in the civil society to which they return, to help them avoid reoffending, which after all is the purpose of this Bill, whose objectives of course we all share. The US experience is overwhelmingly successful in that respect, with the original veterans’ court in Buffalo, New York, recording a 100% success rate. Making every allowance for the differences between our two countries, their legal systems and their support mechanisms for veterans, the evidence surely speaks for itself. I pay tribute to the work of the British Legion and other bodies that offer support to ex-service men and women, but we need to develop a system which, while working with such organisations, has a more formal character and is designed specifically to deal with this problem.
In previous debates I mentioned work done in the north-east, the largest contributor of recruits to the Armed Forces, around the health needs of the ex-service community, particularly mental health needs. A number of initiatives have taken place in local authorities in the region, working with the NHS and NOMS, for example. The Northumbria Probation Trust—which, of course, will be abolished if the Government press on with their proposed changes to the service, contrary to the amendment to the Bill carried by this House, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred a moment or two ago—has a veterans’ champion in each of its six delivery units. Local councils have developed a greater awareness of veterans’ needs and have been recalibrating relevant services accordingly. It is the ideal area in which a pilot scheme, as envisaged by proposed new subsections (3) and (4) of the amendment, might be established and evaluated. Of course, there might be other contenders. Mr Oliver Colvile, the Conservative Member for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, who attended the recent meeting with Mr Green, would be an advocate for such a pilot in his area, which has a substantial Royal Navy presence.
The amendment does not seek an unequivocal commitment to the establishment of veterans’ treatment courts. On Report, the Minister was kind enough to characterise me as a latter-day Lenin. On this issue, I see myself as more of a Fabian, of the kind with whom the Minister, in a previous incarnation, would have felt comfortable. The amendment calls for a report dealing with, but not limited to, a range of issues and providing for the option of pilots and, if successful, the creation of a permanent scheme. The Minister has expressed some sympathy with the proposal but a virginal reluctance to commit. Mr Green was also sympathetic and mentioned the possibility of including it, should legislation be necessary, in what he rather alarmingly referred to as another possible justice Bill in this Session.
I cannot see why the Government should be so diffident about the proposal, which does not tie their hands, would not involve building courts—let alone vastly expensive Titan-type prisons—and would cost significantly less to pilot than the Chancellor has pledged to commemorate those veterans who fell 200 years ago at Waterloo. Accepting the amendment would both symbolise our continuing commitment to those who serve and help the Government achieve the objectives of this Bill by reducing reoffending, thereby protecting the public and saving public money. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment, to which I have added my name. We have spoken about this issue many times before. Several advantages come with this amendment in the context of the Armed Forces covenant, for which the Government are very much to be commended, not least because it requires an annual report to both Houses of Parliament by the Secretary of State.
What has been most encouraging since the announcement of the covenant is the number of local covenants that have been commissioned around the country. There is a huge support network for a particular focus on the multifarious needs of the Armed Forces. Mention has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, of the large voluntary sector which supports the military and their families. Those organisations are very capable of carrying out many of the functions that are needed. In addition to that, a growing support network is being developed for those suffering from mental health problems—the Minister has mentioned post-traumatic stress disorder and other kinds of fatigue—not least a number of official recovery centres based around the country which are linked into the military command structure. This is a diversion scheme, very much on the lines of the scheme developed by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, which the Government have supported. It is poised to go, supporting an element of the community to which the Government have said that they wish to pay particular attention.
I was present at the very encouraging meeting with the Minister, Damian Green, and was glad that he took all these points on board. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to the amendment and give the House an indication of the sort of timing that we might expect in terms of a government response.
Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him one question for my elucidation. I am interested in the use of the word “treatment” in connection with the word “courts”. Is it the intention that these courts should be available only to those who are shown to be suffering from either post-traumatic stress disorder or, let us say, Gulf War syndrome, or are they to be open to all, whether or not they need “treatment” in that sense?
I am very sorry. I had hoped to ask the question of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, before he sat down, but it was by then too late. Somebody, I hope, will give me the answer.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware through conversations and debate in the Chamber that I strongly support this amendment. I know that he has been working on a plan along the lines that we asked for. Here it is. It is a good one; it should be trialled. Like the noble Lord, I hope that the Minister will see the sense in it and give his blessing to it. If not, I hope that the House will take the necessary steps.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham referred to existing support systems for ex-servicemen. I imagine that he has in mind the British Legion, Help for Heroes and other voluntary organisations, together with local authorities. However, the sad fact remains that a significant number of ex-servicemen find themselves homeless and sleeping rough, many of them in London. Could this factor also be borne in mind in whatever preventive work is done?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has once again returned to the very important issue of providing support for ex-service personnel impacted in this way who find themselves involved with the criminal justice system.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of men and women who serve in our Armed Forces go on to lead successful, law-abiding lives. Ex-service personnel are an important asset to the economy of this country and any employer should welcome the skills that they bring to any job. I also pay tribute to all the brave men and women who serve in our Armed Forces and continue to do so with great distinction and honour. We pray for them, particularly those who find themselves on the front line as we speak today.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has already mentioned the meeting he had with my right honourable friend Damian Green, the Minister who sits appropriately in both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice and who is ideally placed to consider the issue of ex-service personnel who find themselves in the criminal justice system. That meeting was attended by not only the noble Lord, Lord Beecham—as he has acknowledged—the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, David Anderson, the MP for Blaydon, and my honourable friend Oliver Colville, the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, were also present. Therefore, it is fair to say that there is support for looking at this important issue both here and in the other place, throughout the country and across the political spectrum.
Also at that meeting were a number of representatives of veterans’ groups, such as Tony Wright of Forward Assist. I know that my right honourable friend Damian Green particularly welcomed their input and the information that they supplied about the experiences of ex-service personnel. One of the key things that emerged from that meeting is that the focus is not necessarily on ex-service personnel who are in prison. It is of course important that we continue to develop services for those who are in custody, such as the veterans in custody support officers, and expand the specific guidance that is produced in collaboration with interested government departments and the important voluntary sector.
As I said in Committee, it will be important to have tailored supervision for ex-service personnel on release, including, for example, mentoring from those with service backgrounds—a subject that we have talked about previously. So while we continue to work with ex-service personnel in custody, we also need to focus on those who receive non-custodial sentences or those who can be diverted from the criminal courts altogether. We believe that there are a number of ways to address offending by veterans at that level. For example, we could look at the programmes that are available as part of conditional cautions, which are administered by the police.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, also mentioned the US experiences. That is something that the Government are also looking at. For those receiving community orders or suspended sentence orders, there are powers available to the courts to review sentences, essentially to monitor progress of that particular order. We suspect that these approaches might benefit some ex-service personnel. However, we need to know more about the problem of offending at this level in order to decide what the best solution is.
One of the most striking things raised by veterans’ groups is the lack of detailed information about the scope and nature of offending by ex-service personnel. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham. Even in prisons there are significant differences in the estimates, ranging from 3% of the population to 11%. For those involved in less serious offending, the information is even less clear. That is why we want to work with the veterans’ groups to try to establish a better understanding of the nature and extent of offending. If we have that information, we believe we can focus better on a response.
The Government are already taking forward work to look at the data that are available. I am also happy to make a commitment that the Government will produce an assessment of the issues identified, as raised in this amendment, including a veterans’ court and other mechanisms to provide support. We will share that assessment with noble Lords. I am also confident that we will be looking to complete this particular assessment and share the findings with noble Lords within the coming year.
Likewise, I reassure noble Lords that we will continue to consult relevant groups. We want to discuss the issue with other key government departments, such as the Ministry of Defence, as well as the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions. We will also need to talk to the judiciary about its experience of dealing with ex-service personnel.
Crucially, we also want to work with the voluntary sector. I join in the comments of other noble Lords in paying tribute to organisations such as Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion. We believe that working with such voluntary organisations in formulating what needs to be done will help us to understand better the problems of ex-service personnel and to identify offenders with service records as early as possible.
I give the commitment that the Government will continue the cross-party discussions that my right honourable friend Damian Green in the other place has started. As we look at the data and look at working with the voluntary groups, I also give the commitment to engage fully with noble Lords, who have great expertise, to ensure that we develop the best solution to this most important of issues.
I reiterate that the Government share the commitment of the noble Lord to look at new ways of addressing the needs of veterans who go on to offend. However, I believe that we need to reflect on this issue, look at the data and formulate the correct response, which may well mean considering veterans’ courts, as my right honourable friend Damian Green has said. However, we also need to ensure that we consult effectively. In the light of the reassurances that I have given and with the commitment to return within the next year, I hope that the noble Lord will be minded to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who have participated in this short but important debate. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, asked about the term “treatment”. It is not designed to refer to clinical treatment. It is a phrase used in the American system, and treatment can take a variety of forms, including advice and support of all kinds. As I said, it does not necessarily have a medical or clinical connotation.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to homelessness as a particular problem, and that of course is true. Indeed, it is the function of the mentor and others in American veterans’ courts to assist precisely with that kind of problem. To a certain extent and as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pointed out, it is something that is now increasingly carried on across a number of local authorities, especially those in my home region of the north-east.
Nothing in what the Minister said is excluded from the range of the amendment. The amendment is not at all incompatible with what he said. It sets out a process and one would hope to end up with the option of a system clearly rooted in the experience abroad. It would also have to be tested here, as we are suggesting.
I welcome the warmer response given by the Minister today compared with that given previously. I understand that parts of the Government are addicted to something called the “nudge theory”, in which people can be encouraged by a nudging process to change their ways. I think that it would be appropriate to seek to nudge the Government in the right direction by having a clear expression of opinion on the amendment. Accordingly, I wish to test the opinion of the House. I hope that we can give a clear message that we want the Government to build on their growing warmth and accept the principles set out in the amendment. One hopes that they will move in due course, on the basis of piloting, to making a systemic change in the way that we deal with offenders.