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During a lifetime in an operational service—the Army—I was conscious of the importance and value of having a professional head representing the service at the heart of government, who was able to ensure that its needs and best interests received constant attention. I would not feel the same way if I was a member of the probation service today. It has an operational purpose, as the Army does, but it does not have a professional head or even senior and experienced staff ensuring that their experience and expertise are represented at the heart of government. In proceeding like this, the Government give the impression that probation provision is regarded as being solely about the purchase of services. It is not. It is also about the people who deliver those services, who need to be selected, trained, motivated and led. If they are not, the service will die, because operational people who are not properly led become a confused and disorganised rabble.

My first question to the Minister is, therefore, whether the Government intend to show the same good sense that they have done in abandoning Titan prisons by

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abandoning the idea that the probation service can do without a professional head. That begs a second question. Will the Minister explain who is regarded as the professional head today? Who is the professional adviser to Ministers and within “NOMSA”? How does he or she exercise that leadership throughout the probation service, which I presume is still an operational entity that people can join?

3.10 pm

Lord Dholakia: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for this short debate. This is not simply about whether the Government propose to reappoint a director of the National Probation Service, but my arguments focus on why they should. The noble Lord’s argument for the reappointment of a national post of director of probation is a powerful one, for several reasons. Let me spell them out. First, there is a relative lack of probation service experience at senior levels in the National Offender Management Service. I am not surprised; we have tried so many permutations of the probation organisation in the past that it gives an impression of a lack of strategic thinking about the probation service as a whole.

I draw attention to that lack of experience to contrast the situation with that of the strong Prison Service experience amid senior staff at NOMS, its headquarters. Most of the regional directors of NOMS have a Prison Service background. Yet the number of offenders under supervision by the probation service at any one time is much higher than the number of offenders in prison, and all offenders who have served prison sentences of 12 months or more are supervised by the probation service. That shows, in view of the service’s crucial importance to the reduction of reoffending, that there is a strong case for a senior specialist role at national level with a remit to promote high standards in national probation practices.

Secondly, inspections by the probation inspectorate have found variable standards from one probation area to another. Following the move towards probation trusts, similar inconsistency in standards of delivery could persist from one trust area to another. A director of probation post at a senior level in NOMS could provide clear specialist direction and promote consistency and high quality across the country’s probation areas.

Thirdly, the probation service, like other public services, is faced with the need to make spending cuts, and its resources are severely stretched. This makes it even more important to ensure that the service gives priority to the most important areas of work. This will be more likely if a national director of probation sets clear national priorities which directors of offender management can then incorporate into their contracts with probation trusts.

Fourthly, there is considerable variation in probation areas’ readiness to enter into partnerships with other organisations, particularly in voluntary agencies. These organisations provide key services in areas such as accommodation, education, employment, addictions, mental health and mentoring, which can make a key difference to the likelihood of reoffending. A national director of probation could set strong national expectations that probation trusts in every area of the

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country should make maximum use of such partnerships to improve the prospects of successful rehabilitation of offenders.

Fifthly, the probation service has had considerable success in ensuring that planning by local authorities’ Supporting People commissioning forums takes into account the need for supported accommodation places for offenders. The Government are proposing to remove the ring-fence around Supporting People funding, which means that in future funding for supported housing will have to compete with other priorities for funding in local authority areas. A national director of probation could press the need for offender accommodation in discussions with other government departments and reduce the risk that they will be sidelined or marginalised when the Supporting People ring-fence is removed.

Finally, a director of offender management could be a powerful advocate for the probation service in policy discussions at national level. He or she could represent the service by speaking and arguing on its behalf in discussions with the heads of other national criminal justice agencies, with Ministers and with senior officials in other government departments. In short, a director of probation could both help to ensure high standards in service delivery by probation areas and also ensure that the interests of the service are not overlooked in policy-making at national level.

The Government could continue to justify the resource allocation to the probation service, but the fact remains that the service is stretched beyond its limits in some areas of the country. Those of us who have been involved in the criminal justice system—I declare my interest as the president of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, Nacro—have seen the decline of the probation service over the past two decades. Staff morale is poor. Napo and the probation service organisations have repeatedly complained about the lack of a clear strategic approach to probation work.

I make a plea to the Minister. The probation service stands between an individual’s path to criminality or a way away from crime. It offers ways and means to deal with offending behaviour. Over the years, irrespective of what the policy-makers tell us, there has been a serious concern that the service itself has been undermined. We need a champion at the highest level to buck this trend. Let us hope that there is no delay in appointing a director of the National Probation Service.

3.17 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: We, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for the opportunity to discuss this very topical issue. The noble Lord has given us such a comprehensive sweep of the issues that there remains little to be said, as we agree with his analysis wholeheartedly. We look forward to the Minister’s response.

My noble friend Lord Dholakia, whose long and distinguished record in the criminal justice system is justly recognised in his current role as president of Nacro, is entirely right in saying that the probation service stands between an individual’s path to criminality in the case of offenders or a way away from crime. He has clearly and succinctly identified why we need a

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national champion for the probation service, and I hope that the Minister will reflect on the strategic considerations in his intervention when he has time to reflect on this Question beyond his immediate answer in Grand Committee today.

Underlying the debate is the overall question of what happens to ex-offenders as they near the end of their sentence and attempt to re-enter the community. This has two elements: the first is in a way more mundane—the inability of the men and women in the probation system to carry out their responsibilities when the system is so starved of resources so as to come under strain. We know that prison numbers have gone up over the time of this Government’s tenure in office, but we also know that they are projected to go up considerably more, by 96,000 by 2012.

I do not want to distract from the specific issue in hand today, but I just want to point out that, at the same time, cuts are being imposed which have serious implications for the management of ex-offenders. Napo, the trade union and professional association for family court and probation staff, told my colleague in the other place, the Member for Cambridge, that of the 400 trainee probation officers who will have qualified by this autumn, at least 50 per cent would be unable to take up posts or were likely only to be offered temporary placements. This is due to the probation service’s budget cuts for the period 2009-12. We know that it costs some £100,000 to train a probation officer, so on these figures it could result in a cost to the taxpayer in unutilised resources of some £20 million at a time when the need is overwhelming. Napo has provided a detailed list by region of staff numbers where the cuts will fall, and I am extremely happy to provide it to the Minister, should he not have seen it.

I now turn to the bigger picture of bringing down the number of offenders who end up in prison in the first place. We know that the rate has been more or less stable over the past decade—stable at an extremely high rate. We recognise that the amalgamation of the different interfaces into NOMS—the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, covered that ground beautifully today—has been less successful than was envisaged at its establishment. For the specifics of flawed IT systems, the lack of strategic leadership and inconsistency of standards, the big unanswered question for society remains: how can we ensure that fewer people go to prison in the first place?

I hope that noble Lords will allow me to move away from the specific topic of this debate briefly to address that wider question. I want to focus on what works in terms of restorative justice—both in rehabilitating offenders and benefiting victims. The Ministry of Justice’s research, in Professor Joanna Shapland’s fourth and final report, concluded that:

“Offenders who participated in restorative justice committed statistically significantly fewer offences (in terms of reconvictions) in the subsequent two years than offenders in the control group ... All groups (summed together) showed a lower cost of convictions versus a control group. Costs of convictions included the costs to potential future victims and criminal justice costs”.

It also showed:

“Very high levels of satisfaction with restorative justice ... from almost all victims and offenders throughout all three schemes”.

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Although the Government have focused on this issue from the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, we on these Benches are disappointed that their approach has been either piecemeal or inconsistent. We know that record numbers of young people are locked up—nearly 11,000 under-21s at the moment—and it is in this group more than any other that restorative justice works best. I wonder whether the Minister will be able to tell us when the Government will roll out restorative justice schemes across the board in England and Wales.

In concluding, I want to highlight that, even where there is an optimal environment and even where funds are plentiful, the trends are moving in the right direction and reoffending can be prioritised, there will nevertheless be a need for a strategic overview, a need for an operational senior leadership team and a need for a visible figure with the clout to deliver the outcomes that are so badly needed. We hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy the Grand Committee today that he is moving towards that end.

3.23 pm

Lord Henley: As ever, I offer my thanks and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on introducing this debate. The Committee will be grateful to him on three counts. First, we have a former Chief Inspector of Prisons before us—one who more than anyone knows the difference between the Prison Service and the probation service. They are two completely different animals and they do two completely different things. Secondly, we have before us a former, very senior Army officer who knows just a thing or two about leadership. The lack of leadership that we now see in the probation service formed a major part of his remarks.

Thirdly, I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for reminding us yet again of the failure of the Government to take much notice of any of their so-called consultations. It might be useful for the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to come back here after the end of this debate to attend the fourth debate today, in the name of my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth, to ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to ensure that public consultations by government departments follow best practice. We have become cynical over the past 11 years and have a sneaking feeling that an awful lot of consultations do not follow best practice and, even if they do, the Government do not take much notice of what comes out of them. I offer that advice to the noble Lord if he has any spare time in his diary. The debate begins at 5 o’clock, so he will have time for a sandwich or tea between the end of this debate and the next, and he can then listen to his colleague respond to the debate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, can I look forward to seeing the noble Lord in his place during that debate too?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I will not need to attend because it is a question to Her Majesty’s Government. We might be the Government in the future. We were

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always good at consultation and we intend to continue being good when we return to government. Having offered that little tease to the noble Lord—no doubt he will have other things to do—perhaps I may move to my substantive remarks.

We in this party, both here and, particularly, in another place, have frequently highlighted the failure of management in the NOMS scheme. This failure could have been undone with a separation of authority and accountability in the prison and probation sectors and by the appointment of a new, independent-of-NOMS director of the National Probation Service. There is no clear accountability for the rehabilitation of prisoners and these issues, in particular, have shown the problems caused by reshuffling power in the prison and probation sectors. We have seen three reorganisations of the Prison Service, greatly increased bureaucracy—an issue to which I shall return when I put some questions to the Minister—a lack of strategic leadership and a lack of prison capacity. I was able to put this issue to the noble Lord only yesterday; the prisons are bursting at the seams and the Government do not know what to do. However, we are grateful that they have at least abandoned the Titan prisons, even if they are to be replaced by something not much different, what I refer to as the mini-Titans. We have also seen severe overstretch in the probation service.

In March this year, my honourable friend the shadow Minister for Justice in another place, Edward Garnier, made clear that, in his view:

“Not only has the Government re-organised the Probation Service three times in the last eight years to no obvious public benefit, they have created a cash-eating monster”

I shall come back to that when I ask my questions. He continued:

I hope the noble Lord is aware of, and familiar with, our policy paper, Prisons with a Purpose. If he is not, I shall make sure that he has a copy of it and he can study it in due course. There we have set out our plans for a rehabilitation revolution. We plan to make the people who run the prisons directly responsible for reducing their prisoners’ reoffending, bringing two stages—prisons and probation—together and opening up the market in offender management to the volunteer and private sectors. Prisons with a Purpose states that, instead of drawing together prisons and probation, the Government created in NOMS an inflated bureaucratic monster that sat above the Prison and Probation Services and did little to facilitate co-ordination. It sucked resources to the order of £1.5 billion a year—more than the entire budget of the National Probation Service—from those available for offender management.

I come now to the three specific questions that I want to put to the noble Lord. I hope that he will take some care in replying and I hope that he will reply today, rather than in writing. First, would the noble Lord agree that the introduction of NOMS, at the cost of the independence of the National Probation Service, has been flawed; that the bureaucratic drawing together of the prison and probation services has sucked in resources and cost something over £1.5 billion a year;

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and that there has been no discernible lowering of crime as a result? I would be very grateful for some acknowledgement of that £1.5 billion a year from the Government.

Secondly, would the Minister accept that depriving the National Probation Service of a director to act as a figurehead of accountability, implement changes and be responsible for advising the Secretary of State based on first-hand experience of the probation service, has severely reduced this country’s capability to deal with the rehabilitation of offenders? Thirdly, I would also be grateful for a direct reply, specifically, to this question. The headquarters of NOMS alone cost, we are advised, something like £1.5 billion. That could be enough to fund another 7,000 prison places. It is more than 50 times the amount spent, for example, on drug rehabilitation in prison each year. Not only is that cost £1 billion, but we have now seen that some £900 million is being cut from the Ministry of Justice budget. Does the noble Lord believe that that money could have been better spent, especially under a system of individual accountability for the National Probation Service and the prison system?

I hope that the noble Lord will be able to provide answers to those questions and I very much hope that he can provide them today. If he cannot, no doubt he will tell me that he will write to me, but they are questions that deserve a public response, rather than a response by letter.

3.32 pm

Lord Bach: In my turn, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham for giving us the opportunity to debate the new management structure of the National Offender Management Service. Given the impact that these changes will have on both prisons and probation, it is absolutely right that the House should be kept fully informed of their purpose and nature. I will set out some of the backdrop to this debate. Frankly, there has been major investment in the probation service. Since 1997 the probation resource budget has increased by nearly 70 per cent. In real terms, that means 7,000 more probation staff than in 1997. The probation service now receives £900 million of taxpayers’ money each year. Of course, it is essential that that money is put to good use.

There is significant scope for savings in the probation service, particularly by reducing unnecessary management layers, streamlining changes and cutting bureaucracy. That potential for saving has been verified externally. Too much of a probation officer’s time is spent in front of a computer. It is not acceptable that probation officers should spend only a quarter of their time working with offenders. We need to be sure that the taxpayers’ money that we spend on the probation service is spent on managing offenders; and that resources are targeted on the highest-risk offenders and those offenders who are most likely to reoffend. Of course, we have set challenging targets for probation areas that want to become trusts.

I was asked about finances. In 2009-10, probation is required to make savings of £20 million out of a budget of £914 million, which is 2.2 per cent. Current provisional figures show that probation areas under-spent

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by at least £17 million in 2008-09. That may demonstrate that the savings, which we need to make because of the overall cut in the budget of the Ministry of Justice, are completely realistic. I remind the Committee that there was a one-off payment by the Government of £40 million to the probation service in the last financial year. I set that on the record because, although we have heard some very expert speeches today in this important debate, none of those facts has been put forward until now.

In April 2008, the Government created the new delivery agency, NOMS, bringing together the probation and prison services. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, as early as February 2008 was asking questions of my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The noble Lord’s typically direct question was,

My noble friend’s answer was that NOMS,

Today our discussion can go slightly wider than just that definition.

NOMS is not a merger of the probation and prison services. Both will remain as individual delivery services, with their own different governance and employment structures. Prison staff are civil servants and probation staff are employed by boards and trusts. NOMS restructuring is not a prison take-over of the probation service. The new regional structures, which we will introduce this summer, will see real responsibility and accountability flow through regional directors of offender management down to the front line. NOMS restructuring is not a move towards central control. The prison and probation services are, and will remain, services rooted in local decision-making and accountability.

I want to be clear about what NOMS is. The creation of the agency is about co-ordinating offender management at a regional level for offenders in custody, or in the community, or in between. With the prison and probation services under the oversight of the same agency we can ensure that no more offenders fall between the cracks between prison and probation. Both services, as well as other organisations, must work together seamlessly if we expect to manage offenders effectively. It is about end-to-end offender management. If we do not do that, the excellent work done by front-line staff in prisons and on probation will easily be thrown away. There cannot be a simple handover of responsibility from one organisation to the other at the prison gate. Offender management must be both continuous and coherent if it is to be constructive.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the restructuring is the appointment of 10 directors of offender management—DOMs, as they are called. After an extensive recruitment process, a DOM has been appointed for each of the nine regions in England and one in Wales from 1 April this year. Operating at director level, these individuals are responsible for performance in their areas, tying together the offender management work of all delivery agencies, probation, public and private sector prisons, and the voluntary sector. They are also accountable for integrating service provision

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locally across these providers and with others such as local authorities. By integrating previous regional structures and devolving responsibility from the centre, the new director of offender management structure will allow NOMS to save £10 million this year.

The DOMs will each answer to the NOMS chief operating officer, a role to which I shall return shortly, and ultimately to Ministers. Collectively, all 10 DOMs will become the key body influencing operational strategy. With real power in terms of spending decisions and operational management, they will also be expected to build effective partnerships with local and regional stakeholders in public and other bodies. There is no question of a prison service take-over in the implementation of this model. The DOMs are from a wide range of backgrounds with extensive experience in all aspects of offender management. Probation will of course be at the heart of this delivery model. Roger Hill, a name known to noble Lords here, previously director of probation, was the logical choice for the first DOM post in the south-east, the largest region in the country.

The decision to devolve significant powers in offender management to a regional level has inevitably required a review of management functions at a national level. There are no longer distinct prisons and probation headquarters functions. This work is now performed by staff directly employed by the NOMS agency. Although, in many cases, the same people will be doing the same work, albeit under a different employer, this restructuring has enabled significant efficiency savings to be made at the centre. While probation areas are required to make savings of 2.2 per cent in 2009-10 and prisons, excluding funding for building capacity, of 3 per cent, the NOMS headquarters function is expected to make a saving of 13 per cent in 2009-10. Many of these savings are possible because of the NOMS restructuring, as headquarters staff seek to avoid duplication and reduce bureaucracy.

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