Clause 9

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:00 pm ar 18 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Approved premises

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendment No. 29, in clause 9, page 6, line 6, leave out ‘approved premises’ and insert ‘probation and bail hostels.’.

Subsection (2) states that

“The Secretary of State may make regulations for the regulation, management and inspection of approved premises.”

And subsection (3) states that

“The Secretary of State may make payments to any person in connection with...the operation of approved premises”.

Although I broadly understand the intention behind clause 9, the provision is dangerously vague. Subsection (1)(b) states, in a rather Alice in Wonderland fashion, that

“‘approved premises’ means premises which are for the time being approved”.

Subsection (2) states that

The Secretary of State may make regulations”.

We have not seen those regulations and do not know what arrangements the Secretary of State has in mind for the carrying out of probation purposes or for the running of approved premises, which is implied by the Bill, by operators other than the probation service.

After having seen the “Panorama” programme before Christmas 2006, it strikes me that there is a degree of public concern about the way in which probation premises and bail hostels are managed. Substituting the words “probation and bail hostels” for “approved premises” in subsection (3)(a) will allow us to extract from the Government better information about what or rather who they think will be running these premises.

On the face of it, the matter should not be surrounded by controversy, but we all know that the sort of people who are housed in bail hostels and probation hostels are often difficult to look after. They could be people who have been released from prison after a lengthy prison sentence, in which case they will have come out of the secure prisoner state and gone through the category D prisoner state—in parenthesis, the use of the expression “open prison” is perhaps  misleading, which does not do any of us any good; as Lord Ramsbotham has suggested, we should call them “resettlement prisons”. When people come out of those prisons, they are sometimes housed in what will be called “approved premises”, and probation staff are supposed to look after them. We want to know precisely what sort of places “approved premises” will be. Will they be any different from the existing arrangements?

The “Panorama” programme highlighted controversial areas of public concern about bail hostels. Where will bail hostels be located? Can we be assured that the people who run them, who will be paid by the Secretary of State to carry out those functions on the Government’s behalf, will be adequately trained, resourced and able to control and direct the people in their care, so that those people receive the necessary treatment and supervision, which will allow the public to feel safe in their houses, streets and towns? It is a short point, but it is one that is worthy of a response from the Government. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am grateful for the way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised the issue. There are 104 approved premises in England and Wales, including 14 run by voluntary management committees and one run by a private sector organisation. They are used primarily to supervise high risk of harm offenders on release from custody, and they make a crucial contribution to the protection of the public. I pay tribute to the staff who work in them, whose job is very demanding and difficult.

Hon. Members have mentioned the “Panorama” programme, which highlighted some of the issues relating to approved premises. Many people are working very hard and very successfully in the management of offenders, but stories that show problem areas always attract the attention of the media, so we do not hear about the occasions when the good work is carried out to a successful conclusion. Right at the start of our proceedings, I said that we had to be truthful with the public about what we can do in terms of the management of offenders. The expectation that offenders can be watched 24 hours a day, seven days a week is not realistic. However, they can be managed properly, and the multi-agency public protection arrangements that we have in the UK are unique and are working very well on the whole.

Section 9 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 introduced the term “approved premises” as the standard term to describe those establishments. Previously there had been no standardised names, with establishments operating as probation hostels, bail hostels or probation and bail hostels. The 2000 Act endorsed the concept of a single estate with a generic purpose, and it also emphasised the fact that these establishments are approved by the Secretary of State for a specific purpose and are therefore distinct from the other forms of supported accommodation available to offenders—the latter point is important, because the matter is not only about terminology.

The 2000 Act reflected the changes that had occurred in the use of approved premises over a period of years. Whereas historically hostels had often been used to provide suitable accommodation for  defendants who might otherwise have been remanded into custody—hence the term “bail hostel”—they are now targeted at high-risk offenders on release from custody on licence. I accept that the term has not entered common parlance and that the expression “bail hostel” is still more widely used outside the probation service, but it is misleading and entirely inappropriate for use in legislation.

On the question of whether the public will be adequately protected in future, public protection is at the heart of what we want to achieve. The MAPPA arrangements are important to us. There is no way that we would want to diminish those responsibilities to the public. I believe that the proposal set out in the clause is an entirely appropriate way to head forward. There are issues about accommodation in addition to approved premises which I am sure we will come back to when we consider the outcome of the child sex offenders review that the Government are currently undertaking. There are a great many issues around resettlement. I hope that with that explanation the hon. and learned Gentleman will be relatively happy and withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:15, 18 Ionawr 2007

Happiness, relative or otherwise, is not what I feel, but I hear what the Minister says. I wish to let him know that we shall keep a close eye on how the provision works in practice. It is one of the sharpest interfaces between the law-abiding public and the criminal justice system and if it goes wrong, the buck will stop at his desk. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

I beg to move amendment No. 34, in clause 9, page 6, line 18, leave out subsection (7).

This amendment deals with the final subsectionof the clause, which removes some people from the provisions of the Private Security Industry Act 2001. The Minister said in his response to the previous debate that, in the main, approved premises are run by the public sector, but that a number are run by the voluntary sector and one by a private company. I have a feeling that that one has got into considerable difficulties in recent weeks, although I might be wrong. I am aware that one hostel that is not in the public sector has had problems.

As the clause stands, it appears to open up the possibility of considerably more approved premises being run in the private sector. Subsection (3) states that the Secretary of State may make payments to any person in connection with the operation of approved premises. Will the Minister explain the reason for including subsection (7)? It appears to exclude those who manage private sector approved premises from the scope of the 2001 Act, which regulates the private security industry and requires people in a range of jobs to be licensed. As part of the licensing process there are Criminal Records Bureau and identity checks, and training and qualifications are required. I am puzzled  why we should remove from those safeguards people working in approved premises, who will be dealing with fairly dangerous people.

The 2001 Act includes among the definitions of licensable activities

“guarding one or more individuals against assault or against injuries that might be suffered in consequence of the unlawful conduct of others.”

That is clearly a possibility in any approved premises. It seems strange that somebody working on security at my local greyhound racing track is required to have a Security Industry Authority certificate, but somebody managing a bail hostel is not. I would have thought that that job would be at least as difficult and perhaps more open to risk.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello PPS (Rt Hon Lord Falconer of Thoroton QC, Secretary of State), Department for Constitutional Affairs

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a matter not only of danger, but of vulnerable adults who will be dealt with in approved premises?

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

Absolutely. One of the points about requiring an SIA licence is that there is a requirement to go through CRB checks, which one would expect to pick up somebody who might be a problem.

The Minister might tell me that I am misinterpreting the subsection. I was puzzled by the use of the word “manager”, and what it might mean. Obviously, one would expect that in approved premises, there would be a number of staff, not a single person. The manager might be managing quite a small number, so perhapsI have missed something in the drafting of this subsection. That takes us back to our discussion this morning about training and qualifications, and ensuring that people who are working in the probation service or with offenders have the right training and qualifications, and that they are not people who are going in any way to put someone at risk, such as an ex-offender or a member of the public. It is important that we know that people who are running approved premises are of the right quality to do so. I should like to ask the Minister a probing question: why does there appear to be that exclusion for the private security industry? On the face of it, it would seem eminently suitable that it should apply to people who are going to run a private sector hostel of that nature.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I agree with quite a lot of what the hon. Gentleman has just said. Although he and I disagree over the contracting out of supervisory services to the non-state sector, it is my view that if we are going to do it, we must do it properly. If we are going to allow non-state officers to carry out supervisory functions, they must be properly qualified and regulated, and must bring with them the necessary public confidence. The hon. Gentleman has hit upon a most important aspect of the Bill.

I am concerned that the expression “a person”—somebody who is acting as a manager—needs to be specified as a human being. As a matter of law, the expression “a person” can mean a non-human being; a company is a legal personality. As the hon. Gentleman indicated, if a manager is the manager of a numberof separate premises, he cannot be in every one atthe same time, if he is a human being. Equally, if   the manager is a company, which carries out its management functions through a number of individuals, we need to be sure that not only is the company behaving itself and has set up protocols and systems that enable it to employ people in a particular way, but that individual employees of the corporate manager should be properly trained and accountable, either directly or via their company, to the public whom they are seeking to protect. That is quite apart from the other aspect of the matter, which as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is to make sure that the care of the individuals in that set of premises is being properly looked after.

There is a need for clarity here. It is often thought that the Private Security Industry Act 2001 just dealt with nightclub bouncers, but it covers a far wider area of guarding activity. The Minister needs to explain to us how, by excluding managers of approved premises from the ambit of the 2001 Act, he is enhancing and not diminishing public protection and proper supervision of those within the approved premises.

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I shall detain the Committee only briefly on the matter. I must admit that when I saw the amendment, I was not entirely persuaded one way or another about it, but having listened to the hon. Member for Walthamstow and the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, I think that there is an important issue at stake here, which is right to be voiced in the way that it has been so far. The Secretary of State—I beg your pardon, I mean the Minister

Photo of Mark Hunter Mark Hunter Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Minister says “you never know”, from a sedentary position and I wish him well. Perhaps his performance on this Bill may give us an indication about his future. I am sure that the Minister recognises that this is a serious matter. I am grateful for the way in which it has been brought up, because it highlights an issue that is worthy of a more detailed response than it might otherwise have had. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow for having raised the matter and other hon. Members for their contributions. I understand why, at first glance, there might seem to be a diminution in protection and supervision. I hope to reassure the Committee that that is not the case. The term “manager” here includes all staff working in approved premises who are able to do the job and have had adequate training. As the Committee has requested, I shall go into the matter in more detail.

Clause 9 is based closely on the current legislation on approved premises, namely section 9 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. However subsection (7) is new. It ensures that the requirements of the Private Security Industry Act 2001 for the licensing of individuals supplied under contract to provide manned guarding activities do not catch those involved in the management of approved premises. The aim is to protect the public by driving up standards in the private security industry and removing the criminal element. That background might help the Committee.

The Private Security Industry Act 2001 sets out the licensing requirements for the private security industry established by the Security Industry Authority, and requires the authority to regulate the industry through the licensing process. The Act works by defining for its purposes what is security activity and the conditions under which such activity becomes licensable. One condition is that the relevant activity is supplied as a service under contract. Under the terms of the Bill, services in approved premises will in future be delivered under contract, so we need to consider whether any of the activities carried out in such premises meet the Act’s definitions of security activity. If they do, the Act could apply to those activities unless they are exempted. Security activity is defined in Schedule 2 to the 2001 Act and covers activities such as manned guarding and wheel clamping.

Manned guarding is defined as

“(a) guarding premises against unauthorised access or occupation, against outbreaks of disorder or against damage;

(b) guarding property against destruction or damage, against being stolen or against being otherwise dishonestly taken or obtained;

(c) guarding one or more individuals against assault or against injuries that might be suffered in consequence of the unlawful conduct of others.”

We do not think that the work of staff in approved premises fits that description, but we are concerned that somebody might argue that it does and that it should, therefore, be subject to the licensing regime. That would be inappropriate. The work of staff in approved premises does not constitute private security work in the sense intended by the 2001 Act, nor will it in future. The fact that the services will be delivered under contract will not change that. We think it prudent to put the matter beyond doubt to prevent unintended consequences or uncertainly later.

It has been suggested that by not subjecting services in approved premises to licensing, we put at risk standards in security and risk the involvement of undesirable elements in sensitive and dangerous work. Nothing can be further from the truth. Anybody bidding to run approved premises will have to meet stringent tests and demonstrate an ability to run premises to a high standard. Managers and staff of approved premises will receive training appropriate to their work. That will often replicate the relevant part of the wider training of probation staff. The purpose of the training is not to enable them to carry out guarding activities, as defined by the 2001 Act, but to equip them better to carry out their duties in connection with assessing, supervising and managing offenders and the risks that they pose in the context of approved premises.

This is not a blanket exemption for approved premises. If security operatives were provided on contract to such premises, for example to guard them, they would need to hold licenses issued by the Security Industry Authority in the normal way. However, for normal probation work in approved premises, the 2001 Act is entirely inappropriate and would do what my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow does not want us to do, namely to dumb down the service. I hope that with that explanation—

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 2:30, 18 Ionawr 2007

Although what the Minister says makes good sense in theory, many of our concerns might be mitigated if the Government were to come forward with a model contract, so that we could see what a company bidding to manage approved premises would have to comply with, albeit bids would differ in detail. The model contract might provide for the way in which a company, a charity or another third sector body carries out its functions and ensures that those who work for it behave. Equally, the Bill provides huge opportunities for regulation to be made. If we had even a glimpse of the ankle of the things that we are promised, many of the fears that are justifiably held at the moment would go away. Is there any possibility that such help is forthcoming?

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I understand the hon. and learned Gentleman’s concern, but in response to the amendment I have explained adequately why we are not considering that in the context of the manned guarding and wheel clamping provisions of the 2001 Act.

I said that, to work on approved premises, managers and staff will have to meet stringent tests in the qualifications that they will have to have. I am not against considering further provisions, but I do not want to do that at this stage. I said this morning that we will consult on how to take things further on the make-up of trusts, and we will also consider the types of provision that will come out of the innovations that we seek. However, all that will occur against the existing inspectorate provisions and measured tests, so I see no possibility of the quality of the service diminishing to the extent that people are put at risk.

I hope that I have reassured my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow about the use of the 2001 Act, and I shall go away and consider what can bedone on the points raised by the hon. and learned Gentleman. Public confidence in approved premises is paramount, and approved premises have to be the way that we manage serious and dangerous offenders. Given that I want there to be the greatest possible public confidence in what we do, I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman is satisfied with my assurance that I will consider how we can tighten the rules on the use of approved premises as much as possible.

There is no need for the amendment, and I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw it.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

I understand the points that my hon. Friend the Minister makes. Obviously, when the 2001 Act was debated and enacted, it was not envisaged that it would apply to bail hostels—to what we are now describing as approved premises. At that point, nobody considered whether it should, because the matter was not being debated in the context of more private sector involvement in probation services and in dealing with offenders.

It is arguable that the part of the definition in the 2001 Act that covers guarding more and more individuals against assault or the injuries that might be suffered as a consequence of the unlawful conduct of others could apply to such hostels, although, clearly, other parts of the definition would be highly unlikely to apply. The key is to ensure that people who work in premises of that nature have the right qualifications   and the right background, and that such places do not end up, for instance, with employees who have previous criminal convictions.

Photo of Gerry Sutcliffe Gerry Sutcliffe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I want to pursue the point. If the amendment were accepted and the tests were not stringent, one might end up with someone who was not properly qualified. If we suppose that what my hon. Friend fears happens and the private sector runs all the approved premises estate, somebody approved on the basis of the 2001 Act might still not have the required skills to be able to deal with approved premises. The provider could claim that that person was okay because they had got through on the 2001 Act. I think that the amendment devalues the role of the person who works in approved premises, because it says that somebody with a lesser qualification could have that role.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

I understand the argument. Somehow, having the licence under the 2001 Act might be seen as sufficient qualification for someone employed in approved premises. I would not want to get into such a situation. Someone with just that certification might not have the other skills and qualifications that one would expect and want from someone working in approved premises. The key is what the tests are going to be. If we are not going to have someone with an SIA licence, then the requirements for qualifications and checks ought at least to include all similar checks, such as identity and CRB checks.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman have any views on the suggestion that I made to the Minister? Seeing a draft model contract would be helpful, so that he could be assured that, if not licensed, private providers would have strict contractual requirements, which might be reinforced in a disciplinary way by regulations under secondary legislation. The Minister is trying to reassure us, but cannot do so wholly, because he does not yet know what will be the contractual terms, which have not been written. That is not his fault. The hon. Member for Walthamstow might be somewhat reassured to see the sort of thing that would bind a non-state party to the Home Secretary.

Photo of Neil Gerrard Neil Gerrard Llafur, Walthamstow

There is some merit in that. I am not sure that we can expect a draft contract at this stage, but perhaps the Minister can indicate that he will look at the issue. Before we finish with the Bill, it would be helpful to have a clearer indication of the sorts of checks on, and the minimum required from, someone working in or running approved premises. Judging by the Minister’s reaction, we might be able to get to the bottom of that over the next few weeks, before the Bill finishes its passage through the House. For now, on that basis, I am quite happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.