Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill
Baroness Blatch (Conservative)
I hope that I may finish my point. It is alleged that the Secretary of State needs to adopt central control of the service for a consistent service to be delivered. There are some problems here. The Minister said that we want strong leadership, referring to the Secretary of State. I suggest that we want good leadership from chief probation officers. The Minister said that we need an overall national strategy. I do not argue with that. That constitutes a development of the national standards that we have had. The Minister said that we want consistency in the application of those standards. Again, I do not argue with that. A central inspectorate was mentioned to oversee that matter. That is the tool that the Secretary of State will use to assess the operation of the service.
However, the Minister then said that the Government want a more diverse service. Of course we want a more diverse service as it needs to reflect the challenges that arise in each area. The Minister said that we want better accountability. Earlier I mentioned the powers that are not affected by the amendments. The Secretary of State will still retain the right of approval over the appointment of chief officers. He will still be able to appoint and remove boards. He will have control of 100 per cent of funding and allocation of funding. He will set overall objectives for the service. He will receive reports from the inspectorate and will be given regular statistical and financial information, audit reports and annual reports from each board. He will also have powers of direction and default. For goodness sake, those are sufficient powers!
Our argument may seem trivial. The Minister may believe that somehow or other we misunderstand the matter. It is patronising to imply that as we have all been involved in local politics we should not worry our pretty little heads about the matter and that eventually we shall understand what is proposed. The letter that has been mentioned is patronising in suggesting that the boards have not "thought themselves into" the new service and that chief officers have not appreciated the fact that the service will be different. That maligns chief officers. I believe that they well know what lies ahead and that they are excited about it. They want to make it work. The Minister talked of ineffective local boards and said that we need central management. I am sorry that he should have said that.
Before I decide what to do with the amendment, I hope that the Minister will say something about non-departmental public body status. Are these boards non-departmental public bodies? If that is the case, do they enjoy full NDPB status? What exactly are they? It is important that I receive a reply to that question before I decide what to do with the amendment.