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The issue of refugees displaced in other countries, some of whom worked for the United Kingdom Government, was the subject of an earlier Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. I made clear to the House then that we look at all these issues on a case-by-case basis. Given the strength of feeling in the House on that occasion, I went back to the Home Office to get further information. Data are not centrally collated with respect to the origin of the asylum claims. The majority of asylum claims from Iraq come from Iraqis within the United Kingdom, rather than outside, but I have been assured that, were people to present having worked for the United Kingdom and were the other circumstances to mean that they would qualify for refugee status in the United Kingdom, of course that would apply.

In giving such a long second answer, I fear that I have forgotten the third question that the noble Baroness asked me.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, should we not be concentrating more of our resource on funding the International Committee of the Red Cross, because it has more credibility, having partners within Iraq, than many of the UN agencies, which have simply been discredited following the Oil for Food programme scandal?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we contributed about £7 million to the ICRC. It appealed for $75.5 million to provide emergency assistance to vulnerable people, including internally displaced people. I understand that the appeal has so far raised $21 million.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, Kuwait has refused to accept any refugees from Iraq since the invasion of that country in 2003. What discussions are the Government having with Kuwait to encourage it to do more to help the international effort to help displaced Iraqis?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, there are a number of issues between Iraq and neighbouring countries. We have talked not only to Kuwait but to other countries in the region, because it is extremely important for the neighbouring countries to do all that they can to support the fledgling Iraqi Government. I must also say to the House that those displaced persons are putting a huge burden on already fragile communities in some of those countries.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, is it not the case that neither Syria nor Jordan are members of the UN Convention on Refugees? Does that not place greater responsibilities on outside states, especially the United States? Will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind what we owe to Iraqi refugees who have previously helped British forces?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, outside states do of course have a responsibility but, as we have seen in other parts of the world where there is conflict, refugees tend to flee to neighbouring countries first rather than to countries further afield. My understanding is that the United States is looking at accepting about 7,000 Iraqis under its longer term programme. If that figure is incorrect, I will write to noble Lords and put a copy of the letter into the Library of the House.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that Jordan is not only one of our closest allies in the Middle East but that its stability is crucial to middle-eastern strategy? Will she therefore consider the possibility of a discussion between the United Kingdom Government and Jordan, which have been very close allies for a long time, on the best way in which we can help Jordan to deal with its huge inflow of refugees? Secondly, on her very helpful answer to my noble friend Lady Northover, will she agree to keep a very close eye on the bureaucratic systems of the Home Office, which, to be frank, can stand in the way of people with a genuine need to come to this country because they have helped the British Government during the Iraq war, to enable them to be sure that they can look for safety in this country if they are already in danger?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, one of our responsibilities towards neighbouring countries is to try to lessen the tension that has been building up in them as a result of refugees fleeing into them. Jordan remains very important in that regard, and we will continue to talk to it, to Kuwait and to other countries in the region. The Home Office must try to get the balance right between having a system that is robust but that can take on board the many different circumstances that exist in different parts of the world. That is why it works with up-to-date, country-specific data, to enable it to take the right decisions in these cases.

Business

3.06 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, a Statement on the G8 summit will be repeated by my noble friend the Leader of the House at a convenient time after 3.30 pm today.

Offender Management Bill

3.07 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

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

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 99:

(a) a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House; and(b) each of the resolutions for approving the draft was agreed more than 60 days after the day on which the draft was laid before the House in question.(a) the Secretary of State has prepared and published a report containing a proposal for the making of such provision; (b) the report sets out the Secretary of State’s reasons for making the proposal;(c) the report has been laid before Parliament and each House has approved the proposal contained in the report, either with or without modifications; and(d) the draft order gives effect to the proposal so far as approved by both Houses.(a) the laying of the report; or(b) if more than one report containing that proposal has been laid before that House, the laying of the one laid most recently.(a) Parliament is dissolved or prorogued; or(b) the House in question is adjourned as part of an adjournment for more than four days.”

The noble Baroness said: My amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a report setting out his reasons for believing that the time was right to expose the core offender management tasks, such as writing court reports, to the new process of contestability, which lies at the heart of the Bill. It would do so by applying the super-affirmative procedure to the statutory instrument that would remove Clause 4. Noble Lords—at least those who have been involved in the Bill—will recall that Clause 4 prevents the Secretary of State from opening up core offender management work to contestability. That protection, however, can be whisked away by a statutory instrument laid under the powers given to the Secretary of State in Clause 12.

The Government have said that they will not expose services such as the writing of court reports to contestability until they are sure that the time is right to do so, or at least for the next three years. The Committee has debated Clauses 4 and 12 in some detail and has set out its considerable concerns about how they will operate. Indeed, the greater part of our debates in the first four days of Committee on the Bill has been dominated by the concerns of noble Lords about the way in which the Government intend to push ahead with their policy of contestability without first being adequately clear about its operation. My Amendment No. 99 has been proposed to find a way forward that may satisfy all sides of the debate. We believe that only the process recognised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee as being the most stringent secondary legislation mechanism available should be used to remove the protection for core services in Clause 4.

So how would the amendment work and why do we think that it is right for this Bill? If the Secretary of State wished to bring forward a statutory instrument to remove Clause 4, under my amendment he would first have to publish a report containing his proposals and giving his reasons for them. The report would have to set out why the Secretary of State believed that the time was right and it would have to give details of what had happened so far in exposing other non-core work to contestability, to enable the House to judge whether the time was right to let Clause 4 wither and die. The report would be laid before Parliament and both Houses would be required to approve it before the statutory instrument could proceed.

Effectively, the amendment would give this House what it so often calls for; that is, the opportunity to have an amendable statutory instrument. That would be superior to the existing position whereby instruments can be only accepted or rejected. Members of the Committee will be aware of how cautious I always am with regard to statutory instruments and how cautious noble Lords are generally. We have one recent example of a statutory instrument being rejected—the casinos statutory instrument. It was an extraordinary occasion; I think that it was only the second time in living memory that the House has rejected a statutory instrument. That course of action is taken very seriously and not lightly. If Members of the Committee check the list, they will see that I did not vote on that occasion. The Opposition were not whipped to vote. I followed the line that I always do; that is, if this House has given its approval to the primary legislation, it is a matter of great concern if we are in the position of having to vote against secondary legislation. It is not a matter in which I would wish to take part, except as a very last resort.

Why is this procedure right for this Bill? I believe that it is a way forward that would resolve some of the major concerns about the Bill as a whole. It is of course a novel procedure. The Government first tried to introduce it during the passage of the Identity Cards Act. At that stage, I objected to its use on two grounds, both of which can be ignored for the purposes of this Bill. First, I said that the procedure was wrong for a change of constitutional significance to the liberty of every citizen, as the change to all-out compulsion for ID cards in the Identity Cards Act would be. Secondly, I did not believe that the Government were serious about abiding by the implications of the process of the super-affirmative procedure. My suspicions were based on comments made by the Minister in another place, Mr Andy Burnham, who effectively said, “Well, it does not really matter what the House of Lords do. We will have supremacy anyway, so it is not really an amendable regulation”.

The first matter does not apply here, so this is not the wrong process for this Bill. My second objection was resolved clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, in this House. I am grateful to her for her clear assurance at Report stage of the Identity Cards Bill on 23 January 2006, at cols. 990-94 of the Official Report. She made it clear that, if this House did not agree to an amended form of a statutory instrument under the super-affirmative procedure, the only way forward for the Government would be by primary legislation. She did the House a service for the future by making that so clear.

I believe that the limitation in Clause 4 is fundamental, as I made clear at Second Reading and in Committee. It is a matter of policy, as paragraph 28 of the report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee observed. For a matter as fundamental to the Bill as the limitation in Clause 4 and the allied proposals in Clause 12, the super-affirmative procedure would be the appropriate course to take. I hope that the Minister will agree and will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

3.15 pm

Baroness Turner of Camden: I understand that Napo supports this amendment. As has been said, Clause 4 exempts court work from the threat of contracting out. Napo fully supports this clause and believes that there would be a conflict of interest should the private sector be involved in giving information to the court. Currently, the Probation Service provides nearly 200,000 reports for the courts, including pre-sentencing reports and fast-track reports, which are normally provided on the day. It seems essential that the Government should ensure that there is no conflict of interest.

The super-affirmative resolution would provide a number of safeguards to ensure that the exclusion of court work could not be reversed merely by statutory instrument. The main safeguards would be that a draft of the order would have to be laid before each House and a report containing the proposal would be published. The Secretary of State would have to give reasons for the proposal and the report would have to be approved by each House. I support the amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: As has been stated on many occasions during our debates in Committee, the restriction of court work to the Probation Service is important and necessary. Among other matters, there is a potential conflict of interest. Just to rehearse that argument, should a person be giving information or advice to the court on, say, tagging when he works for a company involved in the provision of electronic tagging equipment, there would be a clear conflict of interest, which would be challengeable under Section 6 of the Human Rights Act. Since the Probation Service currently provides nearly 200,000 reports annually for the courts, it is clearly essential that the Government should ensure that there is no such conflict.

Given the importance that we have attached, in all our discussions on the Bill, to the restriction of this area of work to the Probation Service, Clause 4 should not, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, be able to be repealed by the Secretary of State without that first being given the fullest consideration and debate in both Houses of Parliament. Indeed, it is no wonder that there has been so much concern about the way in which the Bill and its provisions are presented out there in the community at large when the powers of the Secretary of State are such that he can give with one hand and take away with the other by statutory instrument under one of the shortest clauses of the Bill.

We therefore particularly support the introduction of the super-affirmative resolution procedure, with its safeguards, to ensure that the exclusion of court work is not reversed merely by statutory instrument. The safeguards are that a draft order would have to be laid before each House, the report containing the proposals would have to be published, the Secretary of State would have to give reasons for the proposal, and the report would have to be approved by each House. Anything less would simply not be acceptable.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: I, too, support the amendment, partly on the grounds that have been advanced—the potential conflict of interest. Also, I suspect that, despite the advantages that may flow from the introduction of other agencies in probation work, certain features of the justice system belong to the state; that is, they should be part of the public activity of the state. Sentencing in particular is the passing of judgment in the name of the state on right and wrong. The aspect that concerns me in this is pre-sentencing reports. We may move away from the notion that sentencing is a judgment on right and wrong pronounced in the name of the whole of society to its being influenced by private interests. It is important to keep certain aspects of the system strictly part of the public exercise of justice. That would be my anxiety if Clause 4 was to be repealed, so the careful safeguards being proposed against its repeal should be supported.

Lord Ramsbotham: I, too, support the amendment for the reasons that have been given. I am particularly glad that the right reverend Prelate has just spoken in those terms because, as a part of the criminal justice system, the work of the Probation Service is carried out within the community and this sort of safeguard needs to be attached to the tasks that are peculiarly its own and that it carries out on behalf of the state. I am also glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has laid out this amendment with her traditional clarity. It enables me easily to withdraw my suggestion that Clause 12 should not stand part, which is a blunt instrument. This proposal is entirely positive and sets out all the arguments with admirable clarity.

Lord Elton: In Clause 4, it is proposed that Parliament should lay a restriction on the way in which the provisions of the Bill are applied and, in Clause 12, it is proposed that the Secretary of State should be allowed, on his own initiative, to dispose of that restriction. My noble friend and her supporters are proposing only that he should not be allowed to do that on his own motion, but that Parliament should retain the discretion to dispose of Clause 4 on his recommendation if he thinks fit. The amendment would ratchet up the control that Parliament has on the Executive rather than letting too much of it go free. I am wholly in favour of the amendment.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: I, too, am in favour of the amendment. The conflict of interest argument is a powerful one, and I genuinely believe that there is a need for this amendment, with its safeguards, in the Bill.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I strongly support the amendment. Clause 4 was added to the Bill because of the pressure that the Government were under at the time. It is doubly important that, if and when Clause 4 is removed by Clause 12, everyone should be satisfied that it is the right time for contestability to come on to the scene.

Lord Dholakia: I do not want to add to the arguments that have been advanced. However, can the Minister confirm whether the judiciary and the legal professions have been consulted about this matter and whether they indicated any potential conflict of interest? Is there likely to be any problem in terms of membership of the judiciary on a probation board or probation trust?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: We have had a number of discussions on and around this issue over the past few weeks as we have worked our way through the Bill in Committee. For many noble Lords, this is understandably a core issue, which is fundamental to their appreciation and understanding of the direction of travel that this piece of legislation represents. It is an interesting discussion and debate for all that, because, when it comes down to it, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has put on the record quite clearly that she has no,

However, she has said that she has some serious doubts about the process. In essence, that is what we have come down to—some doubts about the process. Both major parties represented in your Lordships’ House are at one on the importance of contestability, but my noble friend Lady Scotland and I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about some aspects of the process. It is in that area that I would like to offer some reassurance in the next few minutes.

Last week, when we considered Clause 4 and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, put forward his amendments, we had a constructive discussion about this issue. We have moved forward and there is now a broader understanding in the Committee about how the contestability process will work. However, we now have an opportunity to pull the various strands of that debate together.

Before I focus on the amendment, it may help if I remind the Committee of the history of Clauses 4 and 12 and how they came to be in the Bill in its current form. When the Bill was first introduced, it did not distinguish between different aspects of Probation Service provision in terms of what could and could not be delivered by non-public sector organisations. That is because we do not think that there are fundamental reasons of principle why any aspect of probation provision could not in theory be delivered outside what we strictly understand as being the public sector. As I have rehearsed, that is a view shared by the Benches opposite. However, the Bill sets out a framework for the longer term, and we have always said that we will move forward cautiously and at a sensible pace. I think that noble Lords have accepted that argument. We understand the risks and sensitivities involved, particularly those that have been raised by noble friends behind me.

As noble Lords will know, the work that probation does with offenders can be divided into two broad categories: offender management and interventions. To remind ourselves further, “offender management” refers to the management of individual cases. It is the process of assessment and sentence planning, implementation, review and evaluation that runs from the beginning to the end of an offender’s sentence. Interventions are structured or planned pieces of work identified in the sentence plan. Their purpose may be punishment, rehabilitation or public protection. Examples include accredited offending behaviour programmes such as those for sex offenders and domestic violence offenders, or curfews with electronic monitoring and unpaid work.

It is in the field of interventions where alternative providers have achieved the greatest level of involvement, and there has been much support for that. We want to build on that and increase their involvement, working alongside the public sector, to develop expertise and strengthen partnerships so that a more diverse range of provision is available in due course. In respect of the core offender management work, however, we have always said that we want to proceed much more cautiously because we do not think that alternative providers yet have the necessary expertise or experience to undertake that work. We subsequently firmed up that reassurance into a commitment given in the other place that we would not contract with a non-public sector provider for that area of work until 2010 at the earliest.


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