Offender Rehabilitation Bill – Second Reading Debate
Monday 11th November 2013
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Mr Speaker, we support many of the objectives of this Bill before us today.
The first part of the Bill, consisting of Clause 1, was inserted by the other place because of their concerns about these controversial plans to reform the Probation Service.
This requires any change to the structure of the Probation Service to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
I shall come back to this later.
The second part, clauses 2-13, deals with the supervision of offenders released from short custodial sentences.
All offenders released from sentences of less than 2 years would be subject to at least 12 months of mandatory supervision in the community.
It has always been a ridiculous anomaly that short sentence prisoners – the group with the highest rates of re-offending – are the ones left to their own devices when released from prison.
The previous Labour Government tried to address this with the Custody Plus proposals, something I will come back to later.
Nevertheless, extending supervision to those who serve less than 12 months in custody should play a part in reducing re-offending.
The Bill would also put on a statutory footing the requirement to have regard to the special needs of female offenders when making supervision arrangements.
We are grateful to Lord Woolf for his important contributions on this matter in the other place.
We also welcome the introduction of the new drug appointment requirements and expanding the category of drugs that can be tested.
The third part of the Bill – Clause 14-18 – would amend the community sentencing framework.
But this Bill cannot be read in isolation.
It is a smokescreen for fundamentally changing the way probation works in England and Wales.
The motivation the Justice Secretary relies on is his frustration that re-offending rates are too high, and something bold and radical needs to be done.
However, he is in serious danger of doing something – yes, bold and radical – but could make matters worse and increase the risk to the public.
We know that probation works – given those under their supervision are less likely to go on to commit more crimes than those not under supervision.
The MoJ’s own figures for the most recent full year show:
Those who received between a four and ten year sentence who were released and then supervised by probation – 30.7% reoffended.
Those sentenced between 12 months to four years who were released and supervised by probation – 36.2% reoffended.
Those in custody for less than 12 months who were released and not supervised at all by probation had a re-offending rate of 58.5%!
It’s a shame the Justice Secretary isn’t suggesting payment by results for the public Probation Service!
But I welcome the fact that on this particular aspect at least the Justice Secretary appears to want to follow the evidence and use it to inform his policy making.
Offenders who receive probation support do better than those who don’t. This must be the reason why he wants to extend probation to those who receive less than 12 months custodial sentence.
We can all agree that too many people are stuck in a cycle of reoffending.
Just over a week ago, on a visit to the Justice Secretary’s flagship Oakwood Prison, I met with one young man who had previously been in prison six times, and he couldn’t have been more than 25 years old.
It’s precisely this group of people we need to be getting to grips with.
Not only is it a waste of taxpayers’ money – we know it costs on average around £40,000 a year to keep someone in prison.
And a cost to society – crime is estimated to cost the country £12billion a year.
Creating needless victims of crime and heartache and misery.
But it is a waste of human potential to see people spend their time locked up behind bars when, if properly reformed, they could be contributing more meaningfully to society.
But while we agree with the broad objectives of this Bill, there are still some major areas of difference between us and the Government, and some big questions still remain unanswered.
Questions so fundamental, that they cast a shadow over this Bill.
And call into question whether the Bill’s objectives could be implemented without taking a serious gamble with public safety as a result.
Because, the Bill is being brought forward against a backdrop of upheaval and change, not informed by evidence or statistics, but driven by recklessness and ideology.
And that, Mr Speaker, is why there is a reasoned amendment down in my name, and the name of other Rt. Hon and Hon members.
Because, if the Justice Secretary has his way, the system that will be in place within the space of less than one year delivering the measures in this Bill will be massively different from what we have in place today.
And, as the House will know, there is considerable alarm from experts, management, staff, the police and MPs on all sides at the proposed restructuring of the probation service.
And this is why we have opted for a reasoned amendment today Mr Speaker.
Mr Speaker, on one side of this debate we have at least three Probation Trust chairs, warning the Justice Secretary to delay probation privatisation or risk deaths.
The Chief Inspector of Probation warning the plans will lead to “an increased risk to the public”.
The Economist magazine calling the plans “half baked”.
Probation staff warning that the fragmentation of the service goes against everything we know about what works in supervising offenders.
The Ministry of Justice’s own risk register, warning there is an 80% risk of an unacceptable drop in operational performance – which when dealing with offenders, can only lead to higher risks with public safety.
The former Chief Inspector of Prisons, Lord Ramsbotham, who said “the Bill is being rushed through and many questions remain unanswered”.
The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf who said “I am afraid it is obvious that because they are in a hurry the preparations that the Government have made for the introduction of this scale of change are very modest indeed”.
On the other side of the debate, we have a Justice Secretary who is purposely not bringing his plans for restructuring probation before parliament, avoiding proper scrutiny and debate.
Is rushing ahead at breakneck speed in implementing the plans.
Is not interested in whether there is any evidence his plans will work or not.
Is dismissing expert opinion, and instead basing his decision to roll his plans out on his gut instinct instead.
The same gut instinct that brought us the failing Work Programme in his former role.
And let’s just remind the House, that at the same time he is saying he wants those who receive less than 12 months custody to receive probation supervision, his plans for probation include;
Abolishing local probation trusts.
Instead commissioning services direct from his desk, in Whitehall, on behalf of local communities.
Splitting responsibility for offenders on the basis of their risk level, despite risk not being static in 1 in 4 cases.
Handing responsibility for serious and violent criminals to G4S, Serco, Carillion, A4E and the like.
Imposing an untried and untested payment by results model on providers.
And done at breakneck speed.
All of this adding up to a half-baked, reckless reorganisation of probation.
Without any evidential base.
A monumental gamble with public safety.
Mr Speaker, let’s be frank, the Justice Secretary has wanted to keep all of the really major stuff he is doing to probation below the radar, purposely avoiding bringing those plans before Parliament.
And if it wasn’t for last week’s Opposition Day debate, MPs would never have had the chance to debate them.
He said in the chamber last week that he isn’t afraid of debating his plans.
But he left the chamber almost immediately after his contribution, not staying to hear any of contributions from worried and concerned MPs, from all sides of the House.
That’s not debate in anyone’s book, Mr Speaker.
Instead, it shows a disdainful arrogance towards parliament, and towards genuine concerns at his proposals.
If he had stayed, he’d have heard in the time limited session 18 MPs from all sides express concern. More MP’s wanted to speak but there wasn’t time.
Just three spoke in favour – I hope his whipping operation is better today.
Many MPs, stakeholders, prison and probation staff and charities are labouring under a false impression that this is the “privatisation of probation” Bill.
The actual legislative proposals are not in this Bill.
Because we know the Justice Secretary is running scared of public scrutiny of his half-baked plans.
He is purposely avoiding parliamentary scrutiny, by clinging to an Act of Parliament designed for very different purposes.
The 2007 Offender Management Act was about creating probation trusts, not abolishing them.
It was about local commissioning of the public, private and voluntary sector, not commissioning done direct from the Justice Secretary’s desk in Whitehall.
As my RHF, the member for Delyn, who took the Bill through this House in 2007, said just 12 days ago in this Chamber:
“The golden thread through the 2007 Act was public sector management of all offenders—low and medium-level and serious offenders—supported by the commissioning of the type of services the Justice Secretary wants on health, mental health and alcohol and drug treatment from the voluntary and private sector, but the public sector has to be responsible for managing offenders”.
It’s only the Justice Secretary who thinks hijacking that Act of Parliament to steamroller through his plans is justified.
It’s time he stopped playing hide and seek with parliament, and laid his plans before MPs for full and proper scrutiny, seeking the appropriate legislative approval.
However, the Bill before us, Mr Speaker, does indeed make specific mention of probation.
And I pay tribute to peers in the other place for their work in trying to improve this Bill.
Clause 1 states that no changes may be made to the probation service without the approval of both Houses.
But it only mentions probation because of an amendment tabled by Lord Ramsbotham successfully inserted into the Bill in the other place.
Not because of anything the Government has done.
It has taken 18 weeks since the Bill’s third reading in the other place for it to have its second reading today.
What was the reason for that delay?
Could it be that the Justice Secretary was desperate to begin the tendering process by which privatisation could occur before this important clause be debated, as he was afraid of his plans facing parliamentary scrutiny?
And we can understand why he wants to get on with it and avoid proper scrutiny.
Just two years ago, the Ministry of Justice said it would publish a comprehensive competition strategy for probation services and proposed “the commissioning of six new PbR pilot schemes to carefully develop and rigorously test PbR for reduced re-offending”.
Because the MoJ knew the Peterborough pilot, which was designed by Labour and began in 2010, was a very different beast altogether, and results from it are not directly comparable to the Government’s probation plans.
In March last year, the MoJ published a further paper proposing “a stronger role for Probation Trusts as commissioners of probation services and a stronger emphasis on local partnership working”.
And I’ve got to be honest, we agreed with this approach, as did the experts.
However, what does this Justice Secretary do?
He doesn’t wait for any evidence or trials.
He cancels the pilots and does a complete summersault hoping no one would notice either his change of mind or the fact it was being done without any evidence, taking huge risks with public safety and re-offending rates.
Mr Speaker, another important issue is that of how the plans will be resourced.
Extending supervision, as I have already said, to those on short sentences is to be welcomed.
But this can’t be taken as being a resource-free commitment – an additional 50,000 offenders on top of the current 250,000 a year would need support and supervision.
The impact assessment is no help at all in shedding light on this issue.
I’ll remind the House what it says – it says “the cost will be dependent on the outcome of competition”
So, basically, the Government is asking for parliament’s support but won’t say what the cost implications are of implementing the plans.
Call me old fashioned, but I like to know more about the financial side of things before I give my support.
And this is important for two reasons:
First, if it’s the case that there is a considerable additional resource demand for these plans, but the Government don’t wish to commit more money – or may indeed wish to save money – then existing resources will have to be spread more thinly.
This has implications for the quality of supervision, and it is important parliament debates them.
Second, if it’s the case the Government does intend to commit more resources, then again it is only right Parliament scrutinises this too.
Either way, the Government has to be honest about its intentions.
I find it hard to believe there hasn’t been some number crunching done by the Ministry of Justice.
Why isn’t this being made public?
This is all the more pertinent given the excellent contribution my RHF, the member for Wythenshaw and Sale East, made to last week’s Opposition Day Debate
He pointed out to the House that Labour had a similar scheme for extending supervision called Custody Plus, and that, and I quote: “Ten years ago, it would have cost £194 million a year”
And that would also have been for 50,000 offenders – the same as the Government is proposing.
He then went on to attack the lack of costings for the Government’s similar plan.
He said “I can put a figure on it, but he cannot. All we are told is that it will be paid for by the savings generated by the competition for low and medium-risk offenders. Frankly, I just do not believe it. Either that supervision will be inadequate or the existing provision will be weakened and reduced in quality”
The Secretary of State has an opportunity today to respond to that stinging criticism by a respected and senior member of this house with considerable experience in this area. And he has failed to do so.
And what compounds the incompetence of the Justice Secretary is his own calculations on other matters.
According to the MoJ’s impact assessment as a consequence of extending supervision to those serving less than 12 months it will lead to around 13,000 offenders being recalled or committed to custody giving a prison place increase of around 600 additional prison places at a cost of £16million.
Where will the £16 million a year come from?
Where will the 600 additional people go?
On Friday last week, there were 658 places left in all prisons in England and Wales.
By next March, this Justice Secretary will have closed a further 4 prisons losing a further 1,400 further prison places.
And as this Government has cancelled the prison building programme we began when in Government he has no idea how these people will be locked up.
Another example of back of the envelope policy making.
A failing prisons policy and now the likelihood of a failure in probation too
And while I’m on the subject of extending supervision, I have met with Probation Trusts who have said they’d be up for taking on those on sentences of under 12 months if only the Government would let them.
They were never asked to do so by this Justice Secretary.
Instead, he’d rather trust his pals in G4S, Serco and the like.
In fact, some Probation Trusts already work with the most prolific offenders in this group even though they don’t get the money to do so – they just see it is as the right thing to do.
Instead of abolishing Probation Trusts, why won’t the Government give trusts the chance to prove their mettle with those on short sentences?
Why has the Justice Secretary decided the existing local structures that have a proven track record in reducing re-offending are to be ignored in favour of organisations with no track record in this area?
Why have Probation Trusts been barred from bidding for the contracts to supervise low and medium risk offenders?
But before I get to my conclusion I need to address the issue of payment by results.
The Justice Secretary is pretty good at briefing journalists that his reform of probation will mean that the private companies will only be paid if they rehabilitate offenders.
Who would not be in favour of a system which only pays private companies by results?
But the Justice Secretary doesn’t brief the journalists the small print.
We have absolutely no idea at all what proportion of the contract payment will be dependent on results.
And not only do we have no idea, nor does he.
[Social Market Foundation have demonstrated that private companies will still be able to make a profit solely by relying on the fee for service (which is not on PbR) to produce profits even if re offending rates (for which they will get PbR) doesn’t improve ]
I want the House to be very clear about what we do and don’t support.
We support attempts to reduce re-offending.
We support extending supervision to those in custody for less than 12 months.
We support attempts at through-the-gate support for those leaving prison.
But we will only support policies that are grounded in evidence of what works, and what won’t put the public at risk.
We cannot afford to undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system with ideological leaps in the dark that could risk public safety.
And it is mendacious of the Justice Secretary to attack those who don’t subscribe to his particular approach as being in favour of the status quo.
The either “you’re with me, or you’re against me” approach doesn’t wash.
I will place on record our position.
We don’t subscribe to the Justice Secretary being judge and jury about what works, without him waiting for any evidence.
And we don’t support him ignoring experts whose knowledge in this area is on a level the Justice Secretary will never be able to match.
Placing tabloid headlines ahead of what really works is a dangerous game.
If our reasoned amendment fails, we will be moving amendments during committee and report stage to try and address the very serious concerns experts in the field have.
We believe it is possible to work with the public private and voluntary sector.
We believe it is possible to reduce re-offending.
We believe it is possible to do so without taking a risk with public safety.