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As the Minister knows well, there are those outside who fear that the Bill is about cheap privatisation, putting in unqualified people working for for-profit organisations who will quote for work previously done by qualified people. Part of my problem with the Bill has been that the legislation promoted by the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Filkin, was rather different from that being promoted by the Government. Indeed, the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, on the last day of the Report stage, that the service had failed does not seem to be a good basis for saying, “What we need now is to move towards a group of probation providers with fewer qualifications than is currently the case in the Probation Service”. While we are sympathetic to toughening up the qualifications required by moving towards Amendment No. 23, what we want to know the most is how the Government interpret their own amendment. Indeed, it may be appropriate for us to take this back again and come back at Third Reading with the wording slightly amended to a form which we can all accept.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and learned Baroness. It is a great source of encouragement to many of us that that particular and distinguished office can be held by someone as committed as she is to the rehabilitative and restorative nature of our criminal justice system. With regard to these two somewhat competing amendments, I have to say that on reading the material, I was somewhat agnostic about which approach I preferred. But I should like to make just one point about which I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will be able to enlighten me.

The problem seems to be that the Probation Service suffers from two alternative messages. On the one hand, we speak of it as thriving on localness and voluntariness, independence, imagination, innovation and so forth. This is the approach we all want to take until things go wrong. When they do so and the headlines roar, it is then very easy to talk of what happened as though it was a failure to adhere to the national standards we all expect. What is really important is that we should clarify the national standards we all expect and to which officers of whatever part of the service will be held to account and we should clarify the areas where genuine innovation and initiative will be encouraged. It would be most unfortunate if innovation and imagination were encouraged, but only to the point where people were sat on heavily if those innovations and experiments did not work out.

3.30 pm

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, in a sense, I support both Amendment No. 23A and Amendment No. 24. Of course, it is a little difficult to speak to Amendment No. 24 because, as it is a government amendment, the noble and learned Baroness has not yet put the case for it. I imagine that the rule still

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applies that we shall not be allowed to speak after the noble and learned Baroness has spoken, so I must do my best now.

I come back to the question of the children of offenders. Will the noble and learned Baroness give a clear assurance that the guidelines on qualifications and experience will include a requirement for knowledge and understanding of the problems that arise from imprisonment, its effect on the children and the impact that the effect on the family has on the rehabilitation of the offender?

The noble and learned Baroness may think that I am being churlish in coming back to this issue because, in Committee, she said:

I accepted that until I opened the draft consultation on the service level agreement between the National Offender Management Service and Probation Board intervention services, which contains not a single word about the family and children of offenders. I therefore need some further assurance from the noble and learned Baroness. As I shall not be able to speak later, I should put her on notice that, if she cannot help me, I may come back to this at Third Reading.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I was fascinated and intrigued by the sharp contrast between the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I have had more than 40 years’ experience in a wide range of voluntary organisations and, yes, they can be excellent bodies—full of good will and compassion, and ready to innovate and, sometimes, even to show entrepreneurial drive. Nevertheless, I do not think that, just because voluntary organisations happen to be established, their officials are the right kind of people to deliver reports that may make the difference between whether or not an individual goes to prison. That is why I come down on the side of Amendment No. 23A. It emphasises the important need for qualifications and for organisations to have continuity of provision of training and education so that people are qualified and fit and proper for the work that they have to do.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I wish to highlight two concerns. First, the Leitch report on skills, which was debated by your Lordships’ House last Thursday, clearly laid out that the shortage of skills in this country has affected our productivity over many years and that, if we are to be successful as a global nation in the future, we need to address this area. This was recognised in the Prime Minister’s reorganisation of departments when he put skills with education.

The danger is that, while competition can have many beneficial effects, when one has different sectors competing against one another and there is not enough money available to fund the job adequately, sectors could compete downwards rather than upwards. For instance, voluntary organisations could train up staff and then those staff could disappear to the statutory sector because they would get more

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security there. That would not be helpful. Alternatively, the private sector could try to compete with the statutory sector, and staff could leave the private sector to join the statutory sector because it provided more security. There would be a disincentive on the contracted-out sector to train staff because it would know that it would lose them to the statutory sector, and so it would pay less attention to the training of staff. There is also the question of releasing staff to spend time training and releasing senior practitioners to spend time training them. If attention is not paid to these matters, there could be unfortunate consequences.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the House has succeeded yet again in causing this Minister to feel acute embarrassment. Although a number of people have simply told me that I should enjoy it, I suspect that my enjoyment will wane if it continues for much longer. I am assured that noble Lords believe that a change of colour in me is less visible, so they wish to see it more openly displayed.

I am pleased to speak to the amendment. Amendment No. 24, which is tabled in my name, was very much to answer the pleas that were made on the previous occasion when we debated the need for training to be clearly put in the Bill and for there to be a better understanding of the nature and depth of training and education as they impact on the work of the different people who have come into the pool to assist us. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, has put her finger on it, as she always does. There is a tension between having the ability to encourage those who wish to do so to reach the highest possible professional standards and qualifications, while at the same time not discouraging the volunteer, or sapping their vitality and energy, when they can be so powerful in the contribution that they make simply by being able to walk with the offender through a very difficult time. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was therefore right to talk about circles of truth, which are an exemplar of the willing, innovative volunteer working in conjunction with the professional. The training that one would wish the professional to have would differ to some significant degree from the training and experience that the volunteer may have.

I also understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that in having this range one would go for the cheaper option—the one with fewer qualifications. I say to him that the whole thrust of what we are doing is towards not cost-efficiency, but cost-effectiveness. We have to look at the outcomes. How can we band together those who will interdict the criminal behaviour of the individual so as to make them cease to behave in that way and grow better?

I hear, too, what the right reverend Prelate said about the Probation Service hearing two messages. The two messages are important, however, because we are setting national standards. We are saying that this is the template against which people will be judged. The House should perhaps remember that—I know that this is not a great comfort, but it is certainly of some comfort to me—when we examine things that

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have gone wrong, we often find that it has been not because people have adhered to the highest possible standards of the profession, but because tragically they have failed to do so, for a plethora of reasons. It is important for us to have appropriate standards and for those standards to be assured and asserted. It is important, if those standards are met, for us then to be confident that those whom we entrusted with that role performed it to the best of their ability and in accordance with what we asked of them.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and to my noble friend Lord Judd for indicating that I should not focus on the precision of their amendment, but rather see this as an opportunity to test whether my amendment meets the challenge that it was set. I hope that I have given reassurances on our commitment to training. I explained on the previous occasion that we are working on a new qualification pathway that will cover all practitioners currently working at the levels of probation service officer and probation officer, in both offender management and intervention. I added that, under the new arrangements, we will award contracts to providers in the first place only if they are able to demonstrate that they will have staff who are appropriately trained for the services that they are delivering. I stressed—and I stress again—that contracts would set out with absolute clarity our expectations on this matter.

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, with his rightful passion about the rights of children and their families, says about the draft document that I circulated. I emphasise what I emphasised previously: the document is in draft so that the House can have a taste of what is under consideration; it is not the perfected document. I agree with the noble Lord that the children and family issues are important and that we shall need to address them very carefully in the final document.

I hope that noble Lords will take those assurances into account. We have considered carefully all the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and others have expressed. That is why, on reflection, we agreed that it would be sensible to provide such a commitment in the Bill. Amendment No. 24 is the result. It has been drafted specifically to meet the concerns that were raised in our earlier discussion and the concerns raised in the other place. Subsection (1) makes it clear that:

I emphasise “any”—

Subsection (2) clarifies this by stating:

here is the impetus—

We hope that this resolves the issue with which we wrangled in Committee about how we should best define to whom the guidelines should apply.

We believe that those two subsections acting in conjunction—particularly subsection (2)—will cover

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work that involves direct supervision of and interaction with offenders. This covers the writing of court reports as well as risk assessments, the running of offender behaviour programmes and other such matters, particularly work with high-risk offenders, an issue about which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was particularly exercised. I hope that the House will appreciate that the importance of doing that is made absolutely clear.

The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, would mean that the qualifications for all staff, from the most junior administrative grade to chief officers, would have to be rigidly codified. I know that that cannot be what she intends. It would require the Secretary of State to accredit training providers for a minimum of 10 years. However forward looking we are, we cannot know what will be appropriate in 10 years’ time. The amendment would require providers to employ sufficient staff with “degree level qualifications”, which could have the unintended consequence of encouraging providers to employ staff with experience and degrees that are not the most important or the most necessary for the work that they have to do. Sometimes employing someone with a very old degree that has not been used for a very long time can be the cheaper alternative to employing someone who qualifies via the nationally approved route, or, indeed, to employing someone who has a wealth of experience by virtue of which they command a higher wage. I know that that is not what the noble Baroness or my noble friend Lord Judd would want.

If I may respectfully suggest so, government Amendment No. 24 is, on the other hand, a sensible and measured way in which to achieve what we all want. It will require the Secretary of State to publish guidelines about the qualifications, experience and training demanded of probation staff working directly with offenders. It also makes it clear that those guidelines should apply to all providers undertaking the work, so that we will have really good parity of treatment for all those who come to work in the sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, would say, it gives us the innovation, the flexibility and the opportunity to grow and change as needs dictate.

I hope that that has given noble Lords a modicum of reassurance. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, says that he would prefer Amendment No. 23A, but I hope that I have explained why the amendment that we propose, Amendment No. 24, is the better course. I very much hear what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, says about competing upwards and downwards. He ably described the tension that there can be in that situation, but I think that our Amendment No. 24 enables us to respond appropriately.

I hope that noble Lords, having heard what I have said, feel that we could dispatch this issue at this stage, on Report. Of course, if noble Lords wish to look further, we could do so, but I think that we

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have settled on a position that does justice to the aspirations that we voiced when we last met and discussed these matters.

3.45 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the further explanation that she has given. She is of course quite right. Indeed, I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would also not want to provide for a rigid scenario that would rule out voluntary organisations and voluntary personnel in the way that the Minister has described. The point about guidelines in subsection (2) is reassuring. I hope that I am right in assuming that that will apply beyond the four-year period in which there is a fairly rigid agreement that only the highest-qualified probation officers will have contact with the most difficult and the most needy, befriending them and helping them to lead a different life in future. Judging by the nod that I think I saw—

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am happy to confirm that the training provision will remain applicable after any change that happens concerning other matters that we have debated.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am grateful to have that reassurance, which will help other noble Lords, whom I also thank for their contributions to the debate, whether they agreed with the points that we were making or took the opposite view. The point about children and families made by my noble friend Lord Northbourne is crucial, and the assurance that the Minister has given on that is very helpful. With all that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 24:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen moved Amendment No. 27:



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The noble Baroness said: My Lords, heeding as ever what my noble and learned friend said, I merely say that I believe that this House is very lucky to have her and our new Leader, my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland, among us. They are two very able people.

Last autumn the former Home Secretary, John Reid, announced that a set percentage of probation work would have to be contracted out each year. Initially it was set at 10 per cent, but was to increase incrementally over subsequent years to a maximum of £240 million of all work. At the time, that was controversial, in that it was believed to be arbitrary and bore no relation to the efficiency and effectiveness of existing probation work. We were therefore pleased to hear John Reid change that policy. At Third Reading in the House of Commons, he said:

The proposed new clause would implement the former Home Secretary’s concession. Essentially, it would place certain general duties on those authorities in the Local Government Act 1999, and is similar to the clauses in that Act.

Bearing in mind the time—I know that there is to be a Statement at four o’clock—I beg to move.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I support my noble friend. I also add my congratulations to my noble and learned friend and my noble friend on the Front Bench; I am pleased that they have attained those positions of authority and welcome it very much. I am sure that they will serve the House very well.

The proposed new clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the probation trusts or boards act as best value authorities. That will ensure that the best provider of a service wins contracts, and that arbitrary percentage targets are therefore abolished. The amendment was supported by Napo, which was concerned that arbitrary percentages might be imposed on the service to the detriment of best value. I therefore hope that my noble friend will feel inclined to accept the amendment.


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