Report (5th Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 20th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 6:00 pm, 20th March 2012

I was very glad to put my name to this amendment. As always, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd. On this occasion, I do so because it provides an opportunity, which is not present in much of the rest of the Bill, to mention the problems faced by the probation service.

It was a great pity when the probation service was made subordinate to the Prison Service under the arrangements of the National Offender Management Service because for years they had worked closely together with the courts and the police in the local area. The amendment draws attention to that relationship. It also makes the point that magistrates must know what is capable of being done in prisons so that there is relevance between what is ordered to be done for the rehabilitation of someone and what is able to be delivered. That will be different all over the country, and rightly so because conditions will be different. Also, as I mentioned in Committee, if prisons and the probation service had to do the same thing everywhere, it would help sentencers enormously to know what was there and what was not there, and the Ministry of Justice would also know what there was and could make good any shortfalls.

The other day, I was very alarmed to hear that the governor of Lindholme, Moorland and Hatfield prisons in Yorkshire had ordered the probation service out of those prisons because the local probation service in that part of Yorkshire was having to work with G4S over the provision of probation services. Presumably, that must have been under the direction of the National Offender Management Service and under all the marketing strategies that it is following. I mention that because I am very disturbed about probation services being marketed when the service is concerned with the face-to-face probation officer and offender relationship, which is absolutely crucial to rehabilitation.

I do not know on what authority the governor ordered the probation service out, but it is alarming because, if he is able to do that, he is interrupting the whole rehabilitation process and drawing attention to the fragility of probation, which must work closely in the community, with police and probation being subordinate to prisons. Therefore, apart from supporting this amendment, which I think improves the Bill and draws attention to the rehabilitative element of all that is going on, I am also glad that it allows us to draw attention to the problems faced by the probation service without which we are not going to be able to reduce the vast numbers in prison who are choking that system.