Clause 130 - Duty to consult on unpaid work requirements

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 15th June 2021.

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

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I will follow your direction, Sir Charles, by saying just a few words on this clause, which is relatively straightforward and, I think, pretty inoffensive.

Clause 130 simply creates a requirement for probation officials to consult key local and regional stakeholders on the delivery of unpaid work. Unpaid work—or community payback, as it is sometimes known—combines the sentencing purposes of punishment with reparation to communities. We believe that, where possible, unpaid work requirements should benefit the local communities in which they are carried out. Nominated local projects are already popular with sentencers and the public, but there is currently no requirement for probation officials to consult stakeholders on the design or delivery of unpaid work, so members of communities and organisations within particular local areas that are best placed to understand the impact of crime and what might be useful in the local area do not necessarily have their say.

Clause 130 simply seeks to address the gap by ensuring that key local stakeholders are consulted, so that they can suggest to the probation service what kind of unpaid work might be useful in their local area. We hope that local community groups and stakeholders come up with some good ideas that the probation service can then respond to. That seems to be a pretty sensible idea. The probation service in some areas may do it already. This clause simply creates a proper duty, or a requirement, for the probation service to do it. Of course, if we understand the needs of local communities and their thoughts, we can improve the way unpaid work placements operate to support rehabilitation and also help the local community. If the local community can visibly see offenders doing unpaid work in their local area, whether it is cleaning off graffiti, cleaning the place up or whatever else it may be, that will, we hope, demonstrate that the programme is giving back to and improving the local community, but delivering a punitive element as well.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Chair, International Development Committee, Chair, International Development Committee

When I used to run a children’s hospice, we had offenders under probation supervision come in. They were meant to be doing gardening at the children’s hospice, but instead they sat around smoking cigarettes. We kept on raising that with the probation worker, because we had invited the offenders there to give them a second chance, to help with their rehabilitation, to enable them to contribute to the community and so on. But the probation officer said, “What do you want me to do? I can’t beat them; I can’t make them work, but they have to come on these schemes.” Could the Minister give some examples of how the probation service will have the resources and the influence to ensure that people who are out in their local community are actually—

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Chair, Administration Committee, Chair, Administration Committee

Order. This is meant to be an intervention, not a speech. The hon. Lady is entitled to make a speech and could have made a speech, but can we treat this as an intervention?

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. First, I am extremely disappointed and somewhat shocked to hear that people who were supposed to be doing work at a hospice in Rotherham in fact sat around smoking cigarettes. That is obviously shocking and not what the orders are supposed to be about. The hon. Lady says that the probation officer shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, what can I do about it?” Of course, if the person, the offender, was not doing the work that they were supposed to be doing, that would amount to a breach of the unpaid work requirement, and they could be taken back to court to account for their breach, so I am extremely disappointed by the attitude of the probation officer that the hon. Lady just described.

The hon. Lady asked about resources. Extra resources are going into the probation service for it to supervise exactly these kinds of activities, and I would expect them to be supervised and policed properly. I will certainly pass on her concern to the relevant Minister. I have already made contact about fixing a meeting for the hon. Lady and the Prisons Minister that we talked about in this morning’s session, in relation to victims being consulted about probable decisions. The same Minister, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, is responsible for the probation service as well—I am just adding to his workload. I will raise it with him, but I would certainly urge the hon. Member for Rotherham to raise this issue in the same meeting, because I know that the account she just gave will concern my hon. Friend as much as it concerns me.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby 2:15 pm, 15th June 2021

I echo the points made by the hon. Member for Rotherham in that there is a variation in the enthusiasm that some of those who conduct this work display, on both sides. I was told, for example, that a lad who came from a farming family had thrown his back into it very strongly and was encouraging others to join him. I would add that we do consult with the local community, and many of the jobs that are done in my constituency are at the behest of either a local authority or other local groups.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Wonderful. We would like to see the kind of consultation that already takes place in Scarborough and Whitby take place across the country as a whole, and that is precisely the intention behind clause 130. Where Scarborough has led, the rest of the nation, thanks to this clause, will follow.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 130 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.