Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

One of the key objectives of these reforms is to enable the voluntary and charitable sector, in all its diversity, to play a greater role in the delivery of probation services. We are determined to work closely with the sector to make sure that this happens. With these assurances, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, will understand that we have fully taken into account the import of what he seeks. The framework and the flexibility will better deliver what he wants from this situation—we want to achieve the same thing—than a sample contract, which may not precisely meet the needs of any given local situation. I know that that is what the noble Lord wants. With that, I hope he is content that we certainly have fulfilled our purpose at Third Reading and that we have clarified the detail, and will feel able now to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I think that one of the anxieties at the back of the mind of the noble Lord who moved this amendment is anxiety that commissioners will squash out the ability of small organisations to innovate by the form of contract on which they insist. Is there any way small organisations can get advice about how to resist any attempt to prevent innovation? That is an anxiety of mine and, probably, of the noble Lord.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, in this consultative process we are going out to some of the small organisations. I mentioned on the previous occasion that Clinks has been very helpful in helping us to think about this. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said last time that there are of course some organisations which simply do not want to enter into large consortia. They have honed a skill for a tiny, specialist group, are doing a fantastic job and wish to preserve that as a reality.

3.15 pm

One of the beauties of the commissioning process is that there will be needs-based analysis, so the commissioners will have to look at how those needs are being met. Some of the specialist needs are more likely to be met by the smaller group, which might have honed its specialist skills for those needs. We are

16 July 2007 : Column 15

moving forward by creating a framework, getting the flexibility, looking at full cost recovery and ensuring that there are no perverse disincentives to enabling the smaller organisations to continue to thrive, but looking too at how we can get umbrella consortium bids that would encourage the others to take advantage of those opportunities. I understand what the noble Baroness is saying, and why the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, is anxious. That is why the framework we have set up provides the flexibility that will ensure that that does not occur. We will have a robust suite of measures that will meet the needs.

I agree with the noble Baroness: we have to ensure that we get the best out of those currently participating. However, we have to remember that we want to encourage more people to become involved as well, so we have to create the environment that will enable that to take place.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, there were important assurances in the Minister’s speech. I am conscious of how complex this set of issues is. I spent much of Friday with my noble friend Lord Shutt in a large private prison in Doncaster, and came away from that with an even greater understanding of how complex the situation is. We are asking for partnerships between national, regional and local organisations, some people who are working for for-profit organisations and others who are working for voluntary organisations. The situation demands real care and attention. Some of us will want to ensure, as this moves towards implementation, that those concerns are fully taken through.

The Minister will also understand that many of us in this country are concerned that the system we operate is much too top-down, compared with our counterparts on the Continent and in Scandinavia. That makes it more difficult to take local and small organisations into account. On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, talked about small voluntary organisations that used to receive grants to help them with their activities. It is precisely those sorts of organisations that we are concerned about. However, I take the Minister’s assurances, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9 [Annual plans etc]:

Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 3:

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is a simple drafting amendment, intended to clarify the definition of “annual plans” and specify the activities referred to in the amendment my noble friend Lady Anelay moved

16 July 2007 : Column 16

and inserted into the Bill on Report. We are grateful for the advice of the Public Bill Office on the drafting of the amendment.

The Bill’s passage has not been smooth—at least, I suggest, not from the point of view of the Minister and her colleagues. However, we on these Benches, and others, will feel that many positive changes have been effected in your Lordships’ House; changes which, if carried, would strengthen the Bill immeasurably in realigning the mode of commissioning and in ensuring that the Bill itself is revised and revitalised in the light of new reports. I urge the Minister to support other noble Lords in sending a message back to the other place that these changes are for the good, however bitter a pill that may be to swallow. I thank her for her customary assistance and engagement in the debates throughout the Bill, before she moves to at least equally distinguished pastures.

Amendment No. 3 represents a tying-up of loose ends. The work your Lordships have done on the Bill has amounted to far more than that, and I commend the amendments made in this House to another place. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my task is simple: to accept the amendments. We do not agree with the arguments behind them that were made at an earlier stage, but we understand that these are tidying-up amendments. Noble Lords on the Opposition Benches have been advised on this course of action by the Public Bill Office, and it is on that basis—though without prejudice to the Government’s position on the underlying policy intention—that we are happy to accept the amendments.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for accepting the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 10 [Officers of providers of probation services]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendments Nos. 4 to 6:

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 11 [National framework for qualifications of officers]:

Lord Ramsbotham moved Amendment No. 7:

16 July 2007 : Column 17

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a clarifying and tidying-up amendment, relating to the clause which states that the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to secure that guidelines have the same effect in relation to every provider. The amendment seeks guidance particularly on training, because a number of small voluntary organisations have expressed concern that the implications of the training that is required to carry out functions for which they may be contracted need to be carefully thought through. Do they need qualifications in order to apply for a contract or can qualifications be gained after a contract has been awarded and before work starts? The clauses that we discussed earlier mention the requirement placed on the Secretary of State to issue guidelines that apply to everyone involved in delivery, whether they are public, private or not-for-profit. It is important that the many small voluntary organisations whose vital role in the management of offenders in a variety of activities has been mentioned many times during this debate are clear about the qualifications their staff will need in order to qualify for contracts. I beg to move.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham. He is absolutely right. Small or large voluntary organisations should know the level of training that will be necessary to deal with the rather more difficult offenders whom they will be required to manage. One needs to be assured on that by the Minister. Nobody is trying to do the voluntary organisations out of the vital role they play, be they small, large or the church. We all know the roles that they play. I am sure that there is plenty of scope for those roles to evolve into the future. We certainly hope that that is so. Perhaps the Minister will reassure us on this point.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, we on these Benches have made it clear during our debates in Committee and on Report that we regard training as central to the success of any rollout of contestability. The qualifications and calibre of those who deliver probation services have always been and will remain vital. We supported the Government’s new Clause 11 on qualifications, which was accepted on Report. It will ensure that the Secretary of State provides through regulations a benchmark for the minimum required qualifications of those who carry out the day-to-day delivery of probation services. The new clause seems to have got the balance about right. However, it is helpful that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has tabled Amendment No. 7. It will enable the Minister to put on record further clarification on training and qualifications. It is important that those who bid to deliver services, particularly the third sector, are given as much guidance as possible to assist them in tendering successfully for contracts.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I shall ask a further question, having heard this short debate. I, too, am grateful for this amendment for clarification.

16 July 2007 : Column 18

One needs the utmost qualification for dealing with a range of offenders. The organisation with which I am closely involved has some of the most skilled workers in any organisation. It also works with a number of volunteers and other kinds of people. I want to be sure that we can take some risks, because risks have to be taken when people are in the community; otherwise, the risk is even greater, because no one keeps an eye on them. I want to be sure that we can work with volunteers, while ensuring that the supervision and oversight is left to those professionals who know how to do it. I would be worried if these measures simply implied that only those with the highest-level qualification could have contact, because that in itself is dangerous.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I take this opportunity to seek clarification from the Government over their policy towards supportive supervision for probation and prison officers and the volunteers that my noble friend has just spoken of. I was most grateful for a recent letter from the Secretary of State assuring me that supervision of probation officers was being monitored. In my view, Her Majesty's Government should be as explicit as possible about regulations about such supervision. This is all the more important as we move towards a more differentiated workforce. The appropriate level of one-to-one supportive supervision must not be lost in the changes.

As the Minister made clear on Report, such supervision is expensive and so must be jealously guarded. I look to the Minister for further reassurances that supervision for probation officers and para-probation officers will be protected by him. I also encourage him to consider extending such supportive supervision to prison officers. It is welcome that he seeks to develop a common culture between prison and probation officers and that for the first time the two cadres are training together. Such communality will contribute to the mutual respect required for effective end-to-end management and reducing offending. The introduction of supportive supervision for prison officers would be a considerable boost to this common culture and to the status of prison officers. It would be worth the cost; in particular, it would increase the level of retention of staff in the private sector, some private prisons having a staff turnover of nearly 50 per cent per annum. It would promote humanity as reflection is necessary in treating the vulnerable, the young and the mentally ill with respect. It would demonstrate the respect in which the Minister holds prison officers as they work daily with the mentally ill or disordered, those with learning disabilities and those who pose a threat to themselves, to prison inmates, to officers or to the public.

I hope that the Minister will undertake to take away and consider how supervision might be improved for probation officers and para-probation officers and perhaps introduced for prison officers. How is a culture of reflection being promoted in the probation and prison services?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken. I am grateful, too, to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for what they have said about their proposal to extend Clause 11, which makes provision for publication and enforcement of a national framework for qualification

16 July 2007 : Column 19

for officers. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, was right in saying that Clause 11 has got it about right, but I hope that what I say will add clarification on that so that I can give a little comfort to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. The noble Baroness is right when she says that in this arena there are some very skilled and committed volunteers whose contribution we would not wish in any way to undermine or discourage, as it is so valuable in keeping safe the people whom we care about. By “the people we care about” I mean both victims and the offenders who wish to rehabilitate and restore their behaviour.

Currently the clause makes it clear that the Secretary of State may publish guidelines about any qualifications, experience or training required to perform the work of an officer or a provider of probation services and must—and I emphasise must—publish guidelines for the work that involves the supervision of and direct contact with offenders. It also requires the Secretary of State, when carrying out his commissioning functions, to ensure that the guidelines apply to all providers whether from the public, private or voluntary sector.

3.30 pm

Amendment No. 7 links to the earlier amendment which the Government opposed on Report and continue to oppose. However, I shall deal here with the amendment’s substantive effect—which is to ensure that commissioners do not exercise their power to enter into contracts unless they are satisfied that the other party has complied with these guidelines. I understand the point which the amendment is intended to address, and of course commissioners will need to be confident that a provider has enough appropriately trained staff before entering into a contract. However, that is not quite what the amendment says. It says that a commissioner shall not make arrangements with a provider unless the commissioner is satisfied that the provider has complied with the guidelines. As it is difficult to see how a new provider could demonstrate that he had complied, the amendment’s unintended effect would be to restrict the ability of new providers to deliver probation services.

Clause 11 as drafted already provides what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, would wish, and, in effect, it gives the necessary safeguards. It is already implicit in Clause 11(4) that, in commissioning services, the Secretary of State will need to be assured that the provider will be able to comply with the guidelines. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, will see that the amendment is unnecessary and that the noble Lord will agree that it should be withdrawn.

I very much hear what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, says about supervision, the need for protection and the way in which the two are now being conjoined between prison officers and the Probation Service. The fact that they are learning together, training together and developing a joint ethos is very important indeed. I shall take back the noble Earl’s comments to my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice and ensure that they hear what he said. It very much fits within the

16 July 2007 : Column 20

new culture that we are trying to inculcate into the service and might be something that people will want to look at in due course.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for providing precisely what the amendment sought—clarification. As I said in opening, we needed to tease this out. I am grateful also to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for mentioning risk and all the people involved. A whole raft of skills need to be harnessed particularly within these small voluntary organisations and those people should not be impeded or made to feel unwelcome in doing their work.

I thank all those who spoke in this short debate. I think that we have achieved what I had hoped by putting these thoughts on the record for the commissioners to take into consideration when the time comes. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 25 [Conveyance of prohibited articles into or out of prison]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 8:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 26 [Other offences relating to prison security]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 9:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Probation trusts: further provisions]:

Lord Wallace of Saltaire moved Amendment No. 10:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment has already been the subject of discussion among the Front Benches. I shall make one or two further comments on the Motion that the Bill do now pass but have nothing further to say at this point. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have had helpful discussions on the subject of magistrates with the senior presiding judge and the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Linklater. I am grateful to them all but particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, who tabled the amendment which has been spoken to so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. The Government continue to believe that magistrates have an important role to play under the new arrangements and that they have a lot to offer trusts. However, it is more appropriate for them to be appointed in a personal capacity on the basis of their individual skills and experience rather than as a result of statutory prescription. I am therefore happy to support the amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page