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Lord Bassam of Brighton: On a point of clarification, I tried to say--I thought that I had done so effectively--that I understood the importance of local input. I thought that I paid the noble Baroness a compliment in referring to her background. I thought that she too would understand the importance of local input. I certainly do not want to denigrate that in any shape or form.
It is wrong to conclude--as I believe the noble Baroness suggested--that we are critical of all aspects of local committees and local services. The Government simply want to ensure that we build on important local strengths but within an effective national framework.
Baroness Blatch: We are not arguing about the national framework. The service must be delivered locally. The profiles of areas differ. Crime varies greatly between rural areas, towns, cities, urban and suburban areas. Those areas all pose different problems, tensions and challenges for local people. I support the effective local delivery of the service. As I say, no one is arguing about the framework. However, the Government appear to be imposing central operation on the service. I believe that will work against effective local delivery and will place chief officers in an invidious position vis-a-vis local boards, local police authorities and the other agencies with which they work.
The Minister has just said that he did not criticise the service. I hope that he will read his response in Hansard. The rationale for the proposed changes is that the boards and the chief officers have not worked well. As I say, I hope that the Minister will read his
Baroness Blatch: I hope that I may finish my point. It is alleged that the Secretary of State needs to adopt central control of the service for a consistent service to be delivered. There are some problems here. The Minister said that we want strong leadership, referring to the Secretary of State. I suggest that we want good leadership from chief probation officers. The Minister said that we need an overall national strategy. I do not argue with that. That constitutes a development of the national standards that we have had. The Minister said that we want consistency in the application of those standards. Again, I do not argue with that. A central inspectorate was mentioned to oversee that matter. That is the tool that the Secretary of State will use to assess the operation of the service.
However, the Minister then said that the Government want a more diverse service. Of course we want a more diverse service as it needs to reflect the challenges that arise in each area. The Minister said that we want better accountability. Earlier I mentioned the powers that are not affected by the amendments. The Secretary of State will still retain the right of approval over the appointment of chief officers. He will still be able to appoint and remove boards. He will have control of 100 per cent of funding and allocation of funding. He will set overall objectives for the service. He will receive reports from the inspectorate and will be given regular statistical and financial information, audit reports and annual reports from each board. He will also have powers of direction and default. For goodness sake, those are sufficient powers!
Our argument may seem trivial. The Minister may believe that somehow or other we misunderstand the matter. It is patronising to imply that as we have all been involved in local politics we should not worry our pretty little heads about the matter and that eventually we shall understand what is proposed. The letter that has been mentioned is patronising in suggesting that the boards have not "thought themselves into" the new service and that chief officers have not appreciated the fact that the service will be different. That maligns chief officers. I believe that they well know what lies ahead and that they are excited about it. They want to make it work. The Minister talked of ineffective local boards and said that we need central management. I am sorry that he should have said that.
Before I decide what to do with the amendment, I hope that the Minister will say something about non-departmental public body status. Are these boards non-departmental public bodies? If that is the case, do they enjoy full NDPB status? What exactly are they? It is important that I receive a reply to that question before I decide what to do with the amendment.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not sure that I shall be able to give the precise answers that have been sought but I shall endeavour to do my best. I do not think that one can describe local boards as non-departmental public bodies. Usually they are established on the basis of an arm's-length relationship with the department. However, in this case I do not think that one can accurately argue that to be the case. We are, after all, creating a national probation service and we intend to manage it as such.
However, we are considering the status of the boards. We need to view this matter in a rather different light. This goes to the heart of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, made. It is not easy to suggest comparable structures as this is a unique service. It is a service we are trying to align with other parts of the criminal justice system. We seek to create a national service for all the reasons on which I believe we are agreed; namely, the need to create strong, effective, firm and good leadership with a consistent application of policy and with a clear sense of purpose. As I say, this is a unique service. There will be change. I believe that there are differences as regards the positions that we have adopted on this matter. However, there is also a degree of consensus. We believe that the management arrangements that we seek to put in place will be effective. Time will tell.
To take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, from time to time there may well be conflicts but we think that they will be few and far between. By establishing a clear sense of line management and management discipline, we believe that there will be fewer than in the past.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am sorry to interrupt the Minister again. I am grateful to him for giving way. However, I must press the noble Lord. He talks about wonderful line management. What happens in the circumstances about which I speculated: the board says one thing and the Home Office says another. There is not a direction but simply a line of policy. Where is the line of management?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thought that I had made it plain that one would expect the national service to ensure that there is effective line management and that it will come from the centre. We would not expect there to be the extremes of conflicts that the noble Lord envisages. The board will wish to direct the way in which the service operates. Ultimately the Secretary of State will be able to overrule the way in which the
I do not see the service working in the adversarial conflict-driven way that the noble Lord describes. We think that the management arrangements that will be spelt out will be clear and effective and that we shall be able to resolve any of the problems and tensions that the noble Lord envisages. I do not think that it will happen in the way the noble Lord envisages.
Baroness Blatch: The situation is even more depressing. The Minister did not answer the point of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. The Minister said that the boards can be overruled. He gave no example of where that occurs in any other form of governance. Chief constables are appointed by their local authorities but they are approved by the Home Secretary. Health trusts are appointed. I imagine that the short list is again approved by the Home Secretary of the day.
The noble Lord does not think that these conflicts will occur. At this stage of legislation, we ask the Minister, "If this were to occur, what would happen?" It is not such an outlandish thought. Let me develop the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. All the senior management team will be direct employees of the board; but the chief officer will not. Let us suppose that all the senior management team, the people who work to them, and the board, having recognised the needs of the people of their local area, come to a conclusion that they want to do something. The chief officer would like to do it too because he sees the merits of the argument. However, he has another line of management to the Home Secretary who says something different. What would happen? I should like the Minister to answer that precise point. Will he also tell me whether it is true that the Cabinet Office is concerned about whether these bodies are NDPBs?
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