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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I understood that it was precisely the role of Parliament to second guess the Government and to examine whether the proposals made by the Government have a clear rationale. I have struggled with the Bill to find the underlying, clear rationale behind it, and there have been points when I felt that there were two or three different Bills popping out from underneath it. As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will know, I have become increasingly sceptical about the mantra of public service reform, the employment of large numbers of outside consultants and the pressure to change for the sake of change and to push towards the private sector.
We all agree with the principle of more integrated offender management, and we understand that the purpose is the reduction of reoffending and in parallel a reduction in prison numbers. When I read the Carter reportwhich has a good beginning and a good end, but I missed the argument in the middle that links the beginning and the endI understood that one of the major problems is that fines are not enforced. Nothing that we have read in any of the papers since then deals with how better to enforce fines, which might make a major contribution to a reduction in prison numbers.
We talk about community penalties and community punishment, but that takes us into the question of which part of a mixed economy one is moving towards. There still seems to be confusion in the Bill about whether we are moving from public provision to largely private sector provisionfor profits and for large companiesor to large non-profits that are commissioned centrally, or at the most regionally, or the voluntary sector, which is often much more local working with the community. I note that in the Governments paper Reducing Crime, Changing Lives, the implication is very much that we should be talking about local community involvement, local community punishment and working with the not-for-profit sector. I hope that is the direction in which we are moving, but I am not entirely clear.
Todays very welcome Statement from the Government on constitutional reform suggests that we should be doing everything to move back towards local community and local engagement as far as we can. That is what we on these Benches support, and that is why we are so unhappy about the extent to which regional commissioning seems to be taking
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We therefore think that there is still a case for a pause. We have not seen the Governments response to the many responses to their original proposals. I have read the Carter report, the Governments response and all those things, and I still do not see an underlying rationale passing through them. In this process, we have had a succession of different Home Secretaries offering different things. If we are to make a very important change in the management of offending, we need to be entirely sure that it makes sense, that it lasts and that everyone is happy with the lasting settlement. We need to make sure that we do not rush through yet another change that will be succeeded with yet another change in three or four years time, but only after a large number of outside consultants have said that the last one did not work.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was right in one respectthese are important reforms. They will shape for perhaps a generation to come the future delivery of probation services to those who are in need of them. They are very important services, particularly for the security of this country. It is therefore important that we get them right. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, went on to say that there was a clear vision of reforms. I disagree. In our five days in Committee and one day on Report, we have not seen clarity. We have seen an attempt to shield the truth. These are centralising reforms presented as being responsive to local needs.
Last week, the mask slipped when we debated an amendment on which I divided the House and was fortunate in persuading it to support me. I argued that the Secretary of States centralising powers to commission services should instead be devolved to the probation trusts. The Governments argument throughout has been to say to me, Dont worry, we are closer than you think. In practice, the majority of services will be commissioned locally. Last week, suddenly we heard from speaker after speaker on the Benches opposite, behind the Minister, the argument that if my amendment were passed nothing would change and that the local trusts cannot be trusted to deliver commissioning on the contestability basis to private companies and the voluntary sector.
Clarity was there none. It is absolutely important, as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suggests, to give the new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor the opportunity to look again and find the clarity that the public deserve. I support the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, it is with some temerity that I stand up and say that I am a somewhat simple soul in that I believe that the management of offenders and the management of the
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The framework of probation will be the same. I would have liked to see more radical reform, as noble Lords will know, not because I am a great one for changeI have argued significantly against some of the health service and social services changes that have gone on and on and left the services in great disarraybut I argue for this change because I believe that out there the probation services are in the middle of it and, having worked for most of my life in change management with organisations, I know that that is nearly the worst position we could continue to leave the probation services in.
Not only is the framework of probation pretty much the same, I think that we have a clear rationale which, as I understand it in relation to the services in the voluntary sector in which I work that touch the probation sector, is trying to find new ways of intervening. I have heard lots of discussion during this debate about those interventions perhaps not being as high-class as others. The services that I have worked with have been exceptional, with highly trained workers intervening in a way that has set the standard for other probation services. If we had that kind of service we would see greater innovation and greater development. Of course I have the same fears as others about whether large companies will come in and undercut my services. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness yet again to reassure us that what will count will be the quality and not low cost.
The commissioning element is all that is really different. There are other small changes in the Bill but its central core is this commissioning element. I have said this before, but I am surprised that the Conservative Benches are not pressing this forward and that they do not see that commissioning and contestability are a way forward in changing and improving skills. They widen the scope of the skill set. At the moment the changes are proceeding at a very conservative pace. On the ground, services are being told that they cannot have the three-year contracts, which they thought they could have, because of the uncertainty. If we delay again, that uncertainty will go on, not just for the probation services, but for all the local voluntary services that are trying to deliver different but quality services on the ground. These groups are not huge. The one I know best, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, is not a huge organisation; it is a specialist foundation. The circles, working with the Quakers, are small organisations. They have managed to hold their positions, and they will do even better if in future they are more able to get their contracts.
In my view, the one thing probation does not need is yet another period of uncertainty; but it needs clear knowledge about how to move forward. I am quite sure that my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham will say
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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. I say straightaway that I too have been in a very privileged position. From this Dispatch Box I have expressed the views in relation to this matter of the previous Home Secretary John Reid and before him my right honourable friend Charles Clarke, the former Lord Chancellor, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, and now my right honourable friend Jack Straw as the new Secretary of State responsible for justice and the new Lord Chancellor. The last three have one thing in common: they all agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that we must now get on with this and delay will not inure to anyone's benefit.
I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about centralising reform. I disagree very much with that suggestion. The construct put forward by her on behalf of her party is, I respectfully suggest, one of no change. However, no change will not give voice to the needs both of the victims and the offenders, who demand that we change in order better to address the needs that they each have.
The structure we suggest is not one which is unreasoned or so fast as not to take people with us. Of course we have listened very carefully indeed to the debate that has gone on throughout the whole passage of the Bill. I recognise the genuine desire of those who have spoken to ensure that we have the best possible set of provisions. We all want to see a strong, confident and effective Probation Service able to play its full part in reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
I understand the anxiety that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has so cogently expressed in terms of the different tensions in this situation, but what is less clear to me is how this amendment will assist. I am puzzled about why the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, thinks that the addition of a further stage in the parliamentary process and the accompanying delay and uncertainty is necessary or how that uncertainty and delay would further inure to the benefit of those we all purport to serve. The import of what the noble Lord was saying was, Postpone this Bill and all its parts. Consider afresh again whether all or any of its contents need to be embarked on at all. Some noble Lords might say that what he is saying is Rip it up, put it in the bin and start again. That would not do justice to the hard work and dedication of all the sectors who have now engaged with such energy in making this change
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I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for identifying the smaller organisations involved. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a specialist organisation, but it is not a large organisation. Circles of Support and Accountability, which is an effective organisation, is not large. Clinks, which, as I mentioned to your Lordships last time, is leading the work on how we can get smaller organisations better supported, is not a large organisation. Those organisations need continuity, and commissioning would enable them to have that.
Perhaps this amendment is inspired by a sense that the Government have rushed these proposals and that a period of reflection is necessary. But if we look at the history of the Bill, we can see how it has changed, developed and deepened in the understanding of what is necessary. This policy has been evolving and in the public domain since December 2003. I know that some in this House think that it should go as slowly as the public sector reform that is contemplated in relation to civil servants for which we have had to wait for more than a hundred years, but I think that we can go a little more quickly. We can hardly be accused of having rushed these changes.
The amendment would require certain documents to be prepared and laid before the House. There is concern therefore that there will be insufficient opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of these proposals. But I respectfully say that that can hardly be the case either. This is a modest-sized Billjust 34 clauses and five, mainly technical, schedules when it was first introduced. Yet in your Lordships House alone we have had six Sittings in Committee. Indeed, at the outset of Committee, our scrutiny was so considered and detailed that we were progressing at the rate of roughly one clause per Sitting.
I am sure that noble Lords would also agree that my noble friend Lord Bassam and I, with the full support of our colleagues at the Ministry of Justice, have gone out of our way to be very full in our responses to points raised, both on the Floor of the House and in the written material that we have regularly circulated outside. Where appropriate, those responses have extended to agreeing to amend the Bill itself. We have done a lot of good work in that regard with the valid contribution from all Members who have taken part, but I cannot see that further scrutiny is needed or what purpose it would serve.
Perhaps there has been insufficient opportunity for those outside Parliament to have their say. Your Lordships have had the advantage of hearing from many of those who made a contribution. The preponderance of that comment has been supportive of this Bill. The evidence is that the service is committed to change. As I mentioned in Committee, two-thirds of those boards eligible to apply for trust status in April 2008 expressed interest in being considered. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, is right when she says that they want to get on with this. That makes 22 areas in which 13 have been invited to
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I reassure the House that there is no basis for thinking that if there were a postponement significant or material change is likely. The Government's commitment to the provisions in the Bill remains undiminished either by the machinery of government changes on 9 May or the ministerial changes of last week. Once the parliamentary process has run its proper course, there can be no justification for or advantage in further prevarication. The Bill was on the agenda before the last election. We committed ourselves to bringing proposals forward once we were re-elected and that is what we are doing. It is a part of the democratic process which has integrity. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to withdraw his amendment and allow us to proceed in the normal way, confident that he has made a material contribution to the way that this Bill will leave this House.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General for the way she responded. She will not be surprised to hear me say that in the very first of my remarks I said that this was no attempt to kill the Bill. Never, throughout all our deliberations, have we had any intention of killing it, stopping it or being against change. One of my frustrations when I was Chief Inspector of Prisons was the number of recommendations for change that I put forwardsome 2,800 over the time of which only 70 were picked up.
The noble and learned Baroness mentioned that this Bill first appeared in December 2003. That is when the problems started. At that stage, the Government clearly listened to the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and rushed ahead with change without thinking. Because they rushed ahead and announced things without discussion, we have had this long drawn out period of uncertainty and retrenchment. Is the Probation Service national, regional or whatever? Will the services be united and merged? What is happening to the regional offender managers who have been in position for three years without budgets and so forth? This uncertainty spread because, right at the start, there was no consideration.
I am not seeking to delay the Bill just to delay it. I am saying that, while this Bill has come within the context of the criminal justice system, other Bills have been launched and other proposals have been made. Other studies have happened that have an impact on it. Therefore, it is incomplete in context in terms of the criminal justice system and the way that offenders are managed. Unless offenders are managed properly, we will not get what we all requirethe rehabilitation of offenders and protection of the public. Nobody
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The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said that the framework is the same. It is not the same. The headquarters of the National Probation Service has disappeared and the leader of the service is subsumed into a department in the National Offender Management Service. It is not the same. There is not an organisation that can drive change.
All I am saying is that to achieve the change that we all want, it behoves the Government to see whether, in the light of all the other things that are going on, it would be sensible to ensure that everything is taken into account, rather than rushing off in one direction. I am sure that the noble and learned Baroness will not be surprised that I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
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