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It is not a view to which we have rushed. The amendment of the noble Lord, Ramsbotham, would prevent the provisions in Part 1 being implemented in the normal way. Instead the Government would be required to lay before both Houses of Parliament a report containing specified information, much of which we have already made public anyway. We would then wait six months before making any orders under Part 1. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is right when she says that this is not really a delay of six months, but one of much longer than that. The noble Lord therefore may have been labouring under the misapprehension that the Ministry of Justice may take a different approach during that time from the way in which matters were adopted when these issues were with the Home Office where they originated. I hope that I have now laid that misapprehension to rest.

Nor do I believe that things have changed because of changes in the machinery of government. Of course I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord said about the changes that he foreshadows, and it may be that he is far more intimately involved in the future Prime Minister’s plans than any of us. We shall wait and see whether that is the case. I cannot accept the noble Lord’s assertion that we are rushing these proposals. Indeed, if anything we might be vulnerable to criticism that we have taken too long. As the noble Lord’s amendment indicates, these proposals have their roots in the report, Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime, which the Government commissioned from the noble Lord, Lord Carter, in March 2003, and which he published in December of that year, some three and a half years ago.

We then waited for nearly two years before issuing our consultation document, Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-offending, in October 2005. This was followed in March 2006 by a summary of responses and our proposals for taking the policy forward—in effect, what is required by proposed new subsection (1B)(c) and (d) in the noble Lord’s amendment. But the world has moved on considerably since then and it is unclear what purpose would be served by revisiting these now rather dated documents.

Since the Bill was introduced into Parliament last November, it has been thoroughly debated, not least in the six sittings of this Committee, when the great majority of our time has been spent focusing on the 12 clauses in Part 1. I may not agree with all the amendments made, some of which we will wish to reflect on further, but overall I believe that the Bill is much improved as a result of the careful scrutiny it has received here and in the other place. That is what the parliamentary process is all about. We will look at the Bill even more carefully on Report and at Third Reading before it goes back to the other place.

Once the process has been concluded, however, the provisions must be implemented in the normal way. There is nothing novel in this Bill which would require such a restriction on the Government’s ability to implement. This is particularly so given the gradual pace at which we propose to proceed. By virtue of Clause 4, the Bill already ensures that the work carried out by the Probation Service in relation to courts can be commissioned only from the public sector. As we know, and have debated at length, that restriction could be lifted only after a positive endorsement from both Houses of Parliament. This is a significant change from the policy set out in the original consultation document. We have also made clear that the core offender management work will be commissioned only from the public sector until 2010, again a change from the policy originally outlined. So we are certainly not envisaging rapid change in terms of opening up probation services to competition.

The noble Lord is concerned about the rate of change of the boards to trusts, but here again we are proceeding cautiously. We want to establish trusts in three waves, starting next April and finishing in 2010. As I made clear when we discussed Clause 5, we see this very much as a collaborative process. We know that it will be a learning process for all concerned, which is why the first wave will comprise only a small number of trusts, with which we will work closely to develop our experience together, with a view to applying the lessons learnt to future waves.

Boards are being invited to apply to become trusts in the first wave. We are not forcing them to move before they are ready. We have invited 35 of the existing 42 probation boards to express an interest in forming part of the first wave of trusts in April 2008. Only the seven probation boards classified as poor performers were not eligible to apply. I emphasise that we are talking only about eligibility, not the number being chosen.

Today was the deadline, and we are still looking at responses, but it looks as though nearly two-thirds of the 35 eligible boards have expressed an interest in becoming trusts in April. It is an impressive indicator of the commitment to change in the service, despite the uncertainties to which various noble Lords referred. This is an important point.

I know that noble Lords are genuinely concerned. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Low, who was not able to be with us throughout all our deliberations, that the issues he raises have been explored in great depth during the previous six days in Committee. There is a great deal upon which we agree but there is certainly more that we need to look at again.

I hope I have outlined the lengthy gestation of these proposals. I know that there has been a period of uncertainty and anxiety for both the service as a whole and the individuals working within it, and prolonging that further will not assist them. We need now to set out a clear programme for change, which we are doing in consultation with the service, and we then need to get on and implement it so that we can put an end to staff uncertainty and reap the benefits of improved delivery. I regret that I do not think the noble Lord’s amendment will assist us in this, and I ask him to withdraw it. I accept, however, that we have more to do; we still have Report and Third Reading. The Bill has not left us yet.

9.45 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Before the Minister sits down, I should like to add that we have had a useful Committee stage, looking in detail at a whole range of issues, but at the back of the minds of a number of us in the Committee are some underlying doubts about the rationale of the Bill. When I first heard the Carter report, I failed to understand the noble Lord’s logic. In some ways, I still fail to understand the logic of what is proposed in the Bill. We here are all committed to better offender management, to bringing down the prison population, to managing better rehabilitation and even to the better enforcement of fines—which was the bit of the Carter report that I understood—but we are not entirely convinced yet that the Bill helps to achieve those underlying objectives.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, says, but one has to will the means if one wishes to have the outcome. We believe that our proposals in the Bill will help us to deliver those outcomes. I accept that there is a difference of view on some issues, but I hope we will move forward. Whatever the position, we should come to a decision on the Bill, and if there are those who wish to drive a coach and four through it, who do not wish the Bill to see the light of day, they will have to make that clear along with their reasons. Postponement, though, is not a sensible way forward.

Lord Ramsbotham: I thank the Minister for the tone and detail of her reply, and echo the words of both the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in thanking her and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for the way they have conducted the deliberations during the past six days. We have covered a great deal of ground, and today has been remarkable in many respects because we have covered a huge number of issues with considerable dexterity, helped hugely by the way the Ministers have responded. I am grateful for that, as I am sure everyone is.

I am immensely flattered and embarrassed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and thank him for them. His contribution has been remarkable throughout the debate, and we have listened with great attention for the warm humanity and wise experience that he has brought to bear on the issues. I am sure the Committee has benefited hugely from that. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Low of Dalston for his summing up. It was a valuable reminder of the issues, and it does no harm to remind ourselves of major issues at the end of a debate.

The Minister said, rightly, that government goes on. We are not expecting anything enormous. She said we should not expect anything different. “Different” was not the word I used, however; my word was “fresh”. From my experience, with issues as complex and demanding as this, a fresh pair of eyes looking at them every so often brings a clarity that may have been diminished over time by people who have been focusing on them for a very long time. That is the great opportunity that is presented.

I note that the Minister will not be taking us through Report.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I must disabuse the noble Lord of that. There seems to have been a mistake made on the presentation. I regret to tell your Lordships that the House is burdened with me unless and until the new Prime Minister decides that there is another role he would like me to play.

Lord Ramsbotham: I stand corrected; I was going on the basis of the document that I had. We shall come to Report, I hope, after deep consideration of what has been said over these six days—consideration not just in the ministry but also by noble Lords who have taken part in these debates. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for drawing my attention to the question of the date with her customary skill and courtesy. I look forward to discussing that and seeing whether we can come up with an alternative. Happy as I am to withdraw the amendment at the moment, I do so with every intention of bringing it back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 38 and 39 agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

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