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On the issue of prescribing a list of members, I of course accept that a member of the police authority or a qualified psychiatrist would bring extremely useful skills and influence to bear on running a probation trust. However, I think that we are all agreed that it is for the probation trust to determine the priorities in its area.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: May I ask the noble Baroness a question that I would have asked at the beginning, only she did not notice that I was about to stand up? I did not interrupt earlier, because I thought the answer might well come.

During my absence, perhaps I missed this question about whether the appointments are to be made under Nolan procedures or simply on knowledge of the person. What are the criteria for the skills looked for? I ask for two reasons. First, my experience in CAFCASS has taught me how vital it is that you have the proper range of skills to understand the service, combined with the business skills to understand how to develop new services. I am still unclear from the debate and the Bill how that is to be achieved. It is unclear from the schedule, and I do not know that I have picked it up in the Explanatory Notes or anywhere else.

Lord Dholakia: May I also put a question to the Minister? If it is necessary to put a judge as a specified person to chair the trust, what excludes magistrates being specified as members of this body?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The noble Lord and the noble Baroness make important points. We need clarity in terms of criteria and I shall explain how that will be dealt with, but the process whereby chairs and probation board members were recently recruited will continue. That parity of treatment and the probity that we have will continue. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord know that we have to target the skills of those on the probation board to meet its needs, in the same way in which we will target the skills on the probation trust to meet its needs. That skills mix will be important.

The process was nationally managed. Competence was based on application and interview. Board chairs were appointed by the national director via delegated authority from the Secretary of State, and board members by a similar process. However, the board chair made the appointment acting on behalf of the Secretary of State, and the same will go for trusts in future. The answer to the noble Baroness’s question is almost, “Don’t worry”. The probity that we had before has to continue; nothing will be done on a little frolic of the chairman’s own with no appropriate criteria.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: Will the people concerned therefore not be representatives of any group, whatever group they come from, but bring their skills to the board as any board member does? I seek clarification.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Some people will have a plethora of skills. I look across the way at the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She has many hats, so which would we choose? In the past she has been a magistrate, and now has skills performing on the Front Bench. Which category would she fall into? One has to look at the skills needed and match them. We may find that some members are able to fulfil different aspects of the skills needed on the board.

Viscount Tenby: I apologise for interrupting, but we rather galloped on. I did not know that people were not going to speak to and support the amendment; I was waiting for others to come in as well, but that is my fault.

The noble Baroness made the point that it was considered at an earlier stage that the boards were becoming top heavy, which was one reason for doing away with magistrates—not local authority representatives, of course. Will one extra member make the whole enterprise lurch into complete incompetence and inability to get things done? If we were talking about 15, 10 or even five, perhaps, but one? Furthermore, that one is from the one area that has a tremendous interest in the legal process, what happens to the offenders and everything else.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: There was a look of bafflement on so many faces that I certainly thought that the Minister was getting up to reply to some minor point, and that we were all able to speak. May I ask—

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I shall sit down altogether. I looked around the Chamber—I am afraid that I did not look behind me but in front of me—after the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, sat down. No one rose to their feet, so I thought that the Committee, unusually, simply wanted to hear an answer. I am most happy to regain my seat and not to get up until each and every Member of the Committee has sated their appetite to say exactly what they want.

Lord Judd: That is an extremely helpful and generous response by my noble friend. Indeed, I had hoped to speak to Amendment No. 62, which somehow was not spoken to. I am not sure whether that was Liberal generosity or just a slip.

I am slightly confused. The Minister has emphasised several times in Committee the importance of partnership. In Scotland, it has been recognised that there is an intricate relationship between crime, punishment, rehabilitation, neighbourhoods and communities. If this is about partnership, involving the community, sharing responsibility and getting more people to see that they have a part to play, I for one cannot understand why it is not an altogether good idea to make sure that you bring in some representative of the local authority and of those administering justice in the local community. That seems a self-evident and practical fulfilment of the very point that my noble friend has so effectively stressed in her own observations in Committee.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I was clearly at fault in being slow off the mark, because Amendment No. 62 is in my name and in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lord Wallace. I wished to make a similar point before the Minister summed up. I apologise for being slow.

Our amendment places in the Bill a requirement for there to be a legal obligation for one member of a trust to be a magistrate in the probation trust area and another to be a local councillor in that area. There is no such requirement in the Bill at present. It is axiomatic, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, that new trusts should, as far as possible, be representative of their local communities and consist not simply of local businesspeople, important though businesspeople are. Indeed, business expertise has been part of many existing boards. The one that I know well is in Chester, in the north-west.

The whole community must have confidence and faith in its probation services, particularly if it is expected to be involved, as it will be, in the rehabilitation of ex-offenders and their reintegration and acceptance into the community. If reoffending is to decrease, let alone stop, all sorts of local groups, churches and others must be engaged. Unless there are meaningful connections with the probation trusts, making that sort of confidence real will be very difficult and the vital reintegration is unlikely to be achieved. The provision should be community-led and will work only if local membership of trusts can create the links with the probation services and the understanding that is required.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for introducing our amendment.

Viscount Tenby: I thank the Minister for her customary courtesy and kindness in providing us with this opportunity. She will have observed that, rather craftily, I have already said by means of asking a question most of what I wanted to say. I warmly support the amendment that was convincingly moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.

A great play has been made about businessmen. It is as if magistrates are a race apart and are a group of eccentric nonentities who do nothing but give people fines for not having a television licence or speeding. In fact, they are representative of society as a whole and there are some excellent men and women in the magistracy. I would go further. In a quarter of a century on the Bench, I have met some of the best and finest businessmen and women whom I have met in my long and undistinguished business career. I should declare an interest as an ex-magistrate who is now extinct. This is an important point that I am sorry to labour, but the Minister was absolutely right in being more amenable to the idea some months ago, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said. I ask the Minister to reconsider this, because many people feel strongly about it.

Lord Ramsbotham: I am also grateful to the Minister for giving us time to speak. My contribution is not huge and I had thought it appropriate to speak a little after other noble Lords.

I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, mentioned the Cheshire Probation Board. Noble Lords may be interested to know who it consists of, because it seems to be a model of what trusts could be. It is chaired by the ex-chief probation officer of Manchester, who well understands the whole process, and includes the director of corporate banking of the Royal Bank of Scotland; a senior manager from the Liverpool and north-west Land Registry who understands regional government; a personnel manager and senior diversity officer from the Post Office in the north-west; a local councillor, a magistrate who happens to be the chair of a local NHS trust; the assistant chief constable; the assistant director of the Children’s Society, who represents the voluntary sector; the head of the Youth Service; the head of heritage tourism, who represents the corporate sector; and the ex-governor of Her Majesty’s Prison in Manchester. That is 11 people.

I was surprised to hear the Minister suggest that boards wanted the quorums reduced. In fact, that board deliberately wanted to expand to obtain representation of all sectors in the area. Its members feel that they are ideally placed to do precisely what trusts are meant to do. They are also represented on the local area criminal justice board and the criminal justice consultative committee—so they have fingers in all pies. This is precisely what trusts want—to be linked into the local community, if they are allowed to be.

My only query with the amendments remains the issue of the judge, which has already been discussed. The key factor in all this is the triumvirate of the police, the courts and probation, which has been at the heart of the management of offenders in the community since 1907. That factor must be retained and represented on the sort of trust that I mentioned.

5.45 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I, too, apologise for speaking later than I should have done for the same reasons given by other noble Lords. Having heard about the expertise that is represented on the Cheshire Probation Board, it is puzzling why such people would not in future be eligible to be members of trusts. The amendments suggest that it is exactly such people who should put themselves forward for selection under the Nolan principles—with the exception of judges, who, I understand, have agreed that they do not want to chair the boards, which is fine. I would be satisfied by that. However, my point is that if they exist already, why do we need to change them? We can change the names from “probation boards” to “probation trusts”, but is there any need to do more than that? I must declare an interest as an ex-magistrate, but what has been said about the wide knowledge of magistrates and their businesslike approach to the job of sitting on a probation board or trust is exactly what would qualify them. What expertise are we looking for that does not exist already?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I will speak briefly because I am conscious that we wish to make progress. I strongly support Amendment No. 62 and share the concern that the model for setting up trusts with which the Government are presenting us is that of the early 1990s under the previous Conservative Government. That followed what was then the most fashionable business model, when it was believed that “businessmen” was a category that excluded all the other categories that we are talking about and that the pure businessmen model was somehow intrinsically better than local councillors. Anyone who was elected was clearly out.

In the past few months, I have listened to a number of Labour Ministers, not to mention all the candidates for the deputy leadership of that party, talking about the importance of providing local democracy. I went to a meeting of the New Local Government Network last week to find out what that meant, and I have to say that an hour and a half later I emerged no better informed than I had been when I went in. For me, the high point of the evening was when the acting director of the New Local Government Network suggested that one way of improving links between local and national democracy might be to appoint people who had local government experience to the House of Lords. That indicated a basic lack of research into the current composition of the House of Lords.

The Government’s approach here shares some of that same confusion. If we want the trusts to be locally based and locally informed and have the confidence of the local communities in which they work, there needs to be the strongest possible local representation on them. I was not entirely reassured when I heard the Minister say that we should let the trusts judge for themselves who is best placed to serve, but I think I understood her to say that this meant the chair, nominated by the Secretary of State, proposing other people to the Secretary of State. That is a fairly weak definition of local autonomy.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that noble Lords have now explored the issues that they want to explore so that I can respond. I do not really think that we are at odds. I absolutely agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby: some of the finest magistrates happen to come from the business world. Therefore, does one say that they are qualified to sit on a trust as a magistrate or as a business person? The one does not disqualify the other, so they are not mutually exclusive.

I remind the Committee that the provision states that a minimum number of members need to form a probation trust. The number is four and it is not the maximum but the minimum. Therefore, it will be for the trust to determine according to the challenges, needs, complexion and complexity of its local area how many people are needed to develop the work, what skills those individuals should have and how matters will be balanced between them. The provision sets the minimum, not the maximum number. I say to the noble Baroness as gently as I can that I would prefer a minimum of four because it would mean that the number could not go lower than that but would have to go higher. I do not see that there would be a huge advantage in changing the number.

I shall turn to some of the other issues and hope that I will be able to quieten the concerns of a number of noble Lords. Amendment No. 64 proposes that each probation trust should be chaired by a High Court or Crown Court judge and it sets out the extra member proposed. I have tried to deal with how the members should be chosen. Amendment No. 60 states that they should be chosen from a list of four eminent professions and that the membership of a trust should be representative of the population as a whole. All that can be done in targeting the people who are needed on a particular trust.

I should declare an interest in relation to Cheshire. As noble Lords may know, I am the sponsor Minister for the local criminal just board in Cheshire, so I know it quite well. I am now also the sponsor Minister for Thames Valley and Liverpool. I have seen the advances and changes in the dynamics at Liverpool, which has been wonderful, so I know that a huge contribution can be made to the skills.

I think that I have already addressed the proposed requirement for the chair of the probation trust to be a judge. Even the judges who disagreed with our proposals agreed that it would be inappropriate for them to be members.

On the issue of prescribing a list of members, of course I accept that a member of the police authority or a qualified psychiatrist would bring extremely useful skills and influence to bear on running a probation trust. But I hope we all agree that it is for probation trusts to determine the priorities in their particular areas. Chairs may decide that it is more important to have members with experience in the housing, employment or drugs rehabilitation sectors, depending on the local circumstances. I do not think that it would be sensible centrally to seek to impose or prescribe an arbitrary list in this manner, because a trust may need a different skill which is individual to that trust but which may not be as important to another.

Amendment No. 64 also suggests adding a requirement for the trust’s membership to be representative of the local population where practicable. This is similar to the requirement in the current legislation for probation board members to live or work in the board’s area. We removed that altogether from the Bill simply because it seemed unnecessary. We are absolutely committed to maintaining local links, and we will make it clear that we expect trust members and chairs to continue to be drawn largely from the local area. After all, it will be crucial for the trust as a whole to have a good understanding of its area of operation.

We will ensure as far as possible that members are representative of the local population. We remain absolutely committed to diversity in the selection of trust members and, indeed, we have a good record in this area. But we must allow for the fact that other skills and experience will also be needed and that they may be more relevant for an individual appointment. It does not seem sensible, for example, to prohibit a probation trust in an area with a high unemployment rate from recruiting a member from outside the local area with extensive experience of finding work for offenders. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with that assessment.

Amendment No. 61 proposes adding a requirement that the membership of a probation trust must also contain a magistrate. I hope that I have been able to give an assurance on that. I believe we all agree that the expertise that a magistrate could bring as a member of a probation trust would be invaluable. But we must ensure that members are appointed because they are the best people for the job, rather than simply engaging in a quota-filling exercise. In many cases, this will mean that a magistrate will in fact be a member of a trust, and it may also mean that a number of the trust members will happen to be magistrates. A member may happen to be a psychiatrist who happens to be a businessman who happens to have a history of having been a lawyer. We can put together many different constructs.

It is important to note that in many cases more than one member will be a magistrate. The evidence from the recent recruitment round for probation boards bears that out, with the vast majority recruiting at least one magistrate to serve as members of the board. However, those magistrates were recruited because they were the best people for the job rather than by virtue of their profession.

Local sentencer liaison is of course crucial but this is a different task from that of running a probation trust. We think that more effective ways can be found of carrying out formal local liaison with sentencers than simply having a member who happens to be a magistrate. As we have already discussed, that is why we have worked hard to ensure that arrangements are already in place for liaison with sentencers. These existing and effective local liaison arrangements allow sentencers and probation managers to meet to discuss local issues and address local operational difficulties. These will, of course, continue under the new system, and work is under way to adapt them to the new arrangements.

I remain convinced that this is the right approach. I hope that noble Lords will bear that in mind and that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment. I do not think that there is anything between us. This system gives local accountability and local flexibility in accordance with clear criteria which will deliver real excellence.

Lord Judd: I declare an interest as a half Scot. It seems to me that, occasionally, we south of the Border could learn from the way in which the Scots see and approach matters. They seem to be approaching the inter-relationship with the local community very seriously, so can my noble friend assure me that, in drawing our conclusions, we have looked closely at what the Scots are doing and how they are doing it? Why do they see things as they do and what can we learn from that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We certainly have looked at the Scottish situation, which differs from ours. I emphasise to my noble friend that he must look not just at what we are doing on probation boards, but also at what we are doing to engage local people in local criminal justice boards, crime and disorder reduction partnerships, and the new arrangements that we are putting in place through local area agreements, which will reinforce the work done by local strategic partnerships. The local engagement that is now taking place as a result of neighbourhood policing and the new rollout has made a wealth of difference. If we aspire to that change, we understand absolutely the need to embed local accountability and local engagement in a way that is meaningful.

I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and others that the work that we are doing with the various corporate alliances and the way in which we are involving business will help us to deliver on some things that we have wanted to do for a long time, whether it is occupation for those who are disadvantaged, accommodation, or better integration through sport and other activities. The corporate sector is taking a good, positive role in that, so there are many opportunities for us. That local grounding will be very important.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in this not-so-short debate on a core issue of how membership of the trusts should be formed and how they will best serve our communities in the future. I made it clear that Amendments Nos. 60 and 64 are probing amendments. I shall leave those aside and carefully read what the Minister has said on them.

On Amendment No. 61, the Minister said in her rebuttal of my argument that magistrates should have a place as of right on probation trusts. She said that local councillors have a very specific role in local accountability. I argue that magistrates have a very specific role because of their knowledge of the criminal justice system. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, were absolutely right to draw attention to the range of skills that must be represented on the trusts. If the trusts are to be successful, there must be no clones.


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