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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I know that this point is made fairly regularly from those Benches when this issue is discussed. Of course I am aware of the concerns which the noble Lord expresses. As I understand it, the helpful point made by the report referred to in the noble Baroness's question is that one could achieve a different degree of positive action by political parties under the electoral law rather than the employment law, which has impeded the progress which the Labour Party was trying to make and which, as I am sure the noble Lord is very well aware, was challenged successfully in the courts. As I said, we believe that it is most worth while to pursue a solution in the direction of electoral law.
The noble Baroness said: The amendment groupings that came from the Home Office only this morning scooped up large proportions of the Bill into one set of groupings. There were some six clauses and more than 39 amendments together so I make no apologies for saying that we are talking about many different issues. The distinction between the issues is important and must not be overlooked.
Amendment No. 1, which inserts the words "and of property" is important. In another place, the Minister refused to reflect on the issue and refused to report back. In a debate on 4th April 2000, in Standing Committee G, recorded in cols. 7 to 9, he said:
Many noble Lords will know that a great deal of damage is done to business and domestic property. We also know that invariably it causes much distress, especially in the case of arson or burglary. As this is the first amendment to the Bill perhaps the Minister will be more accommodating than his friend in another place in order to clarify and to put beyond doubt the fact that the Government are concerned about the protection of people and their property.
As I understand it, the argument put in another place was simply that any damage to property is damage to the public. That is accepted, but they are different; for example, damage to property has little to do with the local community, but nevertheless it will cause some repercussion, whether economic or personal, and it seems to me that this issue must be taken seriously. This amendment gives the Government the opportunity to add the word "property" to this part of the Bill, and will show that they are concerned about people and property. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia: I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, which makes a lot of sense. In considering the aims of the probation service it is right and proper that we should not just look at matters relating to persons, but also to those relating to property.
I suspect that if the Minister were to examine crime figures he would find that the matters of property damage and property theft and so on feature highly, particularly when he looks at matters like theft from cars. The police seem to have given up on such matters.
When the Crime and Disorder Bill was discussed in this House, particularly in relation to racial matters and harassment, the Attorney-General was supportive of a move on my part to look at the matter of racially aggravated criminal damage against property. That issue caused a certain amount of concern in the community. I believe that we should seriously consider the matter of property being included in the aims of this clause.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her kind comments on the groupings. We like to believe that we have been as accommodating as we can be. I trust that the debates will be reasonably well focused. It is also important to ensure that we have sensible groupings. No doubt we have arrived at such a situation.
On Amendment No. 1, I well understand the concerns about crimes against property. Such matters have to be taken seriously. Crime against property is a crime against the community. However, in this Bill we are talking about the aims of the new national probation service. We feel that the current aims are those that are the most important, but we do not want to dilute them. We believe that an addition of this nature would dilute those clearly stated aims contained in Clause 2.
The aims of the service have been carefully devised to inform everything that the service does. Adding extra words to the aims of the Bill and adding new aims would dilute and reduce the focus of a new national service. On the specifics of the issue, protecting the public already includes protecting them against property offences.
The aims of the service have been carefully devised. They represent the key areas in which the service must make a difference. They are generic aims that will be applicable to the service's work with all offenders. However, the amendment refers to specific aspects of the work of the service and, while I agree that it is important--nobody would want to detract from the importance of considering property offences--we believe that it is too narrow to form part of the statutory aims.
If we are not to put everything into the aims, and thus run the risk of diluting them, in our view we need to concentrate on the global issues. The original clause does precisely that and for that reason I commend it to the House. However, it is worth bearing in mind that aims are only aims and ought to be distinguished from functions, which are set out helpfully in Clause 2.
We want the new service to concentrate on those activities which reduce crime. I thought that there was a consensus in this House on that issue. In many cases the way to reduce the likelihood of an offender re-offending is by assisting his or her rehabilitation. For those reasons I call upon the Committee to reject the amendment.
Baroness Blatch: The Minister thought he was being accommodating with the groupings. On one line there were 41 amendments covering 18 different subjects and on another there were 153 amendments in one grouping. I regard that as aggressive grouping and certainly not accommodating.
On the Government's argument about the amendment, first, I agree with the Minister in that there is absolute consensus across this House, and I suspect in another place too, that preventing and reducing crime has to be the focus of the criminal justice system. However, the argument that to ask the Probation Service to concern itself with the protection of the public and property is to dilute the focus has little intellectual validity. Protecting property is as important as protecting the public. My suggestion is pretty inoffensive but has brought about a pretty lousy response.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: Having heard what the noble Baroness has said, will the Minister ask the House to reject an amendment of such little form? I urge him to consider this matter between now and Report stage. There will be a great deal of uneasiness about the reply that he has just given. It will be a great pity if we start off the Committee stage of an important Bill with a Division on a matter of this kind. It would be far better to see whether there could be some meeting of minds between now and Report stage.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I always like to be accommodating where it is useful to be so. Of course, the Government continually reflect on matters, but at this stage I am content with the aims as set out on the face of the Bill.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 2 seeks to add the words, "and effective", after the word "proper" in Clause 2(2)(c). I hope the Minister will agree that the word "proper" is a rather clinical and legal term.
In order to command public support and respect for the Probation Service, punishment of offenders must be effective. I am the first to acknowledge that incredible work is being done throughout the Probation Service and it is important that we recognise that. But all those who work in the service would note the difference between the words "proper" and "effective". That is why we must distinguish between them. As set out in the Bill, the word "proper" in Clause 2(2)(c) does not subsume "effectiveness".
The "What Works" approach by the Probation Service was introduced by me when I was a Minister. It has now been in place long enough for more sophisticated statistics to be available. I hope that the Minister can helpfully inform the debate, given that it is probably going on five years since the approach was first introduced, as to what is and what is not working in the Probation Service, the degree to which lessons are being learnt and the degree to which best practice is being used throughout the service.
We know that for a long time just over 50 per cent of people who are on probation and serving community sentences offend again. However, within some practices in the service the reoffending rates are very low--and of course conversely within some practices in the service the reoffending rates are extremely high. If the average comes out at 52 per cent the urgency about applying the "What Works" approach is important.
I believe that there ought to be an obligation to produce an effective service. I hope that in accepting that additional word the Minister will provide the Committee now or before the next stage of the Bill with sophisticated statistics about how the "What Works" approach is working. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia: I listened carefully to what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, but I have a problem. I suspect that meting out effective punishment is a matter for the courts. While I subscribe to the idea that the type of reports produced should address that issue, I believe that effectiveness should be left to those who dispense justice.
There is wide variation between sentences passed in different parts of the country. Even in neighbouring areas one sees considerable discrepancies in the way in which similar offences are dealt with. I therefore understand the public's concern about how one
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