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Baroness Blatch: I shall not press for this amendment to be on the face of the Bill. It is important that the Home Secretary of the day should use the inspectorate to inform any matter that he requires. To take the worst scenario, if he is unhappy about the arrangements that a board is making, it seems important to use the inspectorate to provide a professional view. In this situation the Home Secretary has become desk-bound; therefore, using the knowledge and expertise of the inspectorate would be a wise choice. I accept that it would not need to be done in every instance. Therefore, I shall not press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [The inspectorate]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 40:

("( ) The Secretary of State shall make regulations for the establishment of performance standards for the inspectorate and for independent assessment of the inspectorate against such standards.").

The noble Baroness said: The logic of this proposal should be self-evident. No organisation should be allowed to proceed without checks and balances. If new arrangements are to be introduced following the current Home Office consultation on the future of prisons and the probation inspectorates, such a process may become even more important. Whatever the outcome, the opportunity should now be taken to establish performance criteria for inspections. My understanding is that that happens in other departments. The real issue is: who inspects the inspectors? It would be helpful if the Minister were able to say something definitive about the plans of the Home Office for the merging of the inspectorates.

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I have already expressed a reservation in that respect today. Some updated news would be welcome. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Like other inspectorates, the Inspectorate of Probation is answerable to the public, the Government and Parliament, not a third party whose accountability is unclear. The Bill already provides a clear framework within which Ministers may direct the inspectorate on the inspection of matters of particular concern. The Government are committed to the open scrutiny of public services. The reports of the inspectorate have a critical part to play in that process. The Government have no intention of unreasonably delaying their publication: they greatly inform the way in which we view services.

Statutory inspectorates like the Inspectorate of Probation are established by Parliament to give the public, the Government and Parliament, to whom it is required to report, an independent view of the health, or otherwise, of our public services. I do not believe that it would be right to superimpose a further body on the service, which is really what lies behind the amendment. If we were to do so, it would blur the accountability and leave the position unclear as to how we could judge its actions. I can think of no other inspectorate where this has occurred. The Bill already provides a clear framework within which the Secretary of State may specify matters that he wants the inspectorate to examine, as well as the scope and timing of reports.

The noble Baroness asked about the proposals to review the two inspectorates. We shall deal with that issue in a later debate. However, it goes without saying--indeed, it is public knowledge--that consultation is taking place. The process will come to a close at the end of October and we shall want to review the fruits of that consultation. I am sure that it will provide us with some important pointers as to ways in which we can achieve yet more improvements in the quality of the work of the inspectorate--an inspectorate that already has a very high public standing and is well regarded.

The proposed amendment would blur accountability. I do not believe that it would improve independence. For those reasons, the noble Baroness would be well advised to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Lord Lucas: Before my noble friend replies, perhaps the Minister could give me some comfort and assure me that the Secretary of State will have the power to ask the inspector to, as it were, submit his own actions for the scrutiny of research or for some other suitable quality check. I know that it is a different set-up, but one of the problems with Ofsted is that it utterly refuses to have its methods and doings subject to any academic or outside scrutiny. This leads to considerable doubt being cast on its conclusions, especially when it is seeking to impose such standards on others.

This inspectorate is under rather more direct ministerial control than Ofsted. However, on a quick reading of the Bill, I did not notice any mention of a

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power for the Minister to say, "These are the standards that you are setting for certain establishments and which you expect them to achieve. We require that you submit yourselves to inspection by a university department so that the process through which you are putting other people can be audited to ensure that it is the best thing to be done. There should be proper evidence to show that what you recommend produces the results that you say it will". In other words, there should be a level of control to stop an inspectorate going off down a rather eccentric path. This would avoid the dangers into which, I am afraid, Ofsted has fallen.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I enjoyed the noble Lord's helpful intervention. Indeed, he made a most useful point. His comparison with Ofsted was most interesting. However, I am not sure that I can offer the noble Lord the comfort that he seeks. I believe that the functions and aims set out in the Bill will determine the way in which the inspectorate has to carry out and conduct its work. Clearly the service has to match those aims and functions. It will be an important part of the inspectorate's work to ensure that the local boards and the chief officer properly fulfil and carry out their duties. Those are the important elements of the service.

Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to reflect a little on what he said. I shall read his argument in Hansard, because it is possible that his intervention is deserving of a fuller response than I have given this evening. I am grateful to him for his contribution, which was both helpful and interesting.

Baroness Blatch: There is no question that I was suggesting that the Home Secretary, or the Secretary of State of the day, should interfere with the professional judgment of an inspector. The latter is independent and should be given a totally independent remit. However, as was the case in education, it is only right that standards are established as regards the way in which the inspector works. I was not sure whether the Minister said that regulations for the establishment of the inspectorate would include specifying the standards at the outset. If that is so, the inspector would have a properly defined set of standards with which to work.

As for independent assessment, I was not even suggesting that it should be another body. However, it seems to me that there will need to be independent assessment at some point on whether the inspectorate is living up to and conforming to the standards set out either in regulations or by way of circulars. If that is the case and standards will be set, I am entirely happy. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 41:

    Page 4, line 9, leave out ("Below").

The noble Baroness said: I shall be brief. The amendment relates to a rather pedantic, editorial point. I am sure that I shall be given a clear answer in

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response. Can the Minister tell me why the word "Below" has been inserted at the beginning of subsection (4)? I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It is unusual for the noble Baroness to admit to being pedantic. I am sure that the Committee will be most grateful for that admission. Amendment No. 41 is defective. I am advised that the word "below" has the effect of ensuring that all references in the Bill to the "Chief Inspector" and members of the inspectorate refer respectively to HM Chief Inspector of Probation and HM Inspectorate of Probation. I assume that the purpose of the amendment was to achieve that clarification.

Baroness Blatch: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 agreed to.

Lord Windlesham moved Amendment No. 42:

    After Clause 6, insert the following new clause--


(" .--(1) The Secretary of State may not exercise the power conferred by section 6(2) to appoint a person as chief inspector who also holds the office of Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Prisons.
(2) A person who holds the office of chief inspector may not be appointed to the office of Chief Inspector of Her Majesty's Prisons.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment has been tabled in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It raises topical matters of some importance and, I suspect, of some controversy. Therefore, I should like to take the opinion of the Committee as to whether the debate should be deferred until after the dinner break or whether we should continue at this point. I am aware that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, whose Unstarred Question is the next item of business, is sitting in his place. Indeed, I also see some other speakers waiting for that debate in the Chamber.

I should welcome an indication from the Front Bench as to whether I should proceed now or delay the debate until after dinner.

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