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Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill

8.49 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 7 [Functions of inspectorate]:

Lord Dholakia moved amendment No. 43:

The noble Lord said: This amendment deals with the powers of the Secretary of State in relation to the inspectorate. The clause provides that,

    "The Secretary of State may give directions as to--

    (a) the information to be given in the report and the form in which it is to be given,

    (b) the time by which the report is to be given".

It appears that fairly draconian powers are being assumed by the Secretary of State. The clause establishes the role and functions of the revised national probation inspectorate and the clause gives the Secretary of State power to determine what information is given in the report, the form in which it is given and the time for publication. That is a severe restraint on the independent role of the service. There is no similar restraint on the family court welfare service which is also established in this Bill. Why is there a sudden request for more powers for the inspectorate?

We understand that the prisons inspectorate liaises on the timing of reports and that Ministers have the power of veto if security is affected, but it has never

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been used. If it were to be exercised, Ministers must give reasons to Parliament. If the Secretary of State can veto information the process is liable to political interference. For example, will a report which is critical about the failure of the Secretary of State adequately to resource aspects of the service's work be omitted because it is harmful to the case of the government of the day? We seek an explanation from Ministers on the exact circumstances in which the clause will be used and argue that the powers of the Secretary of State should be similar across governments and work on the principle of the independence of the examining body. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The effect of this amendment would be to remove the ability of the Secretary of State to request the report of an inspection of a local board be given within a particular timescale and for the report to contain specific information and to be in a particular format. Parliament already has the means to call Ministers to account for the exercise of their responsibilities under the Bill.

I must reject this particular amendment. Earlier we were criticised for not being more precise about the way in which the inspectorate might work; the issues it might cover and those which it might want to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State. The function of the inspectorate is to provide timely reports on a regular basis on the performance of each and every local board. I argue that it is reasonable to seek such information on a consistent basis in a prescribed format within a given timescale.

The clause continues the current arrangements for the inspection of the service. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, would agree that they appear to have worked well in the past. If accepted, this amendment would allow reports to be prepared on what can best be described as an ad hoc rather than a regular cyclical basis and in a similar style and format. It would make it difficult for the Secretary of State to assess the performance of the service nationally and identify any problem areas that needed to be addressed. We believe it is entirely reasonable that the Secretary of State should be able to specify the particular aspects of the service that he wants the inspectorate to look at and how and when it should report back to him.

We believe that the production of timely reports on a regular basis to a format which ensures that all boards match particular standards and levels of performance is very important. This amendment would undermine that important principle. I trust that with that explanation the noble Lord is able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dholakia: I have no difficulty with the explanation offered by the Minister. I have no problem about the form in which the information is to be given or the timescale within which the report must be provided. My difficulty lies with the information to be given in the report which the Secretary of State is to determine. What is the use of having an independent inspectorate when the Home Secretary can determine

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what information he requires? If the inspectorate is to be independent it must be allowed fully to explain precisely what it is looking at and produce a report to which the Home Secretary must respond. I hope that the Minister will give thought to what I have said and perhaps look at it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 44:

    Page 4, line 27, at end insert ("within two months of its receipt").

The noble Baroness said: We appreciate that under Clause 7 as drafted there is a requirement for the Secretary of State to lay the report of the inspector before each House of Parliament, but it does not state when. We believe that a timescale should be included on the face of the Bill. Without such a safeguard it would be easy for the report to lie in a drawer and not see the light of day for many months due to more urgent business. This amendment is a confidence-building measure for the Probation Service. We urge the Minister to accept what we regard as a modest and helpful amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The intention behind the amendment is to be helpful. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the matter in this way. As has been acknowledged, Clause 7 requires that each inspection report should be submitted to the Secretary of State who in turn must lay a copy before each House of Parliament. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to do that within a given period. In relation to the previous amendment I argued that it would be right that inspections and reports upon them should be carried out on a fairly cyclical basis. We seek a balance. We need regular reporting with some flexibility in the production of those reports and the way in which they are drawn to the attention of Parliament.

The Government have no intention to delay the presentation to Parliament of reports by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Probation. I believe that Parliament would properly call us to account if we attempted to do so or interfered in any way with that process. We have always been, and continue to be, committed to open scrutiny of our public services. We believe that the inspectorate has an honourable tradition and valuable independence. The amendment unnecessarily seeks to go further than the requirement on other inspectorates. That is an important comparison to be made.

We believe that the amendment places us in an unnecessary straitjacket. If we adopted the amendment no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, would accuse us of taking draconian action. We believe that we have the balance about right. I trust that with that explanation the noble Baroness is able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Seccombe: I am extremely disappointed by the Minister's response. The amendment seeks to add only two or three words to the Bill. One would have

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thought that the amendment would be acceptable. There is flexibility in that the amendment refers to the receipt of the report within two months. We all want transparency. Parliament would not even know that the report existed. I believe that because the amendment is so small yet important the opinion of the Committee should be tested.

8.59 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 44) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 28; Not-Contents, 55.

Division No. 3


Astor of Hever, L.
Attlee, E.
Biffen, L.
Blatch, B.
Bridgeman, V.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Cope of Berkeley, L.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Elton, L.
Ferrers, E.
Fookes, B.
Hanham, B.
Henley, L. [Teller]
Lyell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mancroft, L.
Marlesford, L.
Moynihan, L.
Northesk, E.
Peel, E.
Rawlings, B.
Renton of Mount Harry, L.
St John of Fawsley, L.
Seccombe, B. [Teller]
Sharples, B.
Shrewsbury, E.
Windlesham, L.


Ahmed, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Bach, L.
Barnett, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Bragg, L.
Brennan, L.
Brett, L.
Burlison, L.
Carter, L. [Teller]
Chandos, V.
Christopher, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L.
Crawley, B.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dixon, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Filkin, L.
Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grenfell, L.
Habgood, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord Chancellor)
Islwyn, L.
Judd, L.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Paul, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Tomlinson, L.
Turner of Camden, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

2 Oct 2000 : Column 1228

9.8 p.m.

Clause 7 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

2 Oct 2000 : Column 1229

Clause 8 [Support services]:

[Amendments Nos. 46 to 48 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?

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