Lord Judd: My Lords, my two noble friends should not feel that they are on their own. I strongly support their amendment, which particularly applies in the
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sphere of co-operation with voluntary agencies; I speak as one with years of experience in the voluntary sector. There is some indication that we are beginning to get a contract-oriented type of NGO that is therefore out to cut corners. For all the reasons that the noble and learned Baroness put in answer to Amendment No. 23AI was impressed by her responseit is important that we ensure that the message is clear that we are looking for quality and the best suited organisation. Of course, however, cost-effectiveness matters, and that can be tackled in negotiations.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I support the amendment. The list of best value seems an enormously helpful document because it sets out, for the first time that I have seen, a large number of those probation purposes that actually require contracting from whichever sector is concerned. I think that as a list, which will be developed over time, it is therefore an enormously helpful document to have in the hands of those who might be thinking of applying for the contracts to provide these services. Therefore, I am extremely glad that the amendment has been proposed.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gibson for tabling the amendment, which highlights the importance of probation staff in relation to the new arrangements provided for in the Bill. I begin with a few words about best value. Last week, my noble friend wrote to noble Lords setting out our approach to best value in more detail, but I emphasise that this is absolutely not about awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. Of course, value for money is important, but the emphasis is on value; we want to focus on outcomes, raising standards and cost-effectiveness, not simply cost-efficiency. We want to give other providers the chance to show what they can do, but only where they can demonstrate that they are better placed to deliver. The best value process will be used to improve the quality of probation services across the board, which I am sure is what all noble Lords seek to achieve.
I will now address the position of staff. We have frequently paid tribute to probation staff and we have expressed our appreciation of the difficult, dangerous and often thankless work that they carry out on behalf of us all, and I do so again now. Probation staff have delivered the improvements in service delivery of recent years, and probation staff will carry on delivering the even greater improvements that we look for in the future. None of what we have in mind will be possible without them. We are determined to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to protect the position of staff. Many of those safeguards are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill, which provides for terms and conditions to be protected in the transfer from boards to trusts and in any future transfers to alternative employers thereafter.
My noble friend has raised a specific point in relation to the best value code of practice on workforce matters in local authority service contracts. I also highlight the code of practice on workforce matters in public sector service contracts, which
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applies to contracts let by central government. As I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, it is almost identical to the local authority code, except where the latter makes express provision for local government matters. This code, rather than the local authority code, is in fact more relevant to contracts for probation provision.
However, the purpose of both codes is the same. They both set out an approach to workforce matters in public sector service contracts that involve a transfer of staff from a public sector organisation to a service provider, or in which staff originally transferred from a public sector organisation as a result of outsourcing are TUPE-transferred to a new provider under a retender of a contract. The aim is to protect the terms and conditions of the public sector staff transferring and to prevent the emergence of a two-tier workforce, dividing transferees and new joiners working beside each other on the same contracts.
Both local and central government are required to ensure that the code that is relevant to them forms part of the service specification and conditions for all such contracts, except where specific exemptions have been announced. The codes recognise that there is no conflict between good employment practice, value for money and quality of service. On the contrary, quality and good value will not be provided by organisations that do not manage workforce issues well. The Cabinet Office code of practice on workforce matters in public sector service contracts does not have statutory force as such, but compliance with it is considered to be mandatory for all central government departments.
The National Offender Management Service already incorporates the code in those contracts which it lets directly for services that involve transfers of staff. It will also incorporate the code in the contracts with trusts, to ensure that trusts in turn incorporate its provisions in any relevant contracts that they enter into. There is therefore no need for further statutory provision in this regard and, with that reassurance, I trust that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I thank the Minister for his positive response and his reassurances, because of which I am pleased to withdraw the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
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Mr Speaker, all Members of this House and all the people of this country have a shared interest in building trust in our democracy. And it is my hope that, by working together for change in a spirit that takes us beyond parties and beyond partisanship, we can agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people. Change with a new settlement is, in my view, essential to our countrys future. For we will meet only the new challenges of security, of economic change, and of communities under pressureand forge a stronger shared national purposeby building a new relationship between citizens and government that ensures that Governments are a better servant of the people. Let me pay tribute to the contribution to our thinking and the wider constitutional debate already made by parliamentarians on all sides of the House. And because I want this process to be one in which we consult and involve not only all political parties but also all the people of this country, what I propose today is not and should not be seen as the final blueprint for a constitutional settlement, but a route map towards it. This route map seeks to address two fundamental questions: to hold power more accountable and to uphold and enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizen. And while constitutional change will not be the work of just one Bill or one year or one Parliament, I can today make an immediate start by proposing changes that will transfer power from the Prime Minister and the Executive. For centuries they have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people and their elected representatives being consulted. So now I propose that in 12 areas important to our national life, the Prime Minister and Executive should surrender or limit their powers, the exclusive exercise of which by the Government should have no place in a modern democracy. These are: the power of the Executive to declare war, the power to request the dissolution of Parliament, the power over recall of Parliament, the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament, the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny, the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services, power to choose bishops, power in the appointment of judges, power to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases, power over the Civil Service itself, and the executive powers to determine the rules governing entitlement to passports and the granting of pardons. I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st century British democracy. Let me set out the measures, the details of which are included in a Green Paper published today by my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary.
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While constitutional change should never limit our ability to deal with emergencies and should never jeopardise the security of our forces or any necessary operational decisions, the Government will consult on a resolution to guarantee that, on the grave issue of peace and war, it is ultimately this House of Commons that will make the decision. I propose, in addition, to put on to a statutory footing Parliaments right to ratify new international treaties. We will also consult on proposals that this House of Commons would have to approve a resolution for any dissolution of Parliament requested by the Prime Minister, and that while, at present, Members of Parliament cannot decide whether the House should be recalled, for the first time, a majority of Membersand not just the Prime Ministershould have that right, subject to your authority, Mr Speaker. The House of Commons should also have a bigger role in the selection of key public officials.I propose, as a first step, pre-appointment hearings for public officials whose role it is to protect the publics rights and interests, and for whom there is not currently independent scrutiny. This includes the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Local Government Ombudsman, the Civil Service Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. For public offices where appointments are acknowledged to be market sensitive, the Chancellor will set out today how pre-commencement hearings will apply to new members of the Monetary Policy Committee, including the Governor of the Bank of England, and the chairman of the Financial Services Authority. I propose that we extend pre-commencement hearings to utility and other regulators; that we review the arrangements for making appointments to NHS boards; and it is right that this House of Commons vote on the appointment of the chair of the new Independent Statistics Board. Mr Speaker, I can announce that from now on the Government will regularly publish, for parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, our national security strategy setting out for the British people the threats we face and the objectives we pursue. I have said for some time that the long- term and continuing security obligation upon us requires us to co-ordinate military, policing, intelligence and diplomatic action, and also to win hearts and minds in this country and around the world. So, following discussions over the last few months, I have decided to establish within government a national security council, charged with bringing together our overseas, defence and security but also our development and community relations effort, and sending out a clear message that at all times we will be vigilant and we will never yield in addressing the terrorist threat. As the security agencies themselves recognise, greater accountability to Parliament can strengthen still further public support for the work they do. So while ensuring necessary safeguards respecting
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confidentiality and security, we will consult on whether and how the Intelligence and Security Committee can be appointed by, and report to, Parliament. And we will start now with hearings, where possible, held in public; a strengthened capacity for investigations; reports subject to more parliamentary debate; and greater transparency over appointments to the committee.The Church of England is, and should remain, the established church in England. Establishment does not, however, justify the Prime Minister influencing senior church appointments, including bishops. And I also propose that the Government should consider relinquishing their residual role in the appointment of judges. The role of the Attorney-General, which combines legal and ministerial functions, needs to change. And while we consult on reform, the Attorney-General has decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases. To reinforce the neutrality of the Civil Service, the core principles governing it will no longer be set at the discretion of the Executive but will be legislated by Parliamentand so this Government have finally responded to the central recommendation of the Northcote-Trevelyan report on the Civil Service made over 150 years ago in 1854. The frameworks for granting pardons and for issuing and withdrawing passports should also be set not by Government but by Parliament. And I propose that we reduce the advance sight that government departments have of the release of statistical information from as much as five days currently to just 24 hours.Mr Speaker, even as we reduce the power of the Executive, we will also increase their accountability. Following my decision to revoke the provisions which previously allowed special advisers to give orders to civil servants, I am today publishing a new ministerial code, which provides for a new independent adviser to supervise disclosure and who I can ask to scrutinise ministerial conduct, including conflicts of interest. I propose that we reinforce the accountability of the Executive to Parliament and the public with a Statement in the summer prior to the Queens Speech on the provisional forward legislative programme and annual departmental reports debated in Parliament, beginning this summer.But just as the Executive must become more accountable to Parliament, Parliament itself must become more accountable. Given the vote in this House in March for major reform of the House of Lords as a second and revising Chamber with provision for democratic election, a Statement will be made before the recess as we press ahead with reform; a Statement on the reform of local government will propose a new concordat between local and central government; we will fulfil our manifesto commitment to publish our review of the experience of the various voting systems introduced since 1998;
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and the House will have a full opportunity to discuss in detail and vote on the legislation that flows from the European Union amending treaty.Just as we have appointed Ministers for each region of England, I propose that, to increase the accountability of local and regional decision-making, the House consider creating committees to review the economies and public services of each region, and we will propose a regular question time for regional Ministers. But while we will listen to all proposals to improve our constitution in the light of devolution, we do not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of MPssome entitled to vote on all issues, some invited to vote only on some. We will do nothing to put at risk the union.The right of all the British people to have their voice heard is fundamental to our democracy and to holding public institutions to account. Britain is rightly proud to be the pioneer of the modern liberties of the individual, and I think it right to make it a general rule that in this area there is independent oversight of authorities and accountability to Parliament. I also encourage this House to agree a new process for ensuring consideration of petitions from members of the public. Disengagement is too often reflected in low turnout in elections. Britain is unusual in holding elections on weekdays, when people are at work, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will announce a consultation on whether there is a case for voting at weekends. The Government will also bring forward plans to extend the period of time during which parties can use all-women shortlists for candidate selections and to give more time for all parties in this House to take up this new right if they choose. And while balancing the need for public order with the right to public dissent, I think it right, in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Parliament, the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and civil liberties groups, to change the laws that now restrict the right to demonstrate in Parliament Square. The measures that I have just announced represent an important step forward in changing the way that we are governed. But it is possible to do more to bring government closer to the people. While our system of representative democracylocal as well as nationalis at the heart of our constitution, it can be enhanced by devolving more power directly to the people, and I propose that we start the debate and consult on empowering citizens and communities in four areas.First, powers of initiative will extend the right of the British people to intervene with their elected local representatives to ensure action through a new community right to call for action and new duties on public bodies to involve local people.
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Secondly, there will be new rights for the British people to be consulted through mechanisms such as citizens juries on major decisions affecting their lives.Thirdly, there will be powers of redressnew rights for the British people to scrutinise and improve the delivery of local services. And, fourthly, there will be powers to ballot on spending decisions in areas such as neighbourhood budgets and youth budgets, with decisions on finance made by local people themselves.At the same time, we must give new life to the very idea of citizenship itself. All of us in this House would acknowledge that there are very specific challenges we must meet on engaging young people and improving citizenship education, and I hope that there will be all-party support for a commission to review this and make recommendations. While the voting age has been 18 since 1969, it is right, as part of this debate, to examine, and hear from young people themselves, whether lowering that age would increase participation in the political process. Consultation will take place with you, Mr Speakerand, through the Leader of the House, this Houseas to whether the Youth Parliament, and the Youth Parliament alone, should be invited here in this Chamber, once a year and on a non-sitting day.What constitutes citizens rights, beyond voting, and citizens responsibilities, such as jury service, should itself be a matter for public deliberation. As we focus on the challenges that we face and what unites us and integrates our country, our starting point should be to discuss together and then, as other countries do, agree and set down the values, founded in liberty, which define our citizenship and help define our country. There is a case that we should go further still than this statement of values to codify either in concordats or in a single document both the duties and rights of citizens and the balance of power between Government, Parliament and the people.In Britain, we have a largely unwritten constitution. To change that would represent a fundamental and historic shift in our constitutional arrangements. So it is right to involve the public in a sustained debate about whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and Duties, or for moving towards a written constitution.Because such fundamental changes should happen only where there is a settled consensus on whether to proceed, I have asked my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice to lead a dialogue within Parliament and with the people across the United Kingdom by holding a series of hearings, starting in the autumn, in all regions and nations of this country. He will consult the other parties on this process.The changes that we propose today and the national debate that we now begin are founded on the conviction that the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy.
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It is my hope that this dialogue of all parties and the British people will lead to a new consensus, a more effective democracy and a stronger sense of shared national purpose. I commend the Statement to the House.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. It was a long Statement, and rightly so: the subject is massive and there have been enormous changes over the course of the past few years. Does she recognise that this House regards these matters as having a great deal of importance and will she use her good offices to provide us with time for a debate on the issues and on the Green Paper at some stageperhaps after the Summer Recess?
The Government have a new adviser on these matters, whom they have found on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has advised on the Statement and perhaps even the noble Baroness discussed it before reaching conclusions.
There was a great deal in the Statement that was welcome, but to listen to it, you would not think that the man who made it had been the second most powerful man in the country these past 10 years. The main message from the Statement was an attempt to distance the present Prime Minister from his predecessors cavalier treatment of our constitution. That is why there is such a great need for change and thought as outlined in the Statement.
Of course we welcome a willingness to reach out to other parties, which I hope will embrace some of the enormous experience of the Cross-Benchers sitting here in your Lordships' House. We welcome the ending of the shameful Order in Council giving political appointees power to give orders over civil servants. We welcome ideas to give more power to Back-Benchers in the House of Commons. That echoes the Conservative programme for Commons reform. We welcome also many of the controls on the operation of the Executive through the prerogative, but there are practical considerations in issues as diverse as the declaration of war and the appointment of bishops which will require careful consideration. Can the noble Baroness say whether the extra powers to be given to Parliament over the ratification of treaties will cover the powers of this Parliament over EU legislation?
There was much in the Statement about extra roles for the other place. I also welcome that. But as Leader of this House, can the noble Baroness say whether this House will be given any role in hearings before the appointment of senior public officials? This is a two-Chamber Parliament. Will the noble Baroness act to ensure that this House, with its unparalleled experience, plays its part in this and other new initiatives? One has only to think of the authority that the US Senate has in these matters to realise the potential importance of that to this House.
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If the Prime Minister genuinely wants discussions with other parties, will the noble Baroness accept that we will take part in a practical spirit, just as we have in talks on the future of this House being led by the Secretary of State for Justice? The principles that should apply are clear but sadly have been ignored by this Government over the past 10 years. Change to the constitution should be based on consensus. It cannot be imposed by a one-party majority in one House. It cannot be designed to be to the benefit of one party or two; the interests of the country must come first. The consequences of every change must be carefully thought through before change is made. We want no repeat of the disastrous attempted abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor. Parliament must emerge stronger from any change, unlike too many changes over the past 10 years that have drained power from Parliament and given it to a range of other bodies, many of which are shamefully not even elected.
The astonishing thing about the British constitution is that since the middle of the 18thcentury we have, alone among advanced countries of the world, enjoyed over 250 years without civil war, without revolution, without overthrow of Governments, except by a vote of the people in this Chamber or in another place. Yet, at the same time, we have accomplished massive social change. Change was made possible by an unwritten constitution, rooted in convention, that gave unprecedented flexibility, and by a doctrine of parliamentary primacy, the rule of law and constitutional government. This was a prize beyond belief. Now we are being asked to have a fresh look at all of this.