"It is no longer right to view the Probation Service as a social work organisation, as it has partly been seen in the past".--[Official Report, 2/10/00; col. 1142.].
I agree with that comment. That is one of the reasons why, when I was in office as Minister with responsibility for the Probation Service, I brought to an end the social worker training qualification for probation officers and set in motion more appropriate training for the Probation Service.
To make explicit that those in the Probation Service should ensure an offender's awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crime and on the public, neither narrows the work of the service--as was claimed in another place and repeated by the Minister--nor does it turn probation officers into social workers. How can it possibly turn them into social workers when one of their functions is to rehabilitate offenders and to reduce crime? Very often when offenders are brought face to face with the victims of their crimes, it has a powerful impact on many and has the effect of turning their faces away from crime.
In Clause 2(2) the aims of the service are described as,
"(a) the protection of the public,
(b) the reduction of re-offending".
I would add to that "the rehabilitation of offenders".
"Proper punishment" is set out as an aim in Clause 2. We and the Liberal Democrats agree that proper punishment is a function of the courts. Overseeing, supervising and managing the programmes meted out by the courts is the function of the Probation Service. I hope that the Minister will accept that making offenders aware of the impact of their behaviour on others is an essential part of rehabilitation and should be included on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment of my noble friend. Those of your Lordships who, in one way or another, have had experience of dealing with criminals, must be aware that, when going to a crime, the criminal is thinking only of himself and his own interests. Criminals never seem to have the imagination, the upbringing or the ethical sense of wondering what effect their crimes will have upon other people. Now that we are progressing, I hope, in the rehabilitation of offenders and enlarging the responsibilities of the national probation service, I suggest, as did my noble friend Lady Blatch, that it is very important that we make criminals aware of the effect of their crimes upon their victims.
My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on this amendment. The matter was debated at some length in Committee. We are dealing with the aims of the service. One developing aspect of the criminal justice system is the extent to which we deal with restorative justice. The Home Office is interested in the subject and I have attended a number of its conferences organised by the Minister himself.
Restorative justice effectively means ensuring an offender's awareness of the effect of the crime on the victims and on the public. I believe that it is a rightful aim to include in this clause. Crime will not be reduced unless there is a clear strategy for dealing with those who offend. It is therefore right to include the rehabilitation of offenders as an aim of the Probation Service.
My Lords, I support those who have spoken to the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, sentencing and punishment will not achieve their aim unless they are directed at rehabilitating the offender so that he is less likely to re-offend. I realise that the words "the reduction of re-offending" are on the face of the Bill, but I cannot see the argument against including as one of the aims of the service the rehabilitation of offenders.
My Lords, I support both these amendments. The amendment before the House would improve the climate for restorative justice generally. The Government are well aware that that can take place on a semi-informal, community basis, which would be much more rapid in its effect than the normal procedure of going through the courts.
As regards Amendment No. 2, it must stand out a mile that offending will not be reduced unless offenders have been rehabilitated. They need a place to live and a job of work to do: they need to relate to other people, particularly to their families.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendments. Prisons have become places of containment. They are rather like conveyor belts: prisoners go in and come out all the time. It is important that rehabilitation is emphasised, especially in regard to young offenders; otherwise it could be forgotten.
My Lords, this has been a useful opening debate. I have listened to opinions from all sides of the House, and we had a similar debate in Committee. There is not much between any of us as regards what we expect of the Probation Service. It is more a matter of how that expectation is constructed and where it is placed in terms of the legislation and regulations.
The aims of the service have been carefully devised to inform everything that the service does. We want to position the national probation service within the criminal justice system as a law enforcement agency--as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said--not as a social work organisation. We are entirely at one on that.
We also want the new service to concentrate on those activities that reduce crime. It must have the purpose of crime reduction at its heart and its core. In many cases the way in which you reduce the likelihood of an offender re-offending is by assisting his rehabilitation. Again, we are at one. That is why rehabilitation is specified in Clause 1(1)(b) as an overarching purpose of the service. It is stated right at the beginning of the legislation; it is at the core of our argument. We do not believe that it needs to be re-stated as an aim of the service. To that extent, we are at one.
Part of the rehabilitation process is designed to ensure that the offender is aware of the effects of the crime on victims and on the public. For that reason, the Government have begun to ensure that the interests of victims are placed at the centre of our concerns in tackling and undermining the impact of crime. That is why we have consulted widely this year--and our approach has received wide support--on the development of, for example, victim personal statements, so that the views of the victim can be taken into consideration when courts deliberate over matters relating to those who are found guilty of offences.
But rehabilitation can go much wider than that, to include all kinds of social needs with which other agencies are better placed to deal. Adding specific aims such as these to the current list of aims--which has been devised to cover in broad terms everything that the service does--would deflect the focus of the service away from its primary role as a law enforcer.
During the passage of the Bill we have spent a great deal of time debating the aims of the new Probation Service. I still believe that in the amendment the noble Baroness is confusing purposes with aims. Rehabilitation is already a purpose of the service, as I have pointed out. It would be a nonsense for the same thing to be both a purpose--having accepted the fact that it is a purpose--and an aim, given that the purposes are required to be pursued with regard to the aims.
I have more sympathy with the noble Baroness's point about victims. Work in respect of victims is an important part of the criminal justice system and of the work of the Probation Service. We are already placing various requirements on the service in respect of this through Clause 66. We also propose to make regulations under Clause 1(3) to ensure that appropriate work not covered by Clause 66 is made a purpose. We shall consider whether we can also use these regulations to cover the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about the impact of crime on victims. Our intention would be to include that in the regulations, where we believe it would be more appropriately located. Again, we should not confuse purposes with aims.
I trust that having heard what I have said in regard to the many valuable points made in this short debate, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. For clarity, I repeat: I do not think that we should confuse aims and purposes. We have examined the position carefully with regard to victims. While we do not believe that this provision should be stated as an aim, because we believe that it is more a purpose, it is our intention to consider whether it can be included in regulations as set out under Clause 1(3) which contains the reference,
"Regulations may extend the purposes".
That is the area where we consider that we might regulate. Perhaps I may also remind the House that, under Clause 66, we are placing various requirements on the service with regard to the provisions of that clause, which most noble Lords will accept as being extremely important in the context of the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I shall need to read it carefully. I think I am grateful for what he said about the use of secondary legislation--although I would argue strongly that rehabilitation is a fundamental activity for the Probation Service and it is still my view that it should be on the face of the Bill.
In replying, the noble Lord did not once use the word "functions". We were not talking about "aims". Clause 2 sets out the functions of the service and it is to those that I refer, not its overall aims and objectives.
There is a further point that was not addressed by the noble Lord. Is he defending the idea that the main aim of the Probation Service is,
"the proper punishment of offenders"?
It is the courts that punish; the Probation Service oversees, manages and supervises the programmes that are set out in court. It seems to me wrong to set down the proper punishment of offenders as the service's main aim, although it is included in the clause that sets out its functions. Before I decide what to do about the amendment, perhaps the noble Lord would like to address that point.
My Lords, we have set out very clear and simple aims in Clause 2. Indeed, it talks about the "aims" of the service, which are then outlined; for example,
"the protection of the public, the reduction of re-offending, [and] the proper punishment of offenders".
Yes, the service does have a relationship with the proper punishment of offenders. It is all about administering that punishment in the community and, as people are released from custody, working closely with, and ensuring the proper punishment of, offenders. I take the various orders that are made as a form of punishment conducted in the community to be part of the punishment process. Yes, they are about rehabilitation and about the protection of the public. That is exactly where we are trying to go in reshaping and refocusing the Probation Service and making it more purposeful.
I was under the impression that the noble Baroness shared that objective. Indeed, she should. I have heard her previously make the point that when she was a Minister she wanted to see the Probation Service much more like we wish to see it now that we are in government.
My Lords, there is nothing on the face of the Bill which says that offenders should be aware of the impact of their offences and their activities on victims. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I do not think that the Government can continue to argue that the boards should not be dignified with a proper name. The most appropriate name familiar to most people is "local probation boards", as suggested in my amendment. In Committee the Minister said that each board would have the word "probation" in its title. Therefore my amendment should be acceptable. The word "local" is included in the Bill. If the word "probation" is also to be included in the title of each board, why not take the logical step of putting on the face of the Bill the phrase,
"For each area there shall be a board (referred to in this Act as a local probation board)"?
That would be entirely consistent with the declaration made by the Minister. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches wish to identify ourselves entirely with what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has just said. Names are important. These boards will have few enough powers and dignity; they are entitled to have a name that means something.
My Lords, we do not disagree with the name "local probation boards". However, we disagree that that needs to be on the face of the Bill. I think that, in practice, they are likely to be called local probation boards. However, we do not see the need to use the word "probation" in the formal legal text. For that reason I argue that the amendment is otiose and unnecessary. I invite the House to reject it.
My Lords, if my amendment is unnecessary, why state that they shall be known as local boards? That seems absurd. They are to be called something in law; that is, local boards. The noble Lord says that, in practice, they are likely to be called local probation boards and does not suggest that it is wrong to call them that. I beg to move.
My Lords, again I emphasise the importance of these amendments. The Minister appeared to misunderstand the arguments put to him in Committee. It is essential to have clear and effective line management. Responsibility, ownership and accountability at the point of operation in the service is fundamental.
The relationship of the chief officer to other staff and to the board is also critical. For the employer of the chief officer to be the Secretary of State and the employers of all other staff to be the boards will create difficulties and possibly at times divided loyalties. For example, where does responsibility or, even worse, culpability, lie should something go wrong especially if the root cause of the problem is conflicting messages from the Secretary of State and the local board?
It is clear that the Secretary of State is concerned about control. However, the Secretary of State will have the power to approve the appointment of the chief officer to each area. The Secretary of State can appoint and, if necessary in extremis, remove the board. The Secretary of State has control over 100 per cent of the funding. The Secretary of State sets overall aims and objectives for the service. The Secretary of State sets national standards and performance targets. The Secretary of State will receive advice and reports from the inspectorate. Therefore, the Secretary of State will lose nothing by allowing the board to appoint the chief officer. These arguments were well argued in Committee. Nothing that has been said by the Minister then, in letters--we are deeply appreciative of all letters sent by the Minister--or in debate has satisfied our concerns.
I ask the Minister to agree to the amendments. They are essential for the proper delivery of the service. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches concur strongly with what the noble Baroness said. The powers and responsibilities of what we can now call local probation boards under the Bill are extremely ill categorised. One is used to talking of power without responsibility. As the Bill is drafted, the boards will have responsibility and no power--an even worse state of affairs. At Second Reading, I called them "eunuch boards". I think that that is not an unfair or inaccurate way of describing the conjugation of powers and responsibilities provided for in the Bill.
I hope not to detain the House for too long, but draw attention to Clause 5 in which the functions of the local board are set out. They are, first,
"to make arrangements for ensuring that sufficient provision is made for the purposes mentioned in section 1".
Clause 1(1) states that,
"(a) courts ... be given assistance in determining the appropriate sentences to pass ... and
(b) the supervision and rehabilitation of such persons".
Those are two enormous and crucially important aspects of government and state policy. Those boards will have to ensure that sufficient provision is made for their role in giving effect to community orders, supervising persons released from prison on licence, and providing accommodation in approved premises. These are major matters of state criminal policy.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, enumerated, the powers by which the boards are supposed to undertake these heavy responsibilities are almost non-existent. At every turn the Secretary of State has retained the whip hand: over finance, policy, procedures, appointments where he has a monopoly, property and contracts. What is left for those boards to undertake of their own volition and power? Precious little.
It may be asked: why bother about the appointment of the chief probation officer? We believe that this is a sine qua non for any cohesion, clarity or loyalty. One does not have to go to business school to know that a house divided against itself will not stand. One does not have to go to management consultants to know that a man cannot have two masters; and the chief probation officer certainly will. Will he look to the Home Secretary or to his or her board?
The answer is obscure, except that we know that in the ultimate the appointment is made by the Secretary of State. I can see two common situations which will plague not only the board and the chair of the board but in particular the poor chief probation officer. One example is when the CPO is out of sympathy with the line agreed by the board on any matter relating to those duties. Perhaps he or she should then run off to the Home Secretary and say, "Mr Home Secretary, they are requiring me to do this. I do not think it is right. Will you please override them?" That will always be a temptation, but I suspect that it would simply sow doubt, confusion and unhappiness where there should be unity and effectiveness.
Another example is when the board adopts a different line from Home Office policy on the delivery of its mighty duties. What is the CPO to do then? They know what their employment master plans or wants, but they also know what their local board is planning and what local circumstances may require.
One does not have to go far back in history to know that some Home Secretaries have taken a very strong line that has not found sympathy with the existing committees. I suspect that many on the Government Benches were extremely happy that the previous Home Secretary could not order a chief probation officer to take certain actions in defiance of the wishes of the local board. For those and many other reasons, we strongly favour the amendment.
Finally, there is no precedent. The relationship of chief constables with their committees is not as set down here. The committee appoints the chief constable. The same is true of health trusts or magistrates' courts committees. Not even the most draconian holding company would require the chief executive and director of one of its subsidiary operating boards to be appointed by head office rather than by the board. Of course, head office will have a say, but the appointment will be made by the board. To do otherwise is to diminish the standing of the board.
I understand that the Government want a national service, but the amendment is not inconsistent with a national service. In fact, it makes the prospect of an effective national service more likely. Able people will not sit on the boards if they are stripped of all meaning. The amendment would restore a little power, authority and dignity to them.
My Lords, I have had a long association with the probation service. As my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said in his powerful speech, we shall vote for the amendment. The provisions in the Bill are another move towards the centralisation of power that is one of the least attractive qualities of some members of the present Administration. Of course there has been devolution to Scotland and Wales, which we supported, but in England some Ministers--not all of them--seem determined to increase their power and that of their department at the expense of adequate representation of the interests of local communities.
The process is described as "modernisation"--a word that has literally no meaning but is used with monotonous regularity to justify propositions such as the one we are discussing. The Government propose in Schedule 1 that the chief probation officer should be appointed by the Home Secretary. The amendment proposes a sensible formula under which the local probation board, all of whose members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State in any event, should choose the chief probation officer, subject only to the consent of the Home Secretary. What is wrong with that?
At first glance it may appear to some that the differences between us on the issue are pretty narrow, but they are not; they are of substance. We have the gravest objections to a local probation board having a chief officer imposed on it by a government department. As my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said, the CPO's principal loyalty would then have to be to the government department. If he wanted to move on to be a chief officer in another part of the country, he could apply only to the Home Secretary. There would be no question of local representatives asking him whether he was a fit and proper person to hold that office in their community.
If the current provisions remain, they will create suspicion and hostility, which the amendment would avoid. The amendment would neatly create a system analogous to the appointment of chief officers of police, who are appointed not by Ministers, but by independent, locally based police authorities, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State.
The formula has worked well for the police, so why should it not be replicated for local probation boards? I fear that there may be a clear answer. I understand from people outside the Home Office with knowledge and experience of the police service that the department is now examining a centralising formula to change that system as well. That would undermine the position of local police authorities on the appointment of chief officers of police.
Where will the process of transferring power from local communities to Whitehall end? As I reminded the House some months ago, my old friend, the late Douglas Jay, caused a considerable uproar when, as a junior Minister in the post-war Labour Government, he said that in his opinion the gentleman in Whitehall really did know best. That approach lies at the heart of the argument. I do not believe that it is right. It may be suggested that the Government's approach would improve the efficiency of the service, but I doubt that it would. I have great respect for many Home Office officials with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years. Many of them are men and women of considerable quality with an admirable dedication to the principles of public service. However, even some of them might recoil at the suggestion that these changes would automatically raise the quality of the Probation Service. Of course, mistakes can be made at local level and sometimes they are serious, but the Home Office can hardly suggest that its record is blameless. We all remember the disaster of the immigration and nationality department computer and the similar problems that beset the Passport Agency, resulting in long queues in Petty France for passports. The idea that central government knows best in all cases is an illusion.
So much for the suggestion that national control of the service can be equated with greater efficiency. It is simply not true. We have an opportunity tonight to strike a blow against the policy of creeping centralisation of power to Whitehall. Let us take it.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. Like the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I have been a Home Office Minister. I cannot understand why the Home Secretary is so keen to have the power to appoint and impose chief probation officers.
In Committee the Minister said, and repeated regularly, that the whole purpose of the Bill is to have a national probation service locally delivered, presumably by means of the local, now to be called, probation boards. The Home Secretary already has the power to appoint the members and chairmen of those boards. Why cannot he accept that the people whom he appoints will be able to choose the right person as their chief probation officer? I cannot understand why he wishes to appoint that person himself rather than leave the board to appoint him, perhaps with the approval of the Secretary of State. As has been said, that is what happens in the police force. In many ways, one might consider that the position of a chief constable is far more sensitive than that of a chief probation officer. Yet, I believe that I am right in saying that the appointment of a chief constable is made by the police authority with the approval of the Secretary of State.
In Committee my noble friend Lady Blatch asked what would happen if a conflict were to arise. I read the Minister's speech and I do not believe that he answered that question. It seems to me that potentially the proposal is a recipe for chaos. Presumably, in the end the chief probation officer's loyalty and duty will be to the person who appoints him rather than to a committee of which he is a member and on whose behalf he is intended to provide the local service.
As has been said, at present there is an overweening desire in the Home Office to centralise power, and that is not helpful to the Probation Service. It would be far better for the local board to have the power to appoint its own probation officers. Then we really would have a national service locally provided.
My Lords, perhaps I may gently put forward an alternative point of view in relation to some of these issues and suggest that an excessive level of paranoia may exist with regard to some of the Home Office's approaches. Perhaps I may remind the House, first, that although chief constables are appointed at a local level, they are also appointed from a list approved by the Home Secretary. That long-standing practice has been in operation for many years on a bipartisan/tripartisan basis.
Secondly, I remind the House that the Benches opposite removed regional health authorities and appointed civil servants as regional general managers as part of the NHS Executive. That practice has been in place for a considerable number of years. It was implemented to ensure more effective delivery of improved management throughout the NHS.
Thirdly, perhaps I may remind the House of the report published in the past week or so by the Chief Inspector of the Probation Service about the fiasco over CRAMS, the Probation Service computer system. It is hardly a glittering testimony to local implementation of a much needed computer system.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He is levelling an accusation at a service at local level. However, with considerable feeling I must tell him that the fault in relation to CRAMS is at national level and not at the service level.
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to complete what I was about to say. I was going on to say that the fault lay at both levels. Problems exist in relation to the national implementation of computer systems both at national level within government service and at local level. The idea that all those faults rest in Whitehall, both under the noble Baroness's own government and under this Government, is frankly mistaken.
I believe that as a result of the proposed change there will be greater integration across the criminal justice agencies, which is much needed at the local level. There will also be much greater consistency in the application and implementation of nationally agreed schemes.
I also draw the House's attention to the fact that the Prison Service is a national service. At the heart of some of the changes lies the desire to ensure a closer working relationship between the Probation Service and the Prison Service. Correctly, the Prison Service is answerable through the Home Secretary to Parliament because deprivation of liberty is involved. However, perhaps I may suggest that a degree of deprivation of liberty is also involved in the Probation Service's work. That service enforces court orders which restrict the manoeuvrability and movement of people. One could argue that it is absolutely right that the Home Secretary, answerable through Parliament for the activities of a national service, should have a greater say over the appointment of chief officers at local level. I leave those points with noble Lords. I believe that there is another side to the story.
My Lords, I had no intention of taking up the time of the House until I heard the noble Lord's opening remarks. I believe that he deserves considerable congratulations, not on his courage but on his audacity.
I believed that we had listened to four or five moderate, statesmanlike, sensible speeches, with which I suspect that everyone on this side of the House will agree openly and publicly. I am sure that many on the government side will be of a similar view. However, when the noble Lord used the word "paranoia" about those speeches, I considered that he was over-stepping the mark by a very long way. I am sure that he has done a great deal to convince people such as myself that he is totally wrong and that those who have spoken so far on this side of your Lordships' House are entirely right.
My Lords, I shall be brief. Perhaps I may ask the Minister one or two questions. I am reliably informed that at present at least 20 chief probation officers are not seeking employment in the new centralised service. That number could be as high as 24. When one considers that out of 52 probation areas in the country 24 chief probation officers are not seeking employment, that must indicate that something is fundamentally wrong with the principle that we are trying to establish.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether he undertook an exercise of holding exit interviews of the people who are working in the field to discover their opinion of the centralised service. If he had done so, he would have found that they are absolutely clear in their view that, if someone is employed centrally and working to a local board, there will be no accountability. More importantly, centralisation would take away the local initiative through which they have contributed so greatly to the probation work in their area.
I believe that, in two or three years' time, management consultants will be appointed at the Home Office to find out how such a mistake occurred. Is it not time that we viewed local initiatives as being far more important than we do currently and that chief probation officers are seen as servants of the local boards?
My Lords, I have listened intently to the debate. I realise that the issue is important and that it goes to the heart of what the Government are trying to achieve. The noble Baroness suggested that I did not understand what she said in Committee. That is not at all the case. I understand perfectly the view of the noble Baroness and of Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches. There is a fundamental disagreement between us. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, spelt it out plainly. A fundamental disagreement exists in what we see as being the future of the national probation service.
I want to go through the amendments briefly because they go further than has been suggested in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
Amendment No. 4 provides for the appointment of chief officers to be made by local boards with the approval of the Secretary of State rather than by the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 5 is a corollary of that, and takes away the Secretary of State's power to appoint chief officers. Amendment No. 33 would have the effect of providing for chief officers to be treated as any other employee of a probation board in respect of transfers to the new boards. Amendment No. 7 would remove the power of the Secretary of State to make regulations delegating certain functions of the local board to the chief officer, so it is more than just a question of the appointment, locally or nationally, of the chief officer of the local probation service.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, quoted part of the deliberations at Committee stage. I made the point then that this was to be a national service delivered locally. That is exactly what the Government intend. We believe that it is right to establish a national probation service for England and Wales. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, seemed to conjure up some sinister implication from the fact that we had made a fundamental policy decision to establish a national rather than a local service and saw this as creeping centralisation.
I have been in politics a long time and I take this very simple view. There are many services--perhaps the majority--that should be administered and delivered locally, and democratically decided upon locally. But there are some services that the Government believe--and no doubt Members opposite during their time in government believed--should be better run from the centre, for very good organisational and operational reasons and for reasons of policy consistency. We disagree about this particular service, and that is what this debate is about.
One of the key advantages of a national service would be the ability to appoint chief officers centrally. Chief officers, in our view, are the key to successful service provision. Good management is about ensuring that we have a good quality service, whether it is administered nationally or locally. Good management is the key. We believe in creating a cadre of experienced, nationally appointed officers who understand--from the perspective of the centre, yes--exactly what it is we intend to achieve with a national service. We believe it is essential to be able to ensure that the appropriate people are appointed in the appropriate places.
The Government also believe that it is important to make best use of the precious resource of the chief officer. We believe that there are various functions of boards that are best performed by chief officers without the need for reference to the board. We also consider it desirable for certain functions to be performed in a similar, consistent manner, throughout the national probation service for England and Wales. We do not want the chief officer in one area being able to do something but perhaps his or her counterpart needing to refer to the board in another area. The power to regulate on this matter, which will be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny, is a means of achieving that objective.
One area in which we intend to regulate to provide for the delegation of functions from boards to chief officers is the recruitment of staff below assistant chief officer level, where it is right that the chief officer should have full powers without reference to the board.
As I explained to the noble Baroness in Committee, these amendments, if carried, would put a large hole in the concept of a national probation service. They do drive a coach and horses through our policy objective. Any national organisation worth its salt should have the ability to appoint its senior executives centrally.
The Government are satisfied that it is right for chief probation officers to be appointed by the Secretary of State. Our intention is to involve local board chairs in the chief officer appointments (where there is to be a change of chief officer) in order to ensure that there is some local say in the selection. But it is a matter of balance. The Government make no apology for believing that the central dimension should not be subjugated to the local. Quite frankly, the current system whereby chief officers are appointed locally has not delivered as efficient and effective a probation service as perhaps it should have done. There are many excellent chief probation officers and some excellent local services, but there are also some of lower quality. We believe that the appointment of chief officers will help to raise the standard and achieve greater consistency. It is for those reasons that we argue very strongly in favour of our case.
The Government also believe that chief officers should be appointed by local boards to serve as statutory office holders rather than being employed by boards. This is essential in order to ensure a clear line management relationship between the Secretary of State and chief officials. Treating existing chief officers as any other employee of the probation committees or boards in respect of staff transfers to boards would defeat the objective.
Clearly, we accept that there is disagreement between us on the way in which we intend to proceed. There is a philosophical divide, but it is one for which we make no apology. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, who said that this was a recipe for chaos. What happens when one has central/local conflicts? At the moment there is, from time to time, a chaotic state of affairs that arises because of the relationship being the other way around. The Government's view is that these things are capable of resolution. We have to establish some partnerships to achieve that objective. At the end of the day the Government believe that in creating a national service we are much better off having a system of national appointments that will provide for consistency of service, of objective and of service delivery.
For those very important and powerful reasons, we urge your Lordships' House to reject these amendments.
My Lords, one thing that the noble Lord has said is absolutely right; namely, that there is a fundamental difference between us. I should like to think that it was a philosophical difference, but I do not believe it is. I think it is a practical one. We have an over-ambitious Secretary of State who is more interested in control at his own level than in the proper delivery of the service.
The Minister's response, and the response at the previous stage, did not reflect an understanding of the arguments pressed, nor did the noble Lord address some of the key points raised in the debate. The noble Lord has said that one of the differences between us is that we do not actually agree with the principle of a national service. I have said more than once that I do not disagree with it. The noble lord, Lord Phillips, said he did not disagree with the idea of having a national service. We all agree that that service should be effectively delivered at a local level. We all know that between boards and sometimes even within boards the profile of an area is very different and will call for different responses from different chief officers who understand their own area. There is no divide on the principle of having a national service. There is a serious divide between us as to how it should be delivered at a local level.
I repeat that the Secretary of State is not short of powers to deliver a consistent national service. He has powers to approve the appointment of the chief officer, but the appointment is made by the local boards. He has powers to appoint all the board members and, in extremis, to dismiss them. He has full control of 100 per cent of the funding of the service. He has the power to set the standards and the targets for the service. He can establish consistent performance. The noble Lord has said that it would be impossible to have consistency of performance. It is perhaps different from having a service that responds materially to the needs of the area. Consistency of performance can be secured through the inspectorate. Many mechanisms are available to the Secretary of State to do something about it if the service is not delivered.
My noble friend Lord Carlisle asked about central/local conflict but the Minister did not answer. He simply referred to the point having been raised but he gave no true answer to that question. It is more than giving the local boards a say in the appointment of a chief officer.
The noble Lord has misunderstood the debate. It is not about having a local say. It is a constitutional argument about ownership and responsibility going together at the operational level of the service in the local area. I wish to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.
My Lords, I can be very brief on this amendment which provides that in every area there shall be a secretary and a treasurer. The Minister appeared to hint that some areas may be too small to have a secretary and a treasurer. I suggest that no area will be so small that it could survive without a treasurer and a secretary. That is why I have tabled this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Government really should accept this amendment. The idea that regulations may or may not provide that each local board should appoint a secretary and a treasurer seems to me absurd. Each one will need a secretary and a treasurer and the regulations should insist upon that.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness says, this amendment would place an absolute requirement on the Government to make regulations so as, in turn, to require local boards to appoint a secretary or a treasurer.
In most cases, local boards will want to appoint a secretary and a treasurer and the Government intend to lay regulations to deal with various conditions as to their appointment so as, for example, to ensure that treasurers belong to one of the recognised accountancy institutes.
However, there may be cases where it is not appropriate for a local board to appoint its own secretary or treasurer. Boards covering only a small area, as the noble Baroness acknowledged, may, for example, feel that they do not need their own secretary or treasurer and that it would be better to buy in such services, either from another board or from elsewhere, such as a firm of chartered accountants. In that case, the board may well not want to appoint a particular individual to the position of secretary or treasurer but may prefer to contract with an outside firm for the purpose of securing such services.
I understand the point raised by the noble Baroness. It may be that for nearly all services a secretary or a treasurer will need to be appointed. So if she withdraws her amendment, I certainly undertake to reflect more on the matter.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving an undertaking to reflect on this issue. However, given that the number of areas is to be reduced from 50 or so to 42, can he give the House one example of an area that would be too small to appoint a secretary or a treasurer?
My Lords, the noble Baroness has referred to the heart of the matter. These posts are important so I would like to reflect on the matter. I have been reminded that the smallest area would be Gwent. I believe that the noble Baroness makes an important point, so I invite her to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, more assurances are needed from the noble Lord that amounts paid to the service will not be as the Secretary of State wishes or considers necessary but reflect a real correlation with the remit given to the service by the Secretary of State--in other words, the job to be done--and that the resources will be consistent with the particular remit of the service. What the Minister has said so far is not sufficient to satisfy me on this point. I beg to move.
My Lords, I too feel strongly about this amendment. The Secretary of State should not simply assert his subjective opinion. There should be an objective test, as proposed in the amendment. If the Secretary of State fails in his duty, the matter can be taken before the courts and put right. In these circumstances it is not enough to leave the matter to the opinion of the Secretary of State.
"may be necessary for it to discharge properly its duties".
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, said that the subjective view of the Secretary of State should be replaced with an objective test. I want to believe that that would be possible with this wording, but I do not see that the amendment is any more objective than the current wording. In any event, Clause 3(1) already provides for a degree of objectivity in measuring exactly how resources are to be considered and made available to the local service.
Another problem with the amendment is that it would place the Government in the position where their discretion to decide upon the appropriate amounts of expenditure would be reduced. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, may want to reflect on the point that this could open up the possibility of a legal challenge to probation budgets and whether that would be a healthy development.
The Government's position is simple. We believe strongly in the work that the Probation Service undertakes with offenders, as we always have. That is why we argued against the cuts inflicted upon the service when we were in opposition and that is why in government we reversed those cuts imposed by the government of the noble Baroness. They cut training and finance and we reversed that situation. This Government did exactly that. We provided an extra £127 million over the three years covered by the current Comprehensive Spending Review, so we have lived up to our promises on this issue and we shall invest in the order of a further £400 million through the SR2000 process.
We oppose this amendment. We believe that it should be for the government of the day to bring forward expenditure estimates to Parliament for discussion and approval. This amendment would tie the hands of the Government and would require them to provide such sums as may be "necessary", but who would define what is "necessary"? How objective a test would it be?
In those circumstances, it would be open to local boards or individuals who felt that the Probation Service had been provided with insufficient funds to challenge the Government's spending commitment in the courts. Is that a course upon which noble Lords opposite, particularly those as experienced in court matters as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, wish us to embark? That cannot be satisfactory.
In our view, the amendment risks undermining the authority of Parliament and is therefore misconceived. For those reasons I ask Members of your Lordships' House, particularly those on the Benches opposite, to think carefully before pressing this amendment, and in any event I ask the House to reject it.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can I ask how this amendment flies in the face of Parliament--I cannot recall his phrase exactly--when all it seeks to do is ensure that the duties placed on local probation boards by this Bill can be discharged by their having the necessary wherewithal? How can that in any way conflict with normal parliamentary convention?
My Lords, it would undermine the authority of Parliament--as expressed in the operation of the service being through the Secretary of State, that being the line of accountability--to make a judgment as to what is or is not right in terms of adequately providing for the service. In doing that, it undermines the way the service operates nationally; and I cannot see, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, attempted to argue, that there can be some sort of objective test.
The priorities for spending must be taken as a whole. That is what the spending review 2000 process went through, and the one before that. It measured the demands of each service and tried to apportion funds in accordance with a system of prioritisation. The amendment would undermine that system because it says, "You must deliver X amount to the service over a given period of time", before a judgment can be made as to where the service sits in relation to all other services.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is much more experienced than I am at arguing around the meaning of words in court scenarios. But how would he define "necessary" in a legal context? How would the noble Lord make that word stand up in terms of the argument about resources? How would he measure what is or is not necessary to make a service live up to the fine aspirations which most of us agree should exist for the service?
My Lords, as the Minister invited me to respond, I shall. The courts frequently have to interpret language of this nature. I seem to recollect that the word "necessary" is a term found in the regulation of investigatory powers legislation--a government measure. The court will look at it in relation to the duty imposed by Parliament and come to an objective view on whether or not, in this instance, the wherewithal for the necessary implementation of the duties has been provided by government. It is as simple or as complicated as that.
My Lords, I am baffled. I cannot understand how this amendment would undermine the power of Parliament, the influence of Parliament or how we carry out our work. My noble friend Lord Renton, who made a very wise intervention, was arguing for objectivity rather than subjectivity. Paragraph 11(1) of Schedule 1 to the Bill as drafted states:
"The Secretary of State may pay to a local board any amount he considers appropriate".
How much easier it would be if the actual link with funding was expressed as,
"shall pay to every local board such amounts as may be necessary for it to discharge properly its duties".
The duties are well set out. The targets that have to be met are set out. The aims and objectives of the service are set out by the Secretary of State and there is an inspector to ensure that the work is carried out. That inspector can comment on whether or not the resources are in fact adequate and can advise the Secretary of State what the resources should be. So I find the Minister's response extraordinary.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in responding to a previous amendment, said that he would like to reflect on the matter. This has been a short but important debate. Is the noble Lord prepared to reflect also on this matter and find a better form of words than,
"any amount he considers appropriate", without any objective link to the level of service to be delivered at a local level?
My Lords, I am always happy to reflect on matters, as the noble Baroness will appreciate and understand. I am happy to take away this wording and see whether it can be improved, or whether we can improve on the wording in the Bill as drafted. I cannot make a commitment to come back with anything. However, I shall reflect on the debate and on the form of words offered in the amendment and compare them again with the words in the Bill before us.
My Lords, there is concern over the arrangements for holding and managing land and/or property; there is also concern about what the Home Office has in mind when taking control of property. Am I being too cynical in my thinking if I suggest that there may be cost-cutting in the guise of rationalisation of land and buildings? One only has to read what the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, wrote in letters both to the service and to those of us involved in the debate to understand why our suspicions are aroused in this way.
Local employers need to be allowed to manage at local level. That involves, for all the services, reading the property needs of the area consistent with providing an effective service. Paragraph 28 of one of the helpful letters we received from the Minister, which I understand was copied to all Members involved in the debate, states:
"We [the Government] are convinced, however, that there are sound reasons for concentrating ownership and overall management of the Probation estate in the national directorate. We believe these to be:
accounting responsibility will be placed squarely on the Government; there will be a better opportunity to control investment, procurement and development so as to make the best use of all the assets of the National Probation Service".
There is an issue in that statement in that the people who know best their property needs at local level will be the local service. It will be helpful to know from the Minister, first, how that will happen in practice; and, secondly, how the bureaucracy for doing that will be minimised. Every pound spent on unnecessary bureaucracy is a pound that does not go to the service itself.
The letter goes on to state:
"probation property will become part of the wider civil estate, with the benefits which accrue from that, including cost savings as a result of economies of scale and rationalisation".
I am not so sure, looking around the Probation Service, that it has a great deal of surplus property. But let us give the Government the benefit of the doubt. They go on in the letter to state:
"new boards and service managers will be able to concentrate on delivery of their core functions and not be distracted by issues involving real estate".
Again, procuring, making bids for and asking for property development locally often involves a lot of time. So just because property management is being run nationally does not mean that somehow that time will be dissipated and can be used in the service itself. Therefore, it will be useful again to have chapter and verse from the Minister in relation to the specific arrangements.
However, I find paragraph 29 almost offensive. It states:
"It is also clear that the existing arrangements have worked far from well. For example, a detailed survey by Donaldsons, a firm of chartered surveyors, which took place in 1999 concluded that there was inadequate management of the estate despite excessive staffing"--
I repeat, "excessive staffing"--
"and that a fair proportion of it was unsuitable for purpose and in poor repair".
May I suggest that, if it is "unsuitable for purpose" and it is "in poor repair", that reflects more on the department than it does on the service at local level? The department, as I understand the way in which the service works at the moment, actually approves capital spending for any changes and any refurbishments at local level. The Government go on to state:
"We believe that a more rational national approach will help to remedy these deficiencies and benefit the service as a whole".
The service would surely say "hurrah" to that if the service going national meant that all its property needs would be met in a more effective way than at the moment; but I feel the slight cast on the service in that paragraph is regrettable. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches support this group of amendments. We believe that some of the Government's justification for the proposals in the Bill, and in Schedule 1 in particular, is spurious and will not be realised in practice. Far from relieving local probation boards of concern and worry, the proposals are likely to add to them. Nothing can be more frustrating than having relatively modest property matters dealt with via Whitehall, with the distancing and bureaucracy that that can and often does mean. I know from experience on quangos that it is a great boon to be able to handle one's own property matters. It invariably leads to quicker, more effective, more efficient and, in the end, cheaper property arrangements.
As the boards will have the important task of keeping an eye on their own expenditures, it is important that they should be able to strike local bargains. A centralised property service may be unable to do that.
My Lords, in reflecting on what has been said in this short debate, I see that the argument is part and parcel of our earlier arguments about central versus local. It ought not to be. We are proposing a national service, creating a more rational, better and efficient use of the resources available to each board. I shall deal first with the amendments and then the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.
Amendments Nos. 9 to 11 and 34 to 36 change the wording of various provisions in the Bill relating to the powers of local boards in respect of land and other property. Amendment No. 9 would give the local boards a specific power to hold and manage land as well as other property, subject to directions given by the Secretary of State. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 would remove the Bill's current prohibition on boards holding land and instead make both holding and managing land permissible, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. That is a reflection of the language of earlier amendments.
Amendments Nos. 34 to 36 would enable the Secretary of State to transfer land from probation committees to local boards. I understand, therefore, that that is an enabling provision.
I believe that there has been a great deal of confusion about the question of holding and managing land and other property. Perhaps I may remind the House that we spent a great deal of time debating the issue in Committee. As the noble Baroness fairly said, I have written to her and circulated the correspondence widely in order to try to clarify the position.
However, perhaps I may try again to make the Government's position clear. We believe that it would be wrong for the local boards to hold land. In a national organisation, which the national probation service for England and Wales will be, it is appropriate and sensible for the ownership of all land to be held at the centre. We will therefore be clear about who holds the land and why they hold it.
On the other hand, in balancing that, we have every intention that local boards should have full day-to-day control over the properties they occupy and that they should have such control as is currently provided in the Bill. Within that framework, we believe that it would be absurd for local management to have to refer to headquarters its need to call in plumbers, electricians or local service providers. That would be ridiculous. That must be understood but it was the proposition served up to your Lordships in Committee.
If understanding has moved on from there, I am pleased. I hope that my correspondence addressed those issues. However, it must be the case that within a regime of best value, where we are seeking to optimise the greatest benefit from the national holding of an estate and to procure more major services, the national holding of such assets makes a great deal of sense.
The noble Baroness had a suspicion that the proposal was somehow linked to cost cutting. I find that a strange suspicion for her to hold because, as I made plain in earlier debates, we are investing substantial additional sums. We have, effectively, reversed cuts which were imposed on the service in the mid-1990s. In proposing the arrangement for holding property and land we are seeking simply to make better use of it.
The structure of the national probation service will mean that we reduce the number of board areas from 50 to 43 so that they are coterminous with the police authority areas. It seems to me sensible that in that process we should seek to manage our land, buildings and so forth nationally. The rationalisation can then be conducted sensibly. No doubt from that it will be seen that the arrangements we are seeking to put in place are for the long-term benefit and improvement of the service.
I happen to believe--the Government, too, happen to believe--that local probation boards should concentrate on the job in hand; that is, administering and delivering local probation services. That is exactly what they should be about. They should not be involved in the day-to-day management of property, a function which I believe can properly be left to the headquarters--the major agency--of the national probation service.
That is what we are trying to achieve through the legislation. There is no sinister or other agenda. The proposals are not about cost cutting but about ensuring that good, beneficial, best-value principles are in place so that we can conduct the management of the estate in a more effective and efficient direction. I would have hoped that the noble Baroness would see the sense of that.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does he not concede that he is throwing away one of the advantages of the structure he has put into the Bill? Is it not self-apparent that as regards local property matters a local board, with a chief probation officer and staff, will be much nearer mother earth than can conceivably be the case through a centralised service?
The Minister neatly divided operational and property matters, but in the real world nothing is more frustrating and obstructive to getting things moving than having a property issue decided from afar. In many cases, it can be dealt with quickly, cheaply and efficiently on one's own doorstep. The argument is therefore not one of principle but of practicality.
My Lords, the noble Lord makes a useful contribution. However, I believe that from time to time the local board, with its chairman or chief officer, will need to make a business case to the centre for perhaps a change in the way in which the totality of the probation estate, administered by a local area board, is run and organised. It should make that business case on an understanding that ultimately it will need to be guided and advised within a national framework.
Through such a process, we gain the benefit of local knowledge and advice and of having a national schema which enables the efficiencies of a larger body of procurement to take place and roll through. Those are good procurement efficiency objectives, as I would have thought the noble Lord would understand.
My Lords, clearly the "national schema" is the scheme for the national probation service which we seek to set up through the delivery of this legislation. If there is a national organisation of substance, although perhaps not the largest in the world, efficiencies can be achieved by having someone with responsibility for the running and good management of the estate which is held nationally. But it is important that local efficiencies are brought to the attention of the national organisation. Therefore, the relationship between local and national level is important.
From time to time, undoubtedly there will be a need to develop a business case for the rationalisation, development, rebuilding and recasting of how the service operates through its local estate. That is a carefully negotiated relationship. We want the best of local advice and the handling of procurement on a nation-wide basis. We believe that we can achieve that objective much more effectively by holding the estate nationally in this way.
My Lords, the response is bewildering. The Government now appear to be much more concerned about national control. What matters at the end of the day is the most efficient and effective delivery of the service to the people on the ground in local areas. There is a constant concern--almost fetish--about the national position. We do not disagree with the Minister that there should be consistency of service and performance across the country with the setting of national standards, and that the Secretary of State should have the funding rather than that it be split as between local and national level. However, the service must be delivered locally; for example, the manning of interview rooms which are confidential to the client groups. Therefore, property management is a real local issue.
My Lords, sometimes I believe that the noble Baroness does not understand that crime is a national and international phenomenon. The Probation Service is an important part of the machinery of enforcement, and I believe that it is sensible to talk about the creation of a national service. I agree that probation officers should understand the importance of creating and delivering the service at local interview rooms. Those kinds of issues can be resolved when a property is managed locally. I do not believe that the noble Baroness sees the bigger picture. That is the important point on which I ask the noble Baroness to reflect.
I have always had a good deal of respect for Conservative politicians who argue for the creation and design of effective and efficient services because there is common ground between us. What we seek here is to create efficiencies in the system. I believe that the argument of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is against those principles, particularly with regard to national procurement.
My Lords, I understand all too well that crime is a national issue with which the Government should concern themselves. I have no argument with that. If one looks at the example of the local management of schools, which was initiated by us and is supported by the Government and the Liberal Democrats, the whole point of it is that every pound spent at local level achieves very much better value for money than local government or central government can possibly achieve. Why is that? Local people have a vested interest in freeing up every possible pound that can be used in operating the service, whether it be a school, a hospital or the Probation Service. That is the point which the Minister misses the whole time.
The noble Lord referred to the Probation Service and police authorities being coterminous. I do not believe that nationally the Government own all the police property and land. Therefore, in that case there is a distinction between national and local ownership. The local service will jealously guard the value for money factor. Local people have a real vested interest because they benefit from good value-for-money decisions. I do not understand the Government's case, and the Government have not understood my points and those put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 12 and 102 are designed to ensure that the new statutory responsibilities placed on the Probation Service by Clause 66 in connection with the victims of certain offences are fully integrated at the heart of probation work and systems.
Subsection (8) of Clause 66 was designed to ensure that the local boards could use people other than their own staff to perform their functions in respect of victims. This arrangement would be helpful, for example, when an offender lived in a different area. The responsible local board would be able to arrange for the local board in the area where the victim lived to undertake liaison work on its behalf. But there is nothing in Clause 66 to ensure that other general provisions in respect of probation services actively apply to this important work with victims.
The amendments, which delete the specific provision from Clause 66 and create a general provision in Clause 5, will ensure that this work with victims is subject to inspection and can be complained about by using the complaints procedure, as well as ensuring that local boards can use people other than their own staff to perform their functions in respect of victims. Moreover, these general provisions will, if the amendments are accepted, apply to any further functions conferred upon local boards under Clause 5(5).
Amendment No. 13 is a drafting amendment which ensures that local boards will be able to make arrangements for any of their work to be undertaken on their behalf by another organisation where it is deemed appropriate. As currently drafted, using the word "functions", Clause 5(2)(a) could be taken as referring only to functions defined in Clause 5. The amendment extends the subsection to anything done by a local board for the purposes as defined in Clause 1.
I recognise that noble Lords opposite are on a bit of a roll today, but I am rather hoping that these amendments will be seen as helpful, uncontroversial and an improvement to the drafting of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord intends to be helpful. I hope he will be more helpful and explain to me where he wants to end up if the amendments are accepted. I half expected the noble Lord, in moving the amendment, to say that the amendments in the group were all drafting ones and should therefore be waved through with a green flag. He nobly resisted that temptation. But he now has to tell noble Lords why the Government were not satisfied. That is not clear to me from his brief speech. I have two questions. First, why were the Government not satisfied with things as they were? Secondly, what precisely do the three amendments together do which was not done in the earlier version? As a result, is the noble Lord left in a state of blissful content with the new version? I should like to be assured on those points.
My Lords, as I said in my opening remarks, we are trying to improve the way in which the legislation works so that it is more flexible, enabling the service to work with other areas in a more effective and efficient manner. For instance, where the offender lives in a different area, the responsible local board will be able to make arrangements for the local board in the area where the victim lives to undertake liaison work on his behalf. We are seeking to create and engender more efficiency and greater flexibility across the service. As the noble Lord said, I could have stated that these are technical and drafting amendments. But what we are trying to do is make the legislation workable and remove inflexibilities within it.
My Lords, in general I speak in support of the proposals. However, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. It concerns a point which I and other noble Lords might have been expected to pick up earlier. Subsection (5) of Clause 5 states:
"Regulations may confer further functions on local boards".
Amendment No. 12 brings that into the main provision of Clause 5(1)(a). As the clause is drafted, would it not be possible for wide, extra duties to be incorporated into the Bill without the use of the affirmative procedure in either House?
My Lords, I do not believe that that would be the effect of the amendment. I certainly hope that that would not be the case. We need to be clear about what we can and cannot do. It is exactly for that reason that the amendments have been introduced. However, I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said. He is a consummate reader of the detail. I would not like there to be any suspicion in his mind so I shall take further advice on the point that he has raised.
My Lords, I feel very strongly about this amendment. I received a letter from the noble Lord giving the Government's defence of the words in the Bill. The Bill refers to a board,
"providing accommodation in approved premises for persons who have at any time been charged with or convicted of an offence".
As we know, the crude statistics in this country show that a third of all males under the age of 30 have committed an offence other than a driving offence. When one takes that across the whole of the population, one is talking about a potentially massive client group.
In his letter the noble Lord admitted that in Committee he had not explained very well the Government's proposals. He said:
"I am not sure that I explained the Government's intentions as to hostels very clearly in the debate at Committee stage".
That is true, because I certainly did not understand some of the arguments that were made. The noble Lord also said in his letter that when the Bill was originally drafted the intention was to have three kinds of bail hostels; bail hostels, community rehabilitation hostels, and so-called "other premises". That has been overtaken by some changes. The amended version of Clause 9 simply provides for the Secretary of State to approve premises which could accommodate either those granted bail or those who are being supervised or rehabilitated, having been convicted of an offence.
I am comparing what was said in the noble Lord's letter with what is stated in the Bill. I keep on going back to the Bill, which refers to,
"accommodation in approved premises for persons who have at any time been charged with or convicted of an offence".
The noble Lord rightly said that that includes offenders on community sentences, not necessarily those on community rehabilitation orders, and those on licence. In paragraph 36 of his letter the noble Lord said that,
"hostels would only accommodate those who needed to be there because of their bail conditions or because of the need for ... a supervised environment in terms of protecting the public and helping to prevent their reoffending".
When the noble Lord addressed these issues in Committee he used the word "supervise" throughout his response. I want the word "supervision" on the face of the Bill. That is what the noble Lord was saying and that is what the noble Lord continued to emphasise that he meant and the Government meant. If that is the case, it is right that it should appear on the face of the Bill. But the Bill does not say what the noble Lord said in his letter, that,
"hostels would only accommodate those who needed to be there because of their bail conditions or because of the need for ... a supervised environment in terms of protecting the public and helping to prevent their reoffending".
The noble Lord went on to say:
"In the overwhelming majority of cases, residents would, as now, be those currently on bail, currently serving a community sentence or currently on licence".
That is not true, either. The Bill refers to persons who at any time have had a conviction. They could be people in their 50s or 60s who had a conviction many years ago. That is what the Bill actually states. For example, it could be used as a means of providing temporary homes for the homeless--for a homeless person who has had a conviction. That is not what hostels are about.
In paragraph 37 the noble Lord said:
"Clause 9, as amended, does not restrict the power to accommodate offenders to those currently serving a sentence".
That is the point I have just made. It continues:
"This is in order to provide the opportunity where, and only where, it is necessary to accommodate dangerous offenders released from prison without licence and those on licence who are not strictly 'serving a sentence'. There will only be a handful of such cases, but in these circumstances it is quite possible that accommodation for a period in a hostel will be a most effective way to protect the public".
I agree with that, but it is not in the Bill. The Bill does not say that. It is what the noble Lord is saying he thinks the Bill means, but it is not in the Bill. What would help would be for the noble Lord to accept my amendment so that the accommodation was supervised accommodation.
The noble Lord referred to someone being on bail who would not necessarily be on a supervision order. That is also true. But the reason that person is put in a hostel is so that he can be supervised. In the eyes of the court there is a fear that he might run away or default on his appearance in court. So there is a degree of supervision even with people who are on remand, waiting for their cases to come to court but are on bail and have been referred to a hostel; otherwise, why not send them to their homes or to bed-and-breakfast or some other accommodation?
Bail hostels are to be used because, for whatever reason, the people there are to be supervised. It is important that the word appears on the face of the Bill. If the noble Lord is intent on repeating what he said on the previous occasion--that he is in fact talking about supervision--the logical next step would be to accept the word "supervision" on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, let us try to understand the amendments and see whether there is so much between us. By changing the word "accommodation" to "supervision", Amendment No. 14 would have the effect of preventing local boards from providing hostels. I do not think that that is what the noble Baroness wants to do.
My Lords, that is the effect of the change in the wording. Amendment No. 15 would arguably restrict the role of local boards to those currently on bail or serving a sentence. Perhaps it is not the intention of the noble Baroness to achieve either of those two objectives.
My Lords, I shall pause to think about that. If the noble Baroness will bear with me, we are trying to resolve practical matters in a practical way. That should be done in a fair-handed way.
There is perhaps a misunderstanding in the noble Baroness's approach. The noble Baroness said that in Committee I had used the word "supervision" throughout my commentary in responding to her points. That is perfectly true. But our argument in part is that one does not need to have all of these words in the Bill for the issue of supervision to be very much at the heart of the way in which the service is delivered locally. That is an important point.
Perhaps I may return to the thread of my argument. Were we to accept Amendment No. 15, it would remove the ability to work with the small number of dangerous offenders who are no longer under sentence but where it is in the interests of protecting the public for them to be supervised on a voluntary basis by the Probation Service. I realise that the noble Baroness is troubled by the provision, but I am referring to a group in respect of which we feel that it is most important for such supervision to be put in place--because of the voluntary basis on which such people would be placed in a hostel.
Hostels form an important part of the armoury available to the Probation Service for helping to reduce reoffending and to protect the public. All residents in hostels will be subject to the hostel regime, which will include strict curfew conditions and a prohibition on alcohol. Those are important restrictions. Hostels do not concern only accommodation, but the inclusion of the word "accommodation" is necessary.
The noble Baroness appears to want to strike the word "accommodation" from the Bill. If we remove it, hostels would take on a very different meaning. Surely the noble Baroness understands that that would be the case. It is necessary to include the word to enable the Probation Service to provide hostels and to carry out this valuable work. However, the use of the word would not mean that such hostels could be used for anyone who is homeless. Hostels are used for a particular purpose. For that reason, we oppose Amendment No. 14.
If the noble Baroness is confused--I am sure that sometimes it can happen--about the purpose of hostels, perhaps she would reflect on that point.
As I said earlier, we oppose Amendment No. 15, which would remove the ability to use hostel accommodation for a small number of dangerous offenders no longer on licence. In general, hostels accommodate three types of person: those remanded while still on bail; those serving community sentences; and those released from prison on licence. However, as I have said, they will also be used for a small number of dangerous offenders who have been released from prison, having reached the end of their sentence, but who still present a danger to the public.
The Government believe that it is right to protect the public by accommodating such offenders on a voluntary basis for a period in approved hostels. Hostel regimes, with their curfews and their structured regimes, offer a better opportunity to reduce the risk of reoffending and public harm than if those offenders were simply to be left to their own devices in the community.
Were noble Lords to accept Amendments Nos. 14 and 15, they would undermine what we are trying to achieve here. A situation would be created that would be far worse than that which is currently in place. Furthermore, it would undermine our objectives in terms of law enforcement and reducing the risk of reoffending. I cannot believe that the noble Baroness seeks that as an objective. It would appear to run counter to her entire approach, but then I am often amazed by the words of the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I am becoming a little puzzled at the approach being adopted by the noble Baroness. Earlier she suggested that I had referred to "supervision" throughout my arguments put forward in Committee. Her argument appeared to pursue the notion that, by reason of those references, we should now put that word into the Bill. However, "supervision" goes to the core of what the Probation Service should provide when sentences are served in the community. My argument here is that the word "accommodation" needs to be in place because, clearly, one purpose behind the running of hostels is that such accommodation will be supervised. There is therefore no need to specify it in the legislation.
My Lords, I rise only to conclude my remarks on this amendment because I know that the noble Lord is becoming anxious. What in my amendment would legally preclude the most dangerous people from being supervised in the accommodation? The noble Lord has not answered the question. I am pressing this point because the noble Lord's response has been based on that premise; namely, that my amendment would be dangerous because it would preclude that.
I am not satisfied with the response that I have received from the noble Lord.
My Lords, on the first day in Committee, a similar amendment aimed at preventing any merger of the functions of the Chief Inspector of Probation and the Chief Inspector of Prisons was the subject of a short debate. Despite the support of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln, speaking in his capacity as Bishop to the Prisons, and of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch--all of whom have first-hand knowledge of the working of the penal system--our arguments were dismissed by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, as being put forward,
"in the wrong place at the wrong time".--[Official Report, 2/10/00; col. 1204.].
I hope that this debate today is the right place and the right time.
Frankly, I was surprised by the strength of feeling expressed subsequently on this issue, both inside the House on a cross-party basis, and by the Probation Service. This further amendment is the result.
The timing is opportune as consideration is currently being given by Ministers to proposals either for an integrated inspectorate to cover both the prisons and the Probation Service, or to finding other ways for the two inspectorates to work more closely together. Under existing legislation, it would be possible to appoint the same person as both Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons and Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation. If the amendment is accepted, no such appointment could be made. All of the other options for joint working would remain open.
To avoid repeating what I said in Committee about the need for a separate Chief Inspector of Prisons, let me summarise as briefly as possible why, under the plans for a national probation service, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation believes that it is essential that the reorganised service should continue to have its own chief inspector. It should be said at once that the stance of the chief officers depends not on institutional pride or possessiveness, but on a recognition of the realities of joint working.
We are speaking now not in the vague generalities so beloved by Ministers--and so evident in the consultation document--of "joined-up government" and "seamless approaches" and so on, but of the reality of current practice. The Probation Service already co-operates closely with the Prison Service in the form of joint inspections or thematic reviews carried out by the inspectorates of prisons and of probation. Recent examples are the comprehensive reviews on life sentence prisoners and the preparation of prisoners for release and resettlement. This type of joint working is highly desirable; it is likely to continue, and it does not call for any legislative intervention.
What the recent consultation document fails to recognise is that only about one-third of the work of the Probation Service overlaps with that of the prisons, whereas virtually all of its work is linked to the courts or the police, or to both. The service also works closely with health authorities in respect of drugs and mentally disordered offenders, as well as with local authorities, particularly in the context of the relatively new and promising youth justice initiatives--I say that in the presence of the chairman of the Youth Justice Board, to whom credit is due. There is merit in joint inspections in each of these areas of probation work in the community as a means of recognising shared responsibilities and promoting best practice.
However, as to the possibility of a joint chief inspector for prisons and for probation, the Association of Chief Officers of Probation has been forthright in its response to the Home Office consultation document. The association points out that the document,
"provides no evidence of the benefits to the Prison Service of this proposal. ACOP believes it would be to the detriment of Probation, in that inspections would be driven by the larger organisation, the Prison Service. The flexibility in choice of thematics, speed of response and focus on performance would, we believe, be lost if we were to become part of a much larger Inspectorate with a very different brief and culture to that of our own".
Ministers should take heed of those words in their reply to the debate. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on this side of the House support the amendment. We debated this issue in Committee, and we were not convinced by the explanation offered by the Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, pointed out that at that stage the issue was being discussed in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Minister said that the amendment was flawed because it prejudged an important discussion, debate and deliberation about the inspectorate that the Government wanted to develop and deliver in terms of the final consultation.
The Minister can continue to have his consultation. But one area that we want to rule out is a merger of the two inspectorates. It is not about having a joined up service within the criminal justice system. What one suspects is at the back of it is the embarrassment faced by the Government in relation to report after report produced by the inspectorates.
No one disputes that a great deal of work is now in train to ensure that the Prison Service and the Probation Service co-ordinate their activities. A number of examples have been cited by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham. Whatever is done, to merge the two inspectorates completely and appoint a joint chief inspector for prisons and probation would damage rather than improve the effectiveness of inspections. First, there would be a risk of over-stretching the joint chief inspector and reducing the benefits that arise from having two inspectors with specialist expertise--which has been such a strength in the arrangements under Sir David Ramsbotham and Sir Graham Smith. Secondly, there is a real risk that establishing a joint inspectorate would blunt the public impact of the reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, which have been so valuable in focusing the attention of the public, practitioners and politicians on the need for prison reform.
In a Question for Written Answer, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich asked how many organisations and individuals had, by 2nd October, expressed support for the Government's proposals and how many had opposed them. The answer may not come as a surprise to anyone on this side of the House. It was that having a joint chief inspector of prison and probation was not an option favoured by any respondent. The consultation period concludes today. It would be helpful to know from the Minister how many finally opted for the proposal. I look forward to his reply.
There are additional arguments against a joint approach. The Prison Service and the Probation Service come from historically different traditions. There is always a tension between the custodial approach and the community tradition which has never been effectively resolved by any government. We need to ensure that this healthy tension is translated into the way these agencies interact without swamping each other.
There is a clear distinction between loss of liberty through imprisonment and loss of liberty through community sentences. This distinction should never be blurred; the distinction of being in prison as against serving a community sentence must be protected.
There has always been a healthy tension in the objectives of the Prison Service and the Probation Service. On the one hand, there is the continuing culture of single-minded institutional security and management of the Prison Service; on the other, there is the local enthusiasm and initiative in the Probation Service for community based penalties. The way in which the Government intend to centralise such services is a clear indication that prison objectives would override community dynamics.
Despite the statements in the Government's consultation document, it is no secret that the Chief Inspector of Prisons has by and large stuck to inspecting custody conditions during incarceration. There are very specific, rather than overlapping issues. Moreover, his reports have not only embarrassed the Home Office in terms of its inaction but have also spurred it on to take urgent action on prison culture and conditions.
No one disputes the need for better co-ordination on matters of common interest between the Prison Service and the Probation Service. There is nothing to stop ad hoc arrangements, secondments, etc, as happens in many statutory departments.
I wonder whether the Home Office has taken into account the enormity of what a joint inspectorate would entail. Perhaps I may give an example. The two services have a combined staff of some 60,000; 125,000 people start probation every year and 140,000 are received into custody. Where are the resources?
In conclusion, prisons face problems that are significantly different to those of the Probation Service. Consistency of treatment is more likely to come from adhering to high standards of professional conduct and respect for human rights and the dignity of the individual than through a joint inspectorate.
Clearly, the Government are obsessed by central control. Perhaps I may quote what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said about the criminal justice system. They are entirely appropriate to this debate. In an interview with the New Statesman, he advised the Government to leave the criminal justice system alone for a while. He added:
"There is a great danger that the system becomes punch drunk".
That is precisely the case here. We simply wish that the Home Office would stop interfering with a system of inspection which has delivered all that is asked of it and which has the confidence of the public in the way it performs its task. I support the amendment.
My Lords, the amendment, ably and skilfully introduced by the two previous speakers, gives the Government an opportunity to get out of a difficulty in which they find themselves. I am quite specific and blunt about that.
Prisons remain to a large extent a forgotten element in our society. Prisoners have no vote. I have the impression that Members in another place do not on the whole take a great interest in what happens in prisons. The attention of the media is wayward, even perverse. No serving Prime Minister, so far as I can discover, has ever visited a prison. That is a significant fact. Such forgetfulness is highly dangerous to our society. It is useful only to those whose idea of criminal justice is to fill and over-fill our prisons without considering what happens once people are inside them.
Prisons are a part of our society. Those who are sent there come from our society; they usually represent its dark underside. Perhaps more importantly, they return to society when they are released. Therefore, what happens in prison to the drug addicts, paedophiles and young offenders is of importance to all of us. We need to know.
At the moment, rightly or wrongly, the best illumination that comes to us of the state of our prisons emanates from the reports of the present Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, and those of his predecessor, Sir Stephen Tumim. Those reports cast a shaft of light through the fog of misconception, which so often surrounds this subject. Why? It is because they do not deal just with principles and generalisations; they convey the facts, the figures and the feel of individual prisons, one by one.
I had the privilege of accompanying the chief inspector and his team on a prison inspection not long ago. I was deeply impressed by the team's professionalism. The team gives praise where praise is due--and it often is due--but it is also blunt in its criticism where that is justified. Of course, it is that criticism which, inevitably, gets into newspaper reports.
From their knowledge of government, noble Lords will not be surprised to learn that there is some grumbling and some tut-tutting about these reports in Whitehall; and about the brisk, military style in which they are couched and the attention which they, therefore, receive. I have not heard anyone say, "Who will rid me of this of this turbulent chief inspector?" It has not got as far as that--indeed, it could not get as far as that--but of the irritation, I have no doubt and much evidence.
That is the background against which the Government, quite properly, are considering the relationship, first, between the prison and probation services and now, more narrowly, between the inspectorates of those two services. They have issued a consultation paper. The two previous speakers clearly illustrated what the response to that consultation has been. Today the Prison Reform Trust, which I chair, has written in response to the consultation to the Home Office explaining why, after a good deal of thought and research, we share the conclusions already reached by the two previous speakers; namely, that the changes proposed--certainly the amalgamation of the inspectorates--are not justified and would be confusing.
Against the background that I have briefly sketched, it might be thought that this exercise is part of an attempt to muffle in some way the voice of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and his successors by a reorganisation--an unnecessary and confused amalgamation--of two different bodies. I hope that that belief is unfounded. At any rate, the Government have an opportunity today to dispose of any such suspicion. They can accept this amendment and that line of argument will fall away, leaving the rest of it to be discussed on its merits.
It is very important that it should be clear that this House, the other place and the Government are in favour of the kind of straightforward, clear and blunt reports that we receive from the chief inspector. In my view, it is essential that such reports continue to come through both sharp and clear as is the case at present. They should not be complicated by other considerations and other relationships. We need that clarity and we should insist on keeping it.
My Lords, at the risk of being accused, again, by a noble Lord opposite of being audacious, I should like to advance a few opposing points in response to some of the extremely persuasive arguments put forward by previous speakers, whose judgment I have the greatest respect for in this area. However, I have to say that those arguments tend to look backwards rather than forwards to the future and to the kind of changes that might improve the criminal justice system in an evolutionary way.
I recognise that noble Lords opposite are on something of a roll. But when people rush to the "Contents" Lobby in the way that they have been doing of late, they might like to reflect on the fact that, on the previous amendment, they actually voted for the Home Secretary to be unable to pay for accommodation to safeguard the public from dangerous sex offenders like Robert Oliver. I just mention that in passing because that is what has actually been voted for this afternoon.
Therefore, before we rush again into the Division Lobby, I should like to expound on the arguments for not voting for this amendment. I, too, pay great tribute to Sir David Ramsbotham for his excellent and thought-provoking reports, as well as the work that he has accomplished in exposing inadequacies in the Prison Service. His reports have often drawn attention also to the fact that the good work carried out in the Prison Service is sometimes undermined on release. One of the underlying approaches that the Government have adopted is to seek to improve the working relationship and the operational co-operation between the Prison Service and the Probation Service. Moreover, alongside this process, there is also the increasing use of technology in terms of community supervision as an alternative to custody, as well as changes in the character of some of the sentences being imposed in the criminal justice system. At the same time, the Government have announced a review of the sentencing framework.
I suggest to noble Lords that these ideas and developments are working to blur the line between custody and community supervision. That is all to the good, both as regards protecting the public and improving the chances of offenders not reoffending in the future. If that is going on in the services that are being inspected, it seems to me to be slightly rash--whatever one may think about the Government's intentions in relation to present incumbents--to say that we should never consider the Home Secretary of the day, whoever it may be, issuing directions (which is what the power under the Bill will provide) on the way that inspections might be conducted in relation to subject areas that straddle the probation and prison services. That is what this amendment would achieve.
Noble Lords should perhaps bear in mind the experience of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and of the National Crime Squad. A distinguished Member of the other place from the party opposite acts as chairman of both those bodies to ensure the co-ordination of their work. Indeed, it might actually be in the interests of both the Probation Service and the Prison Service if there were a greater degree of commonality of function of personnel straddling both inspectorates. I am not saying that that is the Government's intention; indeed, I do not know what that is. However, we seem to get a little anxious about their intentions in this area.
In conclusion, I should mention that it is the current Home Secretary who put in place rigid timetables for the publication of reports by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons--a set of arrangements that was not in place under the previous government, resulting in very long delays before the publication of such reports.
My Lords, surely the argument against the possibility of such a merger is that the tasks of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and of the Chief Inspector of Probation are, by their very nature, different. I accept that the criminal justice system must be considered as a whole, but the duty of the Chief Inspector of Probation is to deal with those services that provide for the punishment and rehabilitation of prisoners within society. The duty of the Chief Inspector of Prisons is surely to oversee the conditions in prisons as regards those who are contained within them.
It has been said that a society is often judged by the way in which it treats those whom it keeps in captivity. The great advantage with the Chief Inspector of Prisons is surely that he has shown fearlessness in acting on behalf of society and reporting what he sees, at times, to be the failings of the service. It would be a an awful pity were that task of the Chief Inspector of Prisons to be diluted in any way by giving him other tasks in addition. I am sure that the Minister will accept that there have been rumours abroad for some time that the Home Office intends to get rid of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, or his post, when he retires. Will he give the House an assurance tonight that that is not the Government's intention and that they do not intend to merge the two posts?
My Lords, an independent voice in your Lordships' House would like to add how important I think it is to have an independent Chief Inspector of Prisons. It has been this independence which has made the appointment so worth while and effective.
My Lords, I refer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. If the spin that is being put out to defend the Government's position this afternoon in the light of the defeats that have occurred, distorts my amendment in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, did, I believe that that is a regrettable action on someone's part.
My Lords, I was not putting any spin on the matter; I recounted to the House the practical consequences of Amendment No. 14. I spoke of Robert Oliver. The Home Secretary would not be able to pay for Robert Oliver's accommodation under the terms of the noble Baroness's amendment which the House accepted.
My Lords, Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 amend subsection (3)(b) of Clause 5 to read:
"The provision that may be made in pursuance of such arrangements includes providing services to any person and, in particular--
(a) giving assistance to persons remanded on bail or for whom officers of the board have responsibilities,
(b) providing supervision in approved premises for persons who have been charged with or convicted of an offence".
The Association of Chief Officers of Probation would argue, and rightly so, that two-thirds of the work of the Probation Service does not overlap with that of prisons, and that almost all probation work is linked to the police and to the courts. Therefore, the logic of any merger is that the service has more in common with the police and the courts than with prisons. That is not to say--my noble friend Lord Windlesham made this point--that where there is overlap there should not be some coherence of inspecting services.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, reminded us that there has not officially been a suggestion that there is to be a merger of the two services. We must accept what the Minister has said, but I have to tell him that there is an extremely noisy rumour around Whitehall and throughout the service that the Government have it in mind to merge the two inspectorates. If that is not in the Government's mind, they need not fear the amendment of my noble friend Lord Windlesham.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said that no one has argued against joined-up services. I believe that everyone who has spoken in the debate--even the noble Lord, Lord Warner--would argue that the Probation Service cannot operate or do its job effectively in isolation. It has to work with the police, the courts and, indeed, with the Prison Service. The noble Lord also said that the joined-up services have a bearing on the issue. The purpose behind the consultation exercise is to ensure that we benefit from having a more joined-up system of inspectorates and to discover how best the inspectorates can work together. We do not seek--and the consultation exercise does not propose--to merge the two inspectorates. The amendment would put that beyond doubt and quieten the anxiety that exists throughout the service.
I return to the issue of the police. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said:
"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".--[Official Report, 2/10/00; col. 1204.]
But they also pass through the hands of the police even before they are put on probation and following probation. The Probation Service works with local authorities, the voluntary sector and health authorities. Therefore, if one took the merger argument to its logical conclusion, one would have a common inspectorate for the police, the Probation Service and the Prison Service. I suggest that that would be a retrograde step. I do not believe that there is an argument for that. If the Government sincerely have no intention to merge the two services, the amendment would be helpful to them and would quiet a great deal of anxiety in the service.
My Lords, I speak to the amendment from a slightly different point of view from that of my noble friend. I support his amendment strongly. Its object is clearly to prevent the Government doing something that they appear likely to want to do. I certainly do not see this as a party political matter and I do not even see it as a ministerial matter. I see it essentially as a Home Office matter. I shall explain what I mean by that.
I have studied the Home Office and its workings for some 30 years, originally from inside Whitehall in the early 1970s. I remember how bitterly and successfully it used then to oppose any inquiry or review of how the prisons worked. It was not Home Office style to allow it. I spent some 16 years studying the Home Office as a political journalist and more recently nine years in your Lordships' House. I do not want to be offensive, but in my view the Home Office is the most constipated department in Whitehall. That does not mean that there are not some splendid people in it and always have been; but it is their departmental culture which I criticise. Those magic letters "NIH" might have been invented to describe the Home Office credo. Certainly they are inscribed on the banner under which the Home Office has campaigned--usually with success--to resist any modernisation or changes which have not emerged from its own bowels.
The methods that the Home Office use were the original inspiration for the brilliant "Yes Minister". The Home Office does not even subscribe to the late Lord Denning's famous dictum. It is perfectly willing to ignore and indeed frustrate a law made by Parliament, if it does not approve of it. Before I make a few remarks about the amendment itself I shall mention an example to justify what I have just said. Under the provisions of Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, the Government were required to set up a national register of all holders of firearm licences. This obligation came into legal force on 1st October 1997. Three years later it is still not there. As the Home Office Select Committee stated in April this year:
"We are appalled that the national data base is not yet in immediate prospect, over two years after the implementation of the Act".
I believe that that Select Committee received a rather revealing memorandum from a former police firearms expert explaining the lack of Home Office action. He suggested,
"it may be significant that ... the proposal-- that is, the proposal for the register--
That is perfectly true and my noble friend Lady Blatch kindly accepted it on behalf of the then government.
I believe that the case for not allowing the amalgamation of the inspectorate--it is absolutely right to perceive that as the threat--is a simple one. The position of the chief inspector is very much as much as anyone can take on effectively. The best way to reduce its effectiveness is to amalgamate the post with something else. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made that point clearly.
I give a simple analogy. Back in 1971 I realised that the Post Office telephones needed to be privatised if there was to be the opportunity for the technology revolution to be put into effect. Noble Lords will remember that at that time there was a 12-week waiting list for a telephone in London. I went to see Mr Chattaway, the then Minister of Posts. I suggested to him that the telephones and the mail services should as a first step be split from each other. He was surrounded by his officials who put up a barrage of reasons why such a split would be a national disaster. He accepted their advice. What happened later is history.
The pronouncements of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons have long been an embarrassment to the Home Office. The wide publication of his views, and the generally extensive and favourable media attention they have received, have been a constant irritation to Home Office officials, who feel that they should have a monopoly in such matters. The fact that Sir David Ramsbotham has been outstandingly successful and shown himself to have the quality and independence of mind which mark him out as a great public servant makes it all the worse. He has been Chief Inspector of Prisons since 1995. If I were the Home Secretary, I should want to persuade him to stay on as long as possible.
My noble friend Lord Hurd pointed out that the Home Office has its own methods of ridding itself of turbulent priests. But having got rid of an inconvenient individual, it does not want a successor. So it wants to remove the very position and its potential.
I should have hoped that the Minister would have welcomed the amendment enthusiastically. It is not a party political matter. But if he does not, I shall equally enthusiastically vote in favour of my noble friend's amendment.
My Lords, one could not possibly say that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is constipated in any way. Having listened to the contributions from the serried ranks of former Home Office Ministers today, one could never accuse them of constipation. They have been most forthcoming and helpful in the debate. I have enjoyed greatly their helpful contributions.
I cannot agree to the amendment, as I have been invited to do. During the previous debate, I said that it was the wrong amendment in the wrong place at the wrong time. That remains the case. The amendment prejudges an important debate. We have had a consultation exercise which finishes today, interestingly, about the future of the inspectorates of the Probation Service and of the Prison Service. The amendment is defective because it assumes that the direction-making powers to which it refers relate exclusively to the functions of local area boards of probation, not the functions of the Prison Service. Nothing in the Bill affects the inspectorate of the Prison Service. The Bill and its clauses replicate what we currently have and put those provisions in place for the future.
We could not use the provisions in the Bill to which noble Lords refer in the way they suggest. The Home Secretary could use the powers to issue directions conferring further functions on the Chief Inspector of Probation set out in Clause 7(6) only in relation to the inspection of those matters described in subsection (1). Subsection (1) covers only the duties of area boards of probation. The Home Secretary could not therefore use these powers of direction in connection with the Prison Service or the inspection of prisons.
It is worth reminding your Lordships' House that we have not made up our minds on the appointment of a joint chief inspector. Let us make that absolutely clear. I assure noble Lords that we shall consider very carefully all the representations made to us as a result of our consultation exercise. No doubt we shall read carefully today's Hansard as part of that consultation exercise.
Any decision on the future of the service would have to be announced to Parliament as a matter of policy. We would, of course, want to hold a full parliamentary debate if there were sufficient interest in the matter. Today's debate and deliberations tell us clearly that there is.
I also reassure noble Lords that we have no intention of weakening the rigour and independence of the inspection process for either service. That would be in no one's interests. We have listened carefully to people's concerns on this point. Strong, authoritative inspectorates working with a clear set of standards help to drive up performance in our public services. That point has been made time and again in the debate. I believe that to be the case. The Government believe that to be the case. We believe and insist that the inspectorate should be independent and robust and offer awkward, sometimes unconventional and irritating views because that awkwardness and irritation help us to shape the service and to ensure that it performs better in the future for the benefit of the public service as a whole.
I do not see any reason why there should be a suspicion that we are somehow trying to use this consultation exercise to undermine the authority or the independence of the inspectorate. We want to ensure that the Prison Service and the Probation Service work together in a coherent way and that the inspection process supports that measure of coherence. I do not understand the argument which says that the Probation Service inspectorate and the Prison Service inspectorate should be in two completely separate boxes and compartments. They are all part of the criminal justice system; therefore, they need to work closely together. It is how one achieves that objective fairly that is important. I sense from the mood of the House that many of your Lordships view that as very important indeed.
One-third of those sentenced to custody will spend some part of their sentence under Probation Service supervision. That being the case, it makes perfect sense to have inspectorates which work closely together. The inspectorates understand the issues which arise in the prisons; they need to understand them in the wider community, and vice versa.
The sentencing review which we have already announced, and which is expected to report next April, is examining sentencing options which could significantly increase that joint sentence to which those who have been convicted will be subject. Important decisions about release, conditions of supervision and custody which directly affect public safety, depend on the two services working together to a clear standard of performance. We rely on inspectorates to ensure that they do.
We have programmes and resettlement policies backed with sound evidence that they can reduce reoffending. But research also shows that if they are delivered in an inconsistent way as offenders move from custody to supervision in the community, the benefits are largely lost; the chances of reoffending can even rise.
We recognise that the Prison Service and the Probation Service perform many functions separately from each other. But it is essential that the matters I have described are examined and reported on regularly and to a consistent set of standards as part of the inspection process. That is not happening at present. We need to establish that for the future. We need to look forward to the way in which the service is developed.
As I have explained, the provisions which noble Lords seek to amend apply only to the Probation Service. We could not use them to direct any matters relating to prisons or the inspection of prisons.
A number of noble Lords contributed to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said that there should be a healthy tension between the two inspectorates. A healthy tension is fine but not a tension which undermines the coherence of which I spoke earlier. Clearly there is much learning to do between the two inspectorates. I think that the noble Lord would accept that point. I think that he would also accept the point that I have made on several occasions now: that some parts of a sentence may be undertaken in prison and some in the community. There needs to be a joint understanding between those parts of the inspectorate to which the sentences relate.
The noble Lord also referred to the importance of secondments. That is a significant concession on his part. He seems to accept the point I have made: that there needs to be a greater understanding and perhaps a cross-fertilisation between the two services. So perhaps we are moving closer together.
In his eloquent defence of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said that sometimes we have an attitude of forgetfulness towards prisons, the Prison Service and what goes on within them. He made important reference to the reports of the inspectorates. Sometimes it can be awkward for governments and the Home Office to listen to and take account of them. I believe that this Government have an enviable track record of having listened to the important comments--they are often pressing and critical--made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Those comments have been helpful to us in focusing on some of the major issues relating to our prisons.
The noble Lord suggested that this merger was about getting rid of an irritation. It is not about doing that. Why have we extended both inspectors' periods of office for a further year while we considered these matters? We could have taken the easier option of dealing with that issue earlier, but we did not because we have confidence in the way in which they conduct themselves.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that two-thirds of the work of the Probation Service had nothing much to do with the Prison Service. I suggest that one-third represents a significant part of its work. If it is one-third--I was told earlier that it was only 25 per cent or 20 per cent--of its activity, there is a significant cross-over between the work of the two services. I believe that that strengthens the argument for bringing them closer together in some shape or form.
The noble Baroness made much of links with local government and the health service, but that ignores the central issue that the Probation Service and the Prison Service are part of the criminal justice system, whereas health and local authorities have a much smaller part to play in that area.
The amendment is unnecessary. It addresses an issue that is not current in the Bill and would prejudge the outcome of an important consultation exercise. We should not legislate in that way. We have not had a fixed view on these issues. We have been open and listened extensively during debates on the future of the inspectorates. It must be right that governments think about and review the way in which inspectorates work. We must look to the future to see which direction they should go in. If the Government failed to do that, they would be failing in the exercise of their responsibilities.
The amendment is unnecessary and out of place and I urge the House to reject it.
My Lords, we can all agree that this has been a notable debate on a topical issue of public policy. It has gone to the heart of the criminal justice system--if "system" is the right word--and how it is administered.
It is always unwise in a brief summing up to refer only to one speaker, but I think your Lordships will agree that the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, was one of the most profound statements on crime and punishment that we have heard in the Chamber for many a long day.
The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, and others paid tribute to Sir David Ramsbotham. I join those tributes unreservedly. There is no need to add to what has been said about the forcefulness and independence of his reports and the skill with which he has presented them to a wider public. As the report of this debate will be read by some of those outside the Chamber in the Prison Service and the Probation Service, I put on record my appreciation, which I am sure that Ministers share, of the long period of distinguished public service given by the Chief Inspector of Probation, Sir Graham Smith, who is well known to some of us in the House.
It is extraordinary that the two current chief inspectors, who are distinguished public servants, were not consulted about the proposals. Sir David Ramsbotham, in his forthright language, has said that he was frozen out of the discussion on the future organisation of the inspectorates. That is on public record. The fact that both were known to be utterly opposed to the idea of a merger is no reason for their exclusion.
The Minister seemed to assume that a merger would take place and defended it ably. Viewed in its worst light, the aim of that policy is to get rid of the Chief Inspector of Prisons. But even if we are more magnanimous--I see the Attorney-General nodding and smiling; he wants us to be more magnanimous--it results from a dogmatic attachment to a loosely defined concept of joined-up government. Of course it is desirable to work together in the pursuit of common aims and objectives, such as the reduction of offending and the protection of the public. However, when it comes to translating such generalities into practical working, I suggest that the voices of experience, and dispassionate assessments of future arrangements, should be listened to. We have heard such voices in the House this evening. That is why I wish to press the amendment.
My Lords, in moving this amendment, and before I speak to several more in my name, perhaps I may remind the House that I am both a magistrate and a member of the family proceedings court.
In moving Amendment No. 17, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 31 which effectively concern the same issue. In doing so, it seems almost incumbent on me to quote the immortal phrase, "What's in a name?" Well, my Lords, what is? The acronym for the new service, with which we have all been labouring, is unwieldy and uncomfortable. It is also horribly easy to slip from saying "CAFCASS" into saying "Kafkaesque", a connotation which would be unfortunate in the extreme.
I am told that magistrates and those working towards the new service believe that, far from enhancing its stature, the acronym will bring it and them into disrepute. The full title of the new service is also cumbersome, even if it is not abbreviated. "Children and family court advisory and support service" is a great mouthful. It is no more descriptive of what is involved than the much simpler "family court child welfare service", which is well understood and respected and which we now propose.
At least the letters FCCWS cannot be shortened into anything other than FCCWS. I think hardly anyone would want to incur the humiliation of saying the acronym FCCWS. There is much in a name--pride, identification, professionalism. I hope the noble Lords will listen carefully to what has been said by those involved in the new service and spare them forever being members of CAFCASS.
My Lords, we move into other waters from that of the Probation Service, but whether they are calmer waters or not the next few minutes will tell. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, was a magistrate and a member of the family court and speaks with the experience of one who has spent years working in those fields.
The noble Baroness knows what I am about to say. The amendment would change the name of the service to an existing and very similar one, the family court welfare service. That is one of the services that will go to form CAFCASS. We think that the amendment is retrograde and would be unpopular with those who work in and use the service. The family court welfare service is the name of one of the three services that would integrate into CAFCASS. We think that it would send a negative message to the other services that will become part of CAFCASS. Consultation on setting up the new service showed considerable opposition to the term "welfare". It may be that the noble Lords will feel that to have "welfare" in the title is a mistake.
I remind noble Lords that this service will be a new one, an amalgamation of three current services--family court welfare, guardians ad litem and the children's division of the Official Solicitor. We think that to name it after one of the three services only would, in effect, devalue the other two. An important argument against changing the name at this stage is that a huge amount of development work has already taken place. The new title and the acronym that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, does not like are well established with future staff and future users of the service.
Fathers' groups have been extremely critical of the family court welfare service. They would say that their fears that nothing is really changing had been justified if the name of the new service was so close to the current name. We think the new name is appropriate because it reflects what the service will do. It is the name that has been used throughout the consultations that have taken place over 12 months. It is common currency among those who would use the service and those who will be stakeholders in it. We think it is also a descriptive name. It uses a name that indicates what the new service does, and we think that is important. CAFCASS will provide advice and support to children and family courts. It will not just replicate existing services but build on their strengths to provide a better one, more child focused, more flexible and able to offer a better service to the courts.
It is for those reasons that we invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and allow the name to stand.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his considered reply. It seems a pity that names of services or matters to do with anything that is in a Bill going through Parliament should become so set in stone that it is apparently immutable when discussion is still taking place on a matter such as this. The name will be controversial. It is certainly something of which I have heard people say they are deeply unhappy. It is very cumbersome.
I wish to reflect on what the Minister said about support for the new service. It is a pity that support for the service should be diminished by the unwieldy nature of the title. For the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 18 and speak to Amendments No. 32, 40 and 41 which are all government amendments.
I start with Amendments Nos. 40 and 41. They will ensure that the scheme that may be devised by the Lord Chancellor under Clause 15(1)--which we shall discuss shortly--falls fully within the definition of "regulations". Amendment Nos. 40 and 41 are concerned with Clause 25 of the Bill. It was felt that this clause was too narrow and would not cover the proposed amendments to which I have referred in Clause 15(1). Principally, this is because the word "regulations" does not appear in the amended text. The amendments, if passed, would ensure that the Lord Chancellor has the power to make regulations under Clause 15.
Amendment No. 18 will ensure that individuals who perform functions on behalf of the service under Clause 13 are considered officers of the service for the purpose of the Bill or any other enactment. Amendment No. 32 would ensure that the powers conferred on the inspector by the Bill under Clause 17 are fully incorporated into Section 63 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997. I beg to move Amendment No. 18.
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 21 and speak to Amendments Nos. 22 and 23. These amendments would ensure that CAFCASS would be able to act in all family proceedings under any of the current statutory definitions. The House knows that CAFCASS would bring together the family court welfare service, the guardian ad litem service and the children's division of the Official Solicitor.
Currently, there is no single statutory definition of the expression "family proceedings" under which the three existing services operate. To ensure that CAFCASS will be able to carry on the work currently undertaken by the three services it is essential that the definition of "family proceedings" in the Bill is comprehensive. These amendments ensure that the definition is comprehensive. CAFCASS would be under a duty and able to act in all proceedings classed as family proceedings under any of the current statutory definitions. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 22 and 23:
Page 6, line 35, after second ("in") insert ("the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 and also includes any other proceedings which are family proceedings for the purposes of").
Page 6, line 41, leave out ("that Act)") and insert ("the Children Act 1989)").
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 15 [Right to conduct litigation and right of audience]:
My Lords, this amendment relates to an area of the Bill which, in Committee, prompted a most detailed and thoughtful debate initiated by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. Following the debate, I received a letter from the Minister, Lord Bassam, and I thank him for his courtesy. I read it with interest, but it probably does not go so far as I hoped. The Minister says in the letter that parliamentary counsel had been asked to find an alternative form or words that would more precisely reflect the current position, limiting to a particular group of officers the powers of CAFCASS to authorise officers of the service to conduct litigation and to have rights of audience. They are identified as those who are qualified litigators, that is to say, lawyers, of which I believe there are three in the Official Solicitor's department and those who work for them, of which there are many more.
Noble Lords will recall that there were and remain two central issues to the concerns raised by the noble Earl and myself. The first related to a possible confusion which may be caused by the words in Clause 15(1)--"an officer of the Service"--particularly in relation to public law cases where a child has a right to the help and support of a guardian ad litem and a qualified legal representative. The current wording is ambiguous in that regard.
The second issue is in private law cases--that is, those where arrangements are being made for a child's future, sometimes as a result of matrimonial breakdown or where parents have cohabited, sometimes briefly, and arrangements are being made for future contact or residence with one or other of the parents.
Sometimes, one parent is almost unknown to the child and there may have been a history of some sort of abuse or trauma to both the child and/or one of the parents. In many cases, the child has an independent interest and a view which must be expressed. It is imperative that the court service should ensure that proper legal advice is provided for such children from a qualified legal professional and not from an officer who, however skilled, has no formal legal training.
The concerns which the noble Earl and I expressed were that the words,
"may authorise an officer of the Service", to conduct litigation could seriously undermine those two principles. Those concerns are shared by both the Law Society and the National Association of Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting Officers. For that reason, I have tabled these two amendments.
The first amendment seeks to enshrine the principle of legal representation for children in all cases so that where it is mentioned it encompasses both public and private law. Secondly, we seek to secure the principle of the tandem law principle in public law cases. I believe that that is completely accepted by the Government. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, went to a great deal of effort to explain in Committee. However, that could be potentially circumvented if the current wording survives. If my amendment were agreed to, it would underline the very clear assurances given by the Minister in Committee.
I know that the Minister also has tabled amendments in this regard and I hope that I may have an opportunity to comment on them after he has moved them. I beg to move.
My Lords, the government amendments are grouped separately from the noble Baroness's amendments. That does not make much sense. Perhaps I may speak now to the government amendments on which the noble Baroness may comment when she responds in relation to her amendments. We are talking about the same issues.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has expressed her argument and for her thanks to my noble friend for his letter. She will recognise, and has done so, that we have moved some considerable way since Committee. We are grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Earl for pointing out the problems which might have existed if we had left Clause 15 as it was. But, of course, we have not done that. Our amendments seek to prescribe the "officers of the service" in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor. Those people will be able to act for children.
I want to make it absolutely clear once again on the record that the Government favour the tandem system in public law cases. We believe that it has worked well and we want it to continue to work well under the new system which CAFCASS will introduce. We are not trying to undermine that in any sense at all.
However, we seek to protect the role of caseworkers who work for the Official Solicitor. Caseworkers are an integral part of the system operated by the Official Solicitor and they need to continue to be so in CAFCASS if it is to be successful. I have said already and I repeat that we are committed to the tandem model and that commitment will be reflected in the revised rules of court which are out to discussion at present.
Reference to the tandem model on the face of the Bill, which is the last of the noble Baroness's amendments is inappropriate. The term "tandem model" would need to be clearly defined if it were to stand part of the Bill. That issue would be better dealt with by rules of court.
It is essential that the current functions performed by caseworkers on behalf of the Official Solicitor can continue to be performed by them in CAFCASS. Caseworkers play a critical role in the Official Solicitor's office. A caseworker in the Official Solicitor's office will take on his or her own cases, under the supervision--that is crucial--of a lawyer.
Typically, the caseworker will attend a first directions hearings in which the caseworkers will agree the timetable for the proceedings with the judge and the other parties involved. The caseworker will also assist the judge as is necessary. I am given to understand that the role performed by the caseworkers is greatly valued by the members of the judiciary who must deal with those difficult cases.
CAFCASS must be able to draw on the experience and expertise of these caseworkers if it is to be able to continue to provide the excellent service to the courts that the children's division of the Official Solicitor currently does. Indeed it would be no less than disastrous for the courts and for children and families if they were not.
The Government recognise the strong feelings on the tandem model form of representation in public law cases, which is why we have given--and I have done so twice this evening--an assurance on our commitment to the continued use of that mode by CAFCASS and our own amendments clarify that.
I repeat that the purpose of Clause 15 is not to do away with the tandem model of representation in public law cases but to allow those transferring from the Official Solicitor's office to continue to perform the functions that they currently perform.
I shall speak briefly to the three amendments. We expect that three lawyers and 21 caseworkers will transfer from the Official Solicitor to CAFCASS. The amendments would exclude caseworkers from being authorised by CAFCASS under Clause 15 to continue to undertake the valuable work that they currently perform. We believe that such an exclusion would gravely damage the service's ability to carry on its duties. CAFCASS could not take the same number of cases as the children's division of the Official Solicitor's office currently undertake if it could not continue to use those caseworkers in the same manner as is the Official Solicitor's current practice.
If caseworkers were not able to continue to perform the valuable role they currently perform, CAFCASS would be less effective. It would not be able to safeguard and promote the welfare of children as effectively as the three existing services currently do. In effect, there would be a reduction in the service currently available. We believe that that would be a grave matter indeed.
Amendment No. 30 seeks to place on the face of the Bill a duty on CAFCASS to provide representation in accordance with the tandem model in public law cases. I repeat the assurance about the tandem model working well. We intend to cover precisely these matters in the revised Rules of Court. where the tandem model is currently described and dealt with.
Perhaps I may quote from Rule 4.11(2) of the Family Proceedings Rules 1991 which states:
"The guardian ad litem shall ... (a) appoint a solicitor to represent the child unless such a solicitor has already been appointed, and (b) ... instruct the solicitor representing the child on all matters relevant to the interests of the child, including the possibilities for an appeal, arising in the course of the proceedings".
The amendments seek to go far beyond the current arrangements by creating a duty in primary legislation which currently exists only in secondary legislation. We do not believe that that is necessary or desirable. Our intention is to amend the rules of court to reflect the creation of the new body, CAFCASS. We are currently discussing these matters with stakeholders, and we intend to retain the tandem model in the revised rules. I cannot say that more clearly.
We do not believe that the face of the Bill is the appropriate place to deal with these matters. If this amendment were passed, there could be real problems. One problem lies in the fact that a reference is made to the tandem model, but there is no statutory definition of, or reference in primary legislation to, that term. In order to stand part of the Bill such a term should have a watertight statutory definition, otherwise CAFCASS could face a number of difficulties, the main one being not knowing whether it had fully satisfied the duty imposed on it to act in accordance with the tandem model. Those are our reasons for suggesting that the noble Baroness should withdraw her amendments.
Perhaps I may mention the effects of our three amendments. First, our amendments would allow the current arrangements to be replicated in CAFCASS, with lawyers and caseworkers having the ability to conduct litigation and having rights of audience in all courts. Secondly, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will be able to exercise a significant level of control, through regulations, on those officers of the service that CAFCASS can authorise under Clause 15.
We looked at the drafting of Clause 15 in Committee and we have amended it. I make it absolutely clear that we do not intend to undermine the tandem model, nor do we want to compel guardians ad litem or family court welfare officers to conduct litigation or to act as advocates. I tell the House that so that it is crystal clear. I know that that is a concern of both organisations. I repeat: we do not intend that they should be compelled to conduct litigation.
Under our amendments, CAFCASS will be able to authorise only a "prescribed" officer of the service under Clause 15. Previously, CAFCASS would have had an absolute discretion as to which officers of the service it could authorise under the clause. That concerned the noble Baroness, the noble Earl and some organisations outside the House.
As the noble Baroness will know better than any noble Lords present, it is comparatively rare for children to be separately legally represented in private law cases. It happens, but not in the same way as in public law cases, where the importance of the case to society, as well as to the child, is paramount. In such private law cases where the courts judge that the child should have representation, normally the child would be made a party to the proceedings, as is necessary, and a guardian ad litem would be appointed, in which case the tandem model would immediately come into play, or the case would be referred to the Official Solicitor. Under our proposed amendment, CAFCASS will replicate the service provided by the Official Solicitor, a service which already is highly regarded by the courts and which we seek to preserve.
In other words--this is the important part of what I have to say on private law cases--there is no question of inexperienced officers, in private law cases or public law cases, being asked to conduct litigation in such cases. Our amendment will ensure that lawyers and experienced caseworkers, who support them and work under the lawyers' guidance, conduct litigation.
I am conscious that I have spent some time on this, but it is an important matter. I have done my best to provide an answer in a serious manner.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask for clarification on Amendment No. 25. Is the Minister concerned that the new powers of the Official Solicitor's office may lead to damage to the general partnership that is current between officers and the Official Solicitor's office? Inadvertently, it may greatly increase the power of the Official Solicitor's office, given that that office will have the power to appoint the officers of the service in the exercise of their functions.
My Lords, the children's division of the Official Solicitor's office will no longer exist. I suppose that the noble Earl means officers in that capacity at the moment and who will become an important part of CAFCASS. No, I do not believe that it will increase their powers unduly. We shall have to wait and see what happens as we are slightly in the dark. I believe that the House, particularly the noble Earl and the noble Baroness opposite, wanted some reassurance that, first, we shall scrap the tandem model and, secondly, that those who are not lawyers will not be compelled to appear as lawyers, as they are not bound to do currently. I hope that gives him some reassurance.
My Lords, I am enormously grateful to the Minister for the trouble that he has taken in relation to these amendments in Committee and today. I fully accept that "the tandem model" should not be on the face of the Bill simply as "the tandem model" because that would not explain it, but I am concerned that the principle of a public law case, where a child has the help of a guardian ad litem allied to a solicitor or a barrister, as the tandem model provides, is, as the Minister has said, not defined anywhere. I believe that we have an excellent opportunity to define it in this Bill so that we have enshrined for evermore the fact that there is a right. I do not for a moment dispute what the Minister has said, that it is in the family proceedings rules, but it is not in law. I do not believe it is difficult to define "the tandem model".
I fully understand that in his amendments the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has considerably restricted those who would work with children in private law cases. Before Third Reading I shall reflect on whether I should seek to have the words "of a qualified lawyer" inserted, particularly for private law cases because as the Bill stands at the moment the wording is "may appoint" and I believe that it would help if it were clear that priority should be given to ensuring that the child had that full legal representation. I know that in private law it is not always common for a child to need legal support, but it is not unusual; it is not unknown; and it is absolutely essential that there is no misunderstanding that that legal advice should be available.
I thank the Minister for the care that he has taken in relation to my concerns. I shall withdraw the amendments for the moment. I may or may not return to the matter at Third Reading.
My Lords, can the Minister explain the significance of moving the words,
"in the exercise of his functions", from line 21 to line 25? I know that these amendments have been carefully drafted but I must confess that I have been trying to work out what their significance is; in particular whether it is intended to insert the words,
"in the exercise of his functions", at the end of subsection (1)(b) so that it no longer qualifies subsection (1)(a); or whether the amendment is intended to qualify both paragraphs (a) and (b). I raise a point of detail, but it might be helpful to know whether or not there is an explanation.
I thank the noble and learned Lord for that question. My first thought on it--I shall of course take it away and consider it further--is that it was tabled to cover both subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b), which it would do in any event if it stayed where it was in the Bill. My second thought is that the expression, "of a prescribed description", which the Government seek to include, may be thought to go better with the expression "officer of the Service"; and the last expression currently in the first and second lines,
"in the exercise of his functions", was thought to read better if it went at the end of Clause 15(1) rather than in the first part.
However, perhaps I can consider what the noble and learned Lord said and perhaps write to him with the reasoning behind it.
My Lords, Amendment No. 42 is a minor technical amendment. It arises in this way.
In another place an amendment was moved by the Opposition Front Bench to increase penalties for child pornography and subsequently your Lordships agreed to that increase. As a result, that offence, which we all treat with great seriousness, became eligible for inclusion in the list of offences to trigger the disqualification order in Part II. The amendment is designed to achieve that and no more; to give effect to the successful opposition amendment which was then approved by your Lordships. With that short explanation, I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 43:
Page 61, line 41, at end insert--
("( ) he commits an offence under section 4(3) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 by--
(i) supplying or offering to supply a Class A drug to a child,
(ii) being concerned in the supplying of such a drug to a child, or
(iii) being concerned in the making to a child of an offer to supply such a drug,").
My Lords, grouped with Amendment No. 43 are Amendments Nos. 44 and 61.
The effect of these amendments is to include in the Schedule 4 list which I mentioned a moment or two ago, the offence of supplying Class A drugs when the supply is made to children. That means that those committing the offence of the supply of Class A drugs, and meeting all the appropriate conditions explained earlier in some detail, stand to be disqualified from working with children.
There were strong representations in your Lordships' House and elsewhere and we put our minds to the question, which is not entirely straightforward, as to whether or not to include misuse of drugs offences in the list of trigger offences. I am grateful to noble Lords who raised this issue. We paid careful attention to what was said and, rightly or wrongly, the consequence which occurred with the two ungrouped amendments earlier may arise, because the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, takes a different view on these matters. However, I am constrained by the groupings. Perhaps I can say, without discourtesy to her group, that she wishes to include cannabis as well; in other words, all controlled drugs, not simply Class A drugs.
We believe that Class A drugs are different. They have always been treated differently in the law. Sentencing for Class A drug offences is much heavier than for other drugs and we feel that one ought to maintain that clear distinction in seriousness. That is the short basis of our proposal. It is not suitable for me to pre-empt any views the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, may have. I simply indicate that she has an alternative approach to this problem. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for bringing forward these amendments and, secondly, I shall not press my amendments in this regard this evening. I wish only to make two points.
The noble and learned Lord rightly made a distinction between Class A and Class B drugs, if only to denote the seriousness of the offences. But I happen to be one of those people who believe that supplying drugs of any kind to children is absolutely wrong. Therefore I am sorry that this provision will not include the supply of all drugs to children. Nevertheless I am grateful to the Government for adding this to the list.
In the letter kindly sent to me and signed by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, mention was made of the Class A drug Ecstasy. The letter said,
"Ecstasy, also a class A drug, is more difficult, but as we are all aware, it can have lethal consequences".
I am not sure whether the amendments include or exclude Ecstasy, given that it is a Class A drug. And the Minister is correct in that we all know how lethal it can be. One only needs to think of Leah Betts and the great work being done by her parents to make young people more aware that one Ecstasy pill can take a life. It would be helpful to know, therefore, whether or not it has been excluded. I cannot work it out from the legalese of these two amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful for the courteous way in which the noble Baroness dealt with this amendment. I am happy to confirm that Ecstasy, being a Class A drug, will form part of the trigger mechanism, essentially for the reasons she indicated. Many think it is different from the hardest of hard drugs. But the noble Baroness is correct in that a single tablet can bring death. In all the circumstances we felt it right to use the band and category description of Class A and keep it intact.