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We have said that we are particularly interested in Natural England’s recommendation to create a coastal access corridor in new legislation, and we are looking in detail at how this option might work. We are, however, genuinely interested in views on all the options. It is a genuine consultation. The consultation will be an opportunity for individual users and landowners, as well as local access forums and the many people and groups who promote and manage the marine and coastal environment, to share their expertise with us and to help us shape the way forward. They will do this with the benefit of the detailed background work carried out by Natural England and my department. I cannot say at this stage whether it will be possible to deal with the fourth option, if it is chosen, in the context of the Marine Bill. Obviously I cannot say whether the two pieces of legislation can be matched at the same time when I cannot give the House a date for the consultation. By definition, any consultation that starts next month, or at least as soon as possible, will cover the summer period. First, there will be complaints about it over the holiday period, so we will need longer consultation. Obviously we will want to follow the Cabinet Office rule of a minimum of 12 weeks, but there might be pressure to extend that. The minute that starts to happen, there could be difficulties because of the marine legislation. It is a question of balance. We are very hopeful that we can deliver on this manifesto commitment in as practical a way as possible.

As I have indicated, some of the points that have been made in the debate this evening will be covered in the consultation, but I am not in a position to deal with them at this point. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, when he first secured the debate, he thought that he might be able to take tonight as part of the consultation. I fully assure him that the points made in the debate tonight will certainly be taken on board as part of the consultation. It is quite important that Parliament has a role. We may not have actually launched the consultation yet, but the points made will certainly be taken on board by officials at Defra. We have had an early debate. The Government had an exchange on this issue in response to a recent Parliamentary Question about the noble Lord’s initiative, and I have no doubt that there will be others. It is only through that informed debate that we will reach a solution in what will be a really exciting initiative.

I end with the caveat that this is a question for England. I have spoken particularly about the English coast tonight; indeed, I have mentioned it more than once. We are an island, but the island is not England, so there will be issues. I understand that the law is different in Scotland, so this is not an issue for Scotland. So far as Wales is concerned, this matter will have to be dealt with at some point, but it will be a matter for the Welsh Assembly. We will be dealing only with the English aspect when we draw up the legislation. I cannot answer all the questions simply because we have not yet had the consultation. To give any greater or lesser emphasis than I have already given would make it look as though we were prejudging the consultation. I have said that the fourth option is an interesting way forward, and we will give it due weight, but we will look for views and consult on the practicalities or otherwise of all the four options that were originally considered. As I have said, people will have the benefit of the full research, which will be published on the same day, so they will have the same information that the Government will have.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister has said. On the question of legislation, my understanding is that the Welsh Assembly can go ahead under existing legislation only where it exercises the powers that the Secretary of State exercises here, subject to parliamentary approval. If the Government are minded to introduce primary legislation to do something different—perhaps built around the fourth option or whatever—would that not have to encompass Wales as well as England?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not think that that is necessarily the case, although it is possible. I am speaking without advice. However, if we legislate under the process of devolution, it will be possible for the Welsh Assembly to introduce mirror image secondary legislation if it agrees with what is in the primary legislation. That is the whole point of devolution. The Welsh Assembly has no power of primary legislation but it can introduce secondary legislation. It would have to have the necessary power to put through the secondary legislation if it chose to go down that route. It will be a decision of the Welsh Assembly, not the Westminster Parliament. That is the whole point of devolution. The Assembly needs to be given the legislative wherewithal to achieve the outcome that it desires, and obviously that is the way it will be done. But I cannot say what form it would take in the legislation.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 pm.

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

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.12 to 8.35 pm.]

Offender Management Bill

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Ramsbotham moved Amendment No. 5:

“(a) the reduction of crime through working in partnership with appropriate public, private and voluntary sector organisations at local level;(b) courts to be given assistance in determining the appropriate sentences to pass, and making other decisions, in respect of persons charged with or convicted of offences; (c) authorised persons to be given assistance in determining whether conditional cautions should be given and which conditions to attach to conditional cautions;(d) the supervision and rehabilitation of persons charged with or convicted of offences, including those released from prison; (e) the supervision and rehabilitation of persons to whom conditional cautions are given;(f) measures to ensure compliance with court orders;(g) measures to ensure offenders’ awareness of the effect of crime on victims, both generally and in relation to their specific offence; and(h) the giving of information and advice to victims of persons charged with or convicted of offences.”

The noble Lord said: My amendment may initially look exactly like the content of the main part of Clause 1(1), “Meaning of ‘the probation purposes’”. In fact, I deliberately selected the order of the paragraphs I put down here. They link to, and follow on directly from, Amendments Nos. 3 and 9, proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, which we have just debated. With this amendment I am seeking to spell out rather more of the methods, having had the purposes explained in the amendment the noble Lord hoped would be accepted.

Like everything else, you need to set out clearly the purposes of everything from which the methods flow. That clarity is needed above all when you are in an operational service such as the Probation Service, which has an operational responsibility for the management of the offenders who are put into its charge. At the same time you must describe the arrangements for people, so that they know where they come from. It is true that while we all instinctively support the idea of end-to-end management, whatever that means—in other words, there should be consistent oversight—we also support, and by “we” I include all the probation people with whom I have spoken, the fact that what needs to be delivered cannot be delivered by any one organisation alone; it needs the partnership of all available in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Indeed, partnership with the voluntary sector has been at the heart of the Probation Service since well before the 1997 Act, quite apart from what has happened since. I find it slightly ironic to learn that the Probation Service was actually commissioning more voluntary sector work before the Government made their changes than it is able to now. One of the problems, those in the service tell me, is the extreme financial pressure they are under; indeed, the financial officer of the London Probation Service described the problems of trying to manage his budget as trying to land a jumbo jet on a postage stamp—they are of that degree of magnitude.

As my noble friend Lady Howarth said, we have to make certain that the authority of those people dealing with offenders is understood and absolute. This is about the management of offenders, and we must look after the people who do that. Therefore, I am slightly concerned that the tenor of the Bill, as reflected in what the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, said, is about commissioning and contracting, not about people. I submit that the first and most immediate thing to be put right when you are dealing with people is the people who will work with them. You have to have the right numbers; they have to be trained, directed and resourced. If that does not happen, the amount of commissioning and how it is done does not matter a damn.

As we are talking about people and we look at how the Probation Service works, as my noble friend Lady Stern said so movingly, it is all about relationships between probation staff and others. Therefore, the methods by which you achieve the purposes must make certain that those probation officers are put in front of the people they have to look after, ready and able to do the work that is required.

I spent all my working life, before leaving the Army, in an organisational service where we were accustomed to a hierarchical system. Everyone knew that they were responsible and accountable to someone, from the lowest rifleman right up to the Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the Army who, in turn, went straight to Ministers. As has been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, the Probation Service, which needs exactly the same responsibility and accountability chain, is to be bereft of its professional head, who is no longer to be the link between the service and the Minister. That is a retrograde step, to be avoided at all costs. Having a person who is both the professional head of the Probation Service and the adviser to the Minister sitting in the Ministry of Justice is a means of entry into the delivery of probation everywhere which is simple, clear and well understood.

I admit that in my amendment, paragraph (b) is exactly the same as subsection (1)(a) in the Bill; my paragraph (c) is exactly the same as subsection (1)(b); my paragraph (d) is the same as the Bill’s subsection (1)(c), but strengthened, as I shall explain; my paragraph (e) is the same as subsection (1)(e); and my paragraph (h) is the same as subsection (1)(f). I set them out like that because I suggest that that is a more reasonable and understandable interpretation of the purposes and order of priority. Very deliberately I put first what I think ought to be the purpose, which is,

That is at the heart of what must be done—empowering local probation services to go to whoever will provide the work appropriately. If that provision is included in the clause, a great deal of the rest of the Bill becomes unnecessary, because you have laid down that the partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors is at the heart of how the services are delivered. There is no argument about it. All you need then do is make certain that the probation hierarchy, which is responsible for leading that partnership, has the resources with which to contract whoever it has to do whatever has to be done.

If it is proposed that some contracting will be national, some regional and some local, it is essential that the person responsible overall for the delivery of probation lays down guidelines about which contracts will be national, which regional and which local. I have seen no regulatory impact assessment—that may be the wrong term—of whether the private and voluntary sectors are able to deliver the sort of probation services that appear to be expected from them but of which there is no description. We do not know, and I wonder whether that work has been done. While everyone has aspirations, it is no good announcing them as policy unless you are certain that they can be delivered.

Deliberately I have put the courts in the second paragraph because it explains that the relationship between the courts, probation and the police is absolutely fundamental. Assistance with conditional cautions must remain, but in paragraph (d), after,

I have added the phrase,

That is because they form a large part of probation responsibility, and that provision is not included in the current Clause 1. In paragraph (f) I have added,

which links in closely with our discussion about punishment in the earlier amendment, because it ensures compliance with orders of the court, which is what we are really talking about. It could be that it could go somewhere else, but it is absolutely essential to include a provision ensuring compliance in order to express the purpose of what has to be done with people.

Paragraph (g), which refers to

again links in with what has been discussed already. However, it is terribly important to include it here for the simple reason that it is the direct connection with all the work being talked about under the principle of restorative justice. Many claims are made for restorative justice, but only if it is actually put down as one of the methods to be encouraged will people take it more seriously than is currently the case. Finally, paragraph (h) provides for,

What I have suggested in this amendment should be considered by the Ministry of Justice, on whose behalf the noble Baroness is conducting this Committee stage. It is clear that she cannot give verdicts on what might or might not happen and obviously has to report back to the Minister now responsible for taking the Bill through. I would ask that what I have said should be considered carefully. If the idea of partnership is accepted right at the start of the Bill, it would make some of the rest of it not quite so necessary. I beg to move.

8.45 pm

Lord Dholakia: I should like to take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his contribution to the earlier amendment. Amendment No. 5 is an extension of much of what he said. In my interpretation of the amendment, it would make four key additions to the purpose of probation as presently set out in Clause 1(1). The first additional purpose appears in paragraph (a):

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke at some length about the role of these organisations.

My main concern is the omission of any reference in the present Clause 1(1) to the reduction of crime. That is astonishing. Perhaps the Minister can explain why it has been missed out. The role of the Probation Service since its beginnings a century ago has always been to reduce crime by steering offenders towards a better way of life. It is this mission which motivates people to join the service, so to omit all mention of it is to reduce the purpose of probation to a mechanistic set of functions rather than a set of purposes which reflect an overall moral purpose.

The second part of paragraph (a) refers to appropriate organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors at the local level. This recognises that it will be impossible for the service to achieve the aim of reducing crime on its own. Indeed, this is something I have often spoken about, and the amendment backs it up. For offenders to be rehabilitated effectively, the service must liaise with education and housing providers, employers, training providers, drug and alcohol agencies, mental health services, victim support organisations, and groups which offer support to offenders’ families. In addition, faith organisations and representatives from black and minority ethnic communities have a vital role to play in the support and rehabilitation of those being supervised by the Probation Service. In the United States, I was impressed with the work carried out by African-American citizens on the rehabilitation of those from their community. They may well be an example of what the Probation Service needs to do as regards liaison with some of these groups.

The amendment’s second addition to probation purposes is the reference to the supervision and rehabilitation of those released from prison in paragraph (d). Supervising and rehabilitating released prisoners is a crucial part of the Probation Service’s mission and should be recognised in any legislative statement of the purposes of probation. I believe that it should be in the Bill.

It is estimated that around 1 million offences are committed every year by released prisoners, which represents about a fifth of recorded crime. If you could reduce crime committed by released prisoners, it could make a substantial contribution to reducing overall rates of crime. The Probation Service’s work of supervision and rehabilitation is vital in this process and should be clearly recognised in any statement of the purposes of probation.

The third addition is the reference in paragraph (f) of the amendment to measures to ensure compliance with court orders. The whole purpose of supervision by the Probation Service is to ensure that orders are successfully completed. This means setting clear expectations of offenders, providing them with the support necessary to build up and sustain their motivation and helping them to deal with the multiple problems which have led them into criminal activity. If offenders persistently fail to comply with court orders, the service has a duty to take them back to court. The service’s record in promptly initiating breach proceedings has greatly improved in recent years. However, it is preferable for a probation officer to motivate offenders to comply with court orders rather than end up having to take them back to court for non-compliance. This positive evidence should be reflected in setting out the purposes of probation in statute.

Paragraph (g) of the amendment refers to,

Building up empathy with victims is a vital part of focused work to change offenders’ attitudes to crime. All too often offenders dissociate themselves from the impact of their action on their victims. If they think about this at all, they often try to downplay its seriousness. The experience of restorative justice programmes shows that enabling offenders to see the devastating impact which their crimes have on victims can have a salutary effect on their attitudes, which in many cases can produce a genuine and lasting change. This should be seen as a central part of the purposes of the Probation Service.

In summary, the changes which the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would make to Clause 1(1) would produce a much better balanced statement of the purposes of probation. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept the amendment or agree that the Government will table their own amendment along similar lines at a later stage.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I am sure that the Minister will look at this list carefully. I wish to make one or two comments about the list and say something about lists generally. My worry is that if I were part of a group of professionals in this area, they would think of half a dozen other things or come up with a different wording. My great worry is that a list becomes a job description. I should like to see a probation service that is released from many of these shackles and able to start developing different services to help offenders. Indeed, many of the very pertinent points that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made about bureaucracy might not be helped by other measuring provisions in lists.

I particularly want to mention paragraph (a) because its wording would do two things. First, it talks about “working in partnership”. No one can criticise that, unless it excludes the whole concept of commissioning. We need to look at commissioning carefully. Secondly, the amendment mentions organisations “at local level”. I declare an interest as the deputy chair of the Faithfull Foundation. We have had extraordinary difficulties commissioning a vital service to deal with sex offenders because the funding was all at local level. Where there is more central funding, some of those more essential services might be commissioned in a different way. Is that behind some of the thinking?

The Earl of Listowel: I apologise for having been delayed and not hearing the first three minutes of the exposition of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. There are two concerns on which I would appreciate a response from the Minister. First, the businesses that I have spoken to are very keen to work with governors in prisons rather than remotely through a third party. They are taking a risk in taking on ex-offenders, so they need to develop a relationship of trust with the governor who is responsible for that prisoner. A comment on that would be very welcome.

Secondly, I am not sure that I quite understood the position being proposed, but I notice that, to a degree throughout the Anglo-Saxon world, there is a rather fragmented approach to services for vulnerable people. For instance, in children’s homes in the United States, one sees examples both of shining good practice and of appalling provision. I think that that is true in Australia too. It is all rather piecemeal. Having visited children’s homes and private providers in this country, I know that some produce fairly good training packages of their own. Some recognise that they need to attract good people to the work in children’s homes because of the challenging children that they have to work with, so they develop a course at a university so that there is a career progression for their staff to work towards a degree in therapeutic childcare. Each of those organisations is reinventing the wheel for themselves. There is no sense of being joined up, which is something that the state might have provided as a framework in this area. In Germany and Denmark, the state has a role providing that sort of professional framework for the people working in those situations. I was alarmed by what my noble friend said about the danger of fragmentation of provision and the lack of clarity about what is required.

Baroness Stern: I want to make one point and to seek clarification from the Minister. I said in supporting Amendment No. 1 that a probation service is an essential part of the criminal justice system and is one of the feet on which it stands. On the one side, there is the Prison Service, which is powerful, resonates with the public, sucks in a lot of money, is always in the front of the news and is a preoccupation for those who are responsible. On the other side, there is a community-based service that emphasises rehabilitation, gets less coverage and is easier to take the money from when there is a crisis. Those are two sides of the sanction system, and ideally there should be some balance between them in the strength of their voices and in the way in which they are regarded by Ministers. Some might argue—I will not do so tonight—that we have the balance wrong.


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