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I hope that I have said enough to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, to invite him to withdraw his amendment with good conscience. He has ably established, as on so many other occasions, that we are in total agreement about the outcome, if not, perhaps, the method.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am pleased to be the vehicle through which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised the question of ASBOs and restorative justice. I thank the Minister for that comprehensive explanation. I am particularly reassured by the clarification of the definition of public authority and, on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in view of our earlier debate, it is perhaps somewhat perverse of me to move Amendment No. 16. I do so because there are one or two aspects of the matter that I wish to place on the record and about which I wish to hear the Ministers reply.
The amendment means that the Secretary of State would not have the power to provide by order that local authorities may subcontract to specific types of body their powers to enter into parenting contracts or to apply for parenting orders; the powers would be retained by the local authority. As we have already discussed, the scope of the legal power to apply for a parenting order or to enter into a parenting contract gives enormous discretion to those who exercise it and requires skill, knowledge, expertise and objectivity. Tenant-run management organisations, which are one of the bodies proposed, would, by definition, be very close to the issue, and that would run the risk of inappropriate applications being made.
The Governments view is that the process would be more efficient if local authorities could relinquish responsibility for applying for parenting orders or for entering into contracts, but that argument is not good enough when the issue is serious. The Minister assured the House that there will be conditions in the parenting order to protect families and ensure good practice, but since no draft parenting order has been presented for scrutiny we do not know whether the conditions specified in it would give us any comfort. Furthermore, any order would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. It is worrying that this House is expected to use its time to scrutinise legislation without being in a position to do so. There are risks here that need not and should not be run. However, I agree with the Minister that agencies can and should work together and I look forward to her reply. I beg to move.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for the way in which she has opened this issue, because it gives me an opportunity to respond and explain how we see it. Clause 25 is significant because local authorities must have the flexibility to make appropriate local decisions to ensure that their functions are carried out as effectively as possible, not least those of tackling anti-social behaviour by young people and providing effective support to parents. We have touched on our agreement on multi-agency working. The ability to contract out all or some of their parenting contract and order-seeking powers to other bodies, organisations or agencies may assist authorities in their management of strategic and operational functions.
Clause 25 inserts a new Section 28A into the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 to make it possible for the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales to make an order enabling a local authority to contract out to a specified person the functions of entering into parenting contracts and applying for parenting orders. There may sometimes be a separate specialist agency to which it would be wholly appropriate to contract out, and I know that the
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Local authorities will have discretion on whether to contract out parenting contract and order functions to those bodies specified in the order and will retain the power to discharge that function in their own right whether or not they have contracted out that function. So we have given them the ability to say, No, we do not want to do this; we want to do it ourselves, and this is how we are going to do it internally. Moreover, local authorities, and the persons to whom they contract out, will be required to have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, as appropriate.
Given the safeguards, we believe that Clause 25 is a perfectly proper provision to include in the Bill and would enable better delivery of what the noble Baroness would like to happen, particularly for multi-agency working and the use of specialists who may be more appropriate to discharge certain functions.
The noble Baroness raised the issue of tenant management organisations. There are built-in safeguards in the right to manage process, by which a tenant management organisation takes over management responsibilities from a local housing authority. These safeguards ensure that the tenant management organisation is an accountable and properly constituted body that is competent to undertake housing management functions and has the support of the majority of affected tenants. It is important to bear in mind that many tenant management organisations are made up not of a group of Dont have a clue type of tenants but of the more active, more engaged and energetic type of tenants who all live in the same block of flats, and in most cases, the tenant management organisation is run by professional housing managers, support staff and blue-collar workers. I am sure that the noble Baroness knows of other instances in which very effective and committed local people have managed these circumstances much better because they have had a very direct purchase on the outcome.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness and put on record how we believe that this provision could be used most effectively. With that assurance, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. However, I remain unconvinced. My reservation, which I have just raised, particularly concerns the conditions that will be written into the parenting contracts without knowing the detail and whether the best interests of very vulnerable, albeit very difficult, families and their children are being properly attended to. However, in
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(2) If the carrying out of an inspection is delegated under sub-paragraph (1) above it is nevertheless to be regarded for the purposes of section 5A of this Act and this Schedule as carried out by the Chief Inspector.
(5) A person or body may be specified under sub-paragraph (4) above only if it exercises functions in relation to any prison or other institution or matter falling with the scope of the Chief Inspector's duties under section 5A of this Act.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to speak to the whole series of amendments regarding how we will deliver inspection. I hope I have made plain on behalf of the Government throughout these debates that our starting point has always been that the best way to provide a modern, joined-up inspection regime for the criminal justice system is to have one single inspectorate rather than several. We remain convinced that a unified inspection regime would support frontline staff by minimising the additional work that inspection involves and provide an enhanced capacity to challenge whether the system is in practice giving the public the best possible service by looking more effectively at the system as a whole.
The Government remain committed to a simplified inspection landscape across the public sector as a whole. But at the same time we recognise the concerns expressed by the House about how that regime is and should be delivered. It is perhaps only appropriate that I say that I was disappointed and perhaps a little surprised by some of the comments made when we debated the matter on Report. There was almost an unsaid implication that the Government were creating a justice, community, safety and custody inspectorate precisely with the intention of diminishing the strong voice of the prisons inspectorate.
We have made clear all along that that was not our purpose. If anything, we wanted to enhance the voice of the inspectorate to give even greater power, acuity and effectiveness so that we could deliver not just that which we currently do but much more. It is perhaps right if I put on record that Anne Owers, the Chief Inspector of Prisons, has made absolutely clear to me that she has never ascribed such a motive to the Government's proposal. It is perhaps as well that I say that for the purposes of the record.
We have therefore looked very carefully at how we can deliver that which all sides wanted but in a way that might be more acceptable. We always made clear that we wanted any new arrangement to combine the existing strengths, which I have just described, and the expertise of the five inspectorates with the benefits of a more joined-up approach, but felt we could not guarantee the delivery of those benefits without statutory provisions.
However, discussions have taken place during the past few days between Ministers and the five existing chief inspectors and we have been impressed by the chief inspectors determination to work towards the benefits of joined-up working. As part of those discussions, chief inspectors have entered into four commitments.
First, they have reaffirmed their commitment to the streamlined and modernised inspection programme as set out in the policy statement of November 2005, and to the Governments 10 principles of public service inspection.
Secondly, they have agreed to develop a joint business planning process to provide a framework for joint inspection work to be developed from priorities indicated by the three Ministers. They will produce the first joint plan for 2007-08. Early priorities will include an enhanced thematic programme and clarity about how the inspectorates intend to work towards mainstream inspection of end-to-end processes across agency boundaries. An important early step will be the creation of a common secretariat drawn from existing staff to support that work.
Thirdly, they have agreed to review the use of resources and back-office support to identify any efficiency gains which can be redeployed to joint working. Finally, they have agreed to report quarterly to Ministers on the progress of those arrangements.
These proposals have convinced the Government that we can achieve our objectives for the criminal justice system more quickly and effectively by focusing our efforts on strengthening and improving joint working across the inspectorates, rather than on proposals for organisational merger at this time. That is underpinned by the clear commitments of each of the chief inspectors to deliver real improvements in joint working, as I have just outlined.
We therefore now propose to withdraw the bulk of Part 4. In its place, we will apply to each of the existing inspectorates the provisions in Part 4 for delegation of functions, inspection programmes and frameworks, gatekeeping in respect of inspections by other inspectorates, co-operation, joint action and assistance for other public authorities. That will provide the statutory underpinning for the more efficient and effective joint working to which we know that the inspectorates are committed.
I wish to make clear that the amendments do not change the existing remits of the respective inspectors; the additional responsibilities originally provided for in the Bill do not obtain. They are simply intended to provide ways in which they can exercise their current functions more co-operatively and flexibly. I do not think that there can be any doubt that that is a desirable aim. Indeed, that view has been
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To ensure that this is made clear, we have acknowledged the concern that has been expressed by the Joint Committee on Human Rights about the ability of Her Majestys Inspectorate of Prisons to continue to make unannounced inspections by providing expressly that the requirement to produce inspections programmes and frameworks does not prevent unannounced visits, either by Her Majestys Inspectorate of Prisons or any of the other inspectors. That is the new provision, which explains matters more clearly.
We will keep these changes under review and expect to see early progress; for example, in joint business planning. As part of this, we will be looking further at the merger proposals and intend to keep under active review the option of re-introducing legislation. To that end, we will press ahead with work already begun in order to achieve our policy aspiration of a more joined-up inspection regime for the justice system by April 2008.
Some minor technical adjustments may have to be made, given that we now have five separate inspectors, but the substance of all the amendments will remain unchanged. I hope that the amendments will enable the House to feel, first, that the Government have stayed true to the principle of independent and rigorous inspections, and, secondly, that we have been able to deliver the joined-up additional strengthening that we sought and in a way that enables the House to feel content that the nature of the inspection is better assured. I beg to move.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. May I say how grateful I am, as I am sure many other Members of this House are, for what she has said and for the depth that the Government have clearly gone into with the inspectors, who are the people most concerned about what she has just described? Before our debates in this House, the inspectors were feeling somewhat separated from the process, which is thoroughly unfortunate.
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