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I was particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said about the importance of working in partnership. That is where magistrates skills are vital for the future success of trusts; with their knowledge of the local community, they can work in partnership with local authorities. The Minister was right to say that people should not be appointed unless they are the best for the job; this should not be a quota-filling exercise. That is absolutely right. However, through her own amendment, which puts in place someone who is a member of a local authority, she recognises the special ability of some people. I wish to do the same by recognising the special expertise of magistrates. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 60, but I shall press Amendment No. 61.
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 65 stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden. Schedule 1 transfers the determination of terms and conditions for probation staff to probation trusts. This amendment keeps collective bargaining at a national level and retains the status quo. It is always difficult and demoralising for staff who are carrying out the same jobs to be paid on different pay scales. Experience has shown that when that happens, it creates what used to be known in the car industry as leap-frogging; that is, one companys pay jumps over that of another, so spurring an upward spiral. This introduces pay that is not in the system and diverts considerable regional resources in the yearly merry-go-round of pay competition.
National collective bargaining maintains probation as a profession across England and Wales. If each trust is allowed to have different terms and conditions for probation staff, it would be detrimental to the efficiency and effectiveness of the service. Although the Probation Service has been made up of a number of local probation employersthere are currently 42 probation areas in England and Walessince the 1940s, there has been national collective bargaining. There is also continuous service for staff moving between different areaswhich means that service-related entitlements, such as annual leave, are not affected by moves between probation areasand all staff are covered by the local government pension scheme. This means that there is a national professional career structure that enables staff to move between probation areas without detriment.
This free flow of staff between areas has been as much to the benefit of the service as to that of the staff. It has enabled enhanced staff professional career development, reduced staff wastage and ensured maximum benefit from the training investment made in staff. National collective bargaining underpins the very existence of the national probation profession. Probation Service pay and conditions have recently been modernised, and the Probation Service pay modernisation agreement was implemented with effect from April 2006. This modernised pay structure has introduced harmonised terms and conditions for all grades, new flexibilities for employers and a job evaluation system for all grades. Geographical and market forces arrangements are also in place to enable employers to take account of the particular circumstances they find themselves in without needing to move away from the national agreement. Separate collective bargaining arrangements for each probation employer would be inefficient and would necessitate an increased role for human resources and industrial relations for each employer. In the interests of efficiency and effectiveness, and in order to ensure the continuation of the probation profession, it is important that national collective bargaining for the Probation Service is retained and is provided for in the legislation.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I support my noble friends amendment. Schedule 1 transfers the determination of terms and conditions for probation staff to probation trusts. This amendment keeps collective bargaining at a national level and retains the status quo. In our view, national collective bargaining for the Probation Service is a prerequisite for the maintenance of probation as a professional service across England and Wales. We do not believe that if each trust is allowed to have different terms and conditions for probation staff it would assist efficiency in the service. Although the Probation Service has been made up of a number of local probation employersthere are currently 42 probation areas in England and Walessince the 1940s, there has been national collective bargaining. There is continuous service with staff moving between different areas. As my noble friend indicated, that has enabled the free flow of staff between areas to the benefit of the service. It enhances staff professional career prospects, reduces staff wastage and ensures that the maximum benefit is gained from training investment made in the staff. In other words, national collective bargaining underpins the very existence of the national probation profession.
As my noble friend said, this is the view of Napo, which is the union responsible for organising probation staff. It feels very strongly about the matter and has sent us briefing on it. I therefore hope that in view of what has been said by me and my noble friend that my noble friends on the Front Bench will be inclined to support our amendment.
Lord Dholakia: I support the amendment. The argument is not about central employment as against local employment of probation officers; it is about collective bargaining. The Probation Service has gone through drastic changes in the past few years. Despite contrary advice, we more or less decimated it by allowing local probation boards to appoint probation officers with the principal being appointed by the Home Office.
The argument moves further. Our opinion is that if it does not affect the local and national arguments, there are bound to be ways to establish certain standards for negotiation of salaries, training standards and so on. It is clear in the guidelines issued by the Home Office that any arrangement made requires the approval of the Secretary of State. In other words, somebody in the Home Office finally decides what is appropriate. It would be an absolute disaster if different probation trusts had different arrangements for negotiated settlements for conditions, service standards and so on.
Therefore, if the Home Office is there to set up the national standards, why is it not possible for the unions and others to negotiate at a national level the standards that are applicable? I find it difficult to understand how we can maintain a common thread among probation officers if that particular arrangement is lacking. I believe that there should be national guidelines for salaries, training requirements and contracts of employment. That can be done by a national approach to the matter. It does not take away the employment of local officers by individual probation trusts; it does not take away the local emphasis that we put on that. For that reason Napo is right. It acts not only as a union but quite often as a professional body to probation officers. It should be able to negotiate national standards with the Home Office rather than individually with probation boards. For that reason, we will certainly support the amendment.
Lord Ramsbotham: I, too, support the amendment. I am particularly interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said. As I have said on a number of occasions in Committee, it is hugely important to remember the people who are delivering the service. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has quite rightly drawn attention to the recently published, on 1 June, performance report of the National Probation Service, which shows the best figures ever. Virtually everything has exceeded its target, some by up to 25 per cent.
I must say though that, as a soldier, I was concerned at the figure that was not up to standard; that is, sickness absence. It is at 12 per cent, which is 3 per cent higher than it should be. I was always taught as a young soldier that when you had signs of sickness, malingering or whatever, there was something wrong with morale and that you should take it seriously. Therefore, I believe that it would be divisive not to have a national system for looking after the staffs financial well-being and their career and to support properly every member of the probation staff as part of a national structure to support people carrying out a national role. The way the amendment has been put has covered all those points extremely well.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am sure that my noble friends Lady Gibson and Lady Turner will be aware that the issue covered by their amendment was discussed at length in Committee in another place. However, I am happy to repeat the assurances that were given then on the subject and to reinforce the messages that I am confident were delivered by my colleagues in another place.
Paragraphs 7 and 8 of Schedule 1 deal with the arrangements for trusts employing staff. Paragraph 7 states that the terms of employment are for the trust to determine. Paragraph 8 allows, but does not require, the Secretary of State to approve the terms of employment determined by trusts.
Amendment No. 65would have the effect of restricting that flexibilityand it is flexibilityand would require the Secretary of State to determine terms of employment. However, it should be clearly understoodI restate itthat we have no plans to change the current arrangements whereby pay and terms and conditions for probation staff are negotiated on a national basis through a national framework and national machinery. It is not currently either practical or appropriate for probation trusts to set their own terms and conditions. We envisage that that will remain the case for the foreseeable future.
We are, however, engaged in a process of reform, and that will not be completed overnight. The provisions under discussion have rightly been designed to leave us with an element of flexibility to respond to future local circumstances which by their very nature we cannot anticipate in every regard. Without a convincing reason, it does not make sense, as the amendment proposes, to restrict in primary legislation the ability to react to unforeseen circumstances which require this important element of flexibilitycircumstances which the noble Baroness could not anticipate or foreseeor the ability to recognise the localism of the service.
It is not our intention to undermine in any way the national negotiation process or machinery or the way in which they work. We agree that some certainty is needed and that it makes good sense to negotiate on a national basis, but we do not want to produce an ironclad straitjacket for the service as the amendment suggests. I doubt whether the amendment will achieve entirely what its supporters are seeking as I do not think it will provide for all the circumstances of the national negotiation in the way in which it is alleged.
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