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Clause 12 provides for this restriction to be lifted by means of an order subject to affirmative resolution. Clause 12(1) provides a power to repeal this clause in its entirety. Clause 12(2) clarifies that the order repealing this clause can specify that it does so only in relation to specific aspects of court work. As this situation develops and there is a growth, which we expect, in expertise in other fields which is appropriate and safe, it gives an opportunity for the Government of the day to come back to Parliament and say, “On the following basis we now believe that it is appropriate for this limitation to be removed in relation to all, part or any of the matter”. That gives us flexibility and an opportunity which we think is very valuable because, if both Houses thought that it was appropriate, it would allow, through the affirmative resolution procedure, for there to be a gradual lifting of the provision if that was deemed to be the most appropriate development in the circumstances that prevailed.

Amendments Nos. 97 and 98, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would restrict that power. They would mean that the power to repeal would apply only to Clause 4(2)(a) rather than to the whole of Clause 4. Clause 4(2)(a) forms part of the definition of “restricted probation provision” in Clause 4. It makes clear that “restricted probation provision” must be provision which is made for a purpose in Clause 2(1)(a) or (b). Clause 4(2)(b) clarifies that this provision must also relate to the giving of assistance to courts. The noble Lord’s amendments would restrict all the work that probation does in relation to courts to the public sector for all time.

That is not a sensible way to proceed. It is right to leave open the possibility of some or all aspects of court work being contracted outside the public sector in due course, as other providers develop their expertise and the new arrangements bed in. That may be appropriate but it is absolutely not on the agenda at the moment, and the current arrangements would be changed only if the Government were able to persuade both Houses of Parliament that it was the right thing to do. That strikes a sensible balance. It gives a cast-iron guarantee, to those inside this House and outside it, that we will take a responsible and measured approach to implementing the changes.

I know that many in the voluntary and private sector believe that we are being timorous, and that we should be more bold and go more quickly into the issue. We have listened to that but, where we are dealing with such a sensitive issue and have to build confidence and make sure that people feel comfortable about the change, this is the most appropriate and proportionate way forward. It gives us a balance. We get the safety and security that we need for the moment, allow the market to develop, build the relationships and partnerships, have the standards, deliver in a way that makes sense to people, and then think that—if we end up being where I certainly hope we will be—we will have built a consensus to enable us to move forward. Members of the Committee need to be very conscious that the affirmative resolution procedure is a powerful opportunity in a situation such as this where we allow a part-evolution, because it allows both Houses to say yes—or no—to this development and speed in a way that makes a great deal of sense.

For that reason, I hope that my noble friend will feel content not to oppose the stand part Question in due course; that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will not pursue the matter tonight, and that he may consider not doing so on Report or Third Reading; and that I might persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, to think really carefully about whether she needs to exercise herself unduly on Monday.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I always enjoy exercise in response to the noble Baroness. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, will excuse me if I make a couple of points.

The noble Baroness had to address herself to two issues, both policy and process. My questions were predominantly about process—whether this was the right constitutional way to go about removing a clause that is fundamental to the Bill. I do not feel that she has yet assured me on that point. She referred to the fact that the Government putting the clause into the Bill was very much part of how they were bringing their planned policy forward, and that it was in response to her right honourable and honourable friends in another place saying, “We don’t believe you, our Government—prove it”. What a thing to have your own colleagues say that. The Government put Clause 12 in as their get-out to provide flexibility, as she said. That was not overwhelmingly popular with her honourable friends in another place, as she will know, but I suspect that it was seen as better than nothing.

We must consider whether or not the affirmative procedure is appropriate. That will happen when we consider my Amendment No. 99. I am conscious not only of the time, as the Minister looks at the clock, but of the fact that my Chief Whip is sitting behind me. If I were to start voting against every Home Office affirmative order that I thought was plain wrong, I do not think that I would be long for this life. I hear what the Minister says and I know that she has done all she can to argue the Government’s case. We remain adrift.

Next week, if the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is persuaded not to oppose the Question that Clause 12 shall stand part of the Bill, when we reach my Amendment No. 99, I would be grateful if the Minister could show me any recent Home Office legislation in which the Government have sought to remove by order a clause that is fundamental to a Bill. We shall have to see whether that fits neatly with what they are seeking to do in this Bill. I could not research that, given my resources, but, no doubt, the Minister will have the facts at her fingertips.

Lord Ramsbotham: I was interested that the Minister talked a lot today about proceeding with considered caution. Yet she closed using the motto of my regiment, “Swift and bold”, in moving forward. I have listened with care to what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said and I am sure that she is absolutely right that we should consider precisely what has been said in this interesting debate. I am glad that the Minister has described all that she has been trying to achieve. We have a great deal to consider on Clause 4 and on Clause 12 when we return on Monday. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 98 not moved.]

House resumed.

National Trust (Northern Ireland) Bill

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and referred to the Examiners.


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