Clause 263 - Review of arrangements

Criminal Justice Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 25th February 2003.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:30 am, 25th February 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 980, in

clause 263, page 146, leave out lines 9 and 10.

This is a probing amendment to ask the Minister to explain how the appointment of lay advisers works—I assume that such a system has been working under the existing scheme—and how they drawn from the community and identified. It is an extremely satisfactory idea, but as we are about to put it into statutory form, it would be useful to establish the role that they play and how they are identified.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking

I have one query about the lay advisers. No doubt they already exist, and I do not want to fall into the trap of being referred to a previous book, which I should have read. Does the Minister know what fees might be paid to them? Is it just a matter of expenses or will there be a rate equivalent, for example, to that for a recorder or assistant recorder? Will it be a daily or an annual rate? What will be the extent of their commitment in days or weeks per year, and what will be the total burden on the public purse?

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Minister for Prisons and Probation)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Beaconsfield for having tabled the amendment, because it gives me the opportunity to describe the background. The aim of the clause is to enhance public understanding of, and confidence in, the arrangements that we have been debating. It arose from the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had with the parents of Sarah Payne at a time when, hon. Members will remember, there was a vigorous campaign for the introduction of Sarah's law, a crusade to reveal the identity and whereabouts of all sexual offenders. Having given the matter very careful consideration, the Home Secretary came to the view that that would not help us to protect children. That is the argument. All the evidence shows that if Sarah's law were to exist, it would drive sex offenders underground. If sex offenders are underground and change addresses, the people charged under these clauses with managing the risk that they pose will have a much more difficult task, and that will not help us to protect children.

However, we recognise that there is a need for greater public understanding of and confidence in the measures that we have in place. We have, therefore, developed the idea of appointing two lay members to MAPPAs to take part in strategic management boards. The hon. Gentleman is right that in eight pilot areas—Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey, Greater Manchester, Durham, Cumbria, South Wales and West Midlands—we advertised for people to put themselves forward. A rigorous selection system was established to ensure that the people who were appointed had the skills that could contribute to the posts. They took up their positions this month, following a training programme. It is still early days, but the pilot arrangements are being formally evaluated by Manchester university and that evaluation will help us to implement the Bill. The lay advisers will be paid expenses and, where necessary, reimbursed for loss of earnings. I hope that that is of assistance.

The same principle applies here as in other instances of oversight of public administration in which lay members are involved. They will bring a perspective

that professionals might not have. Their job will not be to decide what the licence conditions are in each case. That is why they will take part in the strategic management board that will, generally, meet quarterly. Working with others who form the MAPPA, they will satisfy themselves that effective arrangements are in place in the area for managing the risks that might be posed.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 9:45 am, 25th February 2003

It occurs to me that if the intention is to provide not only an input into the process but a reassurance to the community, we should recognise that there is a great difference between, for instance, the Greater Manchester police and the City of London police, in terms of work loads and the communities that the advisers will represent. There are huge geographical areas and different communities in some police authority areas. In Avon and Somerset, inner-city Bristol is rather different from Exmoor in terms of the communities that are represented. In some cases there will be a congregation of offenders, simply because of the location of institutions. I am thinking, for instance, of the Isle of Wight in the context of Hampshire. I worry that we are giving the lay people in some areas the impossible task of adequately representing those communities, if indeed they are held to have a representative function.

Photo of Mr James Cran Mr James Cran Conservative, Beverley and Holderness

I did not interrupt, because the point was important, but that was more a speech than an intervention.

Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Minister for Prisons and Probation)

Thank you, Mr. Cran. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the sizes of the populations covered by the different areas vary greatly, Greater London being the largest area. However, that is not relevant to the general principle that the clause establishes. The two lay advisers do not manage the total case load, but satisfy themselves, working with police, the probation service, prisons and others, that effective arrangements are in place. The concept of representative capacity is interesting. The lay advisers are there in one sense on behalf of the community of the area, to say, ''We are two lay people. We are not professionals involved in the management of these risks, but we have been asked to undertake this role in order to bring the background, experience and skills that we have.'' In the same way, we ask lay people to do such things in relation to the magistracy, training, school governing bodies and lots of other functions in society. I believe strongly that this is a positive step forward, because lay people can bring an invaluable range of skills, knowledge and experience to the arrangements and ask questions that might not necessarily be asked by the other professionals around the table.

The step proposed is modest and came out of the circumstances surrounding the tragedy of the Sarah Payne case. I think that it was the right response to that case. The wrong response would have been to make names available, which, for the reasons that I gave, would not help us to protect children. We want to reflect on how the proposal goes, which is why we are piloting it in eight areas. The people have only just begun and have not even been in post for a month yet. I hope that when we have a chance we shall see from

the evaluation that the process works successfully. We shall then be able to extend the provision of lay advisers to all the areas, for the reasons that I have tried to argue.

Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister. This has been an interesting short debate on an important topic. There is a slight anxiety—I detected it in the Minister's response—about the extent to which lay people can be seen as representative of the community. One of the reasons for putting them there was undoubtedly the response to the Sarah Payne case. It has always been my view that if lay people are to make an impact and scrutinise the activities of professionals, they must have considerable skills of their own, drawn from their activities or background. Otherwise there is a serious danger of what used to be the case with school governors—I think that it is no longer the case—whose role in many state schools was to be little more than a rubber stamp for decisions taken by others. I am thinking back 15 or 20 years, when I was a school governor of inner London schools. I thought that the role of governors was largely decorative and that they had no real impact on the school environment at all. That was in the days of the Inner London Education Authority.

I have the same slight anxiety in the present case, and look forward to having a bit more detail about the lay membership of the bodies in question. It would be useful in due course to know a little more about the backgrounds of the lay members and what expertise they will contribute. If that information can be made available, it would be helpful.

I thank the Minister for explaining how the arrangements are working at present and I hope that they succeed. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 263 ordered to stand part of the Bill.