New Clause 53

Part of Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:00 pm ar 29 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 6:00, 29 Tachwedd 2007

I thank the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome for bringing forward his proposals. This is a useful discussion. He will know that we had a long discussion in relation to part 1 of the Bill about the use of custody and our wish to see other out-of-court disposals that will result in a reduction in custody and give further opportunities through the youth reoffending order to ensure that we do not put individuals in custody. He has raised a number of points with regard to the clauses. It might be helpful if I tried to address some of the points that he has brought forward.

As for new clause 53, I accept that it is helpful to ensure that young adults are moved away from offending and are helped into employment. One of our big objectives through work with the Corporate Alliance for Reducing Re-offending is to look at how we can help the employment of offenders. That is key to getting individuals who are leaving the custodial estate at the age of 18 into employment. Indeed, we are gearing some of the training programmes and work in the estate to secure employment and skill levels that are consummate to the job market outside.

The hon. Gentleman will know that, in 2002 and during the past couple of years, we have been looking at the document entitled “Breaking the cycle: Taking stock of progress and priorities for the future”. It reports on how to support individuals to get back into employment as well as on the several changes that have been made. Since that report, the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which followed the Bichard report, has come into play. It means that we need to look into how and when, and under what circumstances, we consider the employment of ex-offenders in many areas of employment. The Bichard report has put into the pot some significant new areas for discussion following our original “Breaking the cycle” report.

We are re-examining whether we need to update the policy proposals in “Breaking the cycle”, and whether we need to look at new arrangements under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 not only for young people, but adults. I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the fact that his new clause is serious and would have a major impact on the employment prospects of young people and pose a risk element for employers and the public at large. I ask him to withdraw it because such issues need full examination in the light of our original objectives in “Breaking the cycle” and our current thinking into how ex-offenders, both young and over the age of 18, can be employed in the community at large.

I am keen to ensure that young people and adult prisoners are given fair opportunities to get back into the employment market. As the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Gentleman will agree and as our debate on prisons highlighted, there is an element of consensus that employment skills, raising those skills and employability are the key drivers of the prevention of re-offending in respect of people throughout the criminal justice system. However, the new clause is a step too far, given the stage that we have reached in our consideration of such matters.

New clause 57 would place unacceptable restrictions on custody for under-18s. I share the objective of the hon. Gentleman to reduce the level of custody of under-18s in our estate, but we need to examine it in terms of preventive measures, interventions and the work of the Youth Justice Board rather than take a blanket approach that would include the removal and restriction of the court’s ability to use custody for some of the most serious offences, including—under the new clause—the removal of the mandatory life sentence equivalent for murder. It is a serious matter.

I share the hon. Gentleman’s objective. I am happy to discuss with him outside Committee how we can reach a satisfactory conclusion, but the ability to be able to set the custody threshold at the level sought by the new clause would be difficult for both the public and the community at large to accept. It would place the public at significant risk and have the impact of examining sentences that would not be in agreement with the public’s expectations in the current circumstances.

New clause 58 would place additional duties and requirements on the courts and local authorities to consider prior to the court being able to impose custodial sentences on a young person. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that it would duplicate existing safeguards and provisions in respect of information about the young offender, and would impose additional bureaucracy and cost, particularly on local authorities, for little extra gain. Safeguards exist in respect of the court’s duty towards the offender, and I am satisfied that the information that is available to it under the current arrangements enables it to make the appropriate sentencing decisions.

Finally, in relation to new clause 54, section 66(4) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is designed to ensure that those who continue to offend, despite out of court  intervention, can expect significant punishment, as we stated in the White Paper “No More Excuses”. A young offender will already have a number of out of court disposals which were conditional in some way, so another conditional one would be inappropriate. To continue to use conditional disposals for a young person who, when before the court, continues to offend despite previous interventions, risks undermining community confidence in the criminal justice system and undermining the potential intervention that custody might bring to prevent the young offender from further offending.

I accept that there is a real challenge for all hon. Members, inside and outside the Committee, to look at what we should do to tackle the level of reoffending mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. It is not acceptable to me or the Government to find that we have in the region of 75 per cent. reoffending rates from those leaving custody. Something is not working if that is the case. The solutions that the hon. Gentleman has brought forward today, while raising the issue, would add to some of the problems and would not necessarily stop the reoffending. They would also cause some difficulties in public perception.