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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 10:

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 10 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 11, 13, 18, 20 and 70, and to Amendments Nos. 10C and 18A, which have been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury.

I cannot over-emphasise the importance of these amendments. The Central Probation Council and many chief officers feel extremely strongly about this. They are very concerned--I share that concern--that effective line management is not only desirable but absolutely crucial. If something goes wrong in the service--and in the Probation Service one can see potential for all kinds of things going wrong--it is very important to have clear line management and ownership of all that goes on in the Probation Service at a local level. It is a national service, locally delivered, and that will be absolutely essential.

The proposal that chief officers should not be employed by boards will create a severe difficulty for the employers. It will create a recipe for confusion of accountability and authority, and will leave the employers--that is, the probation boards--in an invidious position. Chief officers, too, are likely to find themselves in a difficult position, being members of a board charged with administering the local service but receiving direct instructions from the Home Office.

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The service will be working--as it does now--to national standards and national priorities. The whole thrust of the Bill is to improve performance and iron out inconsistencies across England and Wales. The service does not argue with that. Indeed, the Central Probation Council agrees with a national service locally delivered. However, the boards are to interpret national priorities in the light of local circumstances and local needs. As a member of a board, the chief officer should be party to that corporate decision but may receive conflicting instructions from the Home Office. For example, the police authorities have their sets of priorities throughout the year; the service as set out in the Bill will have an obligation to work with the police authorities. If their priorities are different, not consistent or do not reflect the particular needs of the Probation Service, there will be tension. The chief officer's line management goes upward to the Secretary of State, whereas the board has the responsibility for delivering the service locally, with the chief officer being a member of the board.

How will industrial relations be managed? What will be the reaction of staff to receiving instructions from someone who is not employed by the organisation to which they are contracted? How will boards delegate staffing issues to someone not in their employ? Will the Home Office be liable in the event that the chief officer rather than the board makes an error? Who would be sued? In that situation, would the Government be culpable along with the chief officer?

Ministers have spoken of the new Probation Service following the health service model. If that were the case, probation boards would employ their chief officers. The chief executive of a health trust is employed by the trust, and a police authority employs the chief constable, who is also a statutory office holder. These amendments give the Probation Service the same status and arrangements as health service trusts. In that respect they should be responsible for employing their chief officer.

The Secretary of State need have no fear. He would still retain the right of approval of the appointment of a chief officer to a particular area. Arrangements could easily be made for the secondment of a chief officer to the national directorate or to other areas. A new relationship between the chairman of the board and the Home Office is envisaged. The Secretary of State will be able to appoint, and indeed to remove, boards; he will have 100 per cent control over funding and allocation of funding between boards; he will set overall objectives for the service; he will receive reports from Her Majesty's Inspectorate, regular statistical and financial information, audit reports and annual reports from each board; and there will be powers of direction and default.

What benefit, therefore, is there in one individual being contracted to a different employer? It makes no sense. The Secretary of State's powers are not impeded one iota, but what is important is that the chief officer has the responsibility, and that the board, as employer, has a clear management line. In regard to the administration of a service as complicated as the Probation Service, whose work is so serious and

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complicated, and at times potentially dangerous, I hope that the noble Lord will be able to accept the amendment.

I have a feeling that a diktat has gone out across government saying, "Accept no amendments; stonewall; it all saves time". I hope the noble Lord knows that it is characteristic of this House not to be swayed by that kind of argument. Having sat on the Benches opposite, I know the feeling of irritation and urgency, the sense of "wanting to get on". But this is an important Bill. There is a huge amount of support behind the thrust of a national service locally delivered. This is an extremely important amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will see it in that light and that he will not repeat the arguments that he set out in the letter that he kindly sent to me, which were used also by his colleagues in another place. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Amendments Nos. 10B, 10C and 18A in this group stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. We do not intend to speak further to or move Amendment No. 18A. However, perhaps I may speak briefly to Amendment No. 10B and, in speaking to Amendment No. 10C, support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch.

Amendment No. 10B would give the board the power in effect to co-opt one person to be a member of the board. The power of co-option is one that is almost universally retained by governing bodies of all kinds. I should perhaps declare my experience for the past 20 years in drafting constitutions for all manner of principally voluntary and non-profit-making organisations but also commercial organisations. It is extremely useful for the boards to have a power of co-option. It would enable them to add to their number someone of particular expertise, contact or experience who might help in a particular project or predicament. I leave my advocacy of Amendment No. 10B at that. It is simple and would not in any way endanger the basic scheme.

Amendment No. 10C deals with the basic arrangements from Parliament, through the Home Secretary, to the national director, and down to the local boards. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and like other speakers at Second Reading, I believe that the balance is counter-productive and will not serve the Government's purposes or those of Members on this side of the Committee who to a large degree share the Government's purposes. This is an argument about ways and means.

Striking the balance between maximum devolution of power, authority and autonomy on the one hand, which tend to get the best out of people, and retaining an essential degree of control at the centre, which is necessary in terms of the consistency and thrust of national policy, calls upon the maximum wisdom of those in this Chamber and of the Government who are framing the provisions.

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The temptation in this age seems always to be: when in doubt, retain control; when in doubt, grab more control. The argument seems to go: if one has met a degree of difference, as most of us have, in the way in which probation services have been delivered by committees around the country, we must stop all the inconsistency, the variable quality and ensure consistency in future, and that that can be delivered only by a national system, nationally controlled.

We on these Benches in particular are doubtful about some of the assumptions made in terms of the attempt to ensure future quality by pulling powers into the centre. There are myriad examples where that has led to the reverse. There is nothing more consistent than the graveyard, but it is not exactly a place of dynamic creativity.

So we are strongly inclined to think that too much power has been garnered by the Secretary of State under these provisions. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, read out some of them to the Committee. I should like to concentrate on one of those powers. It is contained in paragraph 12, which states simply:

    "Functions and other powers of local boards must be performed in accordance with any directions given to them by the Secretary of State".

In various letters which the Minister kindly wrote to Members of this place after Second Reading, he made it plain that this is indeed intended to be an omnibus power and will be utilised to resolve--note the neutral word--local disputes that might arise within a board, and in particular between a board and the chief officer.

Perhaps I may quote from one of the letters written by the Minister on this point to my noble friend Lord Dholakia on 11th July. He said:

    "In common with the Chair and all the other board members, he [the chief officer] will be required, under Schedule 1 paragraph 12, to comply with any directions made by the Secretary of State. So it is clear that if any conflict does arise within the board, it can be resolved by the Secretary of State who will be able to direct all parties to follow the same course".

Oh, will he? How on earth will that work in practice? How on earth can the Secretary of State expect to be sensitive to all the ongoing, inevitable disagreements within the myriad boards over which he has this draconian power? The power is in itself dangerously wide. But the notion is that it will be used to resolve conflicts which, it is rightly said, are inevitable under the structure in the Bill as drafted, given that the chief executive officer is employed by, and is answerable to, not the board but the distant Secretary of State.

I know of no one on the world of governance, whether corporate, voluntary or any other, who believes that that is a workable arrangement. If it is not--and I have looked in vain for any precedent that might provide reassurance on the point--then it is our job as a revising Chamber to persuade the Government in effect to improve their own measure for their own ends.

Perhaps I may add a further important point. It is a commonplace that if power and authority are given to a group of individuals to get on with a particular task, first, they will usually rise to the challenge, and, secondly--this is my point--there is then some

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prospect of attracting to that body men and women of a higher calibre. My concern is that the boards will be so much under the thumb of the Secretary of State, and will be so curtailed in what they do--that is, they will have so little real power and no autonomy--that we shall not get the ablest men and women to sit on them. Frankly, if we do not, the job will be ill done. For that reason also, I strongly urge both the Minister and the Government to reconsider the issue. I realise how difficult that may be and I am aware of their aims and objectives. But I do not want to be saying, "I told you so", in five years' time. I am sure that we would all prefer this issue to be reviewed, with the Minister returning to us at the next stage with a new concordat.

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