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We will make some amendments to improve the efficiency of the youth justice system, particularly in the administration of custodial sentences. One of these provisions has caused some concern. That is a measure to ensure that it would be possible to move 18 year-olds serving detention and training orders out of juvenile establishments and into the young adult estate once the sentence of detention in a young offender institution—DYOI—is abolished. This purely consequential change takes account of earlier legislation.

However, as some other legislative changes would need to be made before DYOI could be abolished, we have accepted the suggestion that all these changes, including the one currently provided for in the Bill, can be looked at together by Parliament once the current review of custodial arrangements for young adults has concluded. We will therefore seek to table an amendment to remove the relevant provisions for the time being.

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For all the strong feelings on the subject, I know from listening to all those with an interest in the probation proposals that, fundamentally, we all want the same things. We all want to allow professional probation officers the chance to concentrate on doing what they do best. We all want to make the best use of the record level of resources and staffing, and we all want to harness the skills and resources of other sectors. As I have said, I genuinely believe that the Bill has been much improved as a result of the constructive feedback and work that we have received from all quarters.

I know that real change is always difficult, but I also know that without real change we cannot achieve real improvements. The proposals before the House today will enable us to support a flexible, innovative probation sector that will be better placed to make an even better impact on reducing reoffending. I therefore commend the Bill to the House without reservation.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)

3.26 pm

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the Government claim that the aim of the Bill is to reduce reoffending. Everyone in the House would support that aim; we on these Benches certainly do. However, the Government’s Bill is deeply flawed in both its underlying structure and its assumptions. Its real objective is to secure more centralised government control over the commissioning of offender management services. It centralises everything on the Home Office and removes responsibility from local people who govern the Probation Service. If anyone doubts that, they need only to read Part 1 to have those doubts dispelled.

The Secretary of State’s powers run like a rod of iron throughout Part 1. The Minister has confirmed officially on the Floor of the House today that the Bill, although launched in the Home Office, is soon to be cast adrift as the Home Office is emasculated and this work is transferred to the Ministry of Justice. One therefore assumes that, when the Bill reaches Committee after 9 May, the Government will table amendments to replace references to the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State with references to the Lord Chancellor.

The Government claim that the Bill is about contestability—opening up the provision of offender management services to the private and voluntary sectors. We support the idea of more diversity of provision. Voluntary and private organisations have so much of value to offer in the management of offenders. We welcome wider involvement and greater competition in the delivery of public services. We have no political or philosophical objection to the private or voluntary sectors carrying out the supervisory services that are currently carried out by the probation services. We welcome the involvement of the private and voluntary sectors and the innovation that they can bring to probation services. There are many examples of excellent work that assists in rehabilitating offenders both in prisons run by the

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Prison Service and in prisons that are privately run. I have been fortunate to visit many successful projects during my years both as a magistrate and as a Member of this House. My most recent visit was to the Community Family Trust at Brixton prison, and I am very grateful to the Nehemiah project for its invitation, which I received last week. I look forward to taking advantage of it.

The Government’s repeated refrain has been that the Bill will engage the services of charities and the not-for-profit sector in ways that are simply impossible at present, but they have never proved what the barriers are to engaging those services under current legislation. The Government have offered no compelling reason why we need yet another piece of legislation to increase what is their own self-imposed level of 3 per cent of expenditure that is currently outsourced. The level of private and voluntary sector provision was at least twice as much as that before the Home Office, under this Government, decided that the money was not well spent and halved it. It is clearly possible to double, treble or quadruple the quantity of service provision from the private and voluntary sectors without any new legislation.

I am also concerned that the centralising model of commissioning chosen by the Government could squeeze out the contribution of smaller charities and give preference to the largest national charities and companies. They can and do provide excellent services, but they may not be the only appropriate providers of services to meet local needs. We believe that there should be local commissioning to meet local needs and we shall table amendments to achieve that.

The second major defect in the Bill is that the proposals focus on yet another organisational restructuring, which would be the third Probation Service reorganisation in just six years. It really is impossible to improve service delivery in that way. In April 2001, the Probation Service was restructured to create a National Probation Service with 42 local probation boards. Less than three years later in January 2004, the Home Secretary announced the merger of the Prison Service and the Probation Service to form the still uncompleted National Offender Management Service.

As the noble Baroness reminded us, in 2005, the Home Office published its consultation document, Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-offending. I note that she said today—I hope I wrote down her comment correctly—that “that did not find favour with all those involved”. What was the result of that consultation? There were 748 submissions. Ten were in favour of the Government’s proposals. Did the Government listen to the advice of the overwhelming majority? The noble Baroness says yes, but it appears not, because they ploughed on regardless and in early January 2005 the NOMS Bill had its First Reading in this House. It was ditched as the general election loomed and now it comes to haunt us again in slightly different livery, but mainly the same.

This constant bureaucratic restructuring has been ridiculously expensive. So what do we on these Benches want from offender management policy?

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First, we want effective offender management from end to end, just as the Government claim they want. Secondly, we want rigorous and effective supervision of those sentenced to community sentences. Thirdly, we want judges and magistrates to be provided with accurate and relevant pre-sentence reports in good time. The noble Baroness referred to the amendment that the Home Secretary agreed to at the very last minute on Report in another place. It will ensure that the core offender management work, such as writing reports for courts and supervising individual cases, will remain in the public sector for the next three years. But we shall need clarification in Committee on exactly which proceedings will remain in the public sector. Statements in the Commons after Third Reading are less than clear on that matter.

The noble Baroness referred to the mechanism by which that protection can be withdrawn. We consider the limitation in Clause 4 to be fundamental to the Bill. We therefore find it strange that the Government have also inserted the means for removing the safeguard in that clause by statutory instrument in Clause 12. We will therefore need to look very carefully at that in Committee to see whether it is appropriate. Fourthly, we want those who are subject to drug rehabilitation requirements, curfews, residential requirements, alcohol treatment requirements or attendance centre requirements imposed under community orders to be positively supervised and encouraged to comply and reform. Finally, we want the public’s confidence in community sentencing to grow rather than remain at a low ebb.

If the Government persist in managing a system that means that probation staff feel undervalued and cannot perform to the standard that we all have a right to expect, the public’s confidence in non-custodial sentences will diminish even further. I join the noble Baroness in, quite rightly, congratulating the Probation Service on its centenary of achievement and success. During the passage of this Bill, we must ensure that it has another century of success.

The Bill is a real distraction from the problems at hand. There have been more than 60 Home Office Bills in 10 years, during which time reoffending rates rose by nearly 10 per cent. But the Government have still not learnt the one self-evident truth: one cannot legislate out of law and order failings. It is not the way to success. The reason for the soaring prison reoffending rate is the failure to retrain and rehabilitate in prison, and the reason for that is quite simply the chaos and disruption caused by the Government’s failure to provide enough prison places. The Bill will not do anything to solve that. The benefits claimed for this Bill do not in fact require legislation, but the harmful aspects will be a direct result of it. That is why my right honourable and honourable friends voted against the Bill at Third Reading in another place and why we will seek to amend it to remove the massive overcentralisation it entails.

I believe that it is right to give the Government every opportunity to reflect further on the Bill and to improve it significantly in this House. Unlike the

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Fraud (Trials Without a Jury) Bill, it is capable of amendment. The Minister has already recognised that the Home Office is committed to making further improvements in this place. She mentioned in particular giving statutory backing to the requirement that national standards should apply to all providers of probation services, but she seemed to give only half an assurance about the core issue of best value in the placing of contracts. We will need to look at that carefully. So far as I am concerned, she also seemed to give only a half reassurance that local accountability will involve councillors having a statutory right to membership of probation trusts. That is welcome, but it is only a half welcome from me because I must ask: why not magistrates too? We shall return to our debate on the Police and Justice Act 2006 on those matters.

Two items are missing from that list, which has somewhat alarmed me. Dr Reid said that he would look sympathetically at the amendment of my right honourable friends under which the Government would require probation trusts to publish annual plans, along with a further requirement for the Secretary of State to consult local trusts about national and regional offender management plans. Further, I understood that Dr Reid had agreed to table an amendment to ensure the compliance of the probation trusts with the duties of the Children Act 2004, although of course I realise that several other child welfare-related amendments would also be required. We shall give the Government the opportunity to amend the Bill by making sure that we table amendments even if they do not.

We shall address the issues raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in its robust report and table amendments to reflect those concerns. It is right that we should address in some detail Part 2 because there was little time to do so in another place. My noble friend Lord Bridgeman will lead for us in that endeavour. It is also right to give the Government the opportunity to hear in detail the views of Members of this House throughout our consideration of the Bill. We are going to do everything we can on these Benches to persuade the Government that their proposals to centralise power in the hands of the Secretary of State, now the Lord Chancellor, is not the way dramatically to reduce reoffending rates. We agree with the Government’s objective of reducing reoffending. That is right, but it is the route that is wrong. It is time they turned off the Blair sat-nav and avoided the plunge into the abyss. Let us find a better way of reducing reoffending rates than the proposals in this Bill.

3.38 pm

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, the arrival of this Bill has been awaited for some time and in the process has generated increasing levels of concern among all those involved in the quality of provision, care and management of people who offend in our communities, and in particular among those who provide those services. That concern has focused principally on the implications for our National Probation Service, the last remaining branch

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of our social services with a specialist 100 year-old professional expertise in the field, which the Minister has acknowledged. At the heart of these concerns is the very real fear that what this Bill will achieve is the fragmentation and ultimately the possible destruction of the Probation Service. Should that be the case, it would be a tragedy.

The failure to reduce the reoffending rate over the past 10 years lies principally in government policy, with successive Home Office Bills, changes in sentencing and the need to appear tough. That has been coupled with a failure to promote effective community services as alternatives to custody, with their emphasis on reparation and rehabilitation, which are demonstrably more successful at reducing re-offending. Prison clearly does not reduce reoffending, where the rates range roughly between 65 per cent and 80 per cent, depending on the age of the offender. Current prison overcrowding makes rehabilitation virtually impossible, but the preponderance of short sentences of a year or less, where probation is not on offer, are long enough to cause damage such as the loss of a job, home and relationship, creating just the problems that lead to reoffending. This is further linked to the issues of entrenched mental health, drug addiction, communication problems and education and training issues that can take years to put right.

Reoffending is not, therefore, a failure of the Probation Service, although the wholesale reorganisation of structure and role as set out in the Bill seems to imply that in fact the Government believe that to be the case. However, there are elements in the Bill over which we have common cause with the Government, particularly on the need to improve and develop a wider range of services to maximise flexibility and facilitate specialist input, and so free up the Probation Service to perform its core functions still more effectively. Increasing the involvement of a wider range of specialist providers in a properly managed way in partnership with the Probation Service should indeed be part of this. We know that a wide range of organisations is lining up to offer their services—Barnardo’s, Rainer, Nacro and ACEVO, to name but a few of the big players, not to mention private providers—but the issue is whether the Probation Service will be allowed to retain its core function as the central offender manager, while opening the way to these other providers of specialist interventions.

In 2003, the report of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, Managing Offenders and Reducing Crime—and I am delighted that he is with us today—produced proposals with the aim of reducing reoffending through more consistent and effective end-to-end offender management. We agree with that approach. Yet when it comes to end-to-end management, the Bill is silent on the linkages, roles or responsibilities of prisons and their staff in that management. There was an implied wish in the noble Lord’s thinking, I believe, to break down the silos between prison and probation, and for the system to become more integrated, which is absolutely right. However, the current proposals do nothing to break down the silos; instead, by maintaining separate service level

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agreements for prison and probation and then introducing separate service level agreements within probation, one for offender management and one for interventions, the result is three silos, which will facilitate neither consistency nor effectiveness

The solution, as set out in the Bill, is the removal of the responsibility for the provision of probation services from the National Probation Service—only reorganised, as we have heard, in 2001—and the abolition of the 42 probation boards that deliver their service locally, in favour of investing all responsibility for the provision of probation services in the Home Secretary, who can then award contracts for the provision of probation function to “any person”. Here I declare an interest as a patron of the Probation Boards’ Association. There is to be a purchaser/provider split and the introduction of contestability, in the belief that this will drive up standards. The commissioning of services is to be delegated to probation trusts via 10 ROMs—regional offender managers, who are not actually mentioned in the Bill—but will replace the probation boards. These are not primarily locally accountable, but are answerable to the ROM and the Home Secretary.

Where is the evidence that the proposed highly centralised Home Office-led arrangement can achieve the stated objective, which we all support, of promoting community safety and reducing reoffending? What are the arguments for the breaking up of an established, essentially locally based and delivered service and replacing it with a multiplicity of services without the basic infrastructure of locally commissioned work? Is this really necessary? And where is the evidence that contestability improves the quality of service delivery in a sustained, systematic way? It is little wonder that the Probation Service feels itself to be under threat of fragmentation or even extinction, and we share those fears.

Given that he deemed his own Home Office not fit for purpose, it is incredible that we should be expected to have any confidence in the Home Secretary or believe that the new split Home Office will be any more able to provide a better, more efficient, reliable or effective service than the Probation Service it is proposing to dismantle. Now is surely not the time to be making such an act of faith with the latest reorganisation and its attendant inevitable costs and upheavals, even if it were the right solution. If the Probation Service had been shown to be failing, this drastic upheaval could be understood. But, as we have heard, it is much praised by Ministers. It has shown very strong delivery on the four functions that describe its work—public protection, offender, management, interventions and organisation efficiency and effectiveness. It shows very strong performance on service delivery functions, particularly interventions. All this was reported by the director of probation in his latest probation report.

Elsewhere, the Government have been pursuing policies which underline the importance of local services, which we heartily support. But the proposals, as they stand, will actually remove the essential local element and introduce instead an additional layer of very expensive regional bureaucracy. Figures

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contained in the winter supplementary estimates for 2006-07 show that the total amount due to be spent on the new centralised and regionalised bureaucracy of NOMs was £855 million, compared with £832 million for the whole of the Probation Service. It is not only expensive, it is unrealistically unwieldy.

For example, a ROM in the north-west region, based in Manchester, is expected to link with and understand the needs of literally thousands of sentencers from Crewe to Carlisle and commission services relevant to their court needs as well as the range of community responsibilities, MAPPA duties, victim support and the myriad tasks that are required of them. At the same time, this ROM is expected to understand the needs of the district and unitary authorities across the whole of the north-west. Even using the advice of the newly constituted probation trusts, this is the antithesis of a locally based service. There is not a shred of evidence as to how this vastly expensive extra regional layer of bureaucracy and the breaking up of the current integrated probation services will achieve reductions in reoffending. The elementary fact is that crime is a local phenomenon where the causes and the solutions must be local. Involvement of local communities is essential, as is working with the police and other local government agencies. This is what the Probation Service does; it describes itself as the glue which holds the criminal justice services together from the courts through to post-sentences and life licence.

It is this lack of local accountability in the Bill about which we have the strongest reservations. They are shared by not only the influential LGA but also many of the larger voluntary organisations which might hope to play a part in the wider roles that may be offered to them. There is the recognition that there is a real need to lock plans and services into local area agreements to promote accountability, consistency and avoid fragmentation or duplication. It is also essential for the promotion of local community involvement and confidence in offender management such as alternatives to custody which need far more, not less, attention paid to them by all concerned. We will be looking for clarification and much reassurance on this.

We welcome the concessions made at Third Reading in the other place, referred to by the Minister. A significant one is that the Probation Service alone should retain the responsibility for providing court reports and any other assistance to the court in determining an appropriate sentence. Thus it implicitly recognises the central skills and expertise of the Probation Service, although it also undermines that commitment with the caveat that it can be reversed by statutory instrument.

Further, what were described as core offender management tasks would be reserved for the next three years. We believe that these tasks should also be reserved as a fixed restricted probation provision, along with the court report writing, since they are essentially linked functions involving ongoing risk and needs assessment. It would establish a stable and strong public sector core to the work which should mitigate the risks of fragmentation.

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