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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Offender Management Act 2007 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Bill Olner
Burrowes, Mr. David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
Byers, Mr. Stephen (North Tyneside) (Lab)
Gummer, Mr. John (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con)
Hamilton, Mr. David (Midlothian) (Lab)
Hands, Mr. Greg (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con)
Hanson, Mr. David (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice)
Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. David (Wells) (Con)
Hesford, Stephen (Wirral, West) (Lab)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Khan, Mr. Sadiq (Tooting) (Lab)
Love, Mr. Andrew (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op)
Mactaggart, Fiona (Slough) (Lab)
Riordan, Mrs. Linda (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op)
Slaughter, Mr. Andy (Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush) (Lab)
Thornberry, Emily (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab)
Willott, Jenny (Cardiff, Central) (LD)
Mark Oxborough, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Tuesday 11 March 2008

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Draft Offender Management Act 2007 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2008

4.30 pm
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. David Hanson): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Offender Management Act 2007 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2008.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner. The order makes amendments across the statute book as a result of part 1 of the Offender Management Act 2007. Part 1 contains new arrangements for the provision of probation services; I am sure that hon. Members will recall the passage of the Offender Management Bill in July 2007.
The amendments in the order are largely technical. Where legislation refers to the current probation structure of local probation boards, the order amends it to include references to the new probation arrangements in the Act. Although several consequential amendments were made to schedule 3, my noble Friend Baroness Scotland and I made it clear during the passage of the Bill that we would have to introduce further amendments in due course.
The provisions in part 1 of the Act include two distinct changes to the previous probation legislation: the Criminal Justice and Courts Services Act 2000. First, the 2007 Act places a statutory duty for the provision of probation services on the Secretary of State; under the 2000 Act, that statutory duty had been placed on local probation boards. Secondly, the 2007 Act allows for the establishment of probation trusts as the public sector bodies that will provide probation services and, I hope, eventually replace local probation boards if quality thresholds are met.
We are commencing the new provisions in part 1 of the 2007 Act for the first six trust areas on 1 April, so the amendments made by the order will need to come into force by that date. As hon. Members can see, the order attempts to update legislation such as the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970, the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the Mental Health Act 1983 to ensure that the new arrangements are reflected in existing legislation. The amendments made by the order ensure that the duties and responsibilities placed on local probation boards across the statute book will apply to providers of probation services with whom the Secretary of State has contracted under the new probation arrangements.
I particularly want to draw the Committee’s attention to the amendments to discrimination legislation. The Government committed themselves to ensuring that the duties in relation to discrimination legislation would apply to all providers of probation services in future. The order makes the necessary amendments to gender, race and disability legislation to ensure that probation trusts and other providers of probation services are required to meet the statutory obligations of local probation boards and other suppliers of public sector services.
I hope that Committee members will have noted that the approach adopted with the consequential amendments in the order ensures that legislation dealing with probation arrangements will refer to the current and the new arrangements of local probation boards. That reflects the phased approach to establishing the new probation arrangements that I mentioned. As I said, the order therefore seeks to include a reference to the new arrangements in the 2007 Act alongside existing arrangements, rather than simply replacing references to previous legislation.
As many hon. Members will be aware, we have chosen to take a cautious approach to the broader changes to probation provision. Once local probation boards have been abolished, we will repeal references to them using the mechanism in section 38 of the 2007 Act.
The order also makes other necessary arrangements. From 1 April, the probation inspectorate will be called Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation for England and Wales. The new name reflects the broader objective in the new arrangements of developing a range of probation services that include support from private and third-sector organisations.
By and large, the order is technical; it is not a policy change, but simply updates existing legislation. I commend it to the Committee.
4.35 pm
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner. I do not think that any members of the Committee had the privilege to be on the Committee that considered the Offender Management Bill. If they had been on that Committee, they would find it difficult to recall the passage of schedule 3, which dealt with minor and consequential amendments. That gave a taster of what we have the pleasure of dealing with today in relation to what are, again, minor and consequential amendments. From looking at Hansard, it is difficult to see how long it took to deal with that taster—it seems to be a matter of minutes and at best covers one and a half pages. Therefore, you will be pleased to know, Mr. Olner, that this is a matter of formality that does not require too much time. I do not intend to discuss all 25 Acts that will be amended or the 15 orders—there is no need for that.
Nevertheless, I shall use this opportunity to ask a couple of questions. The Minister mentioned that a phased approach is being adopted to the implementation of the Offender Management Act 2007. I would be interested to have confirmation of some timings. First, will the first probation trust come into effect on 1 April 2008? What will the maximum number of probation trusts be? Will they reflect the boards—of which there are currently 42—in number?
I do not propose to take up any more of the Committee’s time. I do not wish to oppose the consequential amendments.
4.38 pm
David Howarth (Cambridge) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Olner. As the Minister says, this is largely a technical amending order, but from the start I should say that I remain entirely unconvinced by the underlying legislation. Despite the withdrawal of the idea of a fast roll-out of the new system nationally, I still think that the measure is centralising and wholly unnecessary. The previous system had sufficient flexibility to allow for experimentation with different sorts of provision. Nevertheless, we are where we are and, as the Minister says, the order does not on the whole make any policy changes, although there is one policy choice, on which I would like the Minister to comment.
Before discussing that, let us consider the order from the point of view of a parliamentary draftsman. Were a technical lawyer to look at the original schedule of consequential repeals and amendments, and then at the order, he would not be filled with pride. I do not blame the draftsman for that, but the enormous number of amendments that we keep returning to consider is evidence of undue haste in the production of the underlying legislation.
I would like the Minister to comment on just one area of policy choice. On looking down the list of Acts being amended, the Act is applied sometimes to the probation trust, sometimes to the probation provider, and sometimes to both. In most cases, it is obvious why that choice has been made. For example, the Local Authorities (Goods and Services) Act 1970, which was a blight on the lives of many people in local government for many years, applies to the trust, because it is the equivalent of the local authority rather than the probation provider. However, it is not clear why, in paragraph 17, the Government have chosen to apply the Freedom of Information Act 2000 solely to the probation trust and not to probation providers, despite the fact that they will be carrying out a public function when they carry out functions under the Act.
We can compare that measure with the way in which the anti-discrimination legislation has been treated—the Minister said that that was the most important part of the order. Under the provisions, the anti-discrimination legislation applies to the trust and to the provider in so far as the provider is carrying out a public function. It is not obvious to me why the same rules should not apply to freedom of information.
4.42 pm
Mr. Hanson: The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate raised the issue of the programme to roll out probation trusts. He will be aware that I have already agreed the order to approve the first six trusts from 1 April 2008: Dyfed-Powys, Humberside, Leicestershire and Rutland, Merseyside, South Wales, and West Mercia. There are currently 42 probation boards and the Government intend to roll out the further 36 between now and 2010 subject to—this is an important caveat—the boards reaching an acceptable standard before they become trusts. We have put in place a quality test to allow that to happen. I am confident that all boards will achieve that quality standard by 2010 and that they will become the 42 trusts accordingly.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the question of the commitment to retain the boards in the public sector until at least 2010. I am happy to reconfirm that. Again, during the course of the Committee to which he referred, my predecessor, the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), then Under-Secretary of State for Justice, indicated that there were no plans to open the question of assistance to courts. We gave an assurance—[ Interruption. ]
The Chairman: Order. If hon. Members wish to have a private conversation, I suggest that they leave the room. Otherwise, they should listen to the Minister.
Mr. Hanson: When the Offender Management Act 2007 was progressing through Parliament, concern was expressed that key probation services should remain in the public sector in the short term, and it was decided that the provision of assistance to courts should be retained in the public sector until Parliament agreed otherwise by order. At the moment, we have no plans to open assistance to courts. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate.
The hon. Member for Cambridge raised the issue of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which was an important point. I hope that he is aware that we had a consultation in relation to the freedom of information application that closed on 1 February. We aim to publish the Government response to that consultation in May. If I am minded to make a section 5 order then, there will need to be a consultation with the organisations that will be covered by the order. I will consider that until May. In the event of us progressing, as I expect that we will, I would expect that we will finalise decisions some time in the early autumn. I hope that that gives the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he seeks.
With those caveats, I commend the order to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Offender Management Act 2007 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2008.
Committee rose at fourteen minutes to Five o’clock.

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