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Where there is poor performance, the Governments approach enables the Secretary of State, in due course, to look for other providers in the public, private or voluntary sectors who are better able to deliver. Before I conclude, I draw to the attention of the House the widespread support for our proposalssupport which has been alluded to in part already. The voluntary sector, as your Lordships have heard, supports our proposals. ACEVOthe Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisationsis the professional body for the third sectors chief executives and has more than 2,000 members. It has issued briefing to your Lordships for Report, which I have had the privilege to look at, and which I am sure noble Lords in this debate have seen too. I shall read it out for those who may not yet have had that advantage. It says:
We do not believe that the amendments discussed during the Committee stage of the Bill, allowing probation trusts to retain commissioning responsibility, would provide the catalyst needed to increase the role of the third sector. Without structural change, there is no reason to believe that the current small proportion of services which are contracted to the third sector should grow.
I need to reply to my noble friend Lady Turner because she raised a question on whether allowing more statutory contracting to take place from the public sector would somehow dilute or diminish the position. ACEVO does not believe that a great proportion of an organisations income coming from statutory contracts compromises independence or will have that effect. The private sector supports our proposals. I must say that it is perplexing to find noble Lords opposite not supporting business, but there we are. Things change in this world. The CBI has also issued briefing for Report, which states:
The Bills proposals to introduce diversity of provision will capitalise on the best each sector and each provider has to offer. This should deliver a more joined-up approach, giving hard working probation staff more support in delivering the best rehabilitation services possible.
The LGA supports these proposals. In its briefing produced for Second Reading, it set out how we had agreed to meet its concerns about councillors on probation trusts and local area agreements. It said:
While I acknowledge that there are still concerns, the public sector Probation Service is embracing the change too. We 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. Out of those 35 boards, nearly two-thirds expressed an interest in becoming trusts in April. That is an impressive indicator of the commitment to change in the service. Many of the very best boards are already working in the way we
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The bottom line is that the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, do not deliver what she wants and are instead, I regret to say, a recipe for confusionsomething that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, but for different reasons. I submit that the Bill delivers what the House wantslocal commissioning but with genuine opportunity for increasing the involvement of other providers, set within a clear framework of accountability. That is why I cannot accept these amendments as a way forward. I acknowledge that, looking at what the Government proposed 18 months ago and the paper to which the noble Baroness referred in earlier discussions, these proposals are very different. The reason for that is because we listened and worked with local government, the public and private sectors, and the not-for-profit third sector. Those three sectors are now conjoined in the belief that what the Government have arranged and settled with them is the best way forward. I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and to agree with us that we now have an arrangement which will work.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we have had an extensive debate. Of course, it is tempting to respond to each and every person, but that would be wrong. The arguments put forward today were covered at great length in Committee and it is the nature of Report that one does not return to them. I appreciate that few of those who have spoken today were with us in Committee, but I am sure that they will have read Hansard avidly and seen the rebuttals that took place on that occasion.
The amendments in my name allow for national and regional commissioning by the Secretary of State where it is appropriate for that to happen. They enable contestability to be rolled out in a way that we believe is satisfactory. Throughout Committee, noble Lords across the Committee expressed their concern about how the Government were trying to roll out contestability. We do not feel that the Government have made an effective case for the way in which they wish to roll it out.
The Government have maintained throughout that contestability is only safe in the hands of the Secretary of State. No, it is not. There lies the difference between us. These amendments deliver what we on these Benches want. We want local people to have the power to commission probation services that will serve the local needs of local people well. They have a clear objective: trust people. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the United Nations and other international institutions there is often a provision for an explanation of vote. I have been anxious to have an opportunitythis relates directly to the amendmentto explain why I supported the Government on Amendment No. 2. I supported them because I was convinced that the dynamic is there for co-operation and because my noble friend was extremely persuasive in arguing that the whole principle of co-operation and partnership is central to everything the Bill is about.
I suppose that if I had any degree of anxiety, it would beone that I have expressed beforehow far that genuine intent of Ministers is institutionally shared to the full everywhere that it should be shared. I say to my noble friend that the purpose of my amendment is to give substance to what she argued so well. If the whole cause of co-operation and partnership is central to the Bill and everything it is about, it seems a bit peculiar that when it comes to the making of contracts and agreements we just talk about provision.
We need to support my noble friend in ensuring that the words are in the Bill to make it explicitly clear what these agreements and partnerships are about. It seems not altogether impossible that as time goes byand this tends to happen in lifebureaucracy reasserts itself. There will be those who see the relationship with, for example, the voluntary sector, as the sub-contracting arrangement; that it is about encouraging voluntary organisations to gear themselves to be effective, efficient and more economic providers of service than the Government are able to be. We have heard both in Committee and this afternoon that that is not the intention of the Government; the intention of the Government is to engage these people.
I have some difficulties with the phrase third sector. I did not ever feel when I was director of Oxfam that I was director of part of the third sector, I believed that I was director of Oxfam. That is something very different; and I will obviously not go into it now. We need to be very clear, and fair to everybody, that these contracts and agreements are about what the Minister has emphatically assured us is her intention, the purpose of the Government and central to the Bill. From that standpoint, I hope that the Government will at least feel able to take this point seriously and see how it might be met. I beg to move.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, I had the great privilege of adding my name to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and to support him, which I
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Listening to our debates today, it seems to me that two visions of the Bill are running at the same time. I suppose that one could say that it is about A or B, and then we would all be happy. The first vision is about co-operation and partnership. We have heard a great deal about that from the Government Front Bench, from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, which is supported by everyone involved in these discussions. That is obviously the only way to achieve what we all want: the rehabilitation of offenders. It is hard to see how that can be done without co-operation and partnership.
Then there is another vision of the Bill, which is probably in the forefront of the minds of the noble Lords, Lord Filkin and Lord Warner, who have spoken a lot today, which is that the Bill will introduce competition and contestability, which is in their view the basic way to get a good outcome.
I am not sure that those two approaches are compatible. Presumably, one will win out over the other. On that basis, I support the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because he suggests that version 1, or vision 1, should win out. I very much agree, because it seems to me the only way in which we shall achieve the objective of rehabilitating offenders and having a safer society. I am very happy to have added my name to the amendment and to support it.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I was not going to speak on this amendment, because I did not think that there was anything contentious in it until I heard my noble friend's speech. In my vision, these things work together. It is one vision: the vision of a service where the best wins out for those for whom the service is thereas the noble Baroness said, for those to whom it is delivered, those who need to enjoy a better life and not go back to prison. I think that those two things can go hand-in-hand.
I am sure that Members on the Conservative BenchesI am careful not to say the Benches opposite, even though they sit opposite, because I am a Cross-Bencher; it is a difficult languageaccept that competition often brings out the best. It can bring out the worst, if it is competition for the cheapest. We have been assured by the Government that they are not looking for the cheapest and some of us will be holding them to all that they have said about quality services. I hope that those two things can go hand-in-hand because that is what co-operation and work in the service is about.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there may be some differences among us over how commissioning will workI was reflecting on that point during our previous debate. I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, in that I think that there is a good deal of crossover in those visions. I do not see them as being in contradistinction to each other or in conflict. There is certainly a shared commitment to ensure the best possible outcomeI do not mean that in straight financial terms but in terms of what we are trying to
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I certainly do not take issue with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is trying to make in this amendment and an earlier one, when we discussed the need for co-operation. It is a point which we debated at some length in Committee. The noble Lord then proposed that we should extend the definition of contractual arrangements to include the concept of negotiated partnerships. The amendment suggests instead that the contractual arrangements are made for co-operation with any other person for the making of probation provision.
Understandably, the noble Lord asked us to go away to think of some more imaginative wording for this subsection. Perhaps we have not risen to the thesaurus challenge, and I will have to disappoint him. I say that with some sadness because I know that he feels that the term contractual arrangements does not reflect the holistic and co-operative approach that is necessary for the successful management of offenders..
Those are important points and I thank the noble Lord for making them again in his customary courteous, effective and forceful way. The reason why we have to draw a line and not agree with him is this. The legislation needs to be as clear and precise as we can possibly make it. Clause 3(2) achieves just that, setting out very clearly that the Secretary of State may make contractual or other arrangements with any other person for the making of the probation provision. The problem with adding a concept such as co-operation is that it adds ambiguity, and, as we know, ambiguity does not make for good legislation.
What I can sayI hope that this will reassure the noble Lord; it certainly shouldis that we will reflect the spirit of his amendment and what he wants to achieve in the guidance for implementing the Bill. It is more properly located there, because the guidance is about the feel, the quality, the material way in which the legislation will be implemented. It will also describe better, in more sensitive language, how we contract with providers. That is a better way to achieve his goal, and is how the relationship with providers will be established and developed.
Because we are in a contracting arrangement does not mean that there will not be co-operation. There will have to be co-operation; it is essential. That means that we need co-operative forms of working. All those things can be the subject of contractual description, and so on, and that is where the guidance will aid and assist us.
I hope that the noble Lord will accept my assurance that we understand what he is trying to achieve. We certainly want to reflect the spirit of what he proposes but for good reasons of ensuring that we have the right phraseology in legislation, we cannot support the amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord for having raised it and for making his customary contribution as he has.
Baroness Stern: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask a question as he has a lot of experience in this area. If there is one very juicy contract to let and five little ones, and six organisations in an area, how do you make the six organisations work together and co-operate when they are all fighting for the one juicy contract and do not want the five little ones?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: I have some experience in this area. I should have thought that where there is a lot of contractual talent out there, the process will enable and facilitate working together, perhaps by the bringing together of a joint bid where that is appropriate, so that those services can be linked up and provided in one contract, rather than having small groups fighting each other for the contract. That is one simple way in which that could work.
That will enable us to draw on the best that is there and create something anew and afresh that addresses the issue that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was concerned about: to bring imagination and innovation into service provision, using the third sectorto use the jargon.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank those who have spoken. In particular, may I say how much I value the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern? She brings to these deliberations a great deal of experience, not only in policy and research in these matters but in having led so outstandingly effectively one of the organisations working right in the middle of this whole sphere; I refer of course to Nacro. I was privileged to be on her board for a while, and I must say that it was an extremely stimulating and exciting experience. We would do well to listen to her.
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