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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I should like to speak to Amendment No. 10A tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. It covers the same point and I wish to add only a few remarks to those already made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe.
I wish to make two points. First, the name of an institution is rather more important than is sometimes thought. The great British public is in a state of abject confusion because we change almost on a whim the names of many key elements of different parts of our national life. No sooner have people got the hang of a new name, when, lo and behold, a new administration brings in changes, including changes to the name itself.
Secondly, the public will be helped greatly if the names of the boards are to some extent self-descriptive. That makes common sense. To refer simply to "local boards" without adding a qualifying adjective provides a recipe for confusion. That name is totally unmemorable, forgettable and neutral--some might even say a little "Kafkaesque". The present name "local board" suggests nothing more and nothing less.
We strongly support this proposal. It will allow local boards to add a prefix to the name "probation board", so that we would have, for example, the "Suffolk Probation Board" or the "Birmingham Probation Board". Such names would be simple and easily understood. I hope very much that the Government will agree.
Baroness Blatch: I should like to ask a question. Are these amendments in the wrong grouping? Should Amendment No. 10A be grouped with Amendment No. 10C? If that is not the case, this grouping does not make sense.
Lord Bach: Perhaps I may assist. Not long before the House sat I was told by the Whips' Office that Amendment No. 10A was to be taken with Amendment No. 7. That means that Amendment No. 29 will be taken in its place, after Amendment No. 28 and before Amendment No. 31. I am very sorry if the noble Baroness was not given that information.
I shall repeat the order of amendments. Amendment No. 10A has been spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury. The new first amendment in that grouping, Amendment No. 29, will be taken in its normal place. I hope that this has not caused confusion for the Committee.
The amendments seek to replace the reference to "local board" with the word "probation". We believe that that is unnecessary. It is unnecessary for a simple reason: calling the boards "local" boards emphasises their close relationship with the communities that they will cover. Furthermore, each local board will include the word "probation" in its title as well as the geographical area it covers. My argument that this provision is unnecessary is simply that it does not need to be included in the legislation. I do not believe that the amendments would achieve anything. However, I can give an assurance that the word "probation" will appear in each area board title.
Earl Russell: If I understand the Minister aright, he has told the Committee that the word "probation" is itself on probation. I should like to ask him to take a little more seriously the comment made by my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury; confusion is created by changing names.
I remember an older contemporary who never ceased to refer to Marylebone Station as the "Grand Central Station". Once one has fixed a name, it remains fixed. To start changing names engenders the kind of bewilderment felt by my wife--who was born and bred in Birmingham--when she tries to negotiate the city centre. It cannot be done.
Baroness Seccombe: I have listened to what the Minister has said, but it appears that, if the Government believe that the word "probation" will be used, then why should that not be included on the face of the Bill? We believe that that should be done. However, at this stage I should like to withdraw the amendment so that I can think about what to do next.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: For my part, I should be very happy to have "local probation board" if the Government set store by "local". But the argument the Minister adduced for the importance of keeping "local" in the title is even more strongly to be advanced in regard to keeping the word "probation".
Clause 4(6) gives the Secretary of State the power to redetermine any or all of the boundaries of the areas without further reference to Parliament. As the intention is that the 42 area boundaries dividing England and Wales would match those of the police forces and, to quote the Explanatory Notes, improve efficiency by,
So much rides on the boards and on how they function in their geographical areas that any alterations to the boundaries, once set, could only mean that the Secretary of State was rethinking the entire scheme. This would not be a minor or trivial matter which could be resolved by ministerial order. Once the boards were up and running any changes would be highly controversial. We believe that the implications are too great for the Secretary of State to make such changes under orders which have not been the subject of parliamentary scrutiny and that this clause should therefore be deleted.
However, if the Minister is not prepared to do that, Amendment No. 9 seeks to bring the draft order before Parliament, to be agreed by both Houses. This would ensure that proper consideration would be brought to bear on the matter. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is my turn to be slightly puzzled by an amendment. As I understand it, the amendment would remove the flexibility to alter and reshape the probation service areas in respect of geographical boundaries and would place an obligation on the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament any plans for redivision.
We take the view that it is necessary to ensure maximum flexibility in the way in which we operate. The existing power in the 1993 Act to redefine boundaries is exercisable without any parliamentary procedure at all. With this legislation we are attempting to achieve an improvement on the current position. That is probably the best way to proceed. The existing powers in the Probation Service Act 1993 allow boundaries to be redefined without any parliamentary procedure at all. We are seeking to put in place an undoubted improvement which provides for changes to be made by a negative resolution. Of course, the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation thought that this was a highly sensible way of proceeding.
To give the Secretary of State the flexibility to reshape areas without any further democratic involvement seems wholly undesirable. The point I was trying to make is that once the boundaries are set it will be a major job to change any of them: the boards are set up, the members are appointed, the boards are working and the police forces and the demarcation of the boundaries of the service are at one. So it will not be a trivial matter to change any boundaries. As I said, it will also be controversial. This should not be done by means of negative resolution but by a procedure which includes extensive consultation--perhaps more than was included in the 1993 Act--and that consultation should result in the democratic process of the Houses of Parliament having the opportunity to comment on the Secretary of State's proposals. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.