New Clause 4

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:00 pm ar 23 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Reoffending targets

‘The Secretary of State shall by direction at the start of every year and in respect of every provider of probation services, set targets concerning the reduction of offending or reoffending by those charged with or convicted of offences, or those given conditional cautions in the area in which the provider carries out its functions under this Act.’.—[Mr. Garnier.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Ceidwadwyr, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment (a) to the proposed new clause, at end add—

‘(2) The Secretary of State shall report annually to Parliament on the nature of these targets and the progress made towards their attainment.’.

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

The new clause is designed to encourage the Government to be more open about what they want the Bill to achieve in relation to the providers of probation services.

First, we accept that the new clause might create an administrative burden for the Government. If we move beyond one provider of probation services, namely the probation service, to a regime in which probation services are provided by a host of private companies—charities, Church groups and so forth—the Secretary of State will be writing out a lot of targets for a lot of people. None the less, the underlying principle is sound.

One of the things to concern me and, I suspect, the wider public is the appalling rate of reoffending among those who have been released from custody. The reoffending rate for adult prisoners within two years of release is 67 per cent. or thereabouts and, for young offenders, is nearer 80 per cent. That is a huge waste of public money. Housing each adult prisoner per year costs £37,500 or thereabouts, and about £70,000 to house each young offender. If we put those people in custody and they come out in exactly the same condition in terms of education, drug addiction or social aptitude, and then they reoffend, we have wasted the public’s money. I want to the Government to deal with that. Prisons and young offender institutions are getting fuller and fuller, but the reoffending rate is not decreasing. It is high time that the Government set a target for themselves—let alone for anyone else—on reducing the numbers of people who are offending and reoffending and of people who are cautioned.

One of the points that the Council of Circuit Judges made to the Secretary of State—about three or four weeks ago, I think—was that so many youngsters nowadays are introduced to the criminal justice system time after time, but without going to court and, as a consequence, the fear factor of the punishment system within the criminal justice system does not apply. The   deterrent value of the court system simply existing,let alone sending youngsters to do community punishments or into detention, has gone by the time many get to the point of being sent into custody.

I think one of the less bright Ministers—I cannot remember which one, which is perhaps just as well—said that that was because judges are unduly lenient and that if judges did their job properly and did what Parliament required of them, they would bang those youngsters up much earlier. Actually, judges do their very best to comply with the law as Parliament directs them and that is why the prisons are overcrowded. The present Government have required more people to be sent to prison for longer. Surprise, surprise—more people are sent to prison for longer. Surprise, surprise—prisoner numbers have gone up. The only surprising thing—although I have given up being surprised by it— is that the Government failed to anticipate the consequence of their policy and failedto provide sufficient places to put those additional prisoners in.

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

I hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman says but surely he accepts that, in line with the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provided for indeterminate sentences for dangerous prisoners who pose a threat to the public, it is right that such people are held in prison until they can prove that they do not pose such a threat. Does he think, particularly with his experience, that at the lower end of sentencing, people who would once have been fined are now being given a community sentence, and that that ratcheting up has contributed to the problem?

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

I am glad my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch is here because that is a point that he drew our during our evidence session. The evidence from that session is now available to the Committee and is on the table. The point that he made is that the continuous low-level interface between youngsters and the criminal justice system has not had the desired effect of deterring them from crime, so by the time they get to a point where they have done something that may require them to go inside, they have lost any fear of the criminal justice system. If my hon. Friend wishes to intervene on me to explain that point rather more eloquently, I would be happy to give way to him.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The point I made has been taken up by the Council of Circuit Judges. Minor offending is the breeding ground—the council’s words—for more serious offending. As my hon. and learned Friend will agree, we need to be very careful not to create a system that inures offenders to the criminal justice system, such that when they arrive in prison or in custody or they are given more serious sentences, it is much harder to reform and rehabilitate them and therefore to stop them reoffending, especially if that reoffending is of a more serious nature.

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

There is the answer to the Minister’s question and I hope he will take that on board. I know that he will have studied the evidence session that we had a couple of weeks ago.

That suggests to me that we need an intelligent approach to reoffending, but it is not something to which the Government have applied their mind. They are very good at passing Acts of Parliament and very  good at demanding longer and harsher sentences for this, that and the other but what they are not so good at is reducing reoffending. That is why it is important, given the opportunity of the Bill, that providers of probation services should be set the task of explaining what it is that they can do and the Secretary of State should tell them what he expects them to do. If they are not prepared to meet our expectations they should not be given the task.

I do not think that is at all controversial, but I notice that the hon. Member for Ceredigion wishes to amend my otherwise entirely perfect new clause by suggesting the Secretary of State should report annually to Parliament on the nature of these targets and the progress made towards their attainment. Again, the more we know about what the Secretary of State is doing the better. I say that particularly about the present one.

Photo of Mark Williams Mark Williams Shadow Minister (Wales) 12:15, 23 Ionawr 2007

In the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle, I was tempted to withdraw the amendment. However, on the basis of the kind remarks by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, I shall reaffirm briefly what we said earlier: inspiring public confidence in the system will be a huge job. It manifestly does not enjoy a great deal of public confidence now. On that basis, we see no logical reason why an annual report should not be presented to Parliament.

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

The new clause highlights a key aim of the proposals on which we all agree—to reduce reoffending. The Committee will know that the Home Office has set targets to reduce the rate of reoffending by 5 per cent. by 2008 and 10 per cent. by 2010, compared with the 2003 figures. We have always said that the targets are ambitious and that the measures in the Bill are needed alongside many others to meet them, and we have talked about ways of doing that that involve the wider community. I do not think, however, that the approach proposed in the new clause is the way in which to measure success against the targets.

As the hon. and learned Member for Harborough admitted, there are difficulties with holding individual providers to account in respect of reoffending because more than one provider of a custodial or probation service is involved in the management of an individual offender. That is not a product of the arrangements in the Bill—it occurs now and is one of the reasons that Lord Carter said in his report that the commissioners, rather than individual providers should be held to account for performance on reoffending.

In fact, responsibility extends beyond criminal justice agencies. Reducing reoffending is a shared task and extends to agencies with responsibilities for housing, training, benefits and so on, as we have discussed. That is because the likelihood of reoffending has as much to do with whether an offender has a home, job, training, benefits and so on as it does with probation staff offender management and intervention. It is difficult to see how we could allow for that in a contract with an individual probation provider. Contractual targets should be consistent and aligned with the Government’s plans for reducing reoffending,   and not just targets to reduce reoffending per se. We intend to agree targets with all probation service providers for services that contribute to a reduction in reoffending.

Amendment (a) to the new clause states that the Secretary of State should report annually to Parliament on progress towards those targets. I do not think that that is necessary. We will continue to report overall progress, as we have been doing for some years. It is not necessary to put that requirement in statute. I understand the concerns of hon. Members, and hope that on the basis of my explanation the hon. and learned Gentleman will withdraw the motion.

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

This issue will not go away, but it will not be resolved this morning. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.