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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not aware that the Cabinet Office is concerned about the position of the boards.

I understand the argument, but it is an extreme position. I am sure that the instances described by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness will arise very infrequently. I do not see that there should necessarily be this conflict-driven management system. We think that the management arrangements will be effective.

How does the noble Baroness envisage the current system managing the situations she describes? The current service does not deal with them as well as they could be managed. We believe that the management and line arrangements will be a more effective way of resolving some of the tensions that may have arisen in the past. I believe that we shall see marked improvements as a consequence. I accept that there is a difference of view but we shall reflect upon the points made today in an important debate.

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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask one last question. Can the noble Lord imagine a situation a few years ago when Michael Howard was the Home Secretary when he might have given a direction vis-a-vis the affairs of probation committees which was considered by the Labour Opposition at the time to be totally against the public interest, destructive and against the values that they now espouse in this Bill? Would the Minister wish all power to reside with the Home Secretary of the day to force through any measure he or she might like, however partisan or ineffectual, rather than having a set of local checks and balances which provide a source of power against central might?

Lord Dholakia: Before the Minister answers that question, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, posed a fundamental question on which the entire argument hangs. Are the boards non-departmental public bodies? The Minister has skirted around that argument. It has considerable bearing on a number of amendments I intend to move later. Will the noble Lord confirm, yes or no, whether the boards are NDPBs?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I thought that I had made clear earlier that we do not believe that they are NDPBs. The noble Lord's point is a debating point. If we thought, as we did from time to time, that the previous Secretary of State was wrong, we vigorously pursued the argument.

Baroness Blatch: The Minister has been kind enough to say that he will reflect on the issue. I wish to press the noble Lord once more. I assume from his answers that these are not NDPBs. The noble Lord used the phrase that he did not believe that they were. At this stage of the Bill, I expect the Government to be beyond doubt and sure. Does the noble Lord believe that they are not NDPBs, or are they not NDPBs?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I believe that they are not NDPBs.

Baroness Blatch: I cannot take the answer as other than "Don't know". The noble Lord is being equivocal rather than unequivocal.

The Minister said that he will reflect on this issue. I hope that he will. It is, in his own words, an important debate. I hope that he will be open-minded until we discuss the matter again at the next stage, as we certainly shall. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 10A to 11 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 12:

    Page 46, line 12, at end insert ("; and in particular, the Secretary of State shall ensure that at least one member of the board shall be from each of the following categories--

(a) a member of a county, borough or district council in the area of the board,

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(b) a justice of the peace resident in the area of the local board,
(c) a member of the youth offending team").

The noble Baroness said: To be effective, a board must reflect the local people. A justice of the peace should be a member of that body, as should an officer of the youth offending team, which is an important body. It would be helpful to have clarification from the Minister. The concern is to have the balance of organisations and suitably qualified people in place; and to put in place consultative arrangements with the relevant agencies. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The amendment would constrain in statute the membership of the boards, which the Bill leaves to be determined by regulations. We do not believe that it is appropriate to specify their composition in the Bill and would prefer to lay regulations before the House on that in due course. I can give a firm commitment that we are persuaded of the need to make membership of the boards open to the widest range of people. The aim is for boards to have an appropriate balance of skills and experience and to reflect the make-up of the local community. I made that point in an earlier debate and I want to reinforce it now.

We aim to have four magistrates and two elected local authority members on every board. We want as many people as possible to be encouraged to come forward. We do not want to narrow the field, as we believe that the amendment would do. We recognise and value the importance of the local authority link. There will be cross-overs in the interaction and interrelation of the services. It is very important that there should be a reasonable reflection of the local magistracy on the boards. We want a wide range of people to come forward and offer their services to ensure diversity of membership.

I understand the noble Baroness's point, but we think that leaving the issue to regulations will give us the flexibility to ensure that the boards are diverse and, importantly, establish a link with the local magistracy and local authorities.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I know some of the arguments about not defining the composition of boards in the Bill, although it is important to debate the balance of the boards and how they should work.

The boards have been somewhat maligned in some of our debates so far. In their defence, we should say on the record that for a long time the boards have been unhappy about how they have had to work and about their composition. Most of them agree that they are too large and would like to be smaller and more operationally effective. The boards have waited very patiently. During the last two or three years of my tenure of office, there were regular applications through the usual channels for a legislative slot to make them more effective. We should recognise that they were at the forefront of pressing for that. The Minister may think that their current performance is not outstanding, but that is largely because of how

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they were set up some years ago. The boards have been looking forward to change but needed a legislative basis for it. They are now getting a legislative basis, but the changes will be rather different from what was imagined before. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 14:

    Page 46, line 12, at end insert--

("( ) The Secretary of State shall ensure that the members of the board appointed by him are appropriately qualified to carry out the functions conferred on them by this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 17. I understand that Amendment No. 16 is grouped with them.

I was receptive to the Minister's arguments on the previous amendment, but I believe that the issues dealt with in these amendments should be specified in the Bill. It is not frivolous to say that those appointed to the boards should be appropriately qualified. The boards will carry out important work, so it is essential that they do not contain people who collect committees--and there are a lot of them about. We need people who will make a real contribution to the management of their local service. I hope that Amendment No. 14 will be accepted.

Amendment No. 15 is about consultation with certain key organisations that can provide a great deal of information to ensure that the right appointments are made. The amendment would not necessarily tie the hands of the Secretary of State, who will make the appointments. The boards will have to work closely with the magistrates' courts committee and the police authority, so they should be consulted, as well as the chief constable and the local authorities.

On Amendment No. 17, I have always thought that appointing people for one, two or three years is not enough. There ought to be a minimum of five years' service in an area as complex as probation. I should like that written into the Bill. However, committees also need freshness from time to time. Fifteen years is a reasonable length of time to expect anyone to serve consecutively on a committee. I hope that the Minister agrees that it is reasonable to suggest that an appointment should be for a minimum of five years, with a maximum of three consecutive five-year terms. The Secretary of State will retain his ability to remove a member of the board if he believes that they have defaulted in their duties. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Dholakia: I support Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 17, spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. I shall speak to Amendment No. 16, which would restrict the number of magistrates on the board and widen the membership further than suggested by the noble Baroness.

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The schedule regulates the composition of the newly established probation boards. Local probation services are currently managed predominantly by magistrates. Although we applaud those magistrates who volunteer to take on that onerous task, board members have been drawn from a limited circle. We need to widen it.

I accept that the Bill allows for the possibility of board members being drawn from a wider group, although one of the members is rightly to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor from among Crown Court judges. The chairman and other members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State. It is vital that the membership of the board represents a wide cross-section of the community. We suggest that more board members should come from local businesses, community groups, housing associations, drug agencies, the voluntary sector, local councillors and other organisations with a stake in crime prevention and rehabilitation.

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