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Since Second Reading, there has been yet another sea-change in the organisation of government departments, with the formation of the Ministry of Justice that is now responsible for the management of offenders, and so for the processing of this Bill. Shortly, there is to be another with change between Prime Ministers, the already announced change of Home Secretary and the possibility of a Secretary of State for Justice sitting in the other place. I am one of those who have advocated a Ministry of Justice, under a Secretary of State able to give full and undivided attention to the administration of justice—as opposed to having to divide his or her time between that full-time purpose and homeland security in its widest sense. That support is fuelled by my experience of the difference made to the handling of Northern Ireland affairs by the 1972 separation of its then desk from the Home Office to form the Northern Ireland Office.

At the time of the announcement of the Ministry of Justice, I told the House that I hoped the new ministry would seize the opportunity to look afresh at some of the legislation coming out of the Home Office, including this Bill. I said that not because I am opposed to the intention behind the Bill, but because I believe that in its current form it is “not fit for purpose”, to quote an in Home Office phrase. What is clear is that unfortunately, in its preparation, the Home Office failed to take account of views expressed by those on the ground, having made so-called consultations that were really not worth the name—because it pressed on regardless, determined to do what it had intended in the first place.

I also find the regulatory impact assessment extremely disappointing. To find that, under the implementation and delivery plan, it says that,

and then to find, when it talks about resources, that,

makes me very concerned that there is no full assessment of whether the private and voluntary sectors will be able to deliver what is actually required of them. Without that assurance, it seems dangerous to launch off into the unknown as far as the management of offenders is concerned. That is not to say that the intention is not good, but I wish that I felt more confident that the affordability case had been examined; already, there are people saying that it is impossible to deliver what is required of them because they have not been given the resources. I am talking about probation, and others. It is no good giving them another demand, or wish-list of things to do, if the resources are not there for that. It seems that people do not know exactly how much resource is required to do what is being asked.

I understand entirely why the estimates have not yet been completed, because there is no clear description of what resourcing is required. Unfortunately, an awful lot of this Bill is aspirational at this stage. I could go on about all the points that are missing, but frankly I feel that it is unfortunate. It is asking noble Lords to approve something that is not yet in a state to be taken forward.

The purpose of my amendment is not to kill the Bill—far from it, because I am one of those who have advocated for some time that a great deal needs to be done to improve the management of offenders in prison and in the community. Rather, I suggest that the opportunity presented by the introduction of the Ministry of Justice should be seized and that the ministry should be given time to go over the evidence. That should include not only what has been said at various stages of the Bill, but what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, proposed originally and what has been said in consultations and has been disregarded. As part of this process, a proper business case should be prepared to determine whether what is available is “possible and deliverable”. Those are the words that the Minister used to describe dynamism. I could not agree with her more.

That could provide an opportunity to include other proposals that have not been discussed, such as the formation of adult offender teams to look after adults in the same way that youth offender teams look after youths. That would enable trained probation officers to oversee the supervision of low-level offenders in the community, freeing them up to undertake more professional tasks—in other words, to consider the whole operation of probation and not just how parts of it might be commissioned from outside the public service.

Originally, in tabling the amendment, I followed the line offered by the excellent Public Bill Office, to whose staff I pay tribute and thanks for their unfailing help and courtesy. They suggested a period of 60 days, but I realised that that would coincide with our Recess. Therefore, I propose a period of six months. I suspect that some noble Lords will object immediately because they will say that that would risk the Bill running out of time in this parliamentary Session. I accept that, but the protection of the public and the well-being of all those charged with the management of offenders are matters too serious to be endangered by being submitted to imperfect legislation that could be made immeasurably better if time and further examination allowed. I am sure that many other noble Lords would be only too willing to be included in that process if they were asked to contribute. In that spirit, I beg to move.

9.15 pm

Lord Judd: I support the noble Lord and pay him an unreserved tribute. He has brought very special qualities to public life in Britain and we would all be the worse without him. His intellectual integrity speaks for itself. His relentless—if I may be forgiven for using that word—logic and analysis is invariably challenging. I do not often try to make forecasts about history—my wife is a historian and gets worried if I even start to talk about history. However, I really do believe that the noble Lord’s contribution to the progress of this Bill and his other contributions on penal policy will together prove to be a landmark in the deliberations on penal policy in this country. We all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for what he did as Chief Inspector of Prisons. He did not just lay down the mantle when his time was up; he picked up his experience as a weapon to fight for what he believed to be right and necessary.

I also take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to my noble friends on the Front Bench. They have, yet again, shown exemplary courtesy, patience and thoroughness in all that they have endeavoured to do in responding to our deliberations. I wish sometimes—perhaps not just sometimes—that they had given more ground, but their thoroughness and their commitment to ensuring that all our arguments received proper and full replies could not be bettered.

However, I want to explain now why there is another amendment following in my name; I assure the House that, whatever happens to this amendment, I do not now intend to pursue mine. In thanking my noble friends, I wanted to make a point that follows on from what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has just said.

We are talking about important and significant developments in the administration of penal policy. I am perplexed. At a time when we have seen it necessary to make a major reorganisation in government—in which the Home Office is to be divided into two separate ministries, each with its own Cabinet Minister—and the new Ministry of Justice is to have responsibility for everything discussed in this debate, I am perplexed that the Minister of Justice did not take the Bill and carry it forward. We had the presence of one of the Ministers from the Ministry of Justice today, but the Ministers of the Ministry of Justice would have done well to be here to hear all the debates, deliberations, analyses, arguments and concerns. In my experience of administration, which has been in very different spheres, to make a success of it, there has to be an intellectual and ethical ownership of what it has been decided should be administered. We are left with a question mark as to how far the new Ministry of Justice feels that it owns the Bill and is responsible for it. That is why in my amendment I wanted to emphasise the importance of the Ministry of Justice.

Again, I do not want to be offensive to my noble friends, because they have done a terrific job. I know that they will not for a moment believe that I have anything but admiration for them. However, this situation is strange. As we said in earlier deliberations in Committee, the arrangements are not there as ends in themselves, but to enable us to fulfil objectives. Therefore, there has to be a very real look at what the total objectives are. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, clearly went through—in a sort of revision course—the issues that had emerged in Committee with great agreement from all sides. He will forgive me, because he has heard how highly I think of what he has been doing, but I was a little disappointed that he did not pick out one salient point. Perhaps it is just my subjective commitment, but I thought that one of the fundamental commitments of all of us in Committee—from whatever party and even on the government Front Bench—was the rehabilitation of the offender.

That makes economic sense. It is foolish not to succeed with the rehabilitation of offenders, because of the future costs of reoffending and all that goes with it, not to mention the pain and social cost of the crimes committed. In a decent, civilised community none of us should want to leave a stone unturned in the battle to ensure that as many people as possible can become decent, positive citizens, as distinct from people trapped in a self-destructive, stunted kind of life. We know, sadly, that too much of our current penal policy reinforces the stunted life to which I refer.

This amendment and the way in which it has been moved have been tremendously important. I am not sure whether at this hour the noble Lord will want to press it to a vote. Perhaps that would be unwise, but I think that he has been right to make the points as powerfully as he has.

With regard to all the dedicated people who have worked on the Bill, the noble Lord mentioned the Public Bill Office, which is great, and of course our own servants in this House are fantastic. However, I think that we are inclined to take for granted all the civil servants out there who work unsocial hours to tie in with the processes by which we deliberate in this House, so we also want to thank all the dedicated civil servants who have been working on the Bill.

I believe that we will only be ready for the future if, at this moment all over the Ministry of Justice, civil servants and Ministers are waiting for the next copy of Hansard to read what was said in the debate. They should be waiting to see what issues were raised and what they want to take into account as they approach the moment of fulfilment and administration of the Bill as the necessary legislation for the future, however inadequate it may be—and I agree with most of what the noble Lord said about its inadequacy.

I thank the noble Lord for introducing the amendment. I assure the Committee that I shall not pursue mine, but I ask my noble friends, in the same spirit that they have shown throughout the Bill, to take very seriously what he has said.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: If I ever have the honour to serve in this House for the length of time that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has done, I hope only that I retain his optimism and enthusiasm, because that is exactly what I would want to do.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for bringing forward this amendment, which I support. It has the benefit of giving the Ministry of Justice the opportunity—an aspect emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—to consider matters carefully before pressing ahead with plans for contestability, which will be centralised in the hands of the Secretary of State. The more the Minister has tried to be helpful in responding to amendments during the six days of Committee, the more concerned I have become about the apparent lack of real preparedness for the significant changes that will be necessary if contestability is to be rolled out successfully.

Here, I agree entirely with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Both Ministers on the Front Bench have done an extraordinary job. Their patience has been tested to the limit because they have been defending what we have alleged to be the indefensible. I am sure that, if there is a government case to be put, they have made the best of it. The trouble is that the case is just not good enough.

The list of issues that have aroused concerns in the Committee is very long. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to some of them and I shall refer briefly to four. At one point in our deliberations, the Minister referred to the fact that the Ministry of Justice was preparing model contracts. I certainly hope so, but I wonder why they have not already been prepared and made available to the other place and this House for our consideration before the Bill passes. The Government have certainly had a long time to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us that the Bill had its genesis two years ago. Will we see those model contracts before Report?

Secondly, there is the question of Clause 4. What should be protected from contestability and for how long? I am not at all sure that the Minister satisfactorily met the points made by her noble friend Lady Gibson of Market Rasen in speaking to her Amendment No. 51A. Members of the Committee will recall that that would have added protection to the work carried out by the Probation Service in providing impartial, accurate, reliable, skilled and professional advice to assist the Parole Board in making its decisions on the release of prisoners. That is one area where it would be of benefit if we were to return to the matter on Report.

The third issue is best value. We hardly scratched the surface on how it will be achieved or, indeed, whether it is achievable. The deliverability of what is in the Bill remains of concern.

Fourthly, noble Lords have expressed a great deal of concern about the lack of a commitment in the Bill to training. I feel sure from what noble Lords have said—particularly the Liberal Democrats to my right—that we may also return to that matter on Report. There are a lot of unanswered issues that are core to the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has made a powerful argument on behalf of his amendment. I perhaps have one reservation. I hate to say this but its drafting is ghastly. That makes me sound almost like the Minister—never, I am sure. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, referred to the fact that he deviated slightly from the advice he was given by the Public Bill Office. I am a little reticent because I note that the impact of his change regarding the period of six months in proposed new subsection (1A) would mean that it will take longer than six months for the whole of this to take effect, as the Government have to be able to prepare their reports. Of course, they should have had the contracts ready to show us by now, but for the other reports even I have to be generous enough to say that they need some time.

Perhaps between now and Report it would be useful if we could all reflect on just how long a delay might be appropriate, without trying to undermine the purpose of the Bill itself. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has done the Committee a great service today with his amendment.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I support the amendment. I must say that I was glad to be in the Chamber to hear the remarkable, heartfelt and entirely appropriate tribute that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, paid to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and to the Ministers on the Front Bench. On behalf of the rest of us I thank the noble Lord for that.

The amendment offers a welcome and excellent opportunity, in the light of the major changes which have taken place in the Home Office and the creation of the Ministry of Justice, for a moment of valuable reflection. It requires a report to be laid before Parliament, which would include a review of the proposals in Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime and the responses to the consultation Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-offending, for the reform of the Probation Service. That would give Parliament an opportunity to debate thoroughly all the issues surrounding the reform of the Probation Service and the management of offenders. This breathing space would be really helpful and creative. It would mean that in the new world of offender management, with contestability, wider welcome involvement of the voluntary and private sectors, trusts, training, arrangement with prisons in both the public and private sectors and the future of child detention—to name just a few—coupled with the myriad wider contextual issues which the new Ministry of Justice will be dealing with, we would have the opportunity to reassess the new landscape and reach far better informed conclusions than currently we are able to do.

9.30 pm

Lord Low of Dalston: I, too, strongly support the amendment. Although I have not played an extensive part in the deliberations of the Committee—perhaps because I do not have the great expertise of other noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—I have listened carefully to the debates. It is clear to me that, despite the extensive discussion which has taken place, many doubts remain.

Like other noble Lords, I have my list. As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, listing his doubts, I was not gratified by the extent to which they echoed mine so much as impressed by the degree of consensus which was emerging as to the deficiencies of the Bill as it now stands. Given the exhaustive nature of the debate, I shall do no more than list about a half-dozen of my doubts. I will do that briefly because if one is repeating what other people have said, it behoves one to do so as briefly as possible. I make so bold as to repeat my list of doubts because, as I hope that the Minister will agree, it may be of value to hear how far the doubts about the present state of the Bill are echoed in all corners of the Committee. I hope that the noble Baroness will take the opportunity before Report to reflect on what is said.

My first concern is that the Bill is not evidence-based. No business case has been made for dismantling the National Probation Service—which came into being a mere six years ago in 2001—or that introducing competition and contestability will improve the effectiveness of the service in the reduction of offending and reoffending.

Secondly, as has been said, the Bill ignores the responses to consultation exercises. In the most recent consultation, in the autumn of 2005, 99 per cent of responses opposed the proposals now in the Bill, but the Government have pressed on regardless.

Thirdly, in promoting competition, fragmentation and Balkanisation rather than co-operation, the Bill threatens coherence in the provision of probation services, with the Probation Service ceasing to be the statutory co-ordinator of provision of rehabilitation services by the range of providers in the community.

Fourthly, the Bill transfers commissioning powers away from the locality, in contrast to the devolution agenda promoted in so many areas of government policy. The changes move commissioning powers from the local probation boards to a regional or even national level. When I spoke to a senior probation officer about the changes introduced by the Bill, the point that she impressed on me most forcefully was that, if nothing else was preserved of the Probation Service as we know it today, she hoped that its local co-ordinating and partnership-brokering role, which it already undertakes with considerable success with courts, police, health services and local authorities, would remain.

Fifthly, there are fears that the new system will favour the large national and multinational companies and the large national voluntary sector organisations at the expense of the small, local, community-based voluntary sector organisations, which have so much to contribute.

Finally, the imposition of contestability threatens to undermine the professionalism and ésprit de corps of the Probation Service. Indeed, it threatens the destruction of probation as a profession—a service that has honourable traditions of professionalism and effectiveness built up over 100 years.

The Bill is silent on the subject of training. Constant reorganisation of the service has given rise to a state of demoralisation and difficulties in retention, risking the loss of key skills and resulting in inadequate supervision of offenders. If probation services are provided by a range of private, public and voluntary sector providers who, in time, will have different terms and conditions, how will the continuation of a trained probation profession be guaranteed?

Given all those considerations, added to the recent change in the responsible department and the imminent change of Prime Minister, it is essential that the Government take the opportunity to draw breath, undertake a review, reflect, and rethink precisely where they are going with these proposals. I hope that they may even welcome such an opportunity.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am grateful for the careful and thoughtful way in which all noble Lords have responded to this debate, and to the issues in relation to Part 1 and how we have taken it through the Committee stage. They are important measures which deserve careful consideration. I join others in saying how impressed I have been by the energy of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. Indeed I have to say that I found his presentation of this amendment at times breathtaking for a number of reasons. I recognise the keen interest of the noble Lord in these matters, but I am afraid that I do not quite agree with him that this amendment is a helpful way forward. I offer my warm thanks to my noble friend Lord Judd for the kind remarks he made about us all and for the way in which he, too, has pursued this issue with great energy.

I should say that the Committee should not labour under any misapprehension. All the officials in the Box who have assisted me are in fact from the Ministry of Justice. The Committee has had the terrible burden of my continued presence to present this Bill, but the policy remains the Government’s policy. I should make it clear that there is not a breath between the views that I express and the views held and advocated by the Ministry of Justice. We speak with one voice. In this House we are in the happy position that whenever any Minister stands at this Dispatch Box, the Minister speaks not for the department but for the Government, and therefore it is the joint and several view of the Government that I now express on behalf of the Ministry of Justice. I need also to say to noble Lords that all the Ministers in the Ministry of Justice have paid acute attention to the deliberations in your Lordships’ House. Noble Lords know that my honourable friend Gerry Sutcliffe, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, has had the honour of discharging the role in the Home Office and has now joined the serried ranks of the Ministry of Justice. He retains his responsibility, now acting as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to my right honourable friend David Hanson. So I need to say to my noble friend Lord Judd that I am afraid that the department and the Government have formed a view.


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