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Clause 22 - Commencement

Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 3rd December 2013.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I was looking for an opportunity to raise a concern, and the clause relating to commencement seemed to be the opportunity to do so.

My concern goes back to an earlier discussion about the arrangements for breaching offenders when they do not comply with the requirements placed on them as part of the post-release supervision. The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd ably introduced a number of amendments that he subsequently withdrew, although I think he intends to pursue some of the arguments on Report. They were on, I think, clause 15; the Minister will know better than I which clause they refer to.

I seek the Minister’s reassurance. One of my concerns, which I know is shared by others, is the question, what is the incentive for a private company that is being paid for the results that they achieve to breach an offender during the course of their supervision? Breaching that offender puts them on the road to failure, which presumably has implications for the payments that that company will receive.

Throughout the proceedings, the Minister has been keen to reassure us that the enforcement officer will be a member of staff of the national probation service, so there will be proper public oversight of the decision to breach. However, that still begs the question, what is the incentive for the private company that is supervising that particular individual to report the matter to the enforcement officer, so that the breach proceedings can begin?

It is incumbent on the Minister to set out for the Committee, as part of the assurance that he can offer to Parliament before the commencement of the Bill, how he will monitor that particular issue and ensure that all private and voluntary providers are on notice that they are being monitored for the quality of their decisions as to whether they refer a particular individual to the enforcement officer for breach of their supervision order.

This matter goes to the heart of the credibility of the new system the Minister is introducing. Our abiding concern is about fragmentation between the new private providers and the public national probation service. There is a clear gap that has to be joined up.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Order. Mr Goggins, are we going to relate this argument to commencement?

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

Indeed, very simply and with one sentence, Ms Dorries. Will the Minister reassure the Committee that, prior to the commencement of any sections of the Bill that relate to the issue I have raised, he will set out in a statement the provisions he is making to ensure that the issue is properly monitored?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

I think that I have said some of this before, but I will try to encapsulate it for the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East. The decision as to whether breach proceedings should be brought in  court is, as he says, one for the national probation service to make, not for the community rehabilitation companies. That is for the reasons he has outlined, namely that we do not want any perverse incentives for CRCs to make judgments as to whether a breach proceeding should be brought.

The right hon. Gentleman asked why a CRC or contractor of any kind should be interested in reporting a breach. In practical terms, we expect all those delivering rehabilitation to have the objective of reducing reoffending at the forefront of their minds. Neither we nor they want to see the people for whom they are responsible reoffending and committing further offences. If a CRC believes that someone is or may be in breach of their community order, it is quite possible that the court will decide to impose greater restrictions on that individual in consequence of that breach. Greater restrictions may well mean a lesser likelihood of reoffending. I would suggest that there is every reason for those who are looking at reduction of reoffending as their primary objective to make sure that they use any levers available to them to ensure that the individual for whom they are responsible does not reoffend. I think that they will want to make use of the national probation service’s intervention and, in appropriate cases, the court’s intervention to make sure that, where they can, they make that happen.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the issue of perverse incentives. However, that is precisely why we have removed responsibility for deciding on breaches from the contractors themselves. We will monitor the situation in terms of breaches as part of the performance frameworks and will therefore be able to compare the performance of different CRCs to see whether there is any anomalous behaviour between them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 22 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.