Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:10 pm on 2nd October 2000.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 3:10 pm, 2nd October 2000

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Aims of the Service]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 8, at end insert ("and of property").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The amendment groupings that came from the Home Office only this morning scooped up large proportions of the Bill into one set of groupings. There were some six clauses and more than 39 amendments together so I make no apologies for saying that we are talking about many different issues. The distinction between the issues is important and must not be overlooked.

Amendment No. 1, which inserts the words "and of property" is important. In another place, the Minister refused to reflect on the issue and refused to report back. In a debate on 4th April 2000, in Standing Committee G, recorded in cols. 7 to 9, he said:

"it is always important to bear in mind the extremely damaging impact of property crime on the public. Whether it is a crime against a person or a property crime, it is a crime against the public, and whether the property is private or public, it is still a crime against the public".

My modest amendment puts it beyond doubt that the service, and those who practise within it, must have regard to the protection of the public and their property.

Many noble Lords will know that a great deal of damage is done to business and domestic property. We also know that invariably it causes much distress, especially in the case of arson or burglary. As this is the first amendment to the Bill perhaps the Minister will be more accommodating than his friend in another place in order to clarify and to put beyond doubt the fact that the Government are concerned about the protection of people and their property.

As I understand it, the argument put in another place was simply that any damage to property is damage to the public. That is accepted, but they are different; for example, damage to property has little to do with the local community, but nevertheless it will cause some repercussion, whether economic or personal, and it seems to me that this issue must be taken seriously. This amendment gives the Government the opportunity to add the word "property" to this part of the Bill, and will show that they are concerned about people and property. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which makes a lot of sense. In considering the aims of the probation service it is right and proper that we should not just look at matters relating to persons, but also to those relating to property.

I suspect that if the Minister were to examine crime figures he would find that the matters of property damage and property theft and so on feature highly, particularly when he looks at matters like theft from cars. The police seem to have given up on such matters.

When the Crime and Disorder Bill was discussed in this House, particularly in relation to racial matters and harassment, the Attorney-General was supportive of a move on my part to look at the matter of racially aggravated criminal damage against property. That issue caused a certain amount of concern in the community. I believe that we should seriously consider the matter of property being included in the aims of this clause.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her kind comments on the groupings. We like to believe that we have been as accommodating as we can be. I trust that the debates will be reasonably well focused. It is also important to ensure that we have sensible groupings. No doubt we have arrived at such a situation.

On Amendment No. 1, I well understand the concerns about crimes against property. Such matters have to be taken seriously. Crime against property is a crime against the community. However, in this Bill we are talking about the aims of the new national probation service. We feel that the current aims are those that are the most important, but we do not want to dilute them. We believe that an addition of this nature would dilute those clearly stated aims contained in Clause 2.

The aims of the service have been carefully devised to inform everything that the service does. Adding extra words to the aims of the Bill and adding new aims would dilute and reduce the focus of a new national service. On the specifics of the issue, protecting the public already includes protecting them against property offences.

The aims of the service have been carefully devised. They represent the key areas in which the service must make a difference. They are generic aims that will be applicable to the service's work with all offenders. However, the amendment refers to specific aspects of the work of the service and, while I agree that it is important--nobody would want to detract from the importance of considering property offences--we believe that it is too narrow to form part of the statutory aims.

If we are not to put everything into the aims, and thus run the risk of diluting them, in our view we need to concentrate on the global issues. The original clause does precisely that and for that reason I commend it to the House. However, it is worth bearing in mind that aims are only aims and ought to be distinguished from functions, which are set out helpfully in Clause 2.

We want the new service to concentrate on those activities which reduce crime. I thought that there was a consensus in this House on that issue. In many cases the way to reduce the likelihood of an offender re-offending is by assisting his or her rehabilitation. For those reasons I call upon the Committee to reject the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The Minister thought he was being accommodating with the groupings. On one line there were 41 amendments covering 18 different subjects and on another there were 153 amendments in one grouping. I regard that as aggressive grouping and certainly not accommodating.

On the Government's argument about the amendment, first, I agree with the Minister in that there is absolute consensus across this House, and I suspect in another place too, that preventing and reducing crime has to be the focus of the criminal justice system. However, the argument that to ask the Probation Service to concern itself with the protection of the public and property is to dilute the focus has little intellectual validity. Protecting property is as important as protecting the public. My suggestion is pretty inoffensive but has brought about a pretty lousy response.

Photo of Lord Harris of Greenwich Lord Harris of Greenwich Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

Having heard what the noble Baroness has said, will the Minister ask the House to reject an amendment of such little form? I urge him to consider this matter between now and Report stage. There will be a great deal of uneasiness about the reply that he has just given. It will be a great pity if we start off the Committee stage of an important Bill with a Division on a matter of this kind. It would be far better to see whether there could be some meeting of minds between now and Report stage.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I always like to be accommodating where it is useful to be so. Of course, the Government continually reflect on matters, but at this stage I am content with the aims as set out on the face of the Bill.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 81; Not-Contents, 91.

Division number 1

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 3:28 pm, 2nd October 2000

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 2, line 10, after ("proper") insert ("and effective").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Amendment No. 2 seeks to add the words, "and effective", after the word "proper" in Clause 2(2)(c). I hope the Minister will agree that the word "proper" is a rather clinical and legal term.

In order to command public support and respect for the Probation Service, punishment of offenders must be effective. I am the first to acknowledge that incredible work is being done throughout the Probation Service and it is important that we recognise that. But all those who work in the service would note the difference between the words "proper" and "effective". That is why we must distinguish between them. As set out in the Bill, the word "proper" in Clause 2(2)(c) does not subsume "effectiveness".

Again, this is a modest but nevertheless important amendment and I hope that the Minister will agree, if he cannot accept it today, to reflect on some of the arguments to be put forward.

The "What Works" approach by the Probation Service was introduced by me when I was a Minister. It has now been in place long enough for more sophisticated statistics to be available. I hope that the Minister can helpfully inform the debate, given that it is probably going on five years since the approach was first introduced, as to what is and what is not working in the Probation Service, the degree to which lessons are being learnt and the degree to which best practice is being used throughout the service.

We know that for a long time just over 50 per cent of people who are on probation and serving community sentences offend again. However, within some practices in the service the reoffending rates are very low--and of course conversely within some practices in the service the reoffending rates are extremely high. If the average comes out at 52 per cent the urgency about applying the "What Works" approach is important.

I believe that there ought to be an obligation to produce an effective service. I hope that in accepting that additional word the Minister will provide the Committee now or before the next stage of the Bill with sophisticated statistics about how the "What Works" approach is working. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 3:30 pm, 2nd October 2000

I listened carefully to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but I have a problem. I suspect that meting out effective punishment is a matter for the courts. While I subscribe to the idea that the type of reports produced should address that issue, I believe that effectiveness should be left to those who dispense justice.

There is wide variation between sentences passed in different parts of the country. Even in neighbouring areas one sees considerable discrepancies in the way in which similar offences are dealt with. I therefore understand the public's concern about how one achieves an effective punishment. But if "effective" punishment means looking at community penalties, or trying to prevent people being pushed into overcrowded prisons, I have a great deal of sympathy with the proposal. However, if "effective" simply means being tough and sending people to prison, I have a problem with that.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The amendment attempts to change the aim of the service. In part, it is a re-run of an earlier argument.

The current aims as stated in the Bill are generic. They are not intended to be precise in their terms, but we believe that they are in general terms the most important. I believe that to add to them would begin to dilute them. The aims have been carefully devised to inform everything which the service does. We believe that they can do that by their generic nature. Adding extra words would reduce the focus.

I am not sure what adding the word "effective" would achieve. We all want to see effective practice both in terms of the enforcement of orders and the rehabilitation programmes which are successful in reducing reoffending. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her important role in ensuring that "What Works" had a good start in life. We believe that it is effective and that we have added to that effectiveness. I am happy to try to facilitate the noble Baroness's wisdom by providing her with any background briefing she might want to receive on the "What Works" programme and on what is proving to be effective in the Probation Service.

We do not believe that adding the words "effective" or "appropriate" to a Bill of this nature is a good idea. It could cast doubt in cases where similar words do not appear; in other words, whether other things need to be done effectively or appropriately.

The aims of the service are carefully devised to inform everything that the service does. For those reasons, we cannot support the amendment, although we support its spirit. We want the service to be effective and that is our shared concern. There is consensus about that and I congratulate all those who have played a part in securing that consensus for the service.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that it is for the courts to dispense punishment. Indeed, if that were followed through logically the entire line should be removed from the Bill. It asks the Probation Service to be concerned with the application of proper punishment. It is not the role of the Probation Service to administer punishment; its role is to supervise the punishment which is meted out by the courts. I argue that it should do that effectively. Acting "effectively" is not just about being tough or returning people to prison; it is about being so effective that fewer people reoffend. That is the meaning to which I was referring.

The Minister said that he would provide me with any briefing that I need, but I was asking for it on behalf of the whole Committee. Our debates would be informed if we had that information. Has there been an evaluation report on the "What Works" approach? If so, can we see that? What are the current overall statistics as regards reoffending? What are the best and worst practice figures? Would it be helpful to produce that information before we meet again? It would certainly be helpful to me.

Clearly, the Minister will not accept the word "effective". I shall withdraw my amendment, but I want to think about what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. I hope that we can include a provision in the Bill which properly reflects my point that the aim of the service should be to be as effective as possible in overseeing the proper punishments which are meted out by the courts. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 2, line 10, at end insert--

("( ) ensuring offenders' awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crime and the public").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I have coupled together Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 and I hope that the Minister will see their merits. It is important to ensure the awareness of offenders of the impact of their crimes on the public, individuals and victims of crime and to be concerned with the education of offenders. That education can take many forms.

We all know that in parts of the Probation Service much work is being undertaken as regards offenders facing up to the pain and anguish that they have caused to their victims. However, I hope that the Minister will agree that it is patchy and that more needs to be done.

The process of rehabilitation for many on probation will require a reawakening to the seriousness of their behaviour and its impact. It will, or should, involve many educational programmes from basic skills teaching, home management and childcare through to therapy programmes designed to wean people away from drug taking and sexual offending.

However, I was dismayed to read in the Official Report, Standing Committee, of another place (cols. 15 to 29 and 715 to 733) that to add these amendments would have the damaging effect of narrowing the work of the Probation Service rather than recognising the breadth of its work. I find that completely and utterly baffling. How can it be narrowing to ask the Probation Service to concern itself with raising offenders' awareness of the impact of their crimes on the victims? That is not narrowing; it is a core part of the work of the Probation Service. Furthermore, how can it be wrong to have as another aim the education of offenders?

Wonderful work is being undertaken in the Probation Service on both those aspects. I know of impressive programmes in which young and not-so-young offenders have been brought face to face with their victims, and the impact has been profound. I am familiar also with some impressive educational programmes, which take many forms. They can wean people off habits that have got them into trouble or provide offenders with basic skills such as reading and writing, homemaking or child caring. It is incredible that the accusation against these amendments is that they would narrow the focus of the service.

The proper protection of the public and property, the reduction of offending, and the proper and effective punishment of offenders are not narrowed by raising awareness of the impact of the offenders' activities. I hope that the Minister will think again, not repeat the arguments put in another place--which do not make sense. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

I support the sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness, which make a lot of sense. Some time ago, a number of us attended a conference on rehabilitative justice arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, with participants from America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. There was remarkable consensus on taking public perception into account. I understand that that is being seriously considered by the Home Office. If so, it should be included as an aim of the Probation Service. That applies equally to education.

Amendment No. 5 in my name is about the rehabilitation of offenders. I was surprised to hear the Minister say, when speaking to Amendment No. 1, that the aim of the service was the rehabilitation of offenders. Where is that wording to be found? I cannot find it. If the Minister thinks now that it is included but finds that it is not, he should consider including what is a fundamental aim.

We are surprised that the existing objective of the rehabilitation of offenders is omitted, particularly in respect of the Probation Service--to be replaced by,

"the proper punishment of offenders".

The supervision of offenders is not a process of continual punishment. That would be counter-productive and perpetuate criminality, not reduce it. Community court orders are handed down by magistrates and judges as a punishment but not for punishment.

The aims and functions described in Clause 2 would not address the underlying problems that contribute to offending behaviour--education, training and work, emotional difficulties, poor housing, anti-social behaviour and so on. Attention to rehabilitation is a priority to ensure that there are fewer victims in future--an aim to which we all subscribe. Unless the courts and public clearly understand that the rehabilitation of offenders is a prime function of the Probation Service, it will be undermined.

Of the service's other aims, contributing to the protection of the public is achieved through reducing offending by participation in effective programmes and group work--but neither process by itself addresses the underlying causes of criminality. It is right and proper that the rehabilitation of offenders should be one of the primary aims specified in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 3:45 pm, 2nd October 2000

I understand the arguments made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord but I cannot agree. There is some confusion between aims and functions. The word "rehabilitation" is used in Clause 1 where it is described as one of the functions of the Probation Service. The function inherited by the Government as a central rubric was to assist and befriend offenders. We have moved on from there. It is important to have a clear statement in the legislation on the purposes of the service. Those are set out in the aims and functions but we should not confuse the two.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Will the Minister produce a document stating that a central aim of the previous government's policy for the whole Probation Service was to assist and befriend?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

That is the term used in previous legislation. I believe it was used in the 1993 Act, having been inherited by the previous government from 1973 legislation. I speak from memory but that was the general rubric for the Probation Service. Clause 2 attempts to describe its aims and functions with much grater clarity. We do not want the service's aims and functions cluttered up or confused.

I accept the point that rehabilitation will be part of the Probation Service's core business in ensuring that people understand the nature and impact of their offending behaviour. The education of offenders when they are under forms of supervision will also be important. It is our intention to ensure that education and training are provided in the community for those who are released from prison after serving part of their sentence.

We warmly embrace the need to ensure that offenders are made fully aware of the impact of their criminal activities. As a Government, we have been championing victims and ensuring that courts are made aware of the impact of particular crimes, through victim personal statements and so on. We need to ensure that the public are educated about those points.

We agree that it will often be necessary for the Probation Service to assist in educating offenders on a number of important social issues but we are not satisfied that that needs to be among the service's statutory stated aims. We want to position the national service as an agency within the criminal justice system as part of its law and order work. It is no longer right to view the Probation Service as a social work organisation, as it has partly been seen in the past.

Although I agree that such work is important, it is too narrow to form part of the service's statutory aims. The Government have no intention of neglecting the appreciation of the impact of crime on victims. Far from it. That work is significant for seconded probation staff working inside prisons and in community activities. Education will have priority. We take seriously the lack of literacy skills that is clearly evident among many offenders--a key handicap to obtaining employment. Useful employment is one of the best ways of keeping people out of difficulty and out of trouble with the law.

We want the new service to concentrate on activities that reduce crime. In many cases, the way to reduce the likelihood of an offender reoffending is by assisting in their rehabilitation, which is why that is specified in Clause 1(1)(b) as an overarching purpose and function of the service. We think that rehabilitation goes much wider, to include all sorts of social needs with which other agencies are better placed to deal. We believe that to add a broad-based aim such as that proposed would deflect the focus of the service away from its primary role as a law enforcement agency. As ever, I am open to persuasion. We shall continue to review the way in which the aims are defined in legislation and reflect on these matters at greater length.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

I thank the Minister for his courtesy and thoroughness in sending me copies of all the new government amendments tabled to the Bill. Since I merely attended, and did not speak at, Second Reading, I regard that as a truly formidable piece of care and observation. I am very much impressed. I also welcome some parts of the Minister's reply. I am pleased to hear that it will be a function of the service to see to the rehabilitation of offenders, but I cannot quite get my mind round the question: how will it be a key function of the service without being one of its aims? It is almost as if the Minister is saying that that is what the service will do when it is sleepwalking. I am sure that that is not his intention, but I do not quite follow the logic of that distinction.

From whichever quarter of the Committee we come, it is agreed that punishment will always be a key part of the system of criminal justice. It is not in dispute that where there is crime there must be punishment, but rehabilitation must always be one of the aims. The ultimate purpose of any attempt to deal with crime is that the person should not do it again, and normally punishment is a key part of that. There is a considerable overlap between the aims of punishment and rehabilitation but there is also a large diversion at the extremes. I had always understood that if, when a court decided whether to use imprisonment or probation, it chose the latter it was giving priority to the aim of rehabilitation because it believed that the chances of achieving it were sufficient to create a degree of optimism. That is a distinction of which any of us who have had any disciplinary power must have been aware in our own lives.

I shall not forget one of my pupils who, while an idle scapegrace, had considerable ability. My colleagues recommended quite stern disciplinary measures. Instead, I told him that I thought him capable of achieving a first if he thought it was worth bothering. My colleagues said that I was quite mad, but the individual in question did so. In that case, giving priority to the aim of rehabilitation had beneficial effects. There are a number of people who become involved in crime with a slightly smaller ration of mens rea than others. With a certain amount of help they can be put back on the straight and narrow, whereas if they are put into prison they will probably learn a great deal more about how to offend more successfully. As I understand it, those are the kinds of people who are suitable for probation.

If the aim of probation is not rehabilitation, I do not know what it is. If we say that probation is seen simply as a punishment, a considerable part of the rehabilitative effect is diminished. A great deal of that effect consists specifically of the considered and calculated application of mercy, which Dorothy Sayers describes as the occasional generosity that is like a blow in the face. There are some who will be made to think about it, whereas if they are punished they merely become pigheaded and obstinate, which some people are quite good at. This restatement of the purpose may have the effect of diminishing the effectiveness of the whole service. I hope that the Minister will think again because this is a long Bill and, if we did not need to come back to the matter on Report, it could be in everybody's interest.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful for the interventions of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. In the light of the response of the Minister to all of the amendments, I too am in some difficulty about how the Bill reads. As I understand it, the Government say that it is the function and aim of the service to protect the public but not property, to reduce reoffending and to achieve the proper punishment of offenders, which we all agree is a matter for the courts, and that the supervision of offenders is not a matter for the Probation Service.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Do I understand the noble Baroness to say she does not accept that one function of the Probation Service is the supervision of offenders? Perhaps the noble Baroness will clarify her remarks.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am repeating what the Government say. The Government say that some things are aims and others are not. I tried to introduce the aim of effective punishment. Following debate, I believe that it is the effective supervision of punishment to which I refer, but that is not deemed to be an aim. The Government do not accept that one aim is to ensure the awareness of offenders of the effects of their crimes on victims and the public. It is not an aim of the Probation Service to educate offenders. I believe that it is preferable for "education" to be subsumed by "rehabilitation" because that is a broader term.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The noble Baroness draws too many inferences from the position she sets out. We want to see effective punishment, education and rehabilitation in the community. We suggest that it is better to define the aims and functions in the Bill in a broader and more generic way. Those matters will have a bearing on the way in which the functions are carried out and how the aims of the service are interpreted. That is the important point which perhaps the noble Baroness overlooks. I do not seek to be unhelpful. I almost agree with the noble Baroness that those activities are part of the core business of a probation service.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

I find it difficult to follow the noble Lord's argument. Does the Minister accept that the National Association of Probation Officers, which looks after the interests of the Probation Service among others, has asked for "rehabilitation" to be stated as one of the aims of the service? What is wrong with including that particular word if the Probation Service itself is comfortable with it?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Rehabilitation is clearly set out in Clause 1 as a function of the service. We see it as an overarching responsibility of the service to achieve rehabilitation. As many Members of the Committee have observed, rehabilitation is part and parcel of ensuring that people do not reoffend and have to be punished in future. Rehabilitation is important, and that is why it is in Clause 1.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I cannot think of anything more broad and generic than "rehabilitation"; it covers so much of what the Probation Service is about. If the aim is ensuring an awareness of the effect of offenders' actions on victims and the public, and education and rehabilitation are not included, why is the protection of the public and the reduction of reoffending to be included? The reduction of reoffending is not nearly so wide as some of the matters that we suggest should go into the Bill. The Government dance on the head of a pin in seeking to produce arguments as to why the public should not be considered alongside property, the effective supervision of punishment and awareness among offenders of the impact of their activities on the public. What the noble Lord says is baffling.

The Minister also said in passing that the Probation Service is not a social work organisation. When I sat in the Minister's seat I made the same argument very strongly but received no support from his colleagues sitting on this side of the Chamber at the time. The fight to keep social work training for probation officers was vigorously fought in this place on all Benches. I lost miserably on that occasion. The argument was that the work of a probation officer was better served by social work rather than Probation Service training which made it central to the criminal justice system.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 4:00 pm, 2nd October 2000

Perhaps the noble Baroness and I are at one on the issue of what is appropriate for training. I am glad that that is the case. My understanding is that the previous government unfortunately cut support for Probation Service training and indeed cut financial support to the Probation Service full stop. This Government have reversed those cuts and have begun to increase the level of investment into the Probation Service. I am grateful that the noble Baroness now supports our efforts to drive up standards, to improve training and the quality of training and the "appropriateness"--to use one of her own words--of training to the new Probation Service.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That was a wonderful piece of side-tracking. However, the point I was making was that there was no support from Labour shadow Ministers at the time for changing the focus of training for the Probation Service from social worker training to training for effective probation officer work.

The noble Lord may be willing to provide some more statistics. He rightly makes the point that one way to help reduce reoffending is to get people into work. It is a real part of the work of the Probation Service to rehabilitate people by finding employment for them, or, if it is unable to find employment for them, preparing them so that they are more employable. I agree with that. Given the rate of unemployment, which is, happily, at a low level, it would be helpful to know whether there is a correlation now between the level of crime and the success rate of the Probation Service. May we see some of the statistics over the past four or five years for the success of these new approaches and the degree to which they are working?

I hope I am not wrong. I thought I heard the Minister say that he would reflect on these issues between now and the next stage of the Bill. If that is the case, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Functions of the Secretary of State]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 24, at end insert--

("(5) The Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament the conditions on which he makes any payment under this section.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

Amendment No. 6 asks the Secretary of State to lay before each House of Parliament the conditions on which he makes any payment under this clause. I can be brief. I am seeking clarification from the Minister about the way in which the Government intend to make payments and about the conditions that would be attached to such payments. In Committee in another place the Minister agreed to offer clarification but argued that the amendment was unnecessary. I shall not take on that argument. If the amendment is unnecessary, it can only be unnecessary. We can be assured that it is unnecessary only if the noble Lord explains fully how this provision will work in practice. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

Amendment No. 6 is grouped with Amendment No. 58 which stands in my name. The proposed new subsection states:

"The Secretary of State must be satisfied that sufficient resources have been made available to a probation board to ensure that it can perform its functions".

The present clause confers on the Secretary of State the power effectively to take over a failing probation board and introduce any other means he thinks appropriate, including asking the voluntary or private sector to manage it. I have no problem with that, but it would be helpful to know how one effectively measures failure. I shall use some examples. Clause 10 states that the test of failure is that,

"it appears to him"-- the Secretary of State--

"that the board is failing".

We would argue that a stronger test than subjectivity is needed if the failure is to be proved. In any event, we believe that the service must be adequately resourced to ensure a fair playing field.

The present position is interesting. In the past five years the probation budget overall has seen a cut of 25 per cent in real terms. At the same time, caseloads have increased by 30 per cent and overall staffing levels have been reduced by 15 per cent. Last year the average cut for the Probation Service was 4.7 per cent. The Probation Service's three-year plan predicts that there will be a continued rise in the number of cases supervised and the number of reports written over the next two to three years. In addition, by 2003 the Home Office expects 60,000 offenders, or 40 per cent of the overall caseload, to have been put though the effective practice initiative. That is a series of programmes aimed at changing offenders' behaviour, which require up to 100 hours of intensive group work.

If attention is not given to the resource issue in the next 12 months, most boards will run the risk of being in default. That point needs to be thoroughly addressed.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

There is truth in the maxim that all reorganisation leads to disorganisation. It has costs. My noble friend has just been saying exactly the same things that I remember the late Lady Seear saying on the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. It was the voice of Cassandra. It was not listened to and a great deal of damage has followed. I am tired of playing Cassandra; I would rather be listened to.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I always listen to the noble Earl and his wise words on these matters. I hope that during the course of these debates we achieve effective results as a product of listening.

Both of these amendments deal with payments relating to the work of the national probation service. Amendment No. 6 would require the Secretary of State to lay before both Houses of Parliament the conditions on which he makes any payment to any person for any of the purposes in Clause 1 of the Bill, whether it relates to reports to courts, supervision, the rehabilitation of offenders, giving effect to community orders, supervising people released from prison, or providing accommodation on approved premises.

Amendment No. 58 would require the Secretary of State to be satisfied that sufficient resources had been made available to a probation board for it to fulfil its functions. I well understand the concerns that have given rise to that amendment. But it is not clear that Amendment No. 58 would have any practical effect. The amendment would be inserted at the end of the clause dealing with default powers and would appear simply as a statement.

We want to achieve a flexible and effective allocation of resources for a newly modernised national probation service. Given the detailed nature of the conditions and the extent and variety of payments made to the service, we believe that the amendments would perhaps lead to excessive scrutiny of the minutiae and detail of that service.

The Government require an effectively operating national probation service with unified leadership and of course control. But we are keen to resource probation services and to be effective in resourcing those services. The Government have made major investment. Under the first of our spending reviews we allocated an extra £127 million. This summer, in SR2000, we announced a further increase of £400 million. It is our intention over the next few years to increase staffing to the Probation Service by around 30 per cent.

We envisage payments for a range of purposes relating to the tasks of the national probation service. The payments will not only be to the local probation boards but, potentially, to voluntary organisation, external contractors, individuals and other bodies concerned with the criminal justice system. The conditions attached to these payments will need to be varied and detailed. It would be both unusual and unnecessary to place before both Houses the full conditions on which, for example, every payment to every voluntary organisation for probation-related work was made; nor would it be an effective use of resources to require the new Probation Service to supply that level of detail. The accounting and auditing arrangements in the Bill will provide the proper and appropriate level of public accountability. For that reason we do not support Amendment No. 6.

As I said earlier, Amendment No. 58 would add little to the Bill. We think that it is probably unnecessary, in particular in view of our funding commitments. As I read it, I do not see that it would provide a check on future governments who may be less inclined to invest in the Probation Service, because the clause would have very few teeth. For those reasons, we feel unable to support either of the amendments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

We have had a useful debate and I am grateful for that. Given the nature of the new service, which will be a centrally directed, national service, it is important that the basis on which the Secretary of State will operate is understood throughout the service; namely, the basis on which "ad hocery" will be resorted to in a way that will be unfair or will cause injustice throughout the service.

If the amendment is unacceptable to the Government--I think that the arguments put forward by the Minister are persuasive--I still believe that, so far as concerns the service, there should be a proper understanding of the basis on which future funding will be made and the basis on which the Secretary of State's powers to intervene in or to procure (he will be in a position to delegate to a third party) provisions for the functions of the service. Such an understanding should be reached by a parliamentary decision, the production of a circular or other published information. That will allow the service to be confident about the way in which funding will take place.

The noble Lord has a weakness in that he always goes off at a tangent in order to comment on the Government's generosity with funding. However, these arguments do not at this stage address that point, although whatever the service's remit, one expects it to be properly funded. The arguments here are different from that. They concern how the Secretary of State will exercise his funding obligations and how to avoid allowing any degree of "ad hocery" to reign, thereby causing injustices. Both the service itself and this Committee need to be reassured on those points and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to find a way of providing that reassurance.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Perhaps I may respond to the final point made by the noble Baroness. She puts forward a good argument when she says that the means by which funds are allocated must be made plain to the service itself. No doubt we shall undertake to inform the service precisely of those means. However, I think that it would be inappropriate to put this point on to the face of the Bill.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Local Boards]:

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative 4:15 pm, 2nd October 2000

moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 2, line 27, leave out ("local") and insert ("probation").

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative

I shall be brief because this is a simple and straightforward amendment. Nevertheless, it is important because it seeks to promote understanding of the Probation Service at the local level, in local communities. After all, that is where the good work that we have been discussing this afternoon is done. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

The amendment applies throughout the Bill wherever reference is made to "local board". We believe that that phrase should be amended to read "probation board". The use of the phrase "local board" is not only confusing and meaningless, but could cause problems when contracting with other boards. In-house, it may be understood, but to those outside, it would be ambiguous. Many other local boards exist, such as those of companies, banks and even the gas board.

I note that in recent correspondence on 11th July, the Minister stated that:

"when they come into existence, each will be a board for a particular area and will be named accordingly. So the full title for the local board for Essex, for example, is likely to be 'The National Probation Service for England and Wales--Essex Area Board'".

It seems to me that that is not only confusing as regards its reference to "area" rather than "local", but is clearly also less than succinct.

I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to our argument. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 10A tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. It covers the same point and I wish to add only a few remarks to those already made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe.

I wish to make two points. First, the name of an institution is rather more important than is sometimes thought. The great British public is in a state of abject confusion because we change almost on a whim the names of many key elements of different parts of our national life. No sooner have people got the hang of a new name, when, lo and behold, a new administration brings in changes, including changes to the name itself.

Secondly, the public will be helped greatly if the names of the boards are to some extent self-descriptive. That makes common sense. To refer simply to "local boards" without adding a qualifying adjective provides a recipe for confusion. That name is totally unmemorable, forgettable and neutral--some might even say a little "Kafkaesque". The present name "local board" suggests nothing more and nothing less.

We strongly support this proposal. It will allow local boards to add a prefix to the name "probation board", so that we would have, for example, the "Suffolk Probation Board" or the "Birmingham Probation Board". Such names would be simple and easily understood. I hope very much that the Government will agree.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I should like to ask a question. Are these amendments in the wrong grouping? Should Amendment No. 10A be grouped with Amendment No. 10C? If that is not the case, this grouping does not make sense.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

Perhaps I may assist. Not long before the House sat I was told by the Whips' Office that Amendment No. 10A was to be taken with Amendment No. 7. That means that Amendment No. 29 will be taken in its place, after Amendment No. 28 and before Amendment No. 31. I am very sorry if the noble Baroness was not given that information.

I shall repeat the order of amendments. Amendment No. 10A has been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. The new first amendment in that grouping, Amendment No. 29, will be taken in its normal place. I hope that this has not caused confusion for the Committee.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Both amendments address the same point and I believe that the Committee accepts that. I was brought up in the era of gas boards, electricity boards and so forth. Sadly, they are no longer with us. We now have names like Segas and Seeboard to reflect the fact that they are privatised organisations. Time has moved on.

The amendments seek to replace the reference to "local board" with the word "probation". We believe that that is unnecessary. It is unnecessary for a simple reason: calling the boards "local" boards emphasises their close relationship with the communities that they will cover. Furthermore, each local board will include the word "probation" in its title as well as the geographical area it covers. My argument that this provision is unnecessary is simply that it does not need to be included in the legislation. I do not believe that the amendments would achieve anything. However, I can give an assurance that the word "probation" will appear in each area board title.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

If I understand the Minister aright, he has told the Committee that the word "probation" is itself on probation. I should like to ask him to take a little more seriously the comment made by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury; confusion is created by changing names.

I remember an older contemporary who never ceased to refer to Marylebone Station as the "Grand Central Station". Once one has fixed a name, it remains fixed. To start changing names engenders the kind of bewilderment felt by my wife--who was born and bred in Birmingham--when she tries to negotiate the city centre. It cannot be done.

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative

I have listened to what the Minister has said, but it appears that, if the Government believe that the word "probation" will be used, then why should that not be included on the face of the Bill? We believe that that should be done. However, at this stage I should like to withdraw the amendment so that I can think about what to do next.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

For my part, I should be very happy to have "local probation board" if the Government set store by "local". But the argument the Minister adduced for the importance of keeping "local" in the title is even more strongly to be advanced in regard to keeping the word "probation".

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Methuen Lord Methuen Liberal Democrat

In calling Amendment No. 8, I must indicate that, if Amendment No. 8 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 9.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 3, line 1, leave out subsection (6).

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

In speaking to this amendment perhaps I may first declare that I am a magistrate in both the family court and in the adult court.

In moving Amendment No. 8 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 9. I understand what the Deputy Chairman of Committees said about the exclusion of Amendment No. 9 should Amendment No. 8 be agreed to.

Clause 4(6) gives the Secretary of State the power to redetermine any or all of the boundaries of the areas without further reference to Parliament. As the intention is that the 42 area boundaries dividing England and Wales would match those of the police forces and, to quote the Explanatory Notes, improve efficiency by,

"creating common boundaries across all the agencies in the criminal justice system", the implications of any subsequent changes would be immense. This clause would mean that the whole edifice and rationale of the structure could be brought down by a stroke of the Secretary of State's pen.

So much rides on the boards and on how they function in their geographical areas that any alterations to the boundaries, once set, could only mean that the Secretary of State was rethinking the entire scheme. This would not be a minor or trivial matter which could be resolved by ministerial order. Once the boards were up and running any changes would be highly controversial. We believe that the implications are too great for the Secretary of State to make such changes under orders which have not been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny and that this clause should therefore be deleted.

However, if the Minister is not prepared to do that, Amendment No. 9 seeks to bring the draft order before Parliament, to be agreed by both Houses. This would ensure that proper consideration would be brought to bear on the matter. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

It is my turn to be slightly puzzled by an amendment. As I understand it, the amendment would remove the flexibility to alter and reshape the probation service areas in respect of geographical boundaries and would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament any plans for redivision.

We take the view that it is necessary to ensure maximum flexibility in the way in which we operate. The existing power in the 1993 Act to redefine boundaries is exercisable without any parliamentary procedure at all. With this legislation we are attempting to achieve an improvement on the current position. That is probably the best way to proceed. The existing powers in the Probation Service Act 1993 allow boundaries to be redefined without any parliamentary procedure at all. We are seeking to put in place an undoubted improvement which provides for changes to be made by a negative resolution. Of course, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation thought that this was a highly sensible way of proceeding.

We have listened to some of the arguments about the importance of there being a parliamentary procedure. There was not one before; now there will be one. It has been given a clean bill of health by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, whose views on these matters are worth listening to.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I hope that that does not mean, by definition, that my views on these matters are not worth listening to.

To give the Secretary of State the flexibility to reshape areas without any further democratic involvement seems wholly undesirable. The point I was trying to make is that once the boundaries are set it will be a major job to change any of them: the boards are set up, the members are appointed, the boards are working and the police forces and the demarcation of the boundaries of the service are at one. So it will not be a trivial matter to change any boundaries. As I said, it will also be controversial. This should not be done by means of negative resolution but by a procedure which includes extensive consultation--perhaps more than was included in the 1993 Act--and that consultation should result in the democratic process of the Houses of Parliament having the opportunity to comment on the Secretary of State's proposals. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Local Boards]:

Photo of Lord Methuen Lord Methuen Liberal Democrat

I should indicate that, if Amendment No. 10 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 10A to 16.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 10:

Page 46, line 4, leave out paragraphs 1 and 2.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving Amendment No. 10 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11, 13, 18, 20 and 70, and to Amendments Nos. 10C and 18A, which have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of these amendments. The Central Probation Council and many chief officers feel extremely strongly about this. They are very concerned--I share that concern--that effective line management is not only desirable but absolutely crucial. If something goes wrong in the service--and in the Probation Service one can see potential for all kinds of things going wrong--it is very important to have clear line management and ownership of all that goes on in the Probation Service at a local level. It is a national service, locally delivered, and that will be absolutely essential.

The proposal that chief officers should not be employed by boards will create a severe difficulty for the employers. It will create a recipe for confusion of accountability and authority, and will leave the employers--that is, the probation boards--in an invidious position. Chief officers, too, are likely to find themselves in a difficult position, being members of a board charged with administering the local service but receiving direct instructions from the Home Office.

The service will be working--as it does now--to national standards and national priorities. The whole thrust of the Bill is to improve performance and iron out inconsistencies across England and Wales. The service does not argue with that. Indeed, the Central Probation Council agrees with a national service locally delivered. However, the boards are to interpret national priorities in the light of local circumstances and local needs. As a member of a board, the chief officer should be party to that corporate decision but may receive conflicting instructions from the Home Office. For example, the police authorities have their sets of priorities throughout the year; the service as set out in the Bill will have an obligation to work with the police authorities. If their priorities are different, not consistent or do not reflect the particular needs of the Probation Service, there will be tension. The chief officer's line management goes upward to the Secretary of State, whereas the board has the responsibility for delivering the service locally, with the chief officer being a member of the board.

How will industrial relations be managed? What will be the reaction of staff to receiving instructions from someone who is not employed by the organisation to which they are contracted? How will boards delegate staffing issues to someone not in their employ? Will the Home Office be liable in the event that the chief officer rather than the board makes an error? Who would be sued? In that situation, would the Government be culpable along with the chief officer?

Ministers have spoken of the new Probation Service following the health service model. If that were the case, probation boards would employ their chief officers. The chief executive of a health trust is employed by the trust, and a police authority employs the chief constable, who is also a statutory office holder. These amendments give the Probation Service the same status and arrangements as health service trusts. In that respect they should be responsible for employing their chief officer.

The Secretary of State need have no fear. He would still retain the right of approval of the appointment of a chief officer to a particular area. Arrangements could easily be made for the secondment of a chief officer to the national directorate or to other areas. A new relationship between the chairman of the board and the Home Office is envisaged. The Secretary of State will be able to appoint, and indeed to remove, boards; he will have 100 per cent control over funding and allocation of funding between boards; he will set overall objectives for the service; he will receive reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate, regular statistical and financial information, audit reports and annual reports from each board; and there will be powers of direction and default.

What benefit, therefore, is there in one individual being contracted to a different employer? It makes no sense. The Secretary of State's powers are not impeded one iota, but what is important is that the chief officer has the responsibility, and that the board, as employer, has a clear management line. In regard to the administration of a service as complicated as the Probation Service, whose work is so serious and complicated, and at times potentially dangerous, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to accept the amendment.

I have a feeling that a diktat has gone out across government saying, "Accept no amendments; stonewall; it all saves time". I hope the noble Lord knows that it is characteristic of this House not to be swayed by that kind of argument. Having sat on the Benches opposite, I know the feeling of irritation and urgency, the sense of "wanting to get on". But this is an important Bill. There is a huge amount of support behind the thrust of a national service locally delivered. This is an extremely important amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will see it in that light and that he will not repeat the arguments that he set out in the letter that he kindly sent to me, which were used also by his colleagues in another place. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 4:30 pm, 2nd October 2000

Amendments Nos. 10B, 10C and 18A in this group stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. We do not intend to speak further to or move Amendment No. 18A. However, perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendment No. 10B and, in speaking to Amendment No. 10C, support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Amendment No. 10B would give the board the power in effect to co-opt one person to be a member of the board. The power of co-option is one that is almost universally retained by governing bodies of all kinds. I should perhaps declare my experience for the past 20 years in drafting constitutions for all manner of principally voluntary and non-profit-making organisations but also commercial organisations. It is extremely useful for the boards to have a power of co-option. It would enable them to add to their number someone of particular expertise, contact or experience who might help in a particular project or predicament. I leave my advocacy of Amendment No. 10B at that. It is simple and would not in any way endanger the basic scheme.

Amendment No. 10C deals with the basic arrangements from Parliament, through the Home Secretary, to the national director, and down to the local boards. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and like other speakers at Second Reading, I believe that the balance is counter-productive and will not serve the Government's purposes or those of Members on this side of the Committee who to a large degree share the Government's purposes. This is an argument about ways and means.

Striking the balance between maximum devolution of power, authority and autonomy on the one hand, which tend to get the best out of people, and retaining an essential degree of control at the centre, which is necessary in terms of the consistency and thrust of national policy, calls upon the maximum wisdom of those in this Chamber and of the Government who are framing the provisions.

The temptation in this age seems always to be: when in doubt, retain control; when in doubt, grab more control. The argument seems to go: if one has met a degree of difference, as most of us have, in the way in which probation services have been delivered by committees around the country, we must stop all the inconsistency, the variable quality and ensure consistency in future, and that that can be delivered only by a national system, nationally controlled.

We on these Benches in particular are doubtful about some of the assumptions made in terms of the attempt to ensure future quality by pulling powers into the centre. There are myriad examples where that has led to the reverse. There is nothing more consistent than the graveyard, but it is not exactly a place of dynamic creativity.

So we are strongly inclined to think that too much power has been garnered by the Secretary of State under these provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, read out some of them to the Committee. I should like to concentrate on one of those powers. It is contained in paragraph 12, which states simply:

"Functions and other powers of local boards must be performed in accordance with any directions given to them by the Secretary of State".

In various letters which the Minister kindly wrote to Members of this place after Second Reading, he made it plain that this is indeed intended to be an omnibus power and will be utilised to resolve--note the neutral word--local disputes that might arise within a board, and in particular between a board and the chief officer.

Perhaps I may quote from one of the letters written by the Minister on this point to my noble friend Lord Dholakia on 11th July. He said:

"In common with the Chair and all the other board members, he [the chief officer] will be required, under Schedule 1 paragraph 12, to comply with any directions made by the Secretary of State. So it is clear that if any conflict does arise within the board, it can be resolved by the Secretary of State who will be able to direct all parties to follow the same course".

Oh, will he? How on earth will that work in practice? How on earth can the Secretary of State expect to be sensitive to all the ongoing, inevitable disagreements within the myriad boards over which he has this draconian power? The power is in itself dangerously wide. But the notion is that it will be used to resolve conflicts which, it is rightly said, are inevitable under the structure in the Bill as drafted, given that the chief executive officer is employed by, and is answerable to, not the board but the distant Secretary of State.

I know of no one on the world of governance, whether corporate, voluntary or any other, who believes that that is a workable arrangement. If it is not--and I have looked in vain for any precedent that might provide reassurance on the point--then it is our job as a revising Chamber to persuade the Government in effect to improve their own measure for their own ends.

Perhaps I may add a further important point. It is a commonplace that if power and authority are given to a group of individuals to get on with a particular task, first, they will usually rise to the challenge, and, secondly--this is my point--there is then some prospect of attracting to that body men and women of a higher calibre. My concern is that the boards will be so much under the thumb of the Secretary of State, and will be so curtailed in what they do--that is, they will have so little real power and no autonomy--that we shall not get the ablest men and women to sit on them. Frankly, if we do not, the job will be ill done. For that reason also, I strongly urge both the Minister and the Government to reconsider the issue. I realise how difficult that may be and I am aware of their aims and objectives. But I do not want to be saying, "I told you so", in five years' time. I am sure that we would all prefer this issue to be reviewed, with the Minister returning to us at the next stage with a new concordat.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I thank both contributors to the debate for their comments. In some ways, I believe that there is a degree of consensus here. The noble Baroness agrees that there needs to be an effective national probation service. I believe that she also agrees with the general drift of what the Government are trying to do. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, also seems to agree with the general drift of what we seek to achieve; indeed, he suggested that in his earlier remarks. In a sense, there is an irony here. All of us are informed by a strong "localist" background in our politics. The noble Baroness was an indefatigable and effective local leader and I like to think that I was not too bad in that respect. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is very keen on the local aspect and on having services close to the locality. Therefore, I understand the strength of both strains of the argument.

However, in order to succeed and create a service that performs in the best possible way, we take the view that we need to improve performance. Good performance is already there, but we want to improve upon it and raise standards. That is the reason why we have struck out on a course to create an effective national probation service. We believe that such a service should have a structure that provides strong leadership, both centrally and locally. We want a service within an overall national strategy based on what works--and there seems to be a consensus on that aim. We also want boards that are more diverse and more representative. I know that noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches support that aim and objective. We also want a service that has better and clearer lines of accountability. We want to have the means of removing inefficient or ineffective boards. That has not been the case in the past and has sometimes proved to be to the detriment of the service. We also want to have more efficient use of the estate through central management.

Although this group of amendments is well intentioned, I believe that it is misconceived. Moreover, if such provisions were to be inserted, they would seriously undermine the Government's intentions to create a more effective and accountable service, which is clearly focused on protecting the public and reducing reoffending--again, aims with which we all agree. In our view, these amendments seek to retain aspects of the current arrangements, which I believe we all agree have proved in the past to be lacking in some respects and in need of change. Such provisions would simply impede the better management of the service.

At present, there is no identifiable individual who is responsible for delivering service--its wide commitments--or the means for ensuring a consistently high standard of performance. That has led to unacceptable variation in the standard of performance achieved in different areas which cannot be explained other than in terms of the quality of local management and leadership. If performance is to be raised, there needs to be a coherent national organisation with strong central leadership, together with the means to deal with poor performance.

There are many examples of very good committees within the service. Sadly, however, that is not the universal picture. I believe that that was ably demonstrated by the excellent work that ACOP carried out in auditing performance in relation to enforcement. We need a more consistent approach. If the Secretary of State is to be accountable for the delivery of an efficient service, which is vital if crime is to be reduced, he must have the means to deliver the required outcomes.

Some noble Lords have argued that the structure we propose would lead to conflict between chief officers and boards and that it would, therefore, be unworkable. I argue that the converse is true and that it will tackle existing problems. The chief officer will be a member of the board and will undertake the day-to-day management on behalf of the board. In our scheme, all of the board will be appointed by the Secretary of State and will be accountable to him. They will be required to work within the strategic framework determined by the Secretary of State. However, that will not remove the very important local dimension--we want that benefit--that we are keen to retain. Under our model the boards will be more diverse and representative of their local areas. They will have to deliver a service in a way that meets local needs. Their work--

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 2nd October 2000

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. In the event of a disagreement between the clear majority of a board and the chief officer, can the noble Lord tell the Committee whether it is really his proposition that the Home Secretary of the day will send a direction down to, say, Suffolk stating that the board must follow the views of the chief officer on the issue? If that is the case--it seems to me to be so from his letter--what effect will that have upon the morale, conduct and willingness to continue in service of the rest of the board?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I take the point made in what I believe the noble Lord will accept is an extreme example. I am sure that persuasion, discussion and negotiation will have taken place in such a case. I have no doubt that a resolution to any potential conflict would be best served by adopting those means. If the Secretary of State ultimately finds his will frustrated, clearly it will be a matter for him to take the steps identified by the noble Lord as a way to resolve the matter. There have been cases in the past where difficulties have been experienced. Because there was no clear line management and no sense of direction or purpose for such management, profound problems arose. That was not necessarily for the benefit of the service. We need to establish a system that is transparent to those who serve in it and more accountable both locally and nationally.

Perhaps I may concentrate a little on the detail of the amendments. Amendments Nos. 10, 10B, 10C and 11 would fundamentally change the proposed board structure and, in our view, make the boards less effective. As I said before, the key to improving performance--I believe we all accept this--is good and effective leadership. It is right that members of the board, including the chief officer, should be appointed by the Secretary of State, though for judges it would be the Lord Chancellor. There is no need for co-opted members, as suggested by Amendment No. 18A.

Sub-committees will deal with specific issues. They will be able to call on outside expertise if necessary. However, the boards will not need to appoint additional members. It is our intention to involve local board chairs in chief officer appointments, where chief officers will change. The selection process that is now well under way is based on the advice of the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. So there will be transparency in the process, which will be carefully invigilated.

Amendments Nos. 18 and 20 would, we believe, undermine the key position of the chief officer in the new structure and hamper efficient day-to-day management. Amendment No. 70 is a consequential amendment that would have the effect of treating chief officers in the same manner as other employees in respect of transfer to new services. We believe that any national organisation should have the ability to appoint its senior executives centrally. The Government are satisfied that it is absolutely right for chief probation officers to be appointed by the Secretary of State.

I realise that my response will not satisfy the proposers of the amendments in this group. However, I hope that I have directly addressed the issues raised in the debate. Our intention is to create a well-focused, well-structured, clearly-led and well-managed organisation. Yes, that will mean a degree of centralisation of direction and determination. It will also mean an important local input. We value the local, but in trying to reorient this service and ensure that it is better focused on reducing offending rates, and so on--all of which are shared objectives--we believe that we now have a model that will prove to be effective.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I have not been more disappointed in a reply in a long time. That was a seriously defective response. The Minister does not appear to have understood any of the arguments that have been proposed on the importance of the body that we are discussing. It does not comprise a local authority but a body that will undertake the most sensitive and, from time to time, dangerous work. Line management is absolutely crucial, as is responsibility for affairs at a local level. Many in the service will be deeply dismayed at some of the Minister's comments on the ineffectiveness of local boards and of some chief officers simply because they are not all employed by the Secretary of State.

Does the Secretary of State really believe that he and/or the officials in his department have the time to tackle the conflicts that arise at local level? That will not result in the effective local delivery of a national service. Serious tensions will arise on occasion. People will be confused as to where responsibility lies. Such matters will be settled only in court. We certainly do not want that.

The Minister used the phrase, "strong 'localist' background in our politics". I do not approach this matter from the point of view of having served in local politics. I certainly do not bring politics into it at all. There is a difference between us here. I believe that we should approach this subject from an apolitical point of view.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

On a point of clarification, I tried to say--I thought that I had done so effectively--that I understood the importance of local input. I thought that I paid the noble Baroness a compliment in referring to her background. I thought that she too would understand the importance of local input. I certainly do not want to denigrate that in any shape or form.

It is wrong to conclude--as I believe the noble Baroness suggested--that we are critical of all aspects of local committees and local services. The Government simply want to ensure that we build on important local strengths but within an effective national framework.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

We are not arguing about the national framework. The service must be delivered locally. The profiles of areas differ. Crime varies greatly between rural areas, towns, cities, urban and suburban areas. Those areas all pose different problems, tensions and challenges for local people. I support the effective local delivery of the service. As I say, no one is arguing about the framework. However, the Government appear to be imposing central operation on the service. I believe that will work against effective local delivery and will place chief officers in an invidious position vis-a-vis local boards, local police authorities and the other agencies with which they work.

The Minister has just said that he did not criticise the service. I hope that he will read his response in Hansard. The rationale for the proposed changes is that the boards and the chief officers have not worked well. As I say, I hope that the Minister will read his response. It is alleged that there has been no consistency of policy and that the Secretary of State needs to have central--

Photo of Baroness Blatch 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.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I have two questions for the Minister. First, is he aware of any other comparable governance structure to the one proposed here that would give any assurance at all that this will not be a debacle? Secondly, under what circumstances and to what extent will the boards be able to order chief officers to do anything? If, for example, a board comes to the conclusion that it wants to adopt this policy or that measure, and a chief officer says that the Home Secretary gave the impression that he wanted a certain policy, what happens?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am not sure that I shall be able to give the precise answers that have been sought but I shall endeavour to do my best. I do not think that one can describe local boards as non-departmental public bodies. Usually they are established on the basis of an arm's-length relationship with the department. However, in this case I do not think that one can accurately argue that to be the case. We are, after all, creating a national probation service and we intend to manage it as such.

However, we are considering the status of the boards. We need to view this matter in a rather different light. This goes to the heart of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, made. It is not easy to suggest comparable structures as this is a unique service. It is a service we are trying to align with other parts of the criminal justice system. We seek to create a national service for all the reasons on which I believe we are agreed; namely, the need to create strong, effective, firm and good leadership with a consistent application of policy and with a clear sense of purpose. As I say, this is a unique service. There will be change. I believe that there are differences as regards the positions that we have adopted on this matter. However, there is also a degree of consensus. We believe that the management arrangements that we seek to put in place will be effective. Time will tell.

To take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, from time to time there may well be conflicts but we think that they will be few and far between. By establishing a clear sense of line management and management discipline, we believe that there will be fewer than in the past.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 5:00 pm, 2nd October 2000

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again. I am grateful to him for giving way. However, I must press the noble Lord. He talks about wonderful line management. What happens in the circumstances about which I speculated: the board says one thing and the Home Office says another. There is not a direction but simply a line of policy. Where is the line of management?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I thought that I had made it plain that one would expect the national service to ensure that there is effective line management and that it will come from the centre. We would not expect there to be the extremes of conflicts that the noble Lord envisages. The board will wish to direct the way in which the service operates. Ultimately the Secretary of State will be able to overrule the way in which the board operates. Regulations will delegate some issues directly to chief officers. That is made clear in paragraph 10 of Schedule 1.

I do not see the service working in the adversarial conflict-driven way that the noble Lord describes. We think that the management arrangements that will be spelt out will be clear and effective and that we shall be able to resolve any of the problems and tensions that the noble Lord envisages. I do not think that it will happen in the way the noble Lord envisages.

I recognise that it is an important debate. One will take note of what has been said. However, at this stage we cannot accept the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The situation is even more depressing. The Minister did not answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. The Minister said that the boards can be overruled. He gave no example of where that occurs in any other form of governance. Chief constables are appointed by their local authorities but they are approved by the Home Secretary. Health trusts are appointed. I imagine that the short list is again approved by the Home Secretary of the day.

The noble Lord does not think that these conflicts will occur. At this stage of legislation, we ask the Minister, "If this were to occur, what would happen?" It is not such an outlandish thought. Let me develop the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. All the senior management team will be direct employees of the board; but the chief officer will not. Let us suppose that all the senior management team, the people who work to them, and the board, having recognised the needs of the people of their local area, come to a conclusion that they want to do something. The chief officer would like to do it too because he sees the merits of the argument. However, he has another line of management to the Home Secretary who says something different. What would happen? I should like the Minister to answer that precise point. Will he also tell me whether it is true that the Cabinet Office is concerned about whether these bodies are NDPBs?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am not aware that the Cabinet Office is concerned about the position of the boards.

I understand the argument, but it is an extreme position. I am sure that the instances described by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will arise very infrequently. I do not see that there should necessarily be this conflict-driven management system. We think that the management arrangements will be effective.

How does the noble Baroness envisage the current system managing the situations she describes? The current service does not deal with them as well as they could be managed. We believe that the management and line arrangements will be a more effective way of resolving some of the tensions that may have arisen in the past. I believe that we shall see marked improvements as a consequence. I accept that there is a difference of view but we shall reflect upon the points made today in an important debate.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask one last question. Can the noble Lord imagine a situation a few years ago when Michael Howard was the Home Secretary when he might have given a direction vis-a-vis the affairs of probation committees which was considered by the Labour Opposition at the time to be totally against the public interest, destructive and against the values that they now espouse in this Bill? Would the Minister wish all power to reside with the Home Secretary of the day to force through any measure he or she might like, however partisan or ineffectual, rather than having a set of local checks and balances which provide a source of power against central might?

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

Before the Minister answers that question, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, posed a fundamental question on which the entire argument hangs. Are the boards non-departmental public bodies? The Minister has skirted around that argument. It has considerable bearing on a number of amendments I intend to move later. Will the noble Lord confirm, yes or no, whether the boards are NDPBs?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I thought that I had made clear earlier that we do not believe that they are NDPBs. The noble Lord's point is a debating point. If we thought, as we did from time to time, that the previous Secretary of State was wrong, we vigorously pursued the argument.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The Minister has been kind enough to say that he will reflect on the issue. I wish to press the noble Lord once more. I assume from his answers that these are not NDPBs. The noble Lord used the phrase that he did not believe that they were. At this stage of the Bill, I expect the Government to be beyond doubt and sure. Does the noble Lord believe that they are not NDPBs, or are they not NDPBs?

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I cannot take the answer as other than "Don't know". The noble Lord is being equivocal rather than unequivocal.

The Minister said that he will reflect on this issue. I hope that he will. It is, in his own words, an important debate. I hope that he will be open-minded until we discuss the matter again at the next stage, as we certainly shall. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 10A to 11 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 46, line 12, at end insert ("; and in particular, the Secretary of State shall ensure that at least one member of the board shall be from each of the following categories--

(a) a member of a county, borough or district council in the area of the board,

(b) a justice of the peace resident in the area of the local board,

(c) a member of the youth offending team").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

To be effective, a board must reflect the local people. A justice of the peace should be a member of that body, as should an officer of the youth offending team, which is an important body. It would be helpful to have clarification from the Minister. The concern is to have the balance of organisations and suitably qualified people in place; and to put in place consultative arrangements with the relevant agencies. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The amendment would constrain in statute the membership of the boards, which the Bill leaves to be determined by regulations. We do not believe that it is appropriate to specify their composition in the Bill and would prefer to lay regulations before the House on that in due course. I can give a firm commitment that we are persuaded of the need to make membership of the boards open to the widest range of people. The aim is for boards to have an appropriate balance of skills and experience and to reflect the make-up of the local community. I made that point in an earlier debate and I want to reinforce it now.

We aim to have four magistrates and two elected local authority members on every board. We want as many people as possible to be encouraged to come forward. We do not want to narrow the field, as we believe that the amendment would do. We recognise and value the importance of the local authority link. There will be cross-overs in the interaction and interrelation of the services. It is very important that there should be a reasonable reflection of the local magistracy on the boards. We want a wide range of people to come forward and offer their services to ensure diversity of membership.

I understand the noble Baroness's point, but we think that leaving the issue to regulations will give us the flexibility to ensure that the boards are diverse and, importantly, establish a link with the local magistracy and local authorities.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I know some of the arguments about not defining the composition of boards in the Bill, although it is important to debate the balance of the boards and how they should work.

The boards have been somewhat maligned in some of our debates so far. In their defence, we should say on the record that for a long time the boards have been unhappy about how they have had to work and about their composition. Most of them agree that they are too large and would like to be smaller and more operationally effective. The boards have waited very patiently. During the last two or three years of my tenure of office, there were regular applications through the usual channels for a legislative slot to make them more effective. We should recognise that they were at the forefront of pressing for that. The Minister may think that their current performance is not outstanding, but that is largely because of how they were set up some years ago. The boards have been looking forward to change but needed a legislative basis for it. They are now getting a legislative basis, but the changes will be rather different from what was imagined before. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 14:

Page 46, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State shall ensure that the members of the board appointed by him are appropriately qualified to carry out the functions conferred on them by this Act.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 17. I understand that Amendment No. 16 is grouped with them.

I was receptive to the Minister's arguments on the previous amendment, but I believe that the issues dealt with in these amendments should be specified in the Bill. It is not frivolous to say that those appointed to the boards should be appropriately qualified. The boards will carry out important work, so it is essential that they do not contain people who collect committees--and there are a lot of them about. We need people who will make a real contribution to the management of their local service. I hope that Amendment No. 14 will be accepted.

Amendment No. 15 is about consultation with certain key organisations that can provide a great deal of information to ensure that the right appointments are made. The amendment would not necessarily tie the hands of the Secretary of State, who will make the appointments. The boards will have to work closely with the magistrates' courts committee and the police authority, so they should be consulted, as well as the chief constable and the local authorities.

On Amendment No. 17, I have always thought that appointing people for one, two or three years is not enough. There ought to be a minimum of five years' service in an area as complex as probation. I should like that written into the Bill. However, committees also need freshness from time to time. Fifteen years is a reasonable length of time to expect anyone to serve consecutively on a committee. I hope that the Minister agrees that it is reasonable to suggest that an appointment should be for a minimum of five years, with a maximum of three consecutive five-year terms. The Secretary of State will retain his ability to remove a member of the board if he believes that they have defaulted in their duties. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 5:15 pm, 2nd October 2000

I support Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 17, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I shall speak to Amendment No. 16, which would restrict the number of magistrates on the board and widen the membership further than suggested by the noble Baroness.

The schedule regulates the composition of the newly established probation boards. Local probation services are currently managed predominantly by magistrates. Although we applaud those magistrates who volunteer to take on that onerous task, board members have been drawn from a limited circle. We need to widen it.

I accept that the Bill allows for the possibility of board members being drawn from a wider group, although one of the members is rightly to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor from among Crown Court judges. The chairman and other members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State. It is vital that the membership of the board represents a wide cross-section of the community. We suggest that more board members should come from local businesses, community groups, housing associations, drug agencies, the voluntary sector, local councillors and other organisations with a stake in crime prevention and rehabilitation.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I have listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. There is probably not a great deal between us. We are talking mainly about the means to the end. We think that there should be a limit on the length of time that people can serve on the board, with a maximum appointment of perhaps two consecutive terms. Some changes may be needed to effect that.

However, we need flexibility. My comments will not find favour with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but we think that the issues are best dealt with in regulations. Amendments Nos. 14, 16 and 17 would specify issues relating to the individuals appointed to be members of local boards. We think that the matter is best dealt with through regulations, as Schedule 1 provides. We intend to place a limit on the number of magistrates and also to restrict tenure. Therefore, I believe that we are meeting the point that has been made. However, we feel that that is probably best done in regulations. It is currently undertaken in that way. It is legislation that we have inherited. Therefore, what we are doing is very much in accordance with how such matters have worked in the past.

Amendment No. 15 would require the Home Secretary to consult a wide range of interests before making appointments. Although, on the face of it, that would be desirable, we believe that in these circumstances it would probably be unnecessary. However, robust appointment procedures which involve an element of consultation will be in place. I believe that the appointment process will find and bring forward the best individuals. We do not believe that a requirement exists, as the amendment anticipates, for extensive consultation in the way that has been set out, although we accept that consultation is very important.

Therefore, we understand the spirit behind the amendments. We agree some of the points, particularly with regard to tenure and a limit on numbers of magistrates and perhaps of other classes and categories. However, as is usually the case in such matters, we believe that it is best carried out through regulations. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I listened carefully to the answer. I should be more reassured if I thought that the noble Lord had not found the arguments interesting and persuasive but was prepared to adopt them, albeit in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill. Do the Government have it in mind, for example, to make appointments for not less than five years? Do the Government have it in mind--they must have something in mind because presumably the regulations are being formed at this moment--to limit the tenure of office? Do they have it in mind to introduce a system to ensure that the qualifications of people appointed to the boards are appropriate for the task in hand? And do they have it in mind to consult on the matter?

If the noble Lord can say that the Government accept all those points and that they will appear in legislation, it will be more helpful than saying simply that they are very persuasive arguments but the Government will not accept the amendments.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Perhaps I can add further clarity. We feel that board members should be appointed for three years and for a maximum of two consecutive terms. However, a change to that may be required. For that reason, I believe that putting time limits, as set out in Amendment No. 17, on the face of the Bill would deprive us of the flexibility we may need. Of course, when people apply to become members of a board, we shall set out carefully and clearly a type of job specification, listing the qualities that we expect the candidates to have. After all, that is one of the processes and procedures which has developed usefully over the past few years and which is an important element of what we might describe as the Nolan principles behind public appointments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I hope that the noble Lord will think again about the period of three years. I am a member of a museum of which the sponsoring department is the MoD. I am a trustee of that museum and my appointment is reviewed every three years. The Government's record, not only in the MoD but in the health department and in many other government departments, for making appointments on time and in a non-bureaucratic manner is not good.

The intention is to appoint to all those boards every three years. I do not know whether the process will be staggered, but one is in danger of having to make a whole block of appointments every three years. One will hardly be able to blink before the three years are up and one will be looking for another set of people or renewing periods of office. I believe that the nature of the work is complex and interesting. It seems to me that, if one asks people to give up their time in order to get to know the service well and to make a proper contribution when they are fresh to the work, five years is a better term than three years.

I did not mention Amendment No. 16. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, I believe that the boards themselves were also concerned that they were not in a position to change the composition, requiring, as they would, legal authority to do so. Therefore, I do not believe that that amendment would be received with dismay. I believe that the boards would probably welcome some streamlining and the fact that there would not be a predominance of a particular group in the way that, on many boards, there is at present.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I welcome that observation. I believe that there is a degree of commonality on this issue between our Administration and the previous administration. I recollect that the previous government were keen to streamline boards and some streamlining was undertaken. I remember dealing with the consultation on that matter. I believe that streamlining will produce more effective and more focused boards, and it is helpful that there is now agreement on that. I suspect that we shall have rather smaller boards than we have had in the past. As I am sure the noble Baroness will recall from her time in the Home Office, boards tended to be 20 or 30 people strong. We believe that in the region of half that number would be more appropriate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her supportive comments.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I thank the noble Lord. A great deal of informal streamlining took place on some of the boards. However, they were concerned that they were possibly trading illegally and were concerned about obtaining legal authority for what they wanted to do. Therefore, to that extent, this proposal is welcome. The Minister has given his word that he will reflect on these matters and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 15 to 18A not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 47, line 16, leave out from beginning to ("the") in line 17 and insert--

("7. Each board shall appoint a secretary and a treasurer.

7A. Regulations may provide--

(a) for").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

This amendment relates to paragraph 7 of Schedule 1. The appointment of a secretary and treasurer in the new bodies will be crucial. The regulations may provide for tenure and circumstances in which such appointees cease to hold office or may be removed or suspended from office. However, my amendment makes it explicit that the board shall appoint a secretary and a treasurer.

I understand that it is the Government's intention that the boards should comprise local people reflecting local communities. I believe that the Minister has confirmed that today. Boards will also be responsible for the stewardship and expenditure of considerable public funds and for contact with other organisations. Therefore, it is essential that they have access to proper advice. I know that not only am I advocating this through my amendment but the Central Probation Council also considers the posts of secretary and treasurer to be vitally important in ensuring the proper conduct of business.

Again, it is important that, instead of regulations, it is stated on the face of the Bill that each probation board should have the obligation and responsibility for appointing a secretary and a treasurer. The regulations could then provide for the conditions to be filled by the appointment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

Amendment No. 19A, in my name, achieves the same purpose with, dare I say it, neater stitching than Amendment No. 19. It is significant and I hope that the Government will accept it.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I believe that the issue here is fairly simple. It is whether the appointment of a secretary and treasurer to local boards should be required on the face of the Bill or whether it should be left to regulations. We take the simple view that it is probably best left to regulations. It is a minor amendment but we do not believe that it necessarily improves the quality of the Bill.

As currently drafted, there is a provision for regulations to require local boards to appoint a secretary and a treasurer. This amendment would make that an absolute requirement and perhaps restrict unduly the scope of the regulations to controlling aspects of the appointments and the appointees' duties.

Management and operation of the new probation service must be strong and effective at local level. I believe that we are agreed on that point. However, that is not necessarily achieved by simply replicating in statute the present requirements for a secretary and a treasurer. Those appointments may be entirely appropriate now but they may not be so in the future. We take the view that dealing with such matters in regulations rather than on the face of the Bill provides a sensible degree of flexibility for the future. For that reason, I suggest to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord that they should not press their amendments this evening.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 5:30 pm, 2nd October 2000

I am not going to fight the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, about which is the better amendment. I have not studied his amendment. Indeed, I saw it only for the first time this morning. If it achieves the same end, I should be more than happy to accept his amendment.

I was dismayed by that reply. My suspicions were aroused by it. Is the noble Lord saying that it is bad to put this provision on the face of the Bill because it gives an absolute responsibility to the boards for appointing a secretary and a treasurer? Is the future flexibility needed so that the Home Secretary can do that? I cannot understand what the noble Lord means when he refers to being tied down and to the power being an absolute one for the boards to appoint their own secretary and treasurer. The only flexibility of which I can think, which may be in the mindof the Minister, is for the Home Secretary to do that as well.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

If I understood the Minister right, he is telling us that a board may at some future time, operate without a secretary or a treasurer. Was that his intention? If he is saying the board can operate without a treasurer, then I wonder whether Amendment No. 58 in the name of my noble friend Lord Dholakia about the need for adequate resources is even more urgent than I had supposed.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I should not want the noble Baroness to go away with the thought in her mind that somehow we are suggesting other than that these matters should be simply left to regulations. We are trying to achieve flexibility and not central diktat. That seemed to be the drift of the noble Baroness's concluding comments. That is not what we are about at all.

It may well be that other titles and other deployments of members of the board in terms of the way in which they work are more appropriate in the future. We do not wish to be tied down precisely in legislation. Dealing with this matter in regulations means that we are providing that flexibility.

I am quite happy to take away this point and have another look at it, if that helps the Committee this evening. However, it is the flexibility question about which we are most concerned. Perhaps the matter is best left there at this stage of our discussions.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

This is a matter to which we shall have to return. It is worrying. The noble Earl has aroused another suspicion. Either the Secretary of State may wish to place secretaries and treasurers onto the boards, or worse, they should exist without them.

The work which the boards will do is extremely complex and legalistic. We live in a more litigious world now. The work of the boards will be considerable. Managing complex budgets, contracting out services and buying and selling their services will mean that they will need first-class legal, technical and accountancy advice. That can be obtained through a good secretary and treasurer. It seems to me that absolutely no harm is done by putting that responsibility on the board. In fact, I go further and say that there should be a responsibility on the board to have a secretary and treasurer.

I do not believe that there should be flexibility. The Minister has not told the Committee why that flexibility is needed in the future unless, as I say, it is not to make the appointments at all or that somebody else should make those appointments. We shall certainly return to this matter, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 19A and 20 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 47, line 40, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert--

("(1) The Secretary of State shall pay to a probation board, in a timely manner, such amounts as shall be necessary for each board to discharge its responsibilities.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

This amendment is concerned with cash flow and borrowing powers. Arising from the move to 100 per cent Home Office funding, local authorities will no longer act as bankers for the probation boards. There is a serious anxiety in this regard based on previous experience; namely, that the Home Office arrangements for making payments, which will be the only source of grant, may leave boards in serious difficulties.

Again, I go back to records of departments on this subject. Government departments are not known for making timely payments. They do a great deal of lecturing other people about making timely payments but very often the Government are in default. While the actual mechanism for payment is not a matter for primary legislation, I know that chief officers would wish to see the responsibility of the Secretary of State properly acknowledged on the face of the Bill.

Moreover, it would be helpful if the Minister were able to say something about borrowing powers. I understand that throughout ministerial comment made in the other place about borrowing powers, no one suggested that boards should have unfettered borrowing powers. Chief officers are not asking for that. But they ask for the facility to cover emergencies; for example, in the eventuality of late Home Office payments to which I have just referred. The Secretary of State may authorise specific or even general powers in that respect. We hope that, in practice, a general authorisation will be given to probation boards to borrow money in the event of an error or in the event of a delay in Home Office payments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

Amendment No. 21A stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. It covers almost the same ground as the amendment just moved by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I hope that in his response the Minister will not plead the need for flexibility. I see that flexibility is a quality which is on the side of government but certainly not on the side of these boards, which do not want flexibility in the matter of financing any more than they want it in the matter of having a treasurer and a secretary.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

We do not have any quarrel with the fact that the Government should pay appropriate amounts to local boards on appropriate days. As I am sure we all agree, that is a function of good government. But the same applies to all areas of expenditure which require government to make grants to organisations. It is understood and, of course, it is something that should happen. In our view, there is absolutely no need to clutter the bell with what are perhaps unnecessary embellishments by way of the amendments. I understand the spirit behind them but they are an embellishment. This is not an amendment which we feel we can accept, although, of course, I shall go away and persuade my colleagues in the Home Office that they had better make sure that the grants are made on time.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

What happens if they are not?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

This is one undertaking which I dread to give. However, I am sure that appropriate borrowing powers will be in place and that the Secretary of State will approve those powers. I am sure that boards will not be left without the necessary cash to carry out their functions and responsibilities.

Photo of Earl Russell Earl Russell Liberal Democrat

The number of Ministers who have given that reply must by now run well into four figures. Some of them have been optimists.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

I had not intended to intervene in this matter because it is not my subject at all. However, from personal experience I assure the Committee that Ministers do not pay their bills on time. My wife has experienced this in relation to countryside matters. Schemes have been approved by the European Parliament but the money has not been forthcoming. It has been necessary to put contractors on stand-by and schemes have been delayed. The Government do not pay their bills. They withhold money. I merely advise the Committee that we should not expect such matters to run smoothly.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I cannot forfend but to dwell for a moment on that wonderful expression "cluttered with embellishments". I wonder whether the Minister views as a cluttering embellishment his own entitlement to remuneration. However, I let that pass.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I think that my family would see it as essential.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

But I am sure that his bank manager has given the noble Lord borrowing powers. Again, we have said enough to demonstrate that, whatever happens, delayed or untimely payments must not put the service at risk. Whatever the arrangements are, it is absolutely essential that some facility is made available to the boards to make sure that they can continue their important work. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21A not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 48, line 12, after ("holding") insert ("or managing land and other").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In speaking to Amendment No. 22 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 23, 24, 72, 74 and 75. This is another important issue and one where I believe there is a real difference of opinion between the Home Office and those of us concerned about the ownership and management of property within the service.

In relation to property, and because of many of the functions undertaken by the service, the type of property occupied by the probation service is important. In relation to any fears held by the Home Office that the Probation Service at a local level cannot be trusted to have control and management of its premises and that it may do something extravagant or silly which would detract from and tap the resources that should go to other parts of the service, the Secretary of State has so many levers on the operational management of the service that it is possible for him to keep full control either through the inspectorate or through more direct intervention if he thought that there was mismanagement.

The three main assets that future boards will need to control in order to fulfil their statutory responsibilities will be staff--that is in-house staff and contracted staff--finance and premises. There is already doubt about the ability of boards to secure the compliance of staff in the event of a conflict between the board and the chief officer. Funds will be provided only by the Home Office. It is now proposed that the premises from which the board's responsibilities are exercised will be owned by the Home Office and managed by an organisation or organisations with which the board has no contractual nexus.

I read the Minister's letter carefully and it seems that there will be some draconian restructuring of the premises inhabited by the probation service. But to suggest, as the Home Office Minister has in correspondence, that,

"there is some way to go before the probation service takes fully on board the concept of being a unified national entity", belies the enormous efforts and the way in which the Probation Service has welcomed the proposals that have been put forward by the Home Office. The Minister went on to say:

"It does take a leap of imagination for the present committees to see their successor boards as a different type of body, with different responsibilities and accountabilities, no longer independent but a vital component in a national organisation".

That much maligns the committees and their ability to change with the times in the interests of providing a better service. If some of the changes that have been suggested today are not accepted, they will be in some difficulty about providing that service, and they will be right to be sceptical about it. However, this reveals much more of a misunderstanding in the Home Office about the legal responsibilities of bodies corporate and therein lies the key question that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked earlier about NDPBs. Also therein lies the problem of the actual status of the board and the capacity of the board to identify with aspirations for the new service.

The proposal in relation to property fundamentally weakens the future role of boards. Boards must have the power to exercise those responsibilities. The probation service is a criminal justice agency, managing difficult and potentially dangerous people. Boards have a duty to their staff and to the community to manage all aspects of "dangerousness" and that includes property. I know that since the Second Reading debate the Central Probation Council has held useful discussions with Home Office officials about the future management of property. Errors and difficulties have been acknowledged but it is unlikely that the discussions will be completed before October. It would be helpful to have some light thrown on the progress of those discussions and the likelihood of them being completed before the Bill passes through this House.

As the Bill stands, it could well be unlawful for a probation board to enter into any utility contract--gas, electricity and so on. The board is given power only to enter into contracts ancillary to its functions. If it is not a function of the board to hold or manage land, such absurd situations as being unable to provide or control lighting, electricity for computers, telephones and the like would arise.

These amendments provide for a more operationally effective solution. The Secretary of State will continue to have considerable powers through the inspectorate and through direct financing of the service, so there is no need for the Secretary of State to worry. There will be full co-operation and where there is not, the Secretary of State has the powers to sequester. Therefore, in the interests of the management of the service and the sensible delivery of the service at a local level, I believe that this is an important aspect of the Bill and that property ownership and management should be the responsibility of the boards and the chief officer. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 2nd October 2000

I speak with some difficulty on Amendments No. 22 and 23. We have already talked about who employs probation officers and chief probation officers and now we are talking about who owns and manages probation service premises.

Earlier the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and I asked the Minister whether the boards that will be set up will be non-departmental public bodies and his answer was that he did not believe that they would be. We asked for a categorical assurance on this matter, and we have had no such assurance whether they are or not. We simply have the belief of the Minister.

This causes confusion because the issue of non-departmental public bodies was discussed two years ago in the prison/probation review. At that time it was said:

"While the sponsoring department could set out a policy framework within which the NDPB will be required to work and control its resourcing, it would not normally be empowered to tell the body how to spend its money or how to meet its statutory obligations. Executive NDPBs therefore preserve considerable independence from central government, and would, in all practical ways, operate much like existing probation committees".

So if you are an NDPB that is the provision for you. However, since the review, nothing appears to have been done about NDPB status. The reason is that in July 2000 the Cabinet Office wrote to the Minister saying that the 42 boards created by the Bill would be NDPBs. Am I right? I believe that the Home Office tried to obtain an exemption, but neither the Treasury nor the Cabinet Office would agree. In other words, to all intents and purposes they are NDPBs unless the Treasury or the Cabinet Office agrees with the Minister.

I can go further. Non-departmental public bodies have accounting arrangements particular to themselves and if the Minister cannot get Cabinet Office agreement to an exemption there need to be specific amendments to the Bill. Everything that we have discussed would be absolute nonsense. If the Minister is not right, is there time for a specific amendment? The National Audit Office and the Audit Commission are concerned about the delay and confusion in the Home Office. The Audit Commission says that there is no good precedent for an NDPB not appointing its own chief executive and not owning its own property.

The confusion has left many financial questions unanswered including those of property, employment and so on. Have monies been correctly spent? Can the probation committee expect its end of year accounts to be closed by the district auditors with so much uncertainty? The Probation Service needs to plan next year's budget now, but it does not know whether it will be accountable to the new directorate or to the Public Accounts Committee. Is the chief officer or the chair responsible for the budget?

NDPBs clearly imply arm's-length governance. That goes against the thrust of the Bill. If the boards are to be NDPBs they will have a strengthened status but what will be the status of the directorate? If boards are not financially accountable to the directorate, what basis is there for the directorate to have any national authority? I believe that the Minister owes the Committee an explanation as to whether they are NDPBs.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I speak from the other end of the NDPB telescope, so to speak. How is one to envisage the system working if control over all property and contractual matters rests in London? How can the Government conceivably, efficiently or knowingly authorise a board in Northumberland or Cornwall on the issue of premises? It is a bureaucratic nonsense. Governments are becoming like clearing banks where, in order to have some idea of one's balance, one has to go via Aberdeen and Belfast. The proposition does not stack up and I can only endorse what has already been said; that is, whether or not they are NDPBs, the boards must have power over their own property. Frankly, to deny that to them is a striking demonstration of the Government's lack of confidence in their abilities.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

Perhaps I can raise a small drafting point. Schedule 1, page 48, refers in line 12 to "property" and, further on in line 18, to "land". Is it intended to draw a sharp distinction between those two categories of asset?

When I was being instructed as a young chartered surveyor, I was told firmly that "land" included any structures that may be placed upon it. I am not clear about this wording. Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on it.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Perhaps I may deal with the last point first. My understanding is much the same as that of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I am not sure that there is a sharp distinction. However, I shall ruminate on his point and provide him with a response at a later date.

As I understand it, Amendment No. 22 would allow boards to manage land. But Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 would prevent boards from managing land unless they had the approval of the Secretary of State. That drafting slightly puzzled me. Amendment No. 72 would give ownership of the probation estate to local boards instead of the Secretary of State, and Amendment No. 74 would allow the Minister to introduce a scheme giving the probation boards any rights or interests in property which he considered appropriate.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. If the technical details of the amendments do not achieve what I intended and what noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches mentioned also, the Minister must forgive me. We did a lot of the drafting ourselves and it may not be correct. But I hope he will not use that as an excuse for not addressing the specific point we made that it is important for the service to manage its property at a local level and that ownership also makes more sense. We can always correct the amendments or, if the arguments are acceptable to the Minister, no doubt the department will do it for us.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that point of explanation. No doubt it will be helpful to us. Just to clarify one point, I want to say that the purpose of my observation was simply to obtain a better understanding of what the noble Baroness is after.

Amendment No. 75 appears to provide that stamp duty shall not be chargeable to probation boards for any transfer or grant of property. I believe that was the amendment's intention.

Essentially, there is a difference of view here. Our view is that we want to see the effective and efficient management of the Probation Service estate. Amendments moved by the noble Baroness and supported by other noble Lords would seek to relocate the management or ownership back to the local boards. We believe that it is right for the land and property of the Probation Service in England and Wales to be managed centrally. In that way, in our view, there will be economies of scale in the provision of the services necessary to manage land and property. We take the view that central management will also enable a more strategic national approach to be taken to acquisitions and disposals.

The noble Baroness used the term "draconian" in her description of the moves and measures we are taking in this part of the legislation. However, she acknowledged that some of the culture change and change of view in the way the estate should be managed was necessary. The noble Baroness also acknowledged that important discussions are taking place between the officers in the management of the service and Home Office officials.

We all have the simple objective of trying to obtain the best from the estate that we manage. But at the end of the day there is a difference of view in relation to the effective and efficient management of the service. We do not believe that it is appropriate to go along with the course recommended by Members opposite. We take the view that a sprawling estate can better be directed centrally. Noble Lords opposite clearly take a different view.

I suggest that the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment. We do not see merit in it. We see the central ownership and management of the property as being entirely consistent with the other parts of the package for the creation of a national Probation Service and we want to see that consistency carried through in that relationship.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

Perhaps I can intervene before the Minister sits down. I put a specific question in relation to the non-departmental public bodies. A great deal hinges on the discussions that took place earlier. Can the Minister give a categorical assurance at this stage as to whether or not the boards are NDPBs, rather than whether he thinks or believes they are?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

We had this discussion earlier. I felt I went as far as I could in setting out how we viewed the situation. I am happy to take away the point the noble Lord made in his contribution to this debate. No doubt it is an issue to which we shall return.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench

Perhaps I can come in as a referee on this. I listened to the questions put forward and did not intend to intervene. However, the Minister has been asked clearly several times whether or not the new bodies will be NDPBs. Each time he dodged the argument and said he "believes", he "thinks", he "feels", he "may" or he "should". But surely it is a statement of fact as to whether they are or are not. I can see that a lot of arguments hinge on this point and the question has been dodged right the way down the line. It is not a question of taking this point away; either they are or are not NDPBs. As somebody sitting in the middle listening to the argument, I believe it merits a straight yes or no answer.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The latest advice that I have been given is that, strictly speaking, they are not NDPBs.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

They are not NDPBs. It is not that the Minister believes they are not; we now have the answer that they are not.

The Minister was concerned about my cynicism when I spoke of draconian arrangements. First, I find it absurd that the Home Office thinks it can run and manage the property of all these boards throughout the country. It is such an absurd idea that I am almost lost for words to describe the nonsense in the suggestion. But my cynicism comes from the words used by the Minister himself. He said that in the past the property has been owned and occupied by the service in a way which leaves a lot of scope for efficiency savings and rationalisation; some of those savings can only be realised if the estate is owned centrally.

What plans does the Home Office have? What is it about to do? If the service is allowed to manage its property locally, and if there is a remit to it from the Home Office to say that it should be managed efficiently and effectively, then the inspectorate should be used to ensure that it is delivering that remit. If it is felt that the boards are wasting money on premises or are being over-extravagant--I find it almost impossible to understand how one would know because I remember in the days when I was responsible for the service there were constant appeals from the various probation offices for approval to spend money on new premises or to refurbish premises and money was always a serious constraint--then the inspectorate should investigate. So the idea that there are vast estates of property throughout the country that are not being properly managed is absurd.

Serious issues arise in this regard. A point was raised by either the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, or the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, in relation to minor contracts with electricians, water boards and all sorts of people locally. Are the Government seriously saying that they will send in a civil servant to help them? That is mind-blowing in its stupidity. This is an issue to which we shall certainly have to return. But it is good to know that we now have an unequivocal answer that those bodies will not be NDPBs. I expect the Cabinet Office will be relieved that at last it has a definitive answer, which I understand it has been trying to obtain for some weeks.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat 6:00 pm, 2nd October 2000

I am pleased that the Minister said that the bodies will not be NDPBs. However, as in July the Cabinet Office said that they would be, can he say whether he has had a definitive reply from either that office or the Treasury? If so, can we know when the change of heart took place at Cabinet and Treasury level?

Photo of Lord Harris of Greenwich Lord Harris of Greenwich Liberal Democrat Lords Chief Whip

I agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and by my noble friend about the property issue. The idea that civil servants will make decisions on these issues is an extraordinarily ill-judged approach. My noble friend Lord Roper reminded me of the words of an old friend of mine, the late Douglas Jay. When he was a junior Minister in the Attlee government he said that the gentlemen in Whitehall really do know best. Douglas Jay suffered a great deal from that statement and the noble Lord is getting close to it.

Solemnly suggesting that government officials will take decisions on all these issues is centralisation run riot. The noble Baroness was right to say that we shall return to it at the Report stage and I have no doubt that we shall vote on it.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

We have had an illuminating debate and I hope that I have been helpful in providing further clarification. It needs to be placed on record that there can be little dispute that improvements can always be made to the management of any part of the government estate. We are trying to secure the best benefits from a nationally organised Probation Service and achieve greater economies of scale, greater efficiencies and ensure that the estate is managed well and effectively on behalf of the local service. That is the way we see the system working. Whether or not the Probation Service is a non-departmental public body does not affect our view of the importance of central management in the management of the estate.

We simply want to achieve the best use of the service and I have no doubt that the noble Baroness will be the first to confirm the importance of that. Furthermore, when governments have sought to bring together localised services in a national format it is important that they seek to improve the quality of management of the national estate. There is nothing to stop boards carrying out minor issues relating to the management of premises and the Bill simply prevents local boards from owning property. Management will be reflected on locally and some of the issues which the noble Baroness raised--for instance, the hiring of electricians, plumbers and so forth--will undoubtedly be closely supervised by the local board.

The amendments would do nothing to advance that case and we believe that things are best managed centrally in the creation of a new national Probation Service.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

We shall return to the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 48, line 36, at end insert--

("( ) The local board shall publish the plan (or any modified plan) prepared under this paragraph in at least two newspapers circulating widely in its area, and otherwise as it thinks fit or as the Secretary of State shall direct, and shall make it available for public inspection during ordinary office hours, either at the board's offices or at some convenient place appointed by the board.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The amendment relates to local government and simply proposes that the reports should be published so as to inform local people about what is happening. Although the service is national, they are local institutions accountable to their communities. It is an important amendment which the Minister, had he been sitting on this side of the Committee, would have pressed me to support. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am not sure whether I would have argued the same case had I been on the Benches opposite. Amendment No. 25 would require each board to publish its annual plan in a very specific way and Amendment No. 34 would require very specific publication of the requirements of board plans. We believe that the amendments can be achieved in a more flexible way--and I use that word in the context of these amendments--by using the Secretary of State's powers of direction under the Bill in Schedule 1 paragraph 14.

While we are all in favour of transparency and accountability, which are two important terms in regard to the Bill, Amendment No. 25 is far too prescriptive and proposes an unnecessarily complex and expensive procedure. We oppose the restrictions on the arrangements which boards might make to deliver services and regard it as unnecessary to specify that the organisations and individuals concerned should be appropriate. We are also opposed to the onerous arrangements proposed for publicising how services are to be delivered. Our new boards and other provisions in the Bill provide for transparency and accountability in the operation of the service.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

I can understand the Minister's objection to the word "shall" in Amendment No. 25. Would he look more favourably on the proposal if the amendment instead used the word "may"? That would give local boards the option of publicising what they wanted to do, which would be in the public interest.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I believe that the local board is best placed to determine that and that it is unnecessary to specify it in the amendments. It may well be that local boards want to publicise plans in the way suggested but I do not believe that constraining them in a straitjacket, as suggested in the amendments, is the best way forward. That is best done locally. If boards of their own volition wanted to publicise in the way suggested, that would be fine.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

There is an interesting irony because the noble Lord has spent a good deal of today arguing about central control and direction. However, as regards this issue it is for boards to decide what they want to do. If a board does not want to tell the world what it is doing so be it; if a board does want to, so be it.

I believe that there should be a requirement on the boards to be open about their affairs; that it would fit naturally under national standards and is important in a centrally controlled service. I shall not go to the barricades about the specific wording appearing on the face of the Bill, but it would be helpful to know whether in regulations or circulars to the service there will be a requirement for boards to be open about their arrangements and plans and their annual reports.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am prepared to give an undertaking to consider the implication behind the amendments. Whether they are acceptable as drafted is another question. However, like the noble Baroness, I believe that it is wise for such bodies effectively to communicate their intentions as regards organisation, management and effectiveness of the service. Therefore, I am prepared to take that point away and I thought that the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was most helpful in that respect.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 49, line 27, leave out ("prescribed persons") and insert ("any person").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

In moving Amendment No. 26 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 27. Paragraph 18 of Schedule 1 reads:

"Regulations may require each local board to make and publicise arrangements for dealing with complaints made by or on behalf of prescribed persons in relation to things done under the arrangements made by the board under section 5".

Why prescribe the persons? Why should it not be possible for anyone who complains about the service to be given a proper hearing? Why should any Home Secretary say that one category of person may complain but another may not? It seems to me that if someone has a complaint against the service it should be dealt with.

Amendment No. 27 provides the service with an opportunity for defence. We all know that vexatious complaints are made about services and it is important that there should be an independent view of them so that they can be ruled out at the outset. It is important also that the service itself has the opportunity to be defended. Amendment No. 27 states that an independent person shall be appointed; that the complainant or local board may appeal against that person's decision; and that the independent person or tribunal may be appointed in respect of more than one board--so that there could be an economy of scale by having someone cover more than one board area. The idea of having prescribed persons is incomprehensible. Anyone who has a complaint against the service should be heard and their complaint dealt with properly. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

I strongly identify with the arguments advanced in favour of the amendment.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

As to Amendment No. 26, the complaints procedure ought to be only for the use of individuals who have personally been at the receiving end of activity by a board or its staff. On Amendment No. 27, we will be setting up an independent complaints procedure in secondary legislation.

The Bill aims at ensuring that each board has a complaints procedure that will allow prescribed groups of persons who feel that they have suffered from the way that the board or its staff have acted to have their complaint properly heard. The scheme's purpose is not dealing with representations from any persons--such as contractors, partner organisations, sentencers or staff representatives. The term "prescribed persons" makes it possible to put those groups outside the scheme. The complaints mechanism is not designed to bring in third parties. It must focus on the prime users of the service. To go outside that would be a recipe for complaints chaos. We need clearly to identify who can use the complaints service and who is ex-parte to it.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The Minister has named all the obvious people with the right to complain, but others are affected by the way that the service operates locally who may wish to avail themselves of a complaints procedure. I do not agree that the matter should be dealt with in the way that the Minister suggests. Any person should be allowed to make a complaint, which should be heard and dealt with without being considered vexatious. Conditions could be set out--such as if the service has caused a personal grievance or a grievance to family or property.

I feel strongly that it ought to be the right of anybody who is particularly aggrieved by the way that the service impacts on them--directly or indirectly--to have their complaint heard. There has to be a defence too for the service, which is built in by my second amendment.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 26) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 71; Not-Contents, 114.

Division number 2

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 6:22 pm, 2nd October 2000

moved Amendment No. 27A:

Page 49, line 29, at end insert--

(" . The Prisons Ombudsman shall have comparable functions and powers with regard to the probation service as he does with regard to the prison service.").

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

This amendment seeks to buttress the improvement to the Bill sought by the previous amendment. I understand that the Government may be minded to allow the prisons ombudsman to have responsibility for the workings of the new service. Amendment No. 27A is a probing amendment to discover whether that is the case in the hope that the Government will allow the proposal to be put on the face of the Bill rather than left as an informal arrangement or the subject of subsidiary legislation. This is an important matter. The role of the ombudsman in our national life is now well established and enjoys a great deal of public confidence. We on this side of the Committee believe that the prisons ombudsman could perform a valuable service with regard to the new boards, whatever they are ultimately called. We hope that this amendment commends itself to both the Committee and the Government. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I rise to support the amendment. This is one of those amendments in respect of which I am fairly open minded as to what ends up on the face of the Bill. If, however, it is the intention of the Government that the Probation Service should have access to the ombudsman it should be a statutory matter and thus reflected on the face of the Bill. The reason for my Amendment No. 45 is to give statutory force to the use of the ombudsman for both the Prison Service and the Probation Service. In supporting the other amendment I also support Amendment No. 27A and look forward to the Minister at least being accommodating on this matter. Not only should there be an informal desire on the part of the Home Office that there should be access to the ombudsman but it should be given statutory force.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

I expect that this pair of amendments has considerable merit. However, I hope that if they were accepted they would be entirely without prejudice to the need for separate inspection services for the Prison Service and the Probation Service.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I rise briefly to support that. Inspection of the service is very different from access to an ombudsman to resolve particular issues regarding individuals.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The noble Baroness makes a point that I intended to make in beginning my response. These issue should be kept separate. The amendments seek to extend by statutory regulations the remit of the non-statutory prisons ombudsman--perhaps the Committee should remind itself of that--to cover complaints about the functions of the national Probation Service for England and Wales. They would not, however, put the ombudsman, with or without his extended remit, on a statutory footing. Both amendments are defective. The functions of a non-statutory body cannot be extended by statutory means, which is one of the problems with the amendments.

The Government have announced their intention to extend the remit of the prisons ombudsman to cover probation. We aim to do so once the national probation service has been established. The prisons ombudsman is non-statutory and the remit cannot be extended by statutory means. We are, however, fully committed to putting the joint ombudsman on a statutory footing once the parliamentary timetable allows. These amendments, sadly, do not have that effect.

We announced on 27th July that we intended to extend the remit of the prisons ombudsman to cover probation. We aim to do that once the new service is in place. The prisons ombudsman is an administrative post and his remit can be extended only by administrative means. For those reasons we must oppose the amendment. But we have the clear intention to remedy the non-statutory footing of the ombudsman service as soon as parliamentary time permits. I am grateful to those who have supported that notion. However, I hope that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw his amendment this evening.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 2nd October 2000

We have probed and the Minister has satisfactorily responded. I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis of his reply.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Functions of local boards]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 28

Page 3, line 12, leave out ("(for example)").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

It would be helpful to have the Government's assistance as regards the amendment. The amendment seeks to remove the words "for example". Subsection (2) of Clause 5 gives two examples and nothing else. Clearly, as the Minister knows, the work of the service covers very much more. Given that the aims and functions are spelt out, why is this provision necessary? Clause 5(2) provides:

"In addition to making arrangements for provision to be made by its staff, a local board may ... make arrangements for functions of the board to be performed on its behalf by the organisations", and,

"make arrangements with individuals who are not members of the board's staff".

Can the Minister throw any more light on the provision? It is not clear whether the words "for example" are followed by paragraphs (a) and (b). I ask him to explain exactly what other arrangements both he and perhaps his officials have in mind. I do not regard this as elegant drafting, but then this is not an elegantly drafted Bill.

Local boards should be free to establish partnership arrangements with organisations such as the police or local authorities--my understanding is that that will be a requirement for them anyway--which will form part of the local structure set up under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. So it makes sense that they should be able to deliver their services on occasion through such partnership arrangements. All of that is taken as read, because certainly that is the thrust of the Minister's intention for the service. It just seems otiose. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Phillips of Sudbury Lord Phillips of Sudbury Liberal Democrat

Rather untypically on this occasion, I disagree with the noble Baroness. I thought she was on the side of giving the boards more power. These words indeed do just that. They give powers not merely as specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) but others which are implied by the words "for example". I confess that I am not aware of another Bill which uses that formulation in the grant of powers. Perhaps the Minister, in responding, will lead us to another Bill. We are told that these are not non-departmental public bodies. We would rather that they were. We want them to have as much power and as much authority, autonomy and independence as is consistent with a national service. I oppose the amendment.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

In the past I have probably argued against having in legislation expressions like "for example". I am scratching my head metaphorically to recall when that might have been. Perhaps the drafting is inelegant. Nevertheless, I think it achieves its objective. I think that in this respect the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I are paddling in the same pool. We want that flexibility. We want it to be there locally. The amendment proposes a minor drafting change which would not--I hate to say this to the noble Baroness--improve the Bill. It would, sadly, fetter the discretion of local boards to make whatever arrangements they saw fit to deliver and administer local services. If the amendment were by some freak of parliamentary procedure to find its way on to the statute book it would have the unfortunate, perhaps even unintended consequence, of restricting the arrangements that could be made to those as described in Clause 5(2)(a) and (b), and slightly qualified by the concluding two lines. I hope that the Committee will not be tempted to support the noble Baroness in her particular objective.

Paragraphs (a) and (b) are really all about other ways of delivering a service. What would be in the gift of the board in these instances is to find other mechanisms, means or organisations for delivering part of the service, perhaps in a contracted form. We are trying to retain flexibility so that that can be carried out in the best interests of the service.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am happy to accept that criticism. I do not think that it is usual parliamentary language to use "for example" in this way. But I accept the arguments that have been put and I would not want to do anything that fettered their powers to deliver an effective service. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

moved Amendment No. 29:

Page 3, line 13, after ("with") insert ("appropriate").

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

In moving Amendment No. 29, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 30, 32, 35, 36, 46 and 47. From a previous discussion with the Minister, I fear that he may decide that I am trying to dilute what he proposes. Although my noble friend Lady Blatch has withdrawn her amendment which sought to remove the words "for example", I press on regardless.

The amendments are designed to limit the use of the powers in these subsections to organisations, individuals, persons, accommodation--those are the words used--which are relevant to the responsibilities laid out in those parts of the Bill to which they apply. This may seem a minor matter but where one is giving responsibility to a body to contract and make other similar arrangements, it must be clear that those contracting arrangements are made with bodies or others which are appropriate to the nature of the service. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I am grateful for the clarity of explanation given by the noble Baroness in advancing the cause behind these amendments. However, I am afraid that I shall have to disappoint her. I think that we have been hit by a bout of what I might call "appropriateitus" here. I thought I counted eight "appropriates" in this series of amendments, or perhaps in amendments which had earlier been grouped that way. I do not think they improve the quality of the drafting of the Bill. We are prepared to accept that one can improve the drafting of any Bill. But I am afraid that in this instance the amendments do not.

Specifically, Amendment No. 215 would probably fetter the Secretary of State's powers to contract out when that could achieve better quality of service and/or perhaps better value for money in the operation of a service. In inserting the term "appropriate" I rather suspect that the amendment could render as meaningless anything done by the Secretary of State. I also have a powerful impression that it could raise doubts as to whether the Secretary of State could act inappropriately on occasions where the statute does not require him to act appropriately. It might put a large question-mark over the Secretary of State's actions.

Amendment No. 48 would unnecessarily formalise in legislation who should be consulted if a decision is made under the powers in Clause 8. The Secretary of State will consult as appropriate. It might be wise, and necessary, to consult more widely than perhaps the amendment itself suggests. I urge the noble Baroness not to press the amendments as I do not think they will do what the noble Baroness intends them to do. We will endeavour to ensure that the Secretary of State properly carries out consultations wherever appropriate.

Photo of Baroness Hanham Baroness Hanham Conservative

I am not wholly surprised by the Minister's response to the amendment. I hear what he says. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 30 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 31:

Page 3, line 17, at end insert--

("( ) make arrangements with any organisation or individual under which any services provided to the board by its staff are also made available to the organisation or individual,

( ) charge for anything done under arrangements under this section.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I have tabled this amendment to establish beyond doubt the ability of probation boards to buy and sell services. Before I turn to the specifics of the amendment, perhaps I may quote from a letter sent to me by the Minister following Second Reading, which has proved to be most helpful. On the second page of that letter in the bottom paragraph, he states that:

"This gives much more freedom than exists at present, where certain activities must be carried out by 'a probation officer'. In addition, under clause 5(7), boards will be able to buy services from other boards . . . as they can at present, and sell them to other boards, which is currently unlawful".

If, say, I represent a board and the Minister represents another board, then when I buy a service from the Minister, he must be selling that service to me. My function of purchasing the service would be legal, but the Minister's function of selling that service to me would be illegal. That is a bizarre circumstance. If selling to a board is deemed illegal, it is not possible for me to buy from the Minister because it is illegal for him to sell to me. Some clarification of the exact meaning of that sentence would be most helpful.

The amendment would give to probation boards the same facility as that given to CAFCASS under the same legislation. Legal advisers maintain that the Bill as it stands does not allow boards the necessary power and that the power to do one thing specifically--namely, under Clause 5(7)(a), to

"make an arrangement with another board", and, "charge the other board"--implies no power to do something not mentioned. Indeed, if "make an arrangement" included charging, there would have been no need for Clause 5(7)(b). Therefore the statement in Clause 5(2)(a),

"make arrangements with organisations or individuals" requires the same specific reference to charging.

I appreciate that this is a technical point, but if the Government are saying that these powers are to be conferred, then it is important that the legal authority is in place for them to be exercised. Furthermore, it would be helpful to know how one may buy a service from a board when another board is not in a position to sell such a service. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I suspect that the noble Baroness has made a valid point as regards the drafting and I shall wish to study closely her comments. However, I think that the amendment is unnecessary. In Clause 5(7) we achieve the effect that she is seeking, although I can see the merit in her line of argument.

The provisions enable the Probation Service to act as an effective law enforcement agency with the aims that we have already discussed in our important debates on Clause 2. The primary purposes here are to reduce reoffending, protect the public and properly administer punishment to offenders through combination orders and licences.

Amendment No. 31 would enable boards to provide services to other organisations and individuals. As drafted, it could dissipate the effect which we feel is necessary for local boards to direct towards the probation work needed for their areas. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is our view that provision has already been made in Clause 5(7) where boards may provide services to other boards and to charge accordingly for those services. As we see it, the boards may buy and sell under the terms of the Bill as it stands. The amendment is therefore unnecessary and, on that basis, I suggest that the noble Baroness should find herself able to withdraw it.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I sought to make the distinction between the intentions on the part of the department and what has been put on to the face of the Bill. I know what the department wishes to see and for that reason I suggest, on the basis of legal advice, that the Bill does not deliver that.

I should be most grateful if legal advice could be taken between this and the next stage of the Bill. I shall certainly check the point again, but it appears that the power is not in place to achieve what is sought by the Minister and the Home Office. I make no argument with the Minister here. We are all seeking the same end; namely, that local boards should be free to buy and sell services. It is therefore important to take legal advice. I believe that we each have a lawyer--I do not believe that they have met--and that they hold opposing views on this point. It is important to resolve the matter.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

As ever, I am always happy to try to oblige the noble Baroness. I shall be happy to hold informal discussions outside of the Committee on the detailed points here and I shall facilitate that. Furthermore, I shall try to clarify the point in correspondence, or perhaps our respective lawyers could meet. I am sure that we shall be able to settle what is most likely only a minor difference between us. It is important that this is resolved because there is no fundamental disagreement here.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 6:45 pm, 2nd October 2000

moved Amendment No. 33:

Page 3, line 19, at end insert ("; but no individual may be so designated without the consent of the chairman of the board or the chief officer.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

If other organisations or individuals are to perform the functions of officers of the board, it is important that they should receive the explicit consent of the chairman and/or the chief officer. This is a simple point, but it is an important one. Concern must be shown for the quality of the delegated functions. For that reason, we feel that this should appear on the face of the Bill in order to set out clearly that such matters are under the control of and the direct responsibility of the chief officer--or at least we think that that is the case. Having said that, the quality of the service is certainly the responsibility of the boards. Specific consent is important when functions are to be delegated outwith to a third person. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words which I believe I should have contributed when the Committee was discussing Amendment No. 31. Subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 5 are vitally important and I should like to underline the need to avoid remanding in custody those who have been charged and are to be brought before the court. That underlines the importance of the role of bail hostels and other assistance offered to those remanded on bail.

I should like also to draw attention to the need to provide halfway houses for those coming out of prison, which is also covered in these provisions. In general, this will help to reduce the level of crime. Finally, I should like to stress the importance of providing assistance to the victims of crime.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I hesitate to say this, but I believe this to be a slightly fussy and perhaps unnecessary amendment which, in our view, might clutter up the face of the Bill. I do not intend in any way to sound unfair or unkind here. It is self evident that individuals contracted to perform the functions of a service will need to be properly appointed. However, to require that this should be done in person by the chairman of the board or the chief officer (unless these functions were formally designated in regulations) would be to impose an unnecessary level of additional bureaucracy. For that reason, I cannot find favour with this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 34 to 36 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 37:

Page 3, line 24, leave out ("accommodation") and insert ("supervision").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I regard this as another key amendment to the Bill. As the Bill is set out, it appears that the bail hostels are likely to be used for just about anyone who happens to be homeless in the area at the time, whether or not they have had any connection with the service. The clause gives to the boards the function of,

"providing accommodation in approved premises for persons who have at any time been charged with or convicted of an offence".

If the statistics are correct, one-third of all men under 30 have a criminal conviction; and pretty well half or three-quarters of the population at some time in their lives have had a conviction. So it becomes available accommodation to anyone who at any time has had a conviction. The kind of remit that this allows is causing considerable concern to bail hostels.

This provision and the Explanatory Notes give a wide discretion for the use of hostels which has troubled the Probation Service for quite a long time. The amendment seeks to find out from the Minister whether it is the Government's intention to widen that use. It would be helpful to have clarification from the Home Office as to its precise meaning. I know that inquiries have been made by the chief probation officers but so far they have not received any clear definition.

While flexibility is welcome--it is of course important in the Probation Service--there is a major concern about control, or lack of it, over residents who are not in the hostel by order of the court, under licence or otherwise formally under the supervision of the Probation Service. The proposal could be taken to mean more serious offenders, less serious offenders or those who look as though they might offend. It is absolutely vital that this matter is resolved before we go any further.

The issue affects many of the rules--that is, the statutory instruments--in relation to admission policies, regimes, discharges, breach of hostel regulations and, indeed, who pays for people referred to the hostel other than through the court or the parole board.

The purpose of approved hostels will alter if this provision in the Bill is passed. The requirement to reside in an approved hostel is the most severe community punishment available to the courts--it is not about accommodation--and has hitherto been reserved for those needing very close supervision. I know detailed discussions have been going on--it would be helpful to know what stage they have reached--but, under Clause 5(2)(b), "providing accommodation" is not good enough. If the Minister intends to leave it at that, it seriously widens the definition.

The Home Office can no longer evade answering the chief officers' questions about the definition, which will be very wide. It will simply mean accommodation, with or without supervision, for anyone who at any time has been charged with or convicted of an offence. It even extends to people charged with an offence. Many people are charged with an offence but are not convicted. So it is not only the convicted population but people who have merely been charged.

It has to be "supervision". Clause 5(2)(b) should read:

"Providing supervision in approved premises for persons who have been charged with or convicted of an offence".

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I think the noble Baroness is referring to Clause 5(3)(b).

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am sorry. I have transposed all my amendments on to this and I cannot see my own writing. I do apologise. The noble Lord is right, it is Clause 5(3)(b). I stand corrected.

But it is important that it should now read:

"The provision that may be made in pursuance of such arrangements includes providing services to any person and, in particular . . . giving assistance to persons remanded on bail or for whom officers of the board have responsibilities . . . providing supervision in approved premises for persons who have been charged with or convicted of an offence".

It is important that there is some modification of this part of the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench

I suggest that, in the context of this amendment, we need some degree of flexibility as to premises. Some will be provided by the boards; others will be provided by housing associations and other voluntary organisations. If we accept that, the term "in approved premises" is probably not an over definition. As to the question of who pays, it seems to me that the necessary rent or charges should be met either out of housing benefit or from a person's own resources.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I hope that I am addressing both Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 in responding to the noble Baroness's important peroration.

As we see it, arrangements to contract out approved premises are entirely consistent with the wider objectives of "best value" and other reviews. Approved accommodation will still be subject to a stringent regulatory framework, and boards will be fully involved in drawing up contracts and local rules for approved premises. That is a very sensible way forward.

Arrangements to house and supervise ex-offenders in approved premises are occasionally made in the case of offenders who, although they are no longer subject to statutory supervision, still represent a considerable risk to the public. In our view, the clause as drafted would not reduce public protection. Adequate safeguards will be in place for boards to control the operation of accommodation managed by third parties through new regulations for approved accommodation. Locally agreed rules and the contractual arrangements will of course follow. We see no reason therefore to exclude approved accommodation from the wider arrangements for boards to contract out service delivery functions.

Division of responsibility for supervision is highly undesirable and could compromise public protection and enforcement. In our view, the amendment would reduce public protection. I do not think that that is what the noble Baroness is trying to achieve. The effects would be wholly undesirable in view of the high risk that this small but occasionally highly dangerous group of offenders can present to the public. Voluntary supervision and accommodation in approved premises beyond the supervision period are, in our view, an invaluable way of mitigating that risk.

I hope that with that explanation the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. As drafted and argued, it would undermine the intention of the legislation and perhaps even undermine the intention of the noble Baroness's amendment.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

All I have to go on are the words in the Bill. "Supervision" is not mentioned: I want to put the word in. The Minister used it all the way through when speaking to the amendment--but it is not in the Bill. Under this, it is possible to provide accommodation--no supervision, come and go as you please--to anyone in the land who at any time has been charged and/or has a conviction.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

That is a patently absurd observation. It will never be the case that one-third of all males between the ages of 20 and 35 will be lining up and placed in accommodation. It goes without argument that supervision is important--it is a part of the Probation Service's activity and an accepted role and responsibility--but, in our view, it is not necessary to place that into the legislation. That is why it is drafted as it is.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That muddies the water even more. It states here that to be given accommodation a person has only to have had a conviction and/or to have been charged with a crime somewhere in their past. So if someone who was convicted of a driving offence many years ago voluntarily comes along to the bail hostel for accommodation--no supervision, no referral from the court, no referral from any other source--that person could be given accommodation under the Bill. The Minister has not referred to the question of who pays.

It seems to me that all the additional sentences--for example, even for people who are on curfew orders, for those who have extended parole or for those who under the new arrangements will be supervised in the community--are court-based. Most of the referrals are court-based, as is the case for those on remand. It seems to me essential that a person referred to one of the bail hostels (for that is what they are) in order to support the criminal justice system should not be someone who is merely homeless. If that is what the Home Office means, it is important for it to provide the Probation Service with a proper definition. If it does mean simply taking someone off the street to give them a bed for a week, a fortnight, a month or a year, then the Minister must include in the Bill the words that he used in speaking to the amendment; namely, that people who are in approved accommodation, are in the process of being supervised for one reason or another. That is the only point of going to a bail hostel. I can think of people imprisoned for sex offences who on release could not trust themselves to go straight out into the community and who voluntarily went through the system. But they were supervised occupants of the hostels, not free agents, although there was a regime under which they could come and go. But the Bill as drafted states,

"providing accommodation in approved premises for persons who have at any time been charged with or convicted of an offence".

If that is the case, the definition of who goes into a bail hostel must be changed. If, as the noble Lord said in responding to the amendment, such people are to be supervised, my first amendment least should be accepted.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 7:00 pm, 2nd October 2000

I think the noble Baroness is reading something into the clause which is not there. She is trying to impute something that is not a fact. The clause needs to be read with Clause 9, where the matter is clear. The term "approved premises" is defined in Clause 24 as,

"premises approved under section 9".

Clause 9 makes it clear that,

"The Secretary of State may approve ... bail hostels ... [or] other premises in which accommodation is provided for use in connection with the supervision or rehabilitation of offenders".

It should be clear that Clause 5(3)(b) must be linked with Clause 9.

It is not our intention that the hostels are there simply so that people who may have committed an offence can seek to locate themselves there and may walk in off the street. They are there for a specific purpose. There is no intention to accommodate those who do not need supervision. I hope that that provides the noble Baroness with the clarification that she finds necessary. If there are still outstanding points and questions, we shall endeavour to provide extra clarification outside this Chamber.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

That does not help at all. It is possible under Clause 9 for the Home Secretary to approve premises,

"in which accommodation is provided for use in connection with the supervision or rehabilitation of offenders".

However, under this provision there is no statement that it is subject to Clause 9(1)(c). It simply refers to,

"providing accommodation in approved premises for persons who have at any time been charged with or convicted of an offence".

It does not answer any of the specific points that I put to the Minister--who would refer; would they be volunteers; who would pay; does the referral necessarily have to come through an agency; would it just be accommodation for someone who was down on their luck in the community? None of those questions has been answered by the noble Lord. If the provision is subject to Clause 9(1)(c), it should be made clear that the referral is in connection with supervision. It would help so much if the Government would accept the one word; namely, providing "supervision" in approved premises for persons charged with or convicted of an offence.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

I believe that I have clarified the matter. I am sorry if the noble Baroness does not accept the point. I shall study her remarks carefully. No doubt we could provide extra clarification if required. We should then look closely at the noble Baroness's amendment to see whether the linkage was necessary in the manner suggested. I hope that the noble Baroness will see fit to withdraw the amendment. I am grateful to her for drawing attention to what she clearly believes to be an important issue; namely, a definition that is absent from the Bill. I do not think that it is. However, if it is and the provision is deficient, we shall return to it.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I am grateful for that response and I shall withdraw the amendment. The chief probation officers are also very concerned about the matter. They have had discussions with the Home Office and, to date, they have not received a satisfactory answer. It is a matter that must be reflected upon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 3, line 41, at end insert ("; and in doing so, the Secretary of State shall have regard to any representations made to him by the chief inspector").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

This amendment seeks slightly to restrict the Secretary of State's powers. I am concerned about the amount of power that is acquired through the Bill, as was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. In Clause 5(8),

"It is for the Secretary of State to determine whether or not any provision made by a local board under this section is sufficient"

My amendment would state that,

"in doing so, the Secretary of State shall have regard to any representations made to him by the chief inspector".

It seems important that the chief inspector is in a position to advise the Secretary of State in this instance, and that ought to be on the face of the Bill. Under the provision, a local board,

"may make an arrangement with another local board under which it provides on behalf of the other board, in respect of the other board's area"-- the language is convoluted--

"any services which it could provide under this section in respect of its own area, and ... may charge the other local board for any services it provides in pursuance of the arrangement".

Subsection(8) goes on to state that,

"It is for the Secretary of State to determine whether or not any provision made by a local board under this section is sufficient".

Having,

"regard to any representations made to him by the chief inspector", seems a sensible amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

This amendment falls into the unfortunate bracket, "unnecessary". The inspectorates exist in an advisory capacity. We do not think it appropriate for them to have a statutory role in making decisions as to whether the boards have made proper provision to carry out their functions--which is what the amendment would amount to.

The Secretary of State will be accountable for the operation of the national probation service for England and Wales as a whole, so it should be his decision, and his alone, as to whether any local board is doing what it should be doing by way of fulfilling its functions.

However, the important qualification is that the Secretary of State can, on those occasions where it is right, appropriate and sensible, call on the advice of the chief inspector at any time if he needs the chief inspector's support or information in informing his decisions. I can understand where the noble Baroness is coming from. I do not believe that her amendment is necessary. I am sure that the Secretary of State will wisely call upon the chief inspector to advise and inform a decision about the way in which a board is carrying out its functions. On those grounds, the amendment is unnecessary.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I shall not press for this amendment to be on the face of the Bill. It is important that the Home Secretary of the day should use the inspectorate to inform any matter that he requires. To take the worst scenario, if he is unhappy about the arrangements that a board is making, it seems important to use the inspectorate to provide a professional view. In this situation the Home Secretary has become desk-bound; therefore, using the knowledge and expertise of the inspectorate would be a wise choice. I accept that it would not need to be done in every instance. Therefore, I shall not press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [The inspectorate]:

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 40:

Page 4, line 4, at end insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State shall make regulations for the establishment of performance standards for the inspectorate and for independent assessment of the inspectorate against such standards.").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

The logic of this proposal should be self-evident. No organisation should be allowed to proceed without checks and balances. If new arrangements are to be introduced following the current Home Office consultation on the future of prisons and the probation inspectorates, such a process may become even more important. Whatever the outcome, the opportunity should now be taken to establish performance criteria for inspections. My understanding is that that happens in other departments. The real issue is: who inspects the inspectors? It would be helpful if the Minister were able to say something definitive about the plans of the Home Office for the merging of the inspectorates. I have already expressed a reservation in that respect today. Some updated news would be welcome. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

Like other inspectorates, the Inspectorate of Probation is answerable to the public, the Government and Parliament, not a third party whose accountability is unclear. The Bill already provides a clear framework within which Ministers may direct the inspectorate on the inspection of matters of particular concern. The Government are committed to the open scrutiny of public services. The reports of the inspectorate have a critical part to play in that process. The Government have no intention of unreasonably delaying their publication: they greatly inform the way in which we view services.

Statutory inspectorates like the Inspectorate of Probation are established by Parliament to give the public, the Government and Parliament, to whom it is required to report, an independent view of the health, or otherwise, of our public services. I do not believe that it would be right to superimpose a further body on the service, which is really what lies behind the amendment. If we were to do so, it would blur the accountability and leave the position unclear as to how we could judge its actions. I can think of no other inspectorate where this has occurred. The Bill already provides a clear framework within which the Secretary of State may specify matters that he wants the inspectorate to examine, as well as the scope and timing of reports.

The noble Baroness asked about the proposals to review the two inspectorates. We shall deal with that issue in a later debate. However, it goes without saying--indeed, it is public knowledge--that consultation is taking place. The process will come to a close at the end of October and we shall want to review the fruits of that consultation. I am sure that it will provide us with some important pointers as to ways in which we can achieve yet more improvements in the quality of the work of the inspectorate--an inspectorate that already has a very high public standing and is well regarded.

The proposed amendment would blur accountability. I do not believe that it would improve independence. For those reasons, the noble Baroness would be well advised to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

Before my noble friend replies, perhaps the Minister could give me some comfort and assure me that the Secretary of State will have the power to ask the inspector to, as it were, submit his own actions for the scrutiny of research or for some other suitable quality check. I know that it is a different set-up, but one of the problems with Ofsted is that it utterly refuses to have its methods and doings subject to any academic or outside scrutiny. This leads to considerable doubt being cast on its conclusions, especially when it is seeking to impose such standards on others.

This inspectorate is under rather more direct ministerial control than Ofsted. However, on a quick reading of the Bill, I did not notice any mention of a power for the Minister to say, "These are the standards that you are setting for certain establishments and which you expect them to achieve. We require that you submit yourselves to inspection by a university department so that the process through which you are putting other people can be audited to ensure that it is the best thing to be done. There should be proper evidence to show that what you recommend produces the results that you say it will". In other words, there should be a level of control to stop an inspectorate going off down a rather eccentric path. This would avoid the dangers into which, I am afraid, Ofsted has fallen.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office 7:15 pm, 2nd October 2000

I enjoyed the noble Lord's helpful intervention. Indeed, he made a most useful point. His comparison with Ofsted was most interesting. However, I am not sure that I can offer the noble Lord the comfort that he seeks. I believe that the functions and aims set out in the Bill will determine the way in which the inspectorate has to carry out and conduct its work. Clearly the service has to match those aims and functions. It will be an important part of the inspectorate's work to ensure that the local boards and the chief officer properly fulfil and carry out their duties. Those are the important elements of the service.

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to reflect a little on what he said. I shall read his argument in Hansard, because it is possible that his intervention is deserving of a fuller response than I have given this evening. I am grateful to him for his contribution, which was both helpful and interesting.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

There is no question that I was suggesting that the Home Secretary, or the Secretary of State of the day, should interfere with the professional judgment of an inspector. The latter is independent and should be given a totally independent remit. However, as was the case in education, it is only right that standards are established as regards the way in which the inspector works. I was not sure whether the Minister said that regulations for the establishment of the inspectorate would include specifying the standards at the outset. If that is so, the inspector would have a properly defined set of standards with which to work.

As for independent assessment, I was not even suggesting that it should be another body. However, it seems to me that there will need to be independent assessment at some point on whether the inspectorate is living up to and conforming to the standards set out either in regulations or by way of circulars. If that is the case and standards will be set, I am entirely happy. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 4, line 9, leave out ("Below").

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I shall be brief. The amendment relates to a rather pedantic, editorial point. I am sure that I shall be given a clear answer in response. Can the Minister tell me why the word "Below" has been inserted at the beginning of subsection (4)? I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

It is unusual for the noble Baroness to admit to being pedantic. I am sure that the Committee will be most grateful for that admission. Amendment No. 41 is defective. I am advised that the word "below" has the effect of ensuring that all references in the Bill to the "Chief Inspector" and members of the inspectorate refer respectively to HM Chief Inspector of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Probation. I assume that the purpose of the amendment was to achieve that clarification.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Photo of Lord Windlesham Lord Windlesham Conservative

moved Amendment No. 42:

After Clause 6, insert the following new clause--

:TITLE3:CHIEF INSPECTOR NOT TO HOLD OFFICE OF CHIEF INSPECTOR OF PRISONS

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State may not exercise the power conferred by section 6(2) to appoint a person as chief inspector who also holds the office of Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Prisons.

(2) A person who holds the office of chief inspector may not be appointed to the office of Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Prisons.").

Photo of Lord Windlesham Lord Windlesham Conservative

This amendment has been tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It raises topical matters of some importance and, I suspect, of some controversy. Therefore, I should like to take the opinion of the Committee as to whether the debate should be deferred until after the dinner break or whether we should continue at this point. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whose Unstarred Question is the next item of business, is sitting in his place. Indeed, I also see some other speakers waiting for that debate in the Chamber.

I should welcome an indication from the Front Bench as to whether I should proceed now or delay the debate until after dinner.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I understand from the Clerk at the Table that it is possible to adjourn the debate on an amendment of this kind before any decision is taken. I notice that some of those who are to speak in the following debate are not present in the Chamber as it is not yet 7.30. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will move his amendment.

Photo of Lord Windlesham Lord Windlesham Conservative

I welcome the chance to move my amendment. However, I thought it might receive a warmer welcome if I gave noble Lords the opportunity to discuss it after the Unstarred Question. The Minister who is to reply to the Unstarred Question is not yet in the Chamber. Therefore, it may be convenient to proceed with the amendment now.

The aim of the amendment is to ensure that there should be no merger of the offices of chief inspector of the national probation service and HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Currently there are separate inspectorates for probation and prisons, each headed by a distinguished and effective chief inspector. But their roles are different. Inevitably there is some overlap as many convicted offenders are likely to spend part of their time in custody and part under supervision in the community. The two current chief inspectors, Sir David Ramsbotham and Sir Graham Smith, both distinguished public servants, have estimated that, at a maximum, 25 per cent of their time is taken up with work that could be described as joint; the remainder being directed either at what goes on in penal institutions or what goes on in the community. To try to put them together under one head would, in the opinion of the current Chief Inspector of Prisons, reduce the effectiveness of both.

I was invited--as perhaps were other Members of the Committee--to contribute to a consultation that is currently taking place on future options for ways in which the two inspectorates might work together more closely. In my reply I argued-- and I summarise the argument now--that the ethos of the Prison Service and of the Probation Service is, and always has been, fundamentally different. Joint working to reduce offending and to protect the public sounds effective enough as a slogan, but it does not take full account of the way that the principal tasks of the two services differ, and will continue to do so.

Security and discipline lie at the heart of the Prison Service. The first task of the prison officer is to ensure that offenders sentenced to imprisonment remain in prison for the authorised period. The need to avoid disturbances, the most serious of which may lead to temporary loss of control, is formative of attitudes towards security and discipline. The inspectorate is, and should be, primarily concerned with what happens inside the prisons. Are they secure? Do the conditions in which inmates are held correspond with what they are supposed to be? How effective are the precautions to prevent drugs being smuggled into, and then traded within the establishment? Are the managers and prison officers properly carrying out the onerous tasks with which they are charged?

It is important to stress this aspect because there has been an unprecedentedly long interval since there have been any notorious escapes or major prison disturbances. I believe that absconding is also at a lower level than in the past. But we should never forget that when major incidents occur--as they have done in the past and will again--they shake public confidence in the prison system more than anything else.

As we are all aware, in recent years the independence and outspokenness of successive chief inspectors of prisons has become a beacon of light in the penal system. Their frank reports, sometimes based upon unannounced visits, have done more to illuminate bad practice, security lapses and unacceptable conditions than any other single source. The chief inspector needs to be someone who understands the workings of a disciplined organisation, and by his personality can command respect, inside and outside the Prison Service. Replacement of that function by the kind of appointment outlined in the consultation document would be a retrograde step.

The Chief Inspector of Probation also has a central role in the penal system, although in a markedly different context. In complete contrast with the Chief Inspector of Prisons, he is seen not as a critical outsider, but in many ways as the focal point and head of a decentralised service. As we know from our debate, that will change with the forthcoming reorganisation of the Probation Service and the appointment of a national director. Thought will need to be given to what should be the nature and responsibilities of the post of chief inspector. But one prerequisite stands out: it should be kept entirely separate from the remit of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. That is the purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Liberal Democrat

My name is also added to the amendment, whose purpose is clear; namely, to control the powers of the Secretary of State and to prevent him from appointing,

"a person as chief inspector who also holds the office of Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Prisons".

Some months ago in a Starred Question I raised the question of the Government's intention with regard to a prison/probation inspectorate. The Government were, to the best of my knowledge, non-committal. However, it was obvious from the number of supplementary questions that followed that many noble Lords could not support a move that would bring Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons under one control. I ask myself a simple question: why tamper with a system that works well and has delivered all that is expected of it?

The Government's consultation paper mentions developing the joined-up approach. They say that evidence tells them that this will prove most effective. I shall, of course, await the Minister's spelling out of that evidence. I do not question his intentions, but so far the Government have not produced any evidence to prove the effectiveness of such an arrangement because such a situation has never arisen before.

What are the facts? The impact of merging two inspectorates would blunt the effectiveness of both. The criminal justice system can be oppressive if controls are not established at various stages of the process. We welcome the independence of the police inspectorate. We on this side of the Chamber supported the establishment of the inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service. No one would argue that a seamless system requires a single inspectorate looking at various aspects of the criminal justice system. We do not have a seamless criminal justice system, yet we are moving in that direction. Each of the agencies has a specific role. It requires specific expertise to ensure that the system operates with fairness.

HMI Prisons has made a considerable impact on the way in which our prisons are run. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, cited examples of that. Judge Stephen Tumim, and now Sir David Ramsbotham, have been fearless in their condemnation of practices that are unacceptable in our prisons. Have the Government consulted them? Like most other people, I am sure they would say that a unified service is unacceptable.

Then we have the probation inspectorate. The inspector's recent report on race issues in the Probation Service highlights what needs to be done. The detailed inspections promise changes for the good. It keeps the Home Office on its toes. It tells governors and staff which are unacceptable practice in our closed institutions. The resulting publicity is good for the accountability of the Home Office. It also builds the confidence of the community and, more importantly, families and vulnerable prisoners know that the inspectorate is keeping an eye on the conditions and treatment that inmates receive.

No one can doubt that inspection reports have helped to change prison conditions and probation practices. However, I suspect that the Home Office is weary of inspections--more so those of the Chief Inspector of Prisons because his reports normally do not make happy reading and always make headlines in national newspapers.

There are some sound examples where unified probation/prison arrangements work well--for example, in Denmark and Canada. There are combined, unified services providing a single service. We have not reached that stage in this country and are unlikely to do so for some considerable time. When the Prison Service is stretched to the limit, and we are not sure how the newly established probation service will work, it is a backward step to establish a single inspectorate.

I believe that the current arrangements have worked well. They have the confidence of the public and the client groups, and they provide a dedicated focus to their distinctive roles. That should continue. The public want a system they can trust. We shall oppose any move that breaches that trust. The amendments are designed to achieve precisely that.

Photo of The Bishop of Lincoln The Bishop of Lincoln Bishop 7:30 pm, 2nd October 2000

I speak as bishop to prisons, and have made already a submission on behalf of the Board for Social Responsibility, of the Church of England, to the Home Secretary on this point. I support the amendment.

The critical issue is security and the conditions in prisons. In this Chamber, we have debated reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to successful and useful conclusions. I want to voice my concern and that of many in the community that the posts of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Chief Inspector of Probation should be amalgamated. I can see that there is a minimal amount of overlap. However, my plea is that we take seriously this proposal. With all the force I can, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

I shall not repeat the arguments. They have been argued powerfully. I said earlier that I had reservations about what might happen to the inspectorate. I understand from the Minister that consultations are in progress at present about the future of the inspectorate for the Prison Service and the Probation Service. It is important that we establish some first principles at this stage. The argument is unarguable. I wait with interest to hear from the Minister.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

These are important and interesting arguments but they are being conducted in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fundamental problem is that the amendment amends the wrong Bill. This Bill does nothing to establish a joint inspectorate, or one inspector for the two services. The amendment is flawed because it prejudges an important discussion, debate and deliberation about the inspectorate we wish to develop and deliver.

I have not heard today an argument against having joined-up services within the criminal justice system. No one has put forward that point. However it has a bearing on the issue. The purpose behind our consultation exercise is to ensure that we gain the best from having a more joined-up system of inspectorate and to discover how best those inspectorates can work together.

We do not seek, and the consultation exercise does not propose, to merge the two inspectorates. We recognise that the Prison Service and the Probation Service perform many separate functions. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, accepted in part the argument that there is a cross-over. The estimate of the chief inspectors is that there is a 25 per cent cross-over of one kind or another. In part, that makes the case for a relationship between the two inspectorates. Although I accept the argument that the inspectors are looking at different matters, in some respects they are considering the same issues, in particular the supervision of offenders. It is important to recognise that people go from prison into probation supervision, and into supervision in the community. There are similarities and areas of commonality. They are looking at the same client group.

We have launched an extensive consultation exercise. We shall listen carefully to the fruits of that consultation. We want to gather views as to the best way to achieve closer working relationships. I do not think that it would be right today, here and now, to forestall the outcome of that important debate.

It is worth reminding ourselves that more than one third of those sentenced to custody will spend some part of their sentence under Probation Service supervision. Important decisions about release, conditions of supervision and custody depend on the two services working together in a coherent way. We look to the inspectorates to ensure that they work in a coherent way.

We have not made up our minds on the best option for the two inspectorates. We have made clear that no decisions will be made until responses to the consultation exercise which ends on 31st October have been fully considered.

I want today to underline this important point I have sought to make before in this Chamber. We have no intention of weakening the rigour, robustness or independence of the inspection processes for either service. I view the need for a strong, authoritative inspectorate working with a clear set of standards to help drive up performance as in the best interests of these public services. We need that independence, robustness and rigour to ensure that that objective is secured.

We expect to reach a decision as to the way in which inspectorates can best work together and deliver the services they are intended to deliver by the end of the year. At that stage we shall make a clear statement of our intended policy to this House so that it can be debated properly as it should be. I do not think that it would be right to pre-judge those deliberations and that debate today in a Bill which merely replicates the current inspectorates and carries them forward in this new piece of legislation. Consultation is in place. We want to hear from Members of your Lordships' House. We have already had the benefit of the advice and views of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. I am grateful to other noble Lords for their contribution to the ongoing debate. However, I urge the Committee not to go along the path of the amendments today. To do so would be to close off an important and valuable option that might be available to us. I emphasise the word "might".

Photo of Lord Windlesham Lord Windlesham Conservative

It is a time for blunt speaking. It is common knowledge that the present Chief Inspector of Prisons and his predecessor, Judge Stephen Tumim, have been thorns in the side of successive Home Secretaries. Their energy and candour in exposing the many flaws in the prison system have been combined with unusually persuasive communication skills. Those two factors have made them the conscience of the penal system. There must be no watering down of their remit, or limiting their scope by merging the office of the Chief Inspector of Prisons with the Probation Service.

This is a straightforward, easily understood issue in which party loyalties should play no part. I was tempted to take the opinion of the Committee, but I accept some may feel that, important though the issue is, this short debate might be slightly out of place in a Bill dealing with the reorganisation of the Probation Service. With some reluctance, and with an assurance from the Minster that he will discuss the matter and make sure that our views are known in the Home Office before any decisions are taken, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Government Whip

I beg to move that the House be resumed. I suggest that the Committee stage does not begin again before 8.40 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.