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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 6:

("(5) The Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament the conditions on which he makes any payment under this section.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 6 asks the Secretary of State to lay before each House of Parliament the conditions on which he makes any payment under this clause. I can be brief. I am seeking clarification from the Minister about the way in which the Government intend to make payments and about the conditions that would be attached to such payments. In Committee in another place the Minister agreed to offer clarification but argued that the amendment was unnecessary. I shall not take on that argument. If the amendment is unnecessary, it can only be unnecessary. We can be assured that it is unnecessary only if the noble Lord explains fully how this provision will work in practice. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: Amendment No. 6 is grouped with Amendment No. 58 which stands in my name. The proposed new subsection states:

    "The Secretary of State must be satisfied that sufficient resources have been made available to a probation board to ensure that it can perform its functions".

The present clause confers on the Secretary of State the power effectively to take over a failing probation board and introduce any other means he thinks

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appropriate, including asking the voluntary or private sector to manage it. I have no problem with that, but it would be helpful to know how one effectively measures failure. I shall use some examples. Clause 10 states that the test of failure is that,

    "it appears to him"--

the Secretary of State--

    "that the board is failing".

We would argue that a stronger test than subjectivity is needed if the failure is to be proved. In any event, we believe that the service must be adequately resourced to ensure a fair playing field.

The present position is interesting. In the past five years the probation budget overall has seen a cut of 25 per cent in real terms. At the same time, caseloads have increased by 30 per cent and overall staffing levels have been reduced by 15 per cent. Last year the average cut for the Probation Service was 4.7 per cent. The Probation Service's three-year plan predicts that there will be a continued rise in the number of cases supervised and the number of reports written over the next two to three years. In addition, by 2003 the Home Office expects 60,000 offenders, or 40 per cent of the overall caseload, to have been put though the effective practice initiative. That is a series of programmes aimed at changing offenders' behaviour, which require up to 100 hours of intensive group work.

If attention is not given to the resource issue in the next 12 months, most boards will run the risk of being in default. That point needs to be thoroughly addressed.

Earl Russell: There is truth in the maxim that all reorganisation leads to disorganisation. It has costs. My noble friend has just been saying exactly the same things that I remember the late Lady Seear saying on the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. It was the voice of Cassandra. It was not listened to and a great deal of damage has followed. I am tired of playing Cassandra; I would rather be listened to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I always listen to the noble Earl and his wise words on these matters. I hope that during the course of these debates we achieve effective results as a product of listening.

Both of these amendments deal with payments relating to the work of the national probation service. Amendment No. 6 would require the Secretary of State to lay before both Houses of Parliament the conditions on which he makes any payment to any person for any of the purposes in Clause 1 of the Bill, whether it relates to reports to courts, supervision, the rehabilitation of offenders, giving effect to community orders, supervising people released from prison, or providing accommodation on approved premises.

Amendment No. 58 would require the Secretary of State to be satisfied that sufficient resources had been made available to a probation board for it to fulfil its functions. I well understand the concerns that have given rise to that amendment. But it is not clear that Amendment No. 58 would have any practical effect.

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The amendment would be inserted at the end of the clause dealing with default powers and would appear simply as a statement.

We want to achieve a flexible and effective allocation of resources for a newly modernised national probation service. Given the detailed nature of the conditions and the extent and variety of payments made to the service, we believe that the amendments would perhaps lead to excessive scrutiny of the minutiae and detail of that service.

The Government require an effectively operating national probation service with unified leadership and of course control. But we are keen to resource probation services and to be effective in resourcing those services. The Government have made major investment. Under the first of our spending reviews we allocated an extra £127 million. This summer, in SR2000, we announced a further increase of £400 million. It is our intention over the next few years to increase staffing to the Probation Service by around 30 per cent.

We envisage payments for a range of purposes relating to the tasks of the national probation service. The payments will not only be to the local probation boards but, potentially, to voluntary organisation, external contractors, individuals and other bodies concerned with the criminal justice system. The conditions attached to these payments will need to be varied and detailed. It would be both unusual and unnecessary to place before both Houses the full conditions on which, for example, every payment to every voluntary organisation for probation-related work was made; nor would it be an effective use of resources to require the new Probation Service to supply that level of detail. The accounting and auditing arrangements in the Bill will provide the proper and appropriate level of public accountability. For that reason we do not support Amendment No. 6.

As I said earlier, Amendment No. 58 would add little to the Bill. We think that it is probably unnecessary, in particular in view of our funding commitments. As I read it, I do not see that it would provide a check on future governments who may be less inclined to invest in the Probation Service, because the clause would have very few teeth. For those reasons, we feel unable to support either of the amendments.

Baroness Blatch: We have had a useful debate and I am grateful for that. Given the nature of the new service, which will be a centrally directed, national service, it is important that the basis on which the Secretary of State will operate is understood throughout the service; namely, the basis on which "ad hocery" will be resorted to in a way that will be unfair or will cause injustice throughout the service.

If the amendment is unacceptable to the Government--I think that the arguments put forward by the Minister are persuasive--I still believe that, so far as concerns the service, there should be a proper understanding of the basis on which future funding will be made and the basis on which the Secretary of

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State's powers to intervene in or to procure (he will be in a position to delegate to a third party) provisions for the functions of the service. Such an understanding should be reached by a parliamentary decision, the production of a circular or other published information. That will allow the service to be confident about the way in which funding will take place.

The noble Lord has a weakness in that he always goes off at a tangent in order to comment on the Government's generosity with funding. However, these arguments do not at this stage address that point, although whatever the service's remit, one expects it to be properly funded. The arguments here are different from that. They concern how the Secretary of State will exercise his funding obligations and how to avoid allowing any degree of "ad hocery" to reign, thereby causing injustices. Both the service itself and this Committee need to be reassured on those points and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to find a way of providing that reassurance.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Perhaps I may respond to the final point made by the noble Baroness. She puts forward a good argument when she says that the means by which funds are allocated must be made plain to the service itself. No doubt we shall undertake to inform the service precisely of those means. However, I think that it would be inappropriate to put this point on to the face of the Bill.

Baroness Blatch: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

4.15 p.m.

Clause 4 [Local Boards]:

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 2, line 27, leave out ("local") and insert ("probation").

The noble Baroness said: I shall be brief because this is a simple and straightforward amendment. Nevertheless, it is important because it seeks to promote understanding of the Probation Service at the local level, in local communities. After all, that is where the good work that we have been discussing this afternoon is done. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

The amendment applies throughout the Bill wherever reference is made to "local board". We believe that that phrase should be amended to read "probation board". The use of the phrase "local board" is not only confusing and meaningless, but could cause problems when contracting with other boards. In-house, it may be understood, but to those outside, it would be ambiguous. Many other local boards exist, such as those of companies, banks and even the gas board.

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I note that in recent correspondence on 11th July, the Minister stated that:

    "when they come into existence, each will be a board for a particular area and will be named accordingly. So the full title for the local board for Essex, for example, is likely to be 'The National Probation Service for England and Wales--Essex Area Board'".

It seems to me that that is not only confusing as regards its reference to "area" rather than "local", but is clearly also less than succinct.

I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to our argument. I beg to move.

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