Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is quite understandable that the noble Baroness has been confused about the results of the Brussels European Council of 22 June, particularly on this issue? She has undoubtedly taken the view she

3 July 2007 : Column 902

expressed on this Question having read the reports on the Council in what I like to refer to as the foreign-controlled press. Will the Minister confirm that, under the new Government, attention will no longer be paid to what appears in the Sun, the Times and the rest of the Murdoch press on matters such as this?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I very much hope that the noble Lord is correct. There are substantive issues relating to the EU that need to be discussed in a proper and adult way. We should take no notice of tittle-tattle in the totally popular press.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the words to which President Sarkozy objected have never appeared in any Community treaty, that they were not in the original founding treaties, and that the extremely successful competition policy that the European Union has operated for 50 years now was based on other provisions in the treaties which have been applied and will continue to apply? Will he also confirm, as the noble Baroness the then Leader of the House did, that the protocol that has now been negotiated has the same effect as the treaty and therefore makes the situation slightly better than before? Personally, I regret the disappearance of the phrase to which President Sarkozy objected, but then it was in the constitutional treaty, which I am not sure all those speaking on this Question in this House supported.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those two points. I can confirm that he is accurate in both his conclusions. We must recognise that the French president was playing a game of internal politics. It was clear that he did not manage to get his way, and it is encouraging that so many other countries in the EU and the European Commission, the guardians of the treaty, endorsed this Government’s view.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it is the Conservatives’ turn.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, thank you very much. I will keep it short. Does the noble Lord really imagine, on advice that he receives about the omission of some crucial words from Articles 85 and 88 of the Rome treaty as implemented by Regulations 17 and 27, which, alas, I was involved in drafting before we acceded to the European Community, that the Commission and the European Court of Justice will pay no attention to a fundamental amendment of the text?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am advised that the words,

were removed from the original treaty, but the protocol negotiated by the Government and supported by many other countries and the Commission is legally

3 July 2007 : Column 903

safe and will not be challenged. That point was made by Mr Michael Petite in the Financial Times:

I reassure the noble Lord that the European Commission is more than satisfied that this will not be open to legal challenge.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, recognising that to remove a reference to “undistorted competition” will affect the achievement of a fully functioning internal market, can my noble friend advise the House on the extent, if any, to which that will have an impact on employment opportunities within the European Union?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, as far as I know, it will not have an impact on employment opportunities because, as I said, the negotiation of the protocol, which will be annexed to the reform treaty, will provide precisely the same results as the original article ensuring that competition in the internal market is not distorted.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, outside the Sun and the Times, has the Minister read yesterday’s Le Soir in Belgium, in which the Prime Minister of Luxembourg stated that the revised treaty involves major transfers of sovereignty but we must not tell the British?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the noble Lord will be more than surprised to hear that I have not read yesterday’s Le Soir. There is a lot of chatter in several EU countries. Belgium wishes to have a referendum; we do not; and all these matters are open for discussion.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the articles of the presidency’s conclusions following the summit explicitly states that all the innovations contained in the 2004 agreement will be carried forward to the new treaty? Incidentally, those innovations include the passerelle clause, making it possible to change competencies from national Governments to European level without the sanction of parliamentary ratification. As it was those innovations that, in the Government's view, required a referendum in the first place, how can the Minister possibly justify not having one now?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, this has gone some distance from the Question on the Order Paper.

The Government would not countenance a referendum because this is an amending treaty not a constitutional treaty. There is a long tradition of these matters being subject to parliamentary process rather than a referendum: the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. In the words of my

3 July 2007 : Column 904

noble friend the right honourable Lord Blair, people who ask for amendment really wish to get out of the EU.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while it is absolutely right to welcome the development of the European single market, it is about time that the Government organised a campaign to enlighten the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as those of England, that we have been members of the most successful single market in the world; namely the United Kingdom?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I propose to answer that. My noble friend is absolutely right, but we are talking about another enormously successful market that goes beyond the enormously successful market of the United Kingdom. We should take delight and pleasure that this country is part of those two vibrant and important markets.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, coming back to the original Question, the Minister has attached himself to the negotiation of a protocol that he describes as the result of a successful rearguard action by the British Government after certain words were removed. We all know that those certain words were removed at the insistence of the French president. How come that happened without the British Government knowing about it or objecting to it when it happened?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite wrong. This was part of the discussion at the European Council. The British Government realised what was happening, did not take a rearguard action and actually intervened. With the help of the Commission and many other European countries, they managed to get the result that this country and many of our fellow European countries wanted: to make absolutely sure that competition in the internal market is not distorted. I quote that phrase to bring us back to the actual Question that I was asked what now seems like two hours ago.

Business

3.07 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Ashton will deliver a Statement later today on reform of the constitution. We have agreed within the usual channels and, I hope, with the agreement of the House to take the Statement at four o’clock. It is important to get the timing reasonably precise today, so I hope that, should we be in the middle of a very long group of amendments, we can intervene to make sure that the Statement comes at a sensible time.



3 July 2007 : Column 905

Select Committees

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord President (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) be appointed a member of the following committees, in the place of Baroness Amos: House, Liaison, Privileges, Procedure and Selection.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Rating (Empty Properties) Bill

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Read a third time, and passed.

Offender Management Bill

3.09 pm

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

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

Clause 9 [Officers of providers of probation services]:

Baroness Howe of Idlicote moved Amendment No. 23A:

(a) by regulations make provision for national qualifications for all staff employed by a provider of probation services;(b) accredit training providers for a minimum period of ten years to provide these qualifications;(c) by regulations, require providers of probation services to contract only with accredited providers to provide training for all staff;(d) require providers of probation services to employ sufficient staff with degree level qualifications as is necessary to deliver the probation purposes.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as this is the first time that the noble and learned Baroness has spoken to the Offender Management Bill as Attorney-General, I hope that she—indeed, all your Lordships—will forgive me if I spend just a second saying how absolutely delighted we are with her promotion to that role. We wish her the greatest luck with it, and know that she will bring her considerable expertise to bear on the Bill.

Amendment No. 23A, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is exactly the same amendment that we tabled in Committee. We did so

3 July 2007 : Column 906

purely because we hope that when the Attorney-General speaks to her own amendment, she may be able now to give a little more detail about the proposals for training and qualifications for those in the probation services. How far has the planned new overarching qualification, at which she hinted, if not outlined, previously, been developed? Will it enable people who are qualified in one public service to get so far and then switch to the probation services by adding another qualification? Equally important is the question of the universities that will deliver not only the current qualifications but those that are proposed for the future. In Committee, a number of us commented on the fact that a contract of only four years does not allow universities to attract the highly qualified staff needed to deliver these qualifications, or indeed to develop their skills.

Will the Attorney-General further assure the House that only fully trained probation officers will write parole reports for, and otherwise supervise, the most complex and difficult of offenders into the future? As I am sure she and other noble Lords will totally understand, given the current terrorist situation, that is even more essential if, as the Secretary of State said in another place, the public are to remain safe and lead normal lives, and if we are to meet the Government’s priority of reducing reoffending.

Finally, proposed new subsection (1) in government Amendment No. 24 says that the Secretary of State “may” publish guidelines about any qualifications, experience or training required to perform the work of an officer of a provider of probation services. Yet proposed new subsection (2) says that the Secretary of State “must”, under proposed new subsection (1), publish guidelines on work involving the supervision of offenders. Will the Attorney-General answer that point when she speaks to that amendment? I beg to move.

3.15 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I support the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I take this opportunity to endorse heartily all that she has said about the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. It is splendid news and we wish her well.

The amendment highlights an obvious need. It is quite disturbing to think of the future of a probation service. I emphasise the word “service”, because I hope we are not slipping into a frame of mind in which probation is just about managing offenders. A probation service is based not only on experience, which is vital, but also on learning and insight. As the noble Baroness has said, some of the people for whom probation officers will be responsible are among the most complex and difficult members of society. To begin any effective work, it is necessary to have the perspective and understanding that leads those doing the work to take into account, right from the beginning, the sociological, the psychological and the economic pressures that have led to someone becoming an offender.

At other stages of the Bill, others have said that we must not desert the word “punishment”. I completely

3 July 2007 : Column 907

endorse that view. If someone has committed an offence, it is necessary to bring home to that individual, and to society as a whole, that it is an offence, that it is unacceptable and that punishment is therefore an appropriate concept. To leave it at that is, as we have said repeatedly in our deliberations, madness. It does not make economic sense, and it does not make humanitarian sense. It does not make economic sense because if people continue to reoffend, the cost to society in economic terms is still greater than just the cost to society in human suffering. In a humanitarian sense, some of those people are the most disturbed, tragic examples of humanity that it is possible to imagine, living trapped, stunted lives. The whole purpose of successful probation work is to enable people to grow out of that, escape from that and become positive members of society.

To think that that can be done casually or by people just of unquestionable good will is very foolish. It requires a learning perspective and, I emphasise, experience, although the amendment does not deal with it. It is not just about training. I am one of those who believes that we gloss over the difference between training and education: training is vital but education is crucial. Those providing the education and training need to be able to resource it properly, to have the proper staff in place to do it and to plan ahead for their effective role in the operation. Hence the importance of referring to the need for them to have a clear and secure run in the work that they have undertaken.

If we do not take on board what the amendment is about, we would be irresponsible and let down the whole Probation Service in the future. I support the noble Baroness.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, knows an enormous amount about the subject, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We all appreciate their hard work in trying to make sure that what happens under the Bill is against a background of high quality. I speak as somebody who was responsible for training in a big voluntary organisation for many years. It is important for us to remember that voluntary and not-for-profit organisations can produce high quality work and that they do it in their own way. They derive their expertise from different sources and cultures in their area of work. It is important that the legislation does not pin them down. I fear that if the approach of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord were adopted, voluntary organisations would be pinned down into doing things in a common way, which would spoil their work. There have been many examples of that through the years in different areas of voluntary work. It almost always happens because of the intervention of the statutory into the voluntary.

I think that the Government are following the right line here. We shall hear from the noble and learned Baroness—how beautifully that phrase rolls off the tongue, and so appropriately—why she feels that the Government’s approach is preferable. However, my

3 July 2007 : Column 908

own inclination is that the Government are absolutely right here, although that is not to denigrate in any way the aspirations of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because they are absolutely right to say that standards for voluntary organisations, for those who come in, are essential.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, how is it that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, always get up saying that she knows nothing about the subject but then puts her finger exactly on the point? That point might have been one that some of us who thought we knew something were going to make. I am grateful for her point.

I want to ask two questions relating to the amendments. My noble friend’s amendment refers to training being related to the provider of services in the hope that some of those providers might in the future be voluntary organisations—I prefer “voluntary” to “non-governmental organisation”, as I know does the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I assume that we are looking for some change and difference in how services are provided, in the hope that we can find new ways of intervening in criminal behaviour. My hope is that, whatever is agreed, the training package is time-proofed. I would like reassurance in relation to the Minister’s amendment. One of my great worries is that we shall build a framework so rigid that it cannot meet the changes that we are looking for. I would like the reassurance that, while we are looking for high standards, we are able to use alternatives. After all, there are many exceptional programmes—I cite the circles of trust, where offenders are looked after in communities. That work has been extremely successful, overseen by highly qualified workers but carried out in the community by ordinary people on the ground.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches congratulate the Minister on her appointment to one of the most interesting but also challenging and delicate positions in government. I wish her well in managing to balance between the independent legal position and the advice to the Government which the job entails.

We are discussing both amendments in the group, and we need to know more from the Government about their interpretation of Amendment No. 24. We take the point that what one wants from the voluntary sector may be a little different from what one expects from the private sector. One of the problems of the Bill is that we are talking about a mixed economy with a range of providers in which one may expect different backgrounds for different tasks. I note that the letter the Minister sent us on Amendment No. 24 sets out specifically that the Secretary of State will be required to,

for probation staff working directly with offenders.

We need to know what the phrase “direct contact with offenders” means in rather more detail. Is that intended to mean “not very many”, or does it refer to

3 July 2007 : Column 909

all those who will be writing court reports, because they are in effect dealing with offenders?


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page