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Iraq: HMS “Cornwall”

2.58 pm

Lord Craig of Radley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, the value of the boats and other seized equipment was approximately £500,000. As I said yesterday, there will be an inquiry into the incident, led by Lieutenant-General Rob Fulton. As it will consider operationally sensitive material, it will not be possible to publish all the conclusions, but they will be presented to the Select Committee on Defence in another place. I have asked officials to make appropriate arrangements with regard to this House.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. When I tabled this Question, there had been a suggestion that there would not even be a board of inquiry into this operational failure. Will the Minister make available as soon as possible the board of inquiry’s terms of reference? One must reserve judgment until one is aware that all aspects of this gross failure of operations will be looked at. When one of Her Majesty’s ships is sunk or major loss or damage is involved, is it not long-standing Royal Navy practice for the ship’s captain to face a court martial? Who, if anyone, on board HMS “Cornwall” does the Minister think may face a court martial following the board of inquiry?

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Lord Drayson: My Lords, with regard to the noble and gallant Lord’s first question, we will happily publish the inquiry’s terms of reference. As I said yesterday in the House, the inquiry will not be a witch hunt. I do not believe that it is appropriate for me to answer the noble and gallant Lord’s other question.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, HMS “Cornwall” and two other frigates are being mothballed. How many operational frigates does that leave us with?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, we are embarking on a significant shipbuilding programme to provide the Royal Navy with the forces that it requires. This incident did not relate in any way whatever to the number of frigates, and there were no issues relating to the provision of equipment. I will provide the noble Baroness with a written answer concerning the number of frigates.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, will the inquiry ask Royal Navy and Defence Intelligence Service personnel in the Embargo Surveillance Centre at the MoD whether the seizure took place at a point which is the subject of a dispute between Iran and Iraq and where, according to former staff, there is no agreed boundary?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, as I said in the House yesterday, the inquiry will cover all operational aspects of the incident. As I said yesterday, and as has been said a number of times by the Government, this incident took place well within Iraqi territory.

Lord Garden: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s assurance to the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, that the terms of reference for the board of inquiry will be made available. That is very important. Have they been written already and thus will they be available later today? If not, when does the six-week period start from? Does it start from yesterday, from when the terms of reference are written or from when the inquiry is put together? Six weeks is a very short time for what will obviously be a wide-ranging and complex inquiry.

Lord Drayson: My Lords, my understanding is that the six weeks started yesterday. It is a short period. An inquiry, as opposed to a board of inquiry, was launched so that the process could happen more quickly. That is a response to the very important issue with which we are dealing here and I think that it reflects the Government’s commitment to get to the bottom of the cause as quickly as possible and to put in place whatever measures are necessary to ensure that it does not happen again.

Lord Boyce: My Lords, notwithstanding the validity of the Question of my noble and gallant friend Lord Craig, will the Minister acknowledge that, not just over the past four years but over some 20 years of Armilla patrol, the Royal Navy has

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conducted an exemplary number of boardings, usually going totally unsung, unrecognised or getting no praise?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right. It is important for us to retain the perspective that the Navy has carried out such boardings and will continue to do so in situations where there is risk to the personnel. It has done so in an outstanding manner.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, yesterday’s Statement ended with the words that our personnel had been returned on our terms and with no deal. What reference did our terms make to these boats, which, like those in 2004, were stolen from us and are, as yet, unreturned?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, we continue to press the Iranian Government with regard to the return of our boats and equipment. However, the terms of yesterday’s Statement related to our focus—that is, our people.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the value of the boats now illegally held by the Iranians is upwards of £1 million? Can he be more specific about exactly what pressures are being put on that vile regime to return that property to us?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I can confirm that the total amount involved in the 2004 incident and the incident that took place recently is approximately that quoted by my noble friend. We will continue to put full pressure on the Iranian Government on this and other matters relating to their international commitments. We do that through multilateral efforts. I believe that the rapid progress we made in securing the release of our 15 personnel shows that those multilateral efforts have an effect.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, has there been any response from the Iranian Government to our approaches for the return of this equipment?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, there have been responses, but they have not been satisfactory. The equipment has not been returned.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, is it usual for naval personnel to carry iPods when actively engaged as members of a boarding party?

Lord Drayson: No, my Lords, it is not.

Piped Music etc. (Hospitals) Bill [HL]

3.05 pm

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a

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wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill [HL]

Report received.

Offender Management Bill

3.06 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I am very pleased to be opening our debates on this crucial Bill whose aim is to improve the delivery of probation services, so as to reduce reoffending and better protect the public. The Bill will allow us to supplement the public sector probation service by working increasingly in partnership with the voluntary, charitable and private sectors, and with local communities.

The Probation Service has a unique and crucial role throughout the criminal justice process. It is sometimes described as the glue which holds the various parts of the system together. It is vital that we look very carefully at fundamental changes to the way in which these services are delivered. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to do so today.

We first set out our proposals in detail more than 18 months ago when we published our consultation document on reducing reoffending to protect the public in October 2005. I acknowledge that the proposals did not find favour with all of those involved. What is important is that over the past year and a half we have listened. We accept that many of the concerns that have been raised are legitimate, and that those raising them do so out of a genuine desire to improve on what we have proposed.

That is why we have considered their suggestions carefully and, wherever possible, we have incorporated them into the Bill. The proposals in front of your Lordships’ House today are much improved. With your Lordships’ consent, we will make further improvements as the Bill progresses through this House.

As noble Lords will know, the machinery of government changes announced recently will take effect on 9 May. Responsibility for this Bill will transfer, along with responsibility for the rest of the National Offender Management Service and policy on criminal law and sentencing, from the Home Office to the new Ministry of Justice. Let me assure the House—or rather I should say reassure the House—that although departmental ownership will change, the Government remain fully committed to the policy proposals set out in the Bill, which will continue its parliamentary progress as planned.

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Let me first set out why we think that change is necessary. This year the Probation Service celebrates its centenary. Noble Lords will wish to join me in congratulating all those who work in the service on reaching this milestone and to pay tribute to staff who do such a difficult, demanding and, at times, dangerous job on our behalf. Probation work was originally founded as a partnership between the public and voluntary sectors. Indeed, the Probation Service has its roots in the voluntary sector, with the first court missionary established in 1876 by Frederick Rainer. The first step towards the modern Probation Service followed in 1907 with the Probation of Offenders Act. Even today, public sector probation work is at its best in collaboration with communities and voluntary organisations. That is why it makes sense for those in the voluntary sector, who have so much to offer, to be given the chance to do more. I am talking about organisations with which many noble Lords have been directly involved, such as Nacro, Turning Point, and Rainer. We have worked closely with these organisations as we developed these proposals.

When we started on this journey, there were concerns to ensure parity of treatment and that the smaller voluntary sector organisations would not get lost along the way. I am pleased that we have been able to meet those concerns, and that these organisations are now speaking out strongly in support of the Bill. As Paul Cavadino, the chief executive of Nacro, said recently:

We have ensured that the role and importance of probation staff has grown immensely in recent years. Funding is at record levels, a 40 per cent increase since 2001. Staff numbers are also higher than ever: 7,000 more probation staff since 1997, including 1,471 more probation officers. This investment has been matched by increased effort from staff, which has helped to make a real impact on adult reoffending rates. We recently published the reoffending rates for 2004, which show that the rate of reoffending was 5.8 per cent lower compared to 2000 and 6.9 per cent lower compared to 1997. This takes into account changes in the characteristics of offenders. That means that we have met the target of a 5 per cent reduction set in the 2000 spending review. This provides us with an excellent foundation on which to build. We are on track to meet our aspiration to reduce reoffending by 10 per cent by the end of the decade. However, we are still only just over halfway there and must raise our game dramatically if we are to achieve it.

That is why we have been developing the role of probation staff by placing them at the heart of the criminal justice system. We are repositioning them as end-to-end offender managers, with the responsibility for assessing offenders in order to draw up and oversee the delivery of a sentence plan from the start of a sentence to its end. We are developing the tools that they need. We have rolled out OASys, the comprehensive, needs-based offender assessment system,

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and developed the evidence-based programmes and other interventions needed to have an impact on offenders’ criminal behaviour.

It is increasingly clear that the public sector probation service cannot tackle reoffending on its own. We need a more holistic approach that will enable us to deliver on the social causes of reoffending—such as homelessness, unemployment, and drug and alcohol addiction—identified in the July 2002 Social Exclusion Unit report, Reducing reoffending by ex-prisoners. That is why we launched the National Reducing Reoffending Delivery Plan in November 2005; why my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Skills and I chair an inter-ministerial group to ensure cross-departmental delivery of plans to support crime reduction and the reduction of reoffending; why we now have reducing reoffending partnership boards in place in every region; and why local strategic partnerships are taking the agenda forward at the community level through the local area agreements. It is also why, in December 2005, I launched three reducing reoffending alliances: the corporate alliance to encourage more employers in the public, private and voluntary sectors to offer sustainable employment to ex-offenders; the civic society alliance to inform, consult and involve local people and organisations who can help find homes, jobs and support for ex-offenders; and the faith, voluntary and community sectors to build on the valuable work done with offenders by individual volunteers and mentors and by voluntary and community organisations.

Yet the manner in which probation services are currently structured is inconsistent with this approach. Probation boards are responsible for the delivery of all probation services in their individual area against centrally set, top-down targets. They are trying to do everything themselves, and we think that they are trying to do too much. We need instead to ensure that the process of a tailored needs assessment and sentence plan for each offender is reflected in a commissioner’s assessment of the specialist providers required to meet specialist needs.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary described this succinctly when he said that:

The Bill before us today will help us find the answers to those questions. It will enable us to commission probation services from a range of providers in the voluntary, charitable, public and private sectors. It will do this by lifting from probation boards the statutory duty for providing probation services. We will create new public sector bodies: probation trusts. Regional offender managers, acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, will commission services. They will do so largely from lead providers, who in turn will sub-contract aspects of their service delivery to local specialist providers from

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other sectors. The lead provider in a probation area will be the public sector probation trust, provided its performance meets the requirements.

We know that these proposals represent a step-change in the way that probation services are delivered, so we intend to proceed cautiously. We are not privatising the Probation Service. In fact, the public sector will continue to take the lead role. We have committed to keeping the core offender management work, such as supervising individual cases, in the public sector, which has the inherited expertise in the field, for the next three years. However, we will increase the opportunities for the charitable, voluntary and private sectors to deliver services, especially interventions, such as the provision of programmes on offending behaviour, drug treatment and other matters. They will work alongside the public sector to develop expertise and strengthen partnership working so that a more diverse range of provision is available in due course.

As I mentioned earlier, we have made improvements to the Bill to meet the concerns expressed by probation staff, stakeholders and, of course, those in another place. We will also be seeking to make further improvements as the Bill progresses through this House.

To date there have been three main areas of concern: first, the pace and scale of change; secondly, the accountability and local links; and, thirdly, safeguarding standards and professionalism. We recognise that these are serious and legitimate concerns, and we have made a number of substantial commitments in order to address them. Let me first explain the commitments we have made on the pace and scale of change. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has given a guarantee that core offender management work will stay in the public sector for three years. We have also listened to concerns about the role of probation in supporting and advising the courts. We agree that it would be sensible to defer the opening up of this area of work to other providers until such time as the changes have had a chance to bed down. We have therefore amended the Bill so that commissioners will not be able to contract with any non-public sector providers for the work which probation currently does in relation to courts. The provision could be repealed only by an order subject to affirmative resolution, so if at a future point the Government were to decide that the time was right to open up this work to non-public sector providers, they would have to make the case to Parliament, which would have the final say.

Secondly, I turn to accountability and local links. The proposals in the Bill are devolutionary, and will strengthen existing local and regional arrangements for reducing reoffending across a range of partner organisations. We will continue to develop this in a number of ways. We will ensure that the duties to agree and have regard to local area agreements transfer from the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. We will also transfer the commensurate duties to provide information and have regard to reports by local authority overview and scrutiny committees. We will require the membership

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of probation trusts to include a local authority councillor. The Bill already contains a statutory requirement for regional offender managers to consult on the services they commission. We will add a separate statutory requirement for the Welsh Assembly Government to be included in that consultation to ensure that the particular circumstances in Wales are taken fully into account. We will require trusts to report to local communities on the services they are delivering.

Thirdly, I should like to outline the improvements we have made to safeguarding standards and professionalism. We have made it clear that all providers of probation services will be obliged to meet the same rigorous national standards for service delivery and staff training as the public sector. Also, as a result of an amendment we made in the other place, regional offender managers, when commissioning services, are now under a statutory duty to have regard to the same aims which currently apply to probation boards. Those aims are as follows: the protection of the public; the reduction of reoffending; the proper punishment of offenders; ensuring offenders’ awareness of the effects of crime on the victims of crimes and the public; and the rehabilitation of offenders. We believe that these changes represent real and tangible improvements. I hope that your Lordships will agree that we have been forthright in addressing people’s concerns.

Before I conclude, I should like briefly to mention the other measures in the Bill. These are sensible provisions, which are designed to improve the effectiveness of the management of offenders and the security of our prisons. We will pilot mandatory polygraph testing as a licence condition for sex offenders after their release from a minimum 12-month prison sentence. We will remove the historical inconsistencies between staff working in public and private prisons to improve security in private sector prisons. We will update the 50 year-old laws prohibiting certain items inside prisons so that they match modern life; for example, banning mobile phones.

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