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I also take issue with the words used by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who said that the current arrangements had led to the decimation of probation officer services. I cannot agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has very helpfully reminded us that the Probation Service is achieving and working very well, a point which is underlined by the latest set of reports. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was making a point about the different levels of appointment for chief probation officers and the local appointments process for probation officers more generally. I do not agree that that has led in any way or form to the decimation of the service. I would say that the service is doing well and that our necessary reforms will enable it to reach even higher levels of performance. That is our objective, and I am sure that it is shared by all sides of the Committee.

I hope that, having heard my words of reassurance, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dholakia: I do not want to enter the whole debate that took place when the appointment of chief probation officers was taken over centrally by the Home Office, and the problem that that caused. I just remind the Minister what paragraph 7 of the schedule states. It states that the trust appoints its own staff and sets its own terms and conditions. Paragraph 8 provides that,

unless he directs otherwise. That is very woolly. In other words, a trust may decide to pay less to a probation officer working in a rural area than to someone working in a highly concentrated area—for example, somewhere in London—as long as that arrangement is approved by the Secretary of State. That is not national negotiating standards; that will cause problems.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord draws too much into those words. Those staff will be TUPE-ed—I think that that is the expression. The statutory equivalent of TUPE will be in operation. Providers will have to take account of how the workforce regulations operate when they recruit new staff. Those terms will of course be no less favourable than those of employees transferred from the current arrangements. I do not see the problem that the noble Lord alludes to. That problem will not exist.

Lord Dholakia: As the Minister is talking about it, why under that paragraph will the trust not only appoint its staff—I have no problem with that—but set their terms and conditions? Why does the trust have to do that if there are national standards that the Home Office will implement?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Baroness is talking about the machinery for negotiating wages and conditions. Of course, the local flavour will be provided by the local trust. That is what is provided for. It is very clear and very simple. Nothing in what we propose in the legislation undermines the national negotiating process.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I thank noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion, which has been interesting. I am not exactly sure where we stand now on national collective bargaining under the Bill. Napo certainly thinks that there may be difficulties. However, I thank my noble friend for what I think was a sympathetic response, which we shall obviously consider further. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 66 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 [Power to make grants for probation purposes etc]:

6.45 pm

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 67:

The noble Lord said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 68 and 87 and, if I may, add a word on the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, Amendment No. 85.

The purpose of the amendments is to follow through some of the points made in our debate on Second Reading. We have covered some of the ground already in Committee. I remain convinced that the point about “person or institution” in Amendment No. 67 is very important. It is very confusing for many of those outside, with whom the Government seek co-operation in the fulfilment of probation services in the future, to talk about deals with individuals—by referring to a person where, in almost every instance, it will be with an institution. That needs to be made clear in the Bill because in such institutions, as I said previously in our deliberations, there is collective responsibility legally and morally. For example, in the voluntary sector, the Charity Commission requires every individual trustee to regard themselves as individually responsible, together with holding collective responsibility. It is important to reflect that in the Bill, especially as it is a Bill that comes from the Home Office.

Amendment No. 68 is crucial. We have been talking an awful lot about the business and administration arrangements for the future—the structures that will be in place—but the success of the whole operation will depend on the calibre and the quality of the people who are serving within it. If we do not have people of the right calibre, it could all prove positively damaging. If I may say so in parenthesis, that is why there is latent anxiety about the range of organisations with which co-operation will be possible. Some will take the business of calibre, qualifications and experience—one of the amendments refers to experience of personnel—much more seriously than others. We have already seen that in the sphere of organisations now working in the penal sector.

If that is to be done, we must recognise that it is a very exacting task to be involved in probation work, especially in rehabilitation. It is not something that you can just pick up and do. Interpersonal skills are crucial. As I said in our Second Reading debate, an understanding of evidence-based knowledge, critical judgment and other elements are crucial to success.

I have had the good fortune to do a bit of professional work with one university involved in such preparation for the health service and for police careers. A number of universities and centres of higher education now seek to make, are making or are capable of making a contribution. They need to be able to plan ahead with certainty. They cannot just pick up serious work in this sphere at the drop of a hat and then discard it. They must have the facilities, the resources and their own academic teams in place to undertake the work properly. That is brought out in the amendment standing in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe.

My basic message is that if we will the end, we must will the means. We must say something about the means and the responsibility of the Secretary of State to ensure that the means are available in the Bill. That involves means in terms of people and their standard, as I said, but it is also means in terms of the facilities to enable people to reach the right degree of understanding, sensitivity and professionalism to undertake the work properly.

The amendments are designed to fulfil the task of ensuring that the Secretary of State sees it as a main responsibility to ensure that the means are available. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I support the amendment to which my name is added, moved so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, concerning the necessary qualifications and skills that those undertaking this high level of work need. One of the concerns of the Probation Service and Napo is that there is no apparent reference to training in the Bill. My amendment—I support all the amendments in the group—seeks to suss out the Government’s exact intention, not only for the present but for the future. This refers a little to our discussions earlier today on Clause 4. I very much want the Minister’s reassurance that, for the three-year period referred to in Clause 4—and, of course, beyond if that period is extended—the Government have agreed that only those with full probation officer qualifications will provide court reports and supervise interventions with high-risk offenders. I am very definitely talking about high-risk offenders; we all know that some of the lesser forms of probation are undertaken by those who do not hold full qualifications.

I also ask the Minister to explain further why the reports for the Parole Board are not included. Having served on the Parole Board in a previous existence, I would have thought that it was crucial for the highest level of probation officer to prepare these reports for the Parole Board so that it may take the right decision about whether to grant parole. This is crucial not only for the protection of the public, which is what we are all about. The wrong judgment will affect the likely rehabilitation of the offender, so again we will not protect the public as we should. I would be very grateful either for confirmation that Clause 4 already achieves what my amendment seeks to do, or for an explanation as to why it does not.

Secondly—the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made this point—we really do need to ensure proper investment. The means are crucial. We also need those who deliver the training to have continued staff expertise. Currently, when the Secretary of State commissions universities to provide a degree-level course for the diploma in probation studies, the contract should be for a minimum of 10 years, now and in the future, rather than for four or five years, which is the current practice and which, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said, really does restrict the quality and experience needed to gain a sufficiently high level of qualification.

My third point is rather more exploratory. I am quite certain that the Government will have been giving quite a lot of consideration to the design of an equivalent qualification for probation officers whom they believe to be qualified to do probation work with high-risk offenders and which could, under contestability, be part of the training of those who may be regarded in the future as fit to undertake the work that has previously been done by probation officers themselves. I argue—I am interested to know the Minister’s reaction—that whoever does high-risk probation work under contestability should have a degree-level qualification that incorporates the particular specialist areas of qualification that are currently contained in the degree-level diploma in probation studies. Whatever else that course contains, it should contain those areas.

Finally, will the Minister who responds—I do not know whether it will be the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, or the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—confirm that, if the Government’s plans for contestability come into operation and community punishment and interventions are commissioned from voluntary, private or other public sector suppliers, a duty will be imposed on commissioners to employ sufficient staff with the sort of high-level qualification to which I referred to deliver the probation services? I have had discussions with those already involved in providing training, and their view is that community punishment and interventions require high levels of interpersonal and organisational skills to develop and sustain the consistent, confident and trust-based relationships needed to achieve change in offending behaviour and to be sensitive to risk and the public’s protection. I hope that the Minister—I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, is in the Chamber—will be able to satisfy me on these points.

Lord Hylton: This group of amendments gives me the opportunity to make a point about the Parole Board. I understand that there are at this moment considerable delays in presenting prisoners, and the necessary reports on them, to the Parole Board. This has added unnecessarily to the lengths of sentences served. I believe that it has also led to individual prisoners making compensation claims for excess imprisonment. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond with good news about what is being done to put this problem right.

Lord Ramsbotham: The amendments to which I have put my name have already been most admirably covered by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and my noble friend Lady Howe. I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, drew attention to parole, which was one of the issues that I was going to raise. There was a report in the newspapers last week about this, coupled with the problem in prisons of people not being able to get on the courses that they need in order to qualify for parole; so there is all that to be sorted out.

Further to the point about the qualifications needed by professional probation staff, I have been involved with the University of Portsmouth, which runs the extremely successful diploma course for probation staff, which has been mentioned. It does not make sense to cut any of the curriculum for that course, because it is in-depth and has been run over time. I absolutely agree with the idea of 10 years. This makes absolute sense, because it encourages the university to invest in that training and to become involved with the people who develop the training and who may relate it to the developing practice in the field.

It is terribly important that national standards are laid down for those in the voluntary and private sectors who carry out probation tasks. We cannot afford to cut that at all. I have observed with interest the different standards in the training of custody officers and prison officers in prisons, and we must not—particularly if we are dealing with people who are in the community, who are seen by the community, and who therefore affect the confidence of the community in the system—risk cutting any corners by employing people who are not qualified to do the work for which they have been employed.

7 pm

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I support this amendment to which I have added my name, but I will speak especially to Amendment No. 68 on the training of probation officers, which is an essential dimension of their professional standing, authority and status. It means that they are able to draw on a body of evidence-based knowledge, to which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred, from which their training is derived and is essential to the expertise and the delivery of probation services. I know from my own experience of doing post-graduate training as a social worker that the training I had in college and in the field was absolutely essential to being able to do my job properly.

However, nothing in the Bill refers to professional training or qualification, which should be the starting point for anyone working in the field if they purport to be delivering probation services, whether it is supervision or any other probation task, to a proper, professional level. Instead, this silence implies that anyone could supervise offenders. Indeed, Clause 3(2) states:

Unfortunately, this reflects the fact that there has been a gradual erosion of probation training over the years. In the interests of saving money on the expense of a full training, the Government have been developing a second-tier workforce of probation service officers, PSOs, who do not have the benefit of full training. It is arguable that this has been to the detriment of effectiveness and quality of service delivery, which is hardly surprising.

Currently, it is a requirement in law that a fully-fledged probation officer has a Certificate of Qualification in Social Work—a CQSW—or a diploma in probation studies which is done over a two-year period using a mixture of distance learning, tutorials in college and supervision as part of a probation team. During that period staff have a protected caseload while doing their studies. By contrast, PSOs have no formal training and, with very little financial support for such training as they have from the centre, they are trained on the job. Ultimately, they do the same sort of work, with the same sort of responsibilities, as fully-trained probation officers.

Although I understand that there are plans to develop a better, modular training programme, it is still significantly less focused and thorough as the CQSW. There is a feeling in the service—rightly or wrongly, but the feeling exists—that the Home Office, probably born of these developments, does not really feel that qualifications are all that important and that anyone can really do the job, just as Clause 3 implies, provided they are reasonably intelligent. If nothing else, it is an indication of the feeling of not being valued within the service which should be tackled by government as those attitudes are extremely counterproductive and, like a self-fulfilling prophesy, can lead to a lower standard of service delivery by those who feel inadequate or undervalued.

In fact, the demands of the job and the standards required to do it are very high. MAPPA, for example, requires qualifications and experience to supervise and manage some of the most dangerous people in our society. But in London and most metropolitan boroughs, those offenders in risk categories 3 and 4 exceed the number of trained probation officers to supervise them, such is the size of their caseloads. I need hardly say that this is not a satisfactory situation. In the interests of public safety, as well as rehabilitation of the offender, it is absolutely vital that professional training is regulated and that the Secretary of State has a duty to determine that regulation which must be long enough and rigorous enough to give the staff effective skills for the job. The standing and authority of the profession of probation officers is predicated on this.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I had not intended to speak at this juncture but the speech made by the noble Baroness has spurred me to my feet. I am sure that she will not be relieved at what I shall say. I speak as a professional social worker. I do not have my registration yet. One day, when I get around to it, I shall clearly get it. Having said that, I am absolutely committed to high standards and quality of training, to which the Home Office and the Probation Service are equally committed. But every profession these days has auxiliaries who work with them. It seems that the Probation Service may be suffering from what the social work profession suffered from significantly in the past; that is, a professional pride that does not allow for alternative interventions.

Certain social work areas have social work auxiliaries. Noble Lords have to look only at some of the home interventions and services to know that that has made a tremendous difference to the work, and to the work of the social worker as a whole, because the supervision is always left in the hands of the professional who understands. I speak as the person who trained thousands of volunteers for ChildLine to speak on the telephone to children in the most extraordinary distress. You could not actually see those children and the suggestion was often made that that was not as difficult as being face to face, but I have to say that it is far more difficult. Those volunteers learnt to manage that and many developed into counsellors and went on to further training. That does not diminish the fact that we had to have qualified supervisors always on call and on duty to help to support and develop the volunteers’ thinking.

I do not believe that auxiliaries and other people working with trained professionals in any way diminishes the professionals, but I know that there is a resistance in some areas of probation, which I have experienced in other organisations, to engage because of the feeing that auxiliaries are doing jobs that they should be doing. Experienced probation officers can then get on and do the really difficult work, so long as they use their auxiliaries to do other work.

Lord Judd: Does the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, agree that while of course we must be on our guard against the worst kind of professional conservatism, her very point emphasises the importance of proper professional training and preparation? If it is fit for the task, it will emphasise the importance of the contribution that can be made by auxiliaries, how they can be effectively woven into the system and how the best possible use can be made of them. The issue is the nature of the training and the nature of the professional qualification and ensuring that it is open-minded about the possibilities of bringing in people with lesser qualifications but using them effectively, which is very demanding of those who have got the qualifications.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I do not think that the noble Lord is saying anything different from what I have just said. High-level professional qualification is essential, but not on its own. I know professionals who really do not know how to carry out a clear assessment and an implementation plan in order to change behaviour. There are real issues about how we develop our skills. I know auxiliaries who have absolutely those skills. It is clearly a question of management as well as the training that is crucial to develop it, but I do not think that the noble Lord and I are in any different position.

Lord Warner: I had not intended speaking on this amendment, but some of the remarks sound rather professionally protective. The Probation Service has to look outside at other public services which have used sub-professional people to bring in and do a lot of work. They then provide a pool of people who can move on and upwards, as the Government propose with PSOs, to generate more high-level professional qualifications. We can look at the police service with its community support officers; we can look at ambulance services with their emergency care practitioners; we can look at social work, where some of us were involved from the 1980s onwards with care managers who do not all need to be professionally qualified social workers; we can look at healthcare assistants in the NHS and at surgical practitioners doing some of the work of surgeons. I could go on in this vein.


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