Clause 3 - Supervision after end of sentence

Offender Rehabilitation Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 28 Tachwedd 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Llafur, Glasgow North West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 44, in clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 29 to 31.

Amendment 45, in clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 39 and 40.

Amendment 46, in clause 3, page 3, line 1, leave out ‘subject to supervision requirements’ and insert

‘who is entitled to be supervised on a voluntary basis’.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am pleased to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson, as always.

The purpose of the amendments is obvious from their wording, but the reasoning might be a little opaque and curious, so I need to take some moments to explain it. They came about as a result of my discussions with the Prison Reform Trust, but the Howard League for Penal Reform is also in favour of them. I will explain the purport of the amendments.

The Prison Reform Trust welcomes the principle of focusing on rehabilitation and of extending support to short-sentence prisoners—as we all do, on both sides of the Committee. The trust feels, as I do, however, that the mandatory statutory supervision for short-sentence prisoners could undermine the rehabilitative purpose of the new supervision period and even increase the likelihood of breach and thereby the recall to custody. The Government’s impact assessment of the proposals estimates that around 13,000 people per annum will be recalled or committed to custody as a result of the introduction of the new licence and supervision requirements. That will result in about 600 additional prison places.

By giving offenders the entitlement to be supervised on a voluntary basis during the supervision period, the amendment would build on the success of a number of voluntary monitoring schemes for short-sentence prisoners, such as the Peterborough pilot, which is already in operation around the country. The Peterborough pilot is often cited by the Government in support of the proposal for mandatory statutory supervision, but a voluntary scheme in which the participants are self-selecting would provide further bolstering of the whole purpose of the supervision regime.

A voluntary period of supervision for such short-sentence prisoners would build on the positive experience from Peterborough. Research also suggests that desistence from crime is dependent on an individual’s preparedness to change and to take personal responsibility for his or her behaviour. Enforced statutory supervision, it is said by greater experts than myself, is unlikely to have the desired effect of reducing reoffending and will increase the risk of breach and recall to custody, as I said.

The trust is particularly concerned that the proposals will drive up the short-sentence prison population—a risk acknowledged by the Government’s own impact assessment. As the “Transforming Rehabilitation” consultation acknowledges, many people serving short prison sentences have complex and multiple needs, such as homelessness and unemployment, drug and alcohol addiction, mental health needs and learning disabilities, which in turn increase the likelihood of breach and recall to custody if sanctions imposed for non-compliance are too onerous, or the period on licence is too long.

The Government response to the “Transforming Rehabilitation” consultation proposed to offer a range of sanctions to address non-compliance with supervision requirements, only recalling offenders to custody as a final measure. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, however, in its “Legislative Scrutiny: Offender Rehabilitation Bill” report, expressed concerns about that:

“This does not, however, appear on the face of the Bill, leading to concern that the Bill will result in breaches of the principle of proportionality, by leading too easily to the use of imprisonment as a sanction in relation to conduct which is not criminal.”

Overall, it is unclear clear from the proposals how the Government intend to meet the costs of extending statutory supervision to short-sentence prisoners. The impact statement assumes that the Ministry of Justice

“has undertaken detailed modelling of the likely costs.”

However, it says that

“it would be inappropriate to release these costs, as they will be dependent on the outcome of competing offender services in the community.”

The MOJ goes on to say:

“If we were to publish an estimated figure for the future costs this could put contractual negotiations at risk and prejudice the effectiveness of the competition.”

The “Transforming Rehabilitation” strategy claims that the proposals

“will be affordable within the context of the MoJ commitment to deliver annual savings of over £2 billion by 2014/15 and forward into the next SR”— spending review—but does not provide any further details.

At Committee stage in the other place, Baroness Linklater said:

“It would be a terrible irony if a provision that is intended to turn people’s lives around were to produce a rise in the prison population, which is something we want to avoid and completely negates the power and potential that the supervisory period offers. An extreme example to prove—in the sense of “to demonstrate”—this rule could be that someone given a few days in custody for, say, a road traffic offence could then find himself with an additional statutory 12 months’ supervision in the community, which is way out of kilter with the nature of the offence. If he defaults and is recalled to prison for 14 days, that would be much longer than the original sentence” and much heavier in reality. The noble Lady urged the Government to

“follow the example of successful mentoring schemes that already exist around the country, such as the pilot in Peterborough that I have visited, where the scheme is voluntary and service providers can exercise their own discretion in the management of the offender.”

She said:

“Custody is a very last resort. These mentoring schemes are delivering very promising results, and I hope that the Government will look closely at what they are doing because I believe they show the way forward, which is an improvement on the rigid year’s supervision currently proposed. Rigid rules of one year’s supervision might have a simple appeal, but what matters is what works, given the nature of the offences and the needs of the offenders, and here we have an example of what works. This means that we do not have to try to reinvent the wheel.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 June 2013; Vol. 745, c. 1189-1190.]

The noble Lady then continues making a very powerful case.

I said at the commencement of my remarks that the amendments are also supported by the Howard League for Penal Reform, and I declare an interest as a member of the Howard League. The Howard League strongly supports the amendments. It says:

“Short term prison sentences are of no benefit to the perpetrator, the victim, or society, and are likely to increase, rather than reduce, the risk of reoffending. The vast majority of those on short term sentences are forced to sit idle in overcrowded cells with no access to rehabilitation...They leave prison with the same  problems that caused them to commit crime in the first place, and it is likely that the prison sentence will have cost them their job and possibly their home, family, and support network. In addition, those sentenced to less than 12 months in custody often lead particularly chaotic lifestyles, and have higher levels of need in relation to homelessness, joblessness, and drug and alcohol abuse, meaning that breach is likely to occur frequently in this group. Support for short sentenced prisoners ought to be voluntary, adequately funded and provided by those with experience of helping people turn their lives away from crime.”

The Minister will appreciate that, in the amendments, I am not in any way saying that supervision is a bad idea. We all agree that it is an excellent idea, but I also think that we must listen to the experts in the field, who say that the voluntary input is extremely important if we are not to create a structure that will inevitably lead to people going to prison when they should not be there. That is the last thing that any of us in the Committee or, indeed, the House as a whole would want, so I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s response.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 11:45, 28 Tachwedd 2013

I sympathise with the argument of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd on this and the next group of amendments, but perhaps more on the next group. The amendments suggest that supervision should be voluntary and that the heavy hand of Government should not micro-manage the process, particularly when that process is already working. The effect of the Government’s proposals, however well intentioned, would be disproportionate. I have seen the Howard League’s brief, and it made the point well.

Yesterday, on a visit organised by the Howard League, I saw the Minerva project in my constituency, and I will come back to that visit because it is relevant to later amendments to clause 3. It is one of three voluntary organisations in London funded by the London Probation Trust. The relationship between the public sector and the voluntary sector is interesting and I think I learned more during that two-hour visit than from all the Government’s briefings on the Bill that I have read so far. I had previously visited the project in my constituency, but this was more of an occasion because I was with Baroness Corston, Lady Healey, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), and a prestigious group of other parliamentarians from the all-party group on women in the penal system. We had interesting discussions with the probation service, the project’s manager and the service users.

Such voluntary organisations manage difficult groups of offenders. The Minerva project grew out of ADVANCE—a major domestic violence project with a turnover of about £1.5 million—because many of the women who are victims of domestic violence are also low-level repeat offenders, for reasons that we can all imagine. Minerva was set up in response to that. It deals with clients individually and flexibly. I do not know whether the Minister follows me on Twitter, but he should do—he does not look impressed. Yesterday, I tweeted that the reoffending rate for statutory referrals to Minerva was 3%, which is about half the cohort. The other half are women who are at risk and may have a criminal conviction but are not yet in the formal system—they may have been referred by the police or other mechanisms. It is a wonderful collective effort by statutory  and voluntary services, because the reoffending rate for those women at risk is 0%. Those figures are unbeatable. I have had experience of similar voluntary organisations dealing with short-sentence prisoners who, without the need for legislation, are doing a fantastic job. That supports a lot of what the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd argued, and is one reason why I am keen on his proposals.

The other reason is that I am suspicious about why the Government want blanket coverage—a sledgehammer to crack a nut—when someone who has entered the current system for one or two weeks is subject to a year’s supervision. I wonder whether that is to provide some security and certainty to the private companies that will be providing the services.

Perhaps I should have raised this issue under clause 2. The Minister might want to say a little more about who he envisages will be providing the services. Will it be the same companies that will be providing privatised probation services to low-to-medium risk offenders and longer term prisoners? I assume that it will be, because I do not know who else the Government ever turn to in such circumstances. I suspect that those companies, with their large overheads and multi-billion-pound turnovers, are saying to the Government, “We are getting involved in this project with your funding scheme, your requirements and the volume of work only if you give us some clarity about what our work load will be.” If the system was entirely flexible, which has worked well with Minerva and another probation trust, it would be difficult to provide such assurances.

I wonder whether the Government are moving towards an American model. Large, independent studies have shown that one of the main driving forces for incarceration, particularly for long or unlimited sentences of imprisonment for relatively minor offences, particularly for repeat offenders, is sustaining the profits of the private companies that run the prisons and other custodial services in the United States.

If we are going so far over to a corporate state, where the Sercos and G4S’s of this world are in charge of virtually the whole criminal justice system, and they are driving it, of course it is in their interest to keep people tied up in the system for as long as possible. I wonder whether that is the case.

This group of amendments would drive a coach and horses through what the Government are proposing. It is a different way of doing things; it may be a better way, as evidence suggests, but as I understand it, the Government’s stated intention is to introduce a relatively lengthy period of supervision in order to provide short-term prisoners with the ability to access services and support over a reasonable period of time so that issues such as employment and housing can be dealt with.

If the Minister is prepared to provide assurances, and if he is prepared to deal with the other points that I have raised, I will not be minded to support this group of amendments. The situation will be different when we come to the next group.

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

As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd has made clear, his amendments are all intended to make top-up supervision voluntary for all offenders. I should begin by spelling out what that would mean.

First, under the right hon. Gentleman’s proposal, an offender who received a custodial sentence of less than two years, although receiving a licence period, would be entitled to receive supervision on a voluntary basis. That would not be, if I understand it correctly, purely on a pilot basis, but in perpetuity. That would mean that an offender sentenced to six months would spend three months in custody and three months on licence. After three months in the community on licence, they presumably could apply to continue to be supervised. However, as the supervision would be on a voluntary basis, they would presumably also have to specify what they would be willing to do as part of the supervision.

The Committee must consider the persistent offenders who make up the majority of those who receive short sentences. I entirely appreciate that the Howard League and others would prefer that no one received short sentences, but given that they do, the majority of those people end up being persistent offenders. The vast majority of those people are the most difficult individuals we have to deal with in the criminal justice system. We have made it clear that their rates of reoffending are higher than those of any other group in the system, and that is the logic behind our proposals.

We have to ask ourselves whether the majority of those offenders would choose to volunteer for supervision, and whether they would continue to volunteer when they were asked to confront difficult questions about what they had done in the past and what they were expected to do in the future, as one hopes they would be. It is likely that the people we most want to be subject to supervision are those who are the least likely to volunteer.

Amendment 44 would remove the role of the Secretary of State in setting the conditions for supervision, and amendment 45 would remove the requirement that the primary purpose of the supervision period be rehabilitation. They would make it entirely unclear what supervision an offender was signing up for. If offenders are entitled to supervision, they should know what they are entitled to and what the providers of probation services have to provide. I fear that the amendments would make the concept of supervision unclear and uncertain. No one, whether the courts, the victims or the offender, would know what was expected during supervision.

Amendment 48, in the next group, to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith referred, would enable the court to set a period that the supervision could not exceed. However, under the suggestions of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, the offender would have to volunteer anyway, so the court would be setting a date beyond which the offender could not volunteer. Since the offender could presumably withdraw his consent to being supervised at any stage, the maximum duration of the supervision would have little, if any, significance.

I accept that we need to get the balance right between ensuring that offenders have the opportunity to address their offending behaviour during the supervision period, which is the primary purpose of supervision, and ensuring that there is compliance with the terms of the supervision. The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right that many of the offenders who will be subject to supervision lead chaotic lives. However, rather than saying to offenders,  “You decide what happens,” we need to put some order back in their lives and provide effective supervision. We need to ensure that they recognise that we are providing them with an opportunity to sort out their lives, but that there are consequences to not complying with the requirements.

The right hon. Gentleman quoted the impact assessment and said that 13,000 offenders may be committed to custody for breach as a result of the proposals. However, many of those people may well have reoffended during that 12-month period and found themselves back in custody, and we have to take that into account. The purpose of the supervision period is to avoid that outcome.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons) 12:00, 28 Tachwedd 2013

I am listening with interest. The entire Committee would agree that short-term prisoners should be supervised, but I will give an example of a typical scenario from the magistrates court in Hull, where I often appeared on behalf of defendants.

Sometimes a defendant would appear in court with few previous offences—sometimes no prior convictions—but without a fixed abode or anywhere to live. The lay bench would therefore remand the defendant in custody, perhaps for a public order offence—nothing particularly serious, but bad enough for them to be remanded in custody. The defendant would then appear before the district judge a week later, be sentenced to the period that he or she had already spent in custody and then supervised for a period of 12 months. That seems very costly. Does the Minister not think that a degree of discretion is necessary in situations like that?

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

The kind of individuals that the hon. Gentleman describes are, as he rightly said, seen often in magistrates courts, and they need a range of different kinds of help. We seek to give those who are working with them the opportunity to provide help over a sensible time period. We will return to the issue of whether 12 months is the right period when we debate the next group of amendments. What we are discussing now is whether the period of supervision should be voluntary. People who face the types of difficulties that he describes may not volunteer for the kind of support that we would recognise they need if they are to be deterred from reoffending. That is really the point about the amendments.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

I understand the Government’s intention and agree with it, but the reality is that the Government are trying to save money in every Department. Have they really acknowledged fully the cost to the state of that kind of supervision?

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

The answer is yes. It is in the impact assessment. We have already given a figure for what we believe the cost of additional sanctions will be for this group of offenders, both for licence and for supervision. It is in the order of £30 million. Again, we have to set that cost against the benefits that we believe will be brought about because of reductions in reoffending. The figure has been set out clearly.

The hon. Gentleman is referring to whether the costs are inevitable. Let me discuss that a little. First, a range of sanctions will be available for breach of the period of supervision, from periods of curfew to community work  to 14 days in custody. There will be discretion for the magistrates courts considering such breaches to decide what is most appropriate. It does not follow that in every case they will decide that custody flows from a breach.

The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd referred to the JCHR report. That Committee also considered whether a court would apply discretion in these cases and said that

“we are confident that the sentencing courts will opt for the most appropriate sanction in a given case, including custody only as a last resort if the interests of justice so require, and that it is correct to trust this to the exercise of discretion by the courts rather than be too prescriptive in the legislation.”

That is right, and it is precisely why we have given a range of different sanctions for breach of a period of supervision.

My other point on this group of amendments is that the Bill clearly allows a light-touch approach to those who do not need significant amounts of rehabilitative work. It allows conditions of supervision to be amended if they are inappropriate for the offender. It allows discretion in bringing breach action, and, as I have said, it allows the court discretion when dealing with breaches. In short, it gives the offender every opportunity to turn their life around while retaining some control should offenders simply refuse to face up to their actions. That balance is right, but would be substantially disrupted by the right hon. Gentleman’s amendments. For that reason, I am afraid I cannot accept them.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister has given a full explanation of why he cannot support the amendments, and we have had a good debate on the issues involved. I am satisfied enough to leave matters as they are for the time being, and beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Llafur, Glasgow North West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 40, in clause 3, page 3, line 5, at end insert—

‘(8A) A court passing a sentence to which this section applies may—

(a) provide for progress of supervision to be reviewed periodically at specified intervals,

(b) provide for each review to be made at a hearing held for the purpose by the court which passed the sentence,

(c) require the offender to attend each review hearing,

(d) provide for the supervisor to make to the court before each review a report in writing on the offender’s progress under supervision, and

(e) at a review hearing, after considering the supervisor’s report, amend the supervision requirements.’.

Amendment 21, in clause 3, page 3, line 20, at end add—

‘(5) A supervisor may apply to the court for the supervision period to be discharged for good conduct provided that half of that supervision period has been completed.’.

Amendment 25, in schedule 2, page 26, line 33, at end insert—

‘(8A) The court must be satisfied when discharging an order for good progress that the offender has complied with all requirements and not been charged with any subsequent offence.’.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

These amendments are about discretion on the term, or length, of supervision. I am pleased to have this debate, because slapping on 12 months’ supervision without looking at the individual circumstances, which is the current thinking, is a strange way of dealing with things given the cost. The Minister said, fairly, that there will be discretion about what kind of supervision it will be, but to pick up on the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East, who is an experienced lawyer, nowadays, people who offend by driving a vehicle without third-party insurance, perhaps more than once, will be sentenced to a short period of imprisonment. Although that can be a serious offence, I am not sure that applying without discretion 12 months of supervision on, say, a young student who was unable to insure his vehicle or was late in insuring it, and had insured it before, would be what the Minister and the Government were thinking of for such an offence.

I suspect that, in coming up with the suggestion, the Government were thinking about those who had been in prison for 12 months, deservedly, for an offence, had been in before and were persistent offenders. We all agree that something should be done with them. I would not argue for any discretion in such a case. However, many other offenders will fall under the provision in question, and I do not think that that was considered when the Bill was drafted. The law of unforeseen consequences haunts legislators all the time and it will apply in this area.

The amendments would provide discretion for magistrates and judges in setting the appropriate length of a supervision order, not exceeding 12 months, and deal with the concern of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Magistrates’ Association that the Bill does not provide sufficient discretion.

The Prison Reform Trust welcomes the principle of focusing on rehabilitation and extending support to short-sentence prisoners; virtually everybody does, as I said. However, the proposal to add an additional supervision period for short-sentence prisoners on top of the licence period may, in many instances, be a disproportionate and even unfair punishment. It will add a further year within the ambit of the criminal justice system for all those sentenced to custody for any period over one day and up to two years. For instance, it would mean someone sentenced to two days in custody for a road traffic offence receiving an additional 12 months of statutory supervision in the community. Requirements during that period could include restrictions on an individual’s housing or employment. Penalties for breach could include a fine, a supervision default requirement imposing either a curfew requirement or an unpaid work requirement, or a recall to custody for a period of 14 days. For someone sentenced to two days’ imprisonment, the length of the recall period imposed as a sanction for breach would be many times longer than the time spent in prison for the index offence. That is bordering on nonsensical. With the amendments, I am trying to chip away at the edges, not at the main principle.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which the Minister mentioned, raised similar concerns in its recent report, as we acknowledge. The Committee was not convinced that the Government had sufficiently addressed how the proposals met the requirement of proportionality under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It also thought that the current lack of judicial discretion in setting the length of supervision periods “raises questions about proportionality”. It concluded that judicial oversight should be included in the proposals, stating:

“In our view, there should be scope for some judicial discretion to provide the courts with the option that, in certain instances, the supervision period may either be reduced or not be imposed at all.”

Under clause 3, there is no discretion for sentencers to decide what period of supervision would be appropriate, based on the nature of the offence or the facts or circumstances of the individual case. The Committee also stated:

“We are concerned that this arbitrary approach to setting the length of supervision…is disproportionate and could ultimately lead to a rise in recalls to custody.”

The Government’s impact assessment recognises that

“the longer that an offender is subject to supervision in the community, the greater the number of potential breaches.”

As I said before, it also estimates that 13,000 people will be recalled or committed to custody, giving an increase of 600 prison places.

The Magistrates’ Association recommend it its response to the “Transforming Rehabilitation” consultation that supervision should not be mandatory. It said that that would be expensive and wasteful when not needed: for example, for offenders who were highly unlikely to reoffend in any event. That was a key area of discussion in the other place. Lord Woolf said:

“I wonder, and ask the Department to consider carefully, whether the blanket approach, of taking a category of short sentences and applying the process proposed in the Bill to everyone caught within that blanket, is the right process. Is there to be no judicial involvement in determining whether the case is one that really needs the expense of the rehabilitation process involved? There are offenders, who have to go to prison, for whom the one sentence of imprisonment is likely to lead to the end of any further problem so far as they are concerned. We tend, in the Bill, to focus on the cases that fail; but however bad the statistics are, we have to realise that there is the other percentage—if it is 58%, 42% do not come back before the courts. Who will judge whether this case is one that needs to be the subject of the action that is taken?”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2013; Vol. 745, c. 654.].

Lord Beecham said:

The Bill envisages supervision of all short-sentence offenders. Is this really necessary? To pick an example at random, should it apply to someone convicted of a road traffic offence, possibly combined with perverting the course of justice? There is surely a case for concentrating resources on those offences and offenders to which they are most likely to be relevant; otherwise, in a payment by results system, the low-hanging fruit will be too readily plucked by the providers, to the cost of the taxpayer—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 May 2013; Vol. 745, c. 637.].

Those are genuine concerns about that point.

Amendment 40 would provide a power for the courts to order progress of supervision reviews. That is utterly appropriate. The courts are interested in what happens to defendants. Magistrates and Crown court judges are  interested to know what happens ultimately and whether the orders they impose are efficacious and do any good. It is only right that they should be thinking that. After all, they are dedicated, intelligent people who want to know whether what they handed down did the trick, to put it crudely. That is the reason for the amendments.

I had discussions with the Magistrates’ Association and the Prison Reform Trust on the amendments. I will not read out the five parts of amendment 40, because that is there to be read, but I will speak briefly on the group. There is currently no provision to review progress during a person’s supervision period by the sentencing court. The inclusion of a regular review process would enable sentencers to monitor a person’s rehabilitation and decide whether any adjustment in their supervision is or may be required. Adjustments would be made on the basis of evidence provided by the supervisor and the person under supervision during the hearing. If a person struggles to comply with the requirements, they can explain the challenges to the court and work with it and the supervisor to see whether a different approach would help.

Similarly, if a person demonstrates that he or she is progressing well—that the supervision requirements seem to be working—and the supervisor and sentencing court are satisfied, requirements could be amended or, indeed, removed. Building in this additional oversight would improve the court’s confidence in, and oversight of, local supervision arrangements.

Courts already have the power to review drug treatment and testing orders, by virtue of section 54(6) of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000, and to review suspended sentences under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The Prison Reform Trust would like to see that power extended to supervision requirements and other community orders. Evidence suggests that review can have a positive impact on both offenders and staff involved in the process of rehabilitation. A Home Office study in 2000 evaluated DTTOs and concluded that, especially for reviews that were heard by the original sentencer, the review process seemed a useful one that was welcomed by staff and offenders alike, making a positive contribution to the treatment process.

The approach of periodic review has been trialled at the North Liverpool Community Justice Centre. The centre took its inspiration from the Red Hook Community Justice Center in Brooklyn, and the judge in Liverpool, David Fletcher, has special sentencing review powers under the Criminal Justice Act 2003. Those powers enable him effectively to keep tabs on the offender’s rehabilitation by regularly reviewing community sentences. During a visit to the United States, I saw exactly the same thing in a court set up in Buffalo, in New York state, where court officials were dealing with ex-service offenders who came before the courts regularly; the offenders’ supervision was monitored, to see how they were complying and so on. Incredibly, with that particular court, the reoffending rate is 0%, and several thousand people have been through it.

That is why I am making this point. If an offender knows that they will be subject to a lashing in court and possibly a recall by a judge or magistrate, they are possibly more likely to concentrate on getting the job in hand done and getting themselves turned around, as it were. I have seen that process in action in New York state. The North Liverpool Community Justice Centre  is working; the inspiration for it came from the centre in Brooklyn. Therefore, I sincerely say to the Minister that this process is something that the Government ought to take in hand and consider.

Building in a periodic review of progress allows greater judicial oversight, clearly, and ensures that supervision periods and requirements remain proportionate. That is another important point, as the Joint Committee has said that there are questions about proportionality and the “kicking-in” of article 8; I have already referred to the Joint Committee’s comments.

The Magistrates’ Association is also very keen on the amendment, and it represents people who are not normally looking for more work; I am quite sure that magistrates have more than enough to do. From my experience years ago in the magistrates courts, I know that. However, the Magistrates’ Association is very concerned about the broad-brush approach, the one-size-fits-all approach if I can put it that way. The amendment will personalise the measure that the Bill is proposing to impose upon individuals, and to that degree it must be sensible.

In August 2013, the Magistrates’ Association responded to the consultation:

“The MA proposes that prolific offenders should be reviewed in the same manner as those on a DRR (Drug Rehabilitation Requirement). This goes along with the excellent work being done in the area of Better Courts Agenda and it is believed that this would reduce reoffending rates. There is little cost other than additional hearings associated with achieving this benefit and would enable magistrates’ involvement in the rehabilitation of offenders as is done by Crown Court Judges.”

The involvement of Crown Court judges is done in a limited way.

Prolific offenders who are regularly sentenced to short custodial sentences are the top priority to be addressed if we are to reduce reoffending. That is why magistrates should have the role of reviewing progress on post-custodial supervision. The Magistrates’ Association goes on to say:

“There is growing evidence from the United States”—

I have seen it myself—

“where judges have more freedom to innovate and experiment, that the requirement for offenders to return at regular intervals to demonstrate their compliance or explain their shortcomings motivates offenders to comply. Magistrates are going to be seeing a significant proportion of those on post-custodial supervision when they breach their supervision requirements. Seeing them before any breach occurs could have sufficient deterrent effect to reduce breach rates. The Centre for Justice Innovation and the New Economics Foundation are two think tanks that have recently published proposals entitled ‘Better Courts’ in which they argue that if courts were allowed to pursue local initiatives, then they would develop practical ways of reducing reoffending.”

I am indebted to the Minister for pointing out that amendment 25 might initially have been in the wrong place; it is now linked with this group. Amendment 25 merely inserts:

“The court must be satisfied when discharging an order for good progress that the offender has complied with all requirements and not been charged with any subsequent offence.”

The argument is clear, straightforward and, to my way of thinking, simple. It is based on international evidence and evidence from various areas in the UK; I have referred to Liverpool, direct rehabilitation and so on.

The amendments would improve the regime foreseen in the Bill. They are meant not to curtail it but to make it more effective, which would be better for the public and ultimately the taxpayer. Magistrates do not necessarily  want to take on greater work loads, but they want to see that what they do makes a difference. That is the core of the amendments.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice) 12:15, 28 Tachwedd 2013

The right hon. Gentleman makes a persuasive if not unanswerable argument. I will be interested in what the Minister has to say. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to vote on amendment 48, I will be happy to support him, although I am not sure we have the numbers to get where we would like to be.

Looking at the measures in stark terms, the proposals, unmitigated by the amendments, seem to take a rather cavalier attitude to the public finances and are a monolithic imposition of the Government’s will on an independent part of the constitution, namely, sentencing judges and magistrates. That is a curious approach from the Conservative party; I do not think that it would happen if the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) were in charge of matters, as one day he may be. The Minister may wish to reflect whether the measures do what the Government would like them to do.

The sources quoted show a huge range of opinion, including comments by Lord Woolf and the recent remarks by the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, on short prison sentences. Sentencers and juries at all sorts of level have different views and opinions, and they each play their part in the criminal justice system. The view of the bench at Hull magistrates court on such matters might be different from that of the President of the Supreme Court, but I favour judicial discretion and independence where that can be maintained.

I am sure that the example given by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East was good, but there are lots of examples of short custodial sentences. Whether they are always entirely appropriate is a different issue, but if the sentencing court imposes such a sentence, it should also perhaps have regard to the consequences. This group of amendments would ensure that in quite a clever way.

The lead amendment deals with the issue of judicial independence and discretion. The other amendments, 40 and 21, deal with a more integrated, intelligent, involved system of justice. Again, this happens in some courts. It happens in my local court. It happens in magistrates courts and in youth courts, where the district judges and, I am sure, the lay benches as well, take an interest in what happens post-sentencing.

They take an interest either when offenders come back in front of them again—they look at their previous conduct, not just their list of previous convictions—or when they are investigating good outcomes, particularly for those with mental health or addiction problems. They look what the best outcome would be and intervene throughout the process to try to achieve a better end result for the offender and for society in preventing reoffending. I am sure that is the way we are moving.

There are some examples of good practice. I have looked at, for example, domestic violence reports, where the process is looked at in the round from the investigation of the offence through to sentencing. Support is given to victims, but each part of the system also examines what the overall outcome could be, rather than simply playing its own silo part and moving on.

It seems to me that whatever the Government’s good intentions behind the proposal, which we have all conceded, it is a case of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. There will be many cases in which a 12-month suspension order is not appropriate, and the best people to judge that are the sentencers, and others in which it is wholly appropriate for the full 12-month period to be imposed. I do not know how much consideration the Government have given to that. I hope they have given it some consideration and that they have some arguments to make in rebuttal, but I cannot see what the Minister will lose by allowing an element of discretion.

Over the 20 years or so for which I have been involved with sentencing, the process has been to come up with more imaginative solutions as to how to deal with offenders. Sometimes that has ended up in arcane, bureaucratic processes that have not worked and have had to be repealed, but perhaps even that reflects central Government trying to assist the courts in fulfilling their purposes with a relatively light touch. The current proposal will not do that. It is simply a move that will be made in a very short space of time without much evidence to back or support it. The Government are saying that we will have 12-month supervision orders irrespective of the personal circumstances of the offender or the details of their case. I ask the Minister to consider seriously whether an element of discretion can be built in.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 12:30, 28 Tachwedd 2013

As the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd has made clear, the amendments are designed to give the court a power either to terminate a period of top-up supervision early for good behaviour, or to review it or provide for judicial discretion as to how long it should be in the first place. I want to pick up on some of his points, as well as on those of the hon. Member for Hammersmith, and explain why the Government are not persuaded by the amendments.

I understand and appreciate the thinking behind amendment 21, but it is not necessary to create such a power for the court in relation to top-up supervision. As has been said, a court can, on application, terminate a community order for good progress. That power is in part 3 of schedule 8 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. That schedule sets out provisions relating to the breach, revocation or amendment of community orders. My main point is that although there are similar characteristics, top-up supervision conditions are not the same as community order requirements. Under the Bill, an offender will receive top-up supervision only if they have been convicted of an offence that merits a custodial sentence of less than two years. The licence and the top-up supervision will flow directly from that sentence, and the court, when imposing the sentence, will be aware of that fact.

As is currently the case for sentences of more than 12 months, the licence period will be imposed automatically by statute. The court will not be able to disapply the licence period, revoke it for good behaviour or set or vary the licence conditions. Top-up supervision will flow from the licence period, albeit with a primary focus on rehabilitation.

Currently, an offender sentenced to 10 years, for example, will spend five years in custody and five years under licence. As I said, there is no provision to review that licence period and no power for the court to  terminate the licence for good behaviour. With specific reference to amendment 48, there is no power for the court to vary the length of the licence period, either.

However, that does not mean that offenders will necessarily be subject to the same degree of supervision during the entire period. If an offender appears to be making progress under licence, or at least does not appear to pose a significant risk of reoffending, it is up to the probation supervisor to decide what level of supervision is required. As an offender progresses through their licence period, the intensity of supervision can be, and often is, stepped down.

The same will be true of top-up supervision. If the offender shows progress and does not appear to need further rehabilitative activities, the provider will not need or, I suggest, want to provide them. The offender or providers will also be able to seek to vary the licence or top-up supervision to reflect a reduced need for specific activities or safeguards. That will mean that the offender can breach only the supervision conditions that remain—for example, the requirement of good behaviour—but will not need to engage in more onerous rehabilitative activities or programmes.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister is saying that flexibility is built into the performance of the supervision period and that certain issues are at the discretion of the provider of the supervision service. How will that work in practice, particularly in relation to the fee paid to the provider?

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

The discretion to ask for a licence condition or a supervision condition to be varied will certainly lie with the provider. However, the decision whether to make that variation will be taken by someone in the public sector—most likely a prison governor, who is the person who sets the licence and supervision conditions in the first place. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, there will be no opportunity for those receiving a fee for that service to manipulate changes to the licence or supervision conditions.

To return to what I was saying, the supervision period will remain in place for the 12-month period. That provides a safeguard in the event that an offender lapses or shows signs of an increased risk of reoffending. I suggest to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd that that is, in fact, a simpler, more practical and more cost-effective system, which responds to good progress, as he would wish, without creating a new court process.

As I said at the outset, I understand why the right hon. Gentleman has tabled the amendments, but although the processes proposed in them might be appropriate for community orders, for which the court imposes the requirements and should therefore also be able to vary them, they are not appropriate for licence or top-up supervision.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am sorry, but I am of the generation that well remembers probation officers coming to court with their clients, as they were called in those days, and applying to discharge orders—they were not community orders—because there was no further point to them. The individual had done his or her time, so the probation  officer could close his file. That is really the point I am getting at. There is an interaction between licence periods, community and so forth, but, with respect to the Minister, I still do not think there is sufficient discretion.

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

I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is describing, but it relates to orders the court has made and conditions it has set. Of course it is appropriate in those circumstances for the probation officer to come back to court to ask for court-ordered conditions to be varied. However, what we are talking about here is licence and supervision, for which the conditions have been imposed not by the court but, in all likelihood, by a prison governor as someone leaves custody. The variation of those conditions is therefore done by that prison governor, not by the court, and that seems a sensible way to proceed. That is no different from the procedure currently followed for licence conditions.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

What is different is the nature of the provider. We have seen many examples—I am sure we will come back to this—of how the private companies that would tender for the contracts are driven by profit, competence and the availability of staff, and they are often not performing. There will be a great temptation for those companies to come back and say either, “We need more work in this area,” or, “We have not got the resources to do this.” Their priorities as commercial operations are likely to be at least as high as, if not higher than, those of the criminal justice system.

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

I repeat the point I made before to the hon. Gentleman: that is not going to be a decision for the provider to take. The decision as to whether a licence or a supervision condition is varied will be taken not by someone in the private sector but by someone in the public sector. The incentive for anyone who has a contract to look after offenders will be to reduce an individual’s reoffending. That is the whole point of the reforms that we are proposing.

I will move on briefly to amendment 25, which, as the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd pointed out, is designed to supplement amendment 21 by adding further clarification. As I understand it, it would set out that a court could terminate the supervision period only if the offender had complied with all requirements and had not been charged with an offence.

I obviously need to make the point that amendment 25 is defective because it would amend schedule 2. However, I understand the purpose of the amendment as far as the right hon. Gentleman is concerned. It is linked with amendment 21, about which I have already spoken. As I said at the outset, I entirely understand the purpose of his amendments.

Amendment 40 is a variation on the same theme and deals with review. As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is designed to add to the Bill a power for a court, imposing a custodial sentence that attracts top-up supervision, to review progress of the supervision, including holding a review hearing that the offender is required to attend. The amendment would also give the court powers to amend the supervision requirements after a review.

I return to my argument that top-up supervision is not the same as requirements of community orders. As the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, there is a power  in section 178 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 for a court to review an offender’s progress on a community order, but as I said, that is because the court imposed the requirements in the first place, so it is appropriate for the court to be the body that can review and amend the requirements. The courts do not impose the conditions of supervision, just as they do not impose licence conditions.

I should also point out, given the hon. Member for Hammersmith’s enthusiasm for review of these orders by courts, that that power has not been rolled out to all courts. In fact, the previous Government commenced the power for only 14 courts across the country. The current Government, by contrast, are currently considering the use of the power as part of a wider look at the role of magistrates. I entirely agree with the comments of the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd about the capacity of magistrates to do good work in this area, and we are looking at that in the round.

However, I should say that I do not think a review power is appropriate or practical for top-up supervision. I would stress that if the offender is not complying with the conditions of supervision, the courts will be able to consider that as an alleged breach. The right hon. Gentleman made the fair point that it is useful for offenders to have the possibility of a return to court in the back of their mind, in order to ensure that they do as we would wish. If that is properly explained, offenders will know that, if there were to be a breach, they would find themselves in court being asked to explain why they had not done what they should have done. In that circumstance, the court could also recommend to the Secretary of State that the conditions of the supervision should be varied.

If the offender was complying with the order and making good progress, I would ask why the court would want to hold a hearing. Court hearings would attract additional cost and inconvenience to all involved.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

It is simply because magistrates feel very strongly that they should have the discretion to have such a court hearing. They want to know whether the penalties they hand down are effective. They want to see whether they can dispose of some of these orders early, save the public purse and get the job done properly.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 12:45, 28 Tachwedd 2013

As we have discussed, there is plenty of opportunity for the level and intensity of supervision to be stepped down over the time as the circumstances demand. That does not require a return to court. As I say, there is a material distinction, in my mind, between, orders the court has made and conditions it has imposed and licence conditions that it has not imposed. Again, we are not proposing anything radical or different; at the moment, the conditions attached to a licence are imposed by a prison governor, and they are not subject to review by the court. The supervision period is an extension of the licence period, rather than analogous to community orders, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am really struggling to understand the Minister’s argument. I do not like the way he is, again, pushing things from the judicial to the administrative field, but he seems to undermine his own argument,  which is that this is about investing not only to improve matters but to save money in the long term. Why, then, would he not want the courts to take a more active role along those lines? The right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd gave the example of the North Liverpool community centre, which I believe is now closing despite its excellent results. I understand that there may be problems with the physical running costs of the building, but the costs of running the service seem to be exactly what the Government are proselytising about in the Bill. However, the Government are resistant to the idea of allowing magistrates to get involved in the process of preventing reoffending.

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

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not persuaded by my argument, although I cannot claim to be massively surprised. Let me reiterate that I understand the argument for flexibility in the course of supervision, but I am arguing that that flexibility already exists. A process of review through a magistrates court, such as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, is not required to achieve that flexibility. If someone is being supervised by, let us say, a private sector provider, it is entirely a mystery to me why that provider would choose to engage in unnecessary rehabilitative activity for which they would have to pay. That is not something that we will incentivise providers to do, so it seems unlikely that we will end up in a situation where people subject to supervision are asked to do things that are of no use in pursuing their rehabilitation.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister, who, as always, is engaging with the debate. However, the corollary to what he says is surely also true: there will be instances where requirements are unreasonably imposed, and a court should have oversight of them to determine whether they are practical or whether the individual has been forced into a breach by virtue of the impracticality of a requirement.

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

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, if such a situation arose, and the court were asked to consider a breach, it would have a number of options. If the court believed the offender had little choice other than to breach the order, or that the requirement was unreasonable, it would, of course, have the option of taking no action in those breach proceedings.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister may have misunderstood me. I was referring to a review prior to a breach. In other words, if a condition was impractical or overly onerous, it could be looked at during the review period to avoid a breach. That is the point I was getting at.

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

If we were in a situation where the offender or the provider of rehabilitation—it could be either—believed the conditions attached to the licence or supervision were impractical or overly onerous, it would of course be open to either of them to go back to the person who imposed those conditions to ask for them to be reviewed. However, in the end, the situation is entirely analogous to that for licence conditions, which, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, has operated for many years. That is no different for a period of supervision, but it is materially different from the position on community orders, where the conditions have been imposed by the courts themselves.

We have covered many of the points arising from amendment 48, but let me briefly say something about whether 12 months is the appropriate length for a period of supervision. This goes back, incidentally, to the point made by the hon. Member for Stockton North. I promised him an answer to his question about why a 12-month period for measuring reoffending is sensible. I told him that the majority of offending takes place during that period, and I said I would try to give him greater specificity. Nearly two thirds of reoffending takes places within that 12-month period. That is relevant, because it is sensible for supervision to take place in the period during which most reoffending occurs. I will make the point one last time that there is flexibility for supervision to be stepped down, but we believe that 12 months is an appropriate period for people to be subject to supervision of varying degrees of intensity depending on the circumstances. It is an adequate period of time for rehabilitation to take effect, and it will help us to bring down rates of reoffending.

Photo of Karl Turner Karl Turner Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons)

Can the Minister clarify something? I do not know whether I have misunderstood the proposal, but he seems to be suggesting that if an offender serves a short custodial sentence of only a week and is subject to statutory supervision, 10 months later, the prison governor, who has had dealings with the offender for only a week, could be asked to consider a breach. That seems to be completely impractical. Have I misunderstood the proposal entirely?

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

I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood. Breaches will be considered by the magistrates court. Were it necessary for there to be a variation of the conditions of licence or supervision, it would go back to the person who originally imposed them. However, in the case that the hon. Gentleman described, it seems most unlikely that someone would be given onerous conditions of licence or supervision after such a short period in custody with so few problems. The hon. Gentleman’s concern is therefore not realistic.

Again, that already happens. Someone who is released from custody on licence will have conditions attached to the licence by the prison governor. That is how it works now. We want something equivalent to apply to supervision, with the magistrates court considering breaches and deciding on the appropriate response.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Llafur, Stockton North

If, as the Minister said, more than a third of offenders reoffend after 12 months, why are we paying a fee to anybody for rehabilitating them? If offenders pass the 12 month period we say, “There’s your money.” But if they reoffend a few weeks later the company has surely failed.

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

I know confusion reigns on the Opposition Benches, so let me be clear about what we are saying about the group of amendments. The hon. Member for Hammersmith said that 12 months is, in many cases, too long, but the hon. Member for Stockton North appears to be saying that 12 months is not long enough. I wish they would make up their minds. We believe that 12 months is the appropriate period of time for rehabilitation to take hold. That is why we believe  that it is the appropriate period to set for supervision, and why I must resist the right hon. Gentleman’s amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 3, page 2, line 42, at end insert—

‘(7A) The Secretary of State must prescribe minimum training requirements to be completed by the supervisor, in regulations to be laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament.’.

We have already had a couple of good debates thanks to the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. I will do my best to sustain the level of quality as we go into the afternoon.

The clause will introduce the arrangements for the supervision of offenders after release from short custodial sentences. For the avoidance of doubt, I say again that we welcome the intention of extending supervision, particularly to prolific offenders. The Secretary of State appears to have some evidence—that is rare, but there it is—to support what he is doing. The clause also supports our contention that probation works, which, as I think is shown, is part of the reason why the group of unsupervised offenders have a higher rate of reoffending. That is only one reason, but it is an important one, so the clause is to be welcomed.

To deal with the Minister’s final point, I think he was deliberately misunderstanding what my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North was saying. Our argument is about flexibility and dealing with situations as they are, rather than imposing a blanket figure across the piece. But we are where we are, and we have moved on from that.

Let us now look at the ways in which supervision works. The amendment deals specifically with the quality of the supervision and the competence of the staff who will be providing it.

The first point I would like the Minister to address is where he envisages the staff will come from. How will they be recruited? Who will they be? Does he envisage them to be a form of probation staff? How are they intended to work? Are they going, effectively, to work alongside other parts of the heavily revised system?

What terms and conditions does the Minister envisage? There will be a big difference between professionally qualified staff, who will stay in post for a long period, which usually means that their terms and conditions, such as pensions, leave entitlements and working conditions, will be stable and attractive, and agency or short-term staff on limited contracts. I am fearful on that point, because I think the sum that the Government say they will spend is on the low side. I think they have underestimated what the arrangements will cost if they are done properly, which we would all wish to see.

We think that the supervisors are likely to be new providers, with no track record of providing probation services. Will the Minister confirm that? We need to be sure that staff who provide the service on the ground are appropriately qualified.

The amendment would provide for a minimum standard for those supervising offenders to be laid out in statute. The need for rigorous training and an expert work force is exceptionally obvious in this area of public service. I hope that the Minister agrees with that.

The reason I raise that is that in other areas of Government activity, that appears to be the exception rather than the norm. We are now in the territory where teachers appear to be able to teach without having any qualifications, and where the courts will be inhabited mainly by litigants in person. That is no fault of theirs; they are unrepresented because of cuts to legal aid and other restrictions. The Planning Minister said last week that people should be building their own houses. We have not quite had the Health Secretary say that people should perform their own surgery yet, but given that all the emergency services in my constituency are being closed, that can only be a short way off.

Probation is a front-line service that deals with public protection and risk management. Staff need to be highly trained to be able to identify risk, deal with demanding situations and manage volatile and—even in terms of short sentences—potentially dangerous offenders. Cases are nuanced and complicated, and understanding the different needs and offending triggers of each offender, as well as how to build effective relationships with the offenders, is skilled work. I think that that is all uncontroversial.

In particular, supervisors will need to be able to work competently with offenders from a variety of backgrounds and those with particular needs, such as those with learning difficulties or those who enter the criminal justice system directly from care. We will come on to that in a moment, or, possibly, in an hour’s time—[Interruption.]. We will deal with the amendments relating to care in more depth later. I have some way to go, Mr Robertson, in speaking to these amendments. I do not know whether the intention is to adjourn now.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Llafur, Glasgow North West 1:00, 28 Tachwedd 2013

You are entitled to speak more than once, so if you wish to continue after the adjournment, that would be in order.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

I would rather make my argument now.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

Addiction is dealt with substantially in the Bill. That is a complicated issue to deal with which requires some degree of expertise. Clause 11, which Ministers were persuaded to add to the Bill, recognises that female offenders have circumstances generally different from the majority male population. Because the majority of female offenders in custody serve short sentences, they will be disproportionately affected by the new arrangements. If the arrangements work well, they could prove to be positive, but supervisors need to be properly trained to understand the triggers for female offending and the particular routes out of crime for that group. If that expertise is missing, the opportunity to do some good work will be missed.

I assume—I think rightly—that the aim of introducing supervision is not to try to increase substantially the women’s prison population with those who breach an unhelpful requirement. Will the Minister assure the  Committee that the duties described in clause 11 on the Secretary of State for providers to meet the particular needs of female offenders will apply to supervision arrangements as well as to the rest of the probation services? Will that include the requirement for providers to train supervisors appropriately to work with that group?

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

I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman sometimes needs help with brevity. May I try to assist him? He makes two arguments. One is about whether we already have provision for the qualifications, experience or training required of those officers dealing with offenders. I tell him that we do. That is in his favourite piece of legislation, the Offender Management Act 2007, section 10. I think that that answers a large part of his amendment.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am afraid that it does not. The issue of women offenders is a good point. The Minister will correct me if my figures are wrong, but I think, proportionately, there are twice as many short-term women prisoners as male offenders. Women are therefore likely to be disproportionately affected.

In the Government’s target-operated model for probation services, they recognise the need for competent and trained staff as one of the basic tools that the service needs to operate. They said there will be a contractual requirement for providers to have and maintain a work force with appropriate levels of training and competence. We have recent experience of what happens to contracted services when instructions to employ a properly-trained work force are not followed.

The previous time that the Secretary of State declared that he had found an excellent model for the future of the criminal justice services, the taxpayer was charged for the opening of the G4S-run Oakwood: the prison in which it is reportedly easier to get drugs than soap. It was given the lowest possible performance rating by the Ministry’s assessment and received a damning inspection from the prisons inspectorate. Key to the inspectorate’s criticism of the prison were concerns on the quality of the staff’s training and performance. The inspection report found:

“The inexperience of the staff was everywhere evident.”

It goes on:

“Many staff were passive and compliant, almost to the point of collusion, in an attempt to avoid confrontation, and there was clear evidence of staff failing to tackle delinquency or abusive behaviour.”

The consequence of that sort of shambles in the probation sector, where there are no prison walls to contain the problems, do not have to be pointed out. Rather than relying on contractual agreements, the amendment would place a duty for providers to employ properly trained individuals on a statutory footing. It is just a step further than the Government already plan to go but makes the duty on providers far more robust. It would give the Secretary of State the power to set out the minimum requirements and Parliament the power to scrutinise the assurance of quality.

We know from the debate on clause 1 that the Government are not always keen on parliamentary oversight but I hope it will not stop them seeing the importance of the issue at hand. I am not persuaded by the way the Government have dealt with private providers  so far in the contractual relationships that that is sufficient. That is true when one looks at the attitude of Ministers, and the view of the Cabinet Minister that the relationship with G4S and Serco would be renewed and refreshed was quoted at the previous sitting. The minuscule level of fines that were imposed on Capita for its wholesale mismanagement of the contract for interpreters and translators and the fact that G4S saw fit to offer a sum of money effectively to buy off a fraud investigation suggest that that contractual relationship that the Government have with these providers is not working.

The Government intend that the public sector probation service will still be required to use the probation qualifications framework to ensure staff competence but private providers will have no such obligation. Instead they will be able to use the framework if they choose to. The current framework was introduced in April 2010 and gives details of the different qualification pathways. At the point of qualification a probation service officer needs to show that he can protect the public and manage offenders who present a high risk of harm to others in  all their work; influence offenders to change harmful behaviour; continuously develop professionally; and work to the principles of evidence-based practice. I would like to think that the Secretary of State conformed to some of those principles from time to time. What I do not see is why, if that is good enough for the public sector probation service, it is not good enough for the new providers.

The new providers that the Government are inviting to flood this marketplace will not just be dealing with cases that pose no real threat of harm to the public. They will be responsible for offenders with violent and dangerous offences on their record, and a high risk of reoffending. We need a very able, highly skilled body of staff to manage this supervision. The amendment is a simple, proportionate safeguard for a service that safeguards the public, and we hope the Government will support its aims.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(David Evennett.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.