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Ministry of Justice

Volume 691: debated on Wednesday 9 May 2007

My Lords, today the Ministry of Justice comes into existence. Creating the new department is the right thing to do—the next step after a decade of constitutional and criminal justice reform to deliver a world-class justice system that has the protection of the public and the reduction of crime and reoffending at its heart.

The independence of the judiciary is paramount to the success of any justice system and vital to the well-being of our nation. I will, as will my successors, continue to uphold this independence, as is my constitutional and statutory duty.

The Ministry of Justice deals with all criminal justice issues in conjunction with other criminal justice system Ministers. The Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are engaged in combating crime and protecting the public. The two departments—along with the office of the Attorney-General—will continue to work closely together to deliver this. Appropriate working arrangements will be put in place at official level to ensure this happens, particularly on criminal law and sentencing policy, where the relationship between the three departments will be vital.

In addition, the Prime Minister has announced the creation of a new Cabinet committee on crime and criminal justice policy, which he will chair and on which the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and I will sit. The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for the family and civil justice systems, human rights, freedom of information, data protection, constitutional issues and electoral matters—all items which remain of vital importance. In this first Statement from the Ministry of Justice I want to address and set out our approach to penal policy. Copies of Penal Policy—A Background Paper are available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

The Government have made significant progress in tackling crime since 1997. Over the past decade, according to the British Crime Survey, crime has fallen by 35 per cent. Offences brought to justice are up by nearly 40 per cent since 2002. Ineffective trials have more than halved in the Crown Court since 1997. Fine collection is at 91 per cent, up from 74 per cent in 2003-04.

The Government have continued throughout to rebalance the criminal justice system in favour of victims and the community as a whole. The creation of the Ministry of Justice offers a significant opportunity to build on this success, with the following three-part programme.

First, we will continue to protect the public by ensuring we provide prison places for those who the courts determine need custody. This Government have already built 20,000 new prison places over the past 10 years—an increase of 33 per cent—built faster than ever before. Eight thousand further places will be built by 2012. We want to examine how to modernise the estate to provide more cost-effective facilities which are better equipped to reduce reoffending. We also want to identify whether the resources in our current estate can be used to finance new accommodation, be that new state-of-the-art prisons or smaller local provision for women and young offenders. I have asked my noble friend Lord Carter of Coles to provide an assessment of the plans for the 8,000 prison places and the longer-term issues affecting the estate, including the inter-relationship between prisons and the rest of the Ministry of Justice estate, to ensure that we have a coherent strategy.

Our prison-building programme will therefore continue to ensure that we have capacity to lock the most dangerous prisoners away for as long as they are dangerous and enable sentencers to send people into custody wherever they think this is required. The new indeterminate sentence for public protection is now in place, ensuring that the most dangerous prisoners are released only when it is safe to do so. More than 2,200 of these sentences have been issued so far.

The Government have always recognised that prison must be used for those who need it, and that sentences should be designed to reduce reoffending. However, over decades we have learnt that short custodial sentences are not effective in reducing reoffending. That is why we want to see greater use made of the best community sentences, where evidence shows that they reduce reoffending and offer more effective punishment than custodial sentences of less than 12 months.

Sentencing policy must support the use of our resources in such a way as to best protect the public, punish offenders and reduce reoffending. Prison should be used to protect the public to the extent and for the purposes necessary to deliver on the statutory aims of sentencing and in accordance with the Criminal Justice Act 2003, with alternatives to custody used when they are more effective in reducing reoffending and providing payback to the community.

We will ask the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review whether its guidelines fully reflect the principles set out in the 2003 Act. We will also ask it to look at its processes to ensure that it can operate in the way that it considers best enables it effectively to produce such guidelines as are necessary.

We will ensure that where serious and dangerous offenders breach their licence conditions, the punishment is a swift return to custody, for as long as is necessary. We will propose new arrangements for non-dangerous prisoners to be recalled to prison for 28 days. We will also propose that suspended sentence orders should apply to more serious offences, as we originally intended when they were created in 2003, not to summary ones.

Secondly, we need to increase confidence in community sentences, to support their greater use where they are more effective in reducing reoffending. Offenders will be required to undertake programmes to stop them reoffending, training to equip them with the skills to get into work, and carry out unpaid work in their local community, organised by the best available providers, whether in the public, private or third sectors. They will be subject to packages to restrict their liberty and movements, make them face up to the consequences of their actions and pay back the communities they have harmed.

The individual being punished, the community and the sentencer all have to understand that if the penalty is breached, punishment will follow, with custody if necessary. We will ensure that prison places are available for this purpose.

Thirdly, we renew our commitment to delivering in line with the vision set out in the Carter report of December 2003, including end-to-end offender management and public service reform. There is excellence in the public, private and voluntary sectors in the delivery of prison and probation services, and we want to build on this to reduce reoffending further. In particular, this means commissioning the most effective interventions which will best support the management and rehabilitation of offenders and making use of the fullest range of providers.

We have put in place the framework, the people, the programmes and the knowledge to make a massive difference to the way in which we deal with crime and protect the public in this country. We must make sure that this investment pays off. Above all, that means the right punishment, for the right length of time, for as long as necessary, with the right interventions and the right level of supervision for each offence.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his new name. His acquisition of political titles is positively Gilbertian. He has accumulated—not without incident—first, the Lord Chancellorship, then the Secretary of Stateship for Constitutional Affairs and now the Ministry of Justice. How interesting it is that the title he initially inherited, and was so keen at one stage to relinquish, is the one of real merit.

I must confess to not warming to the title, Ministry of Justice. Indeed, I find it rather forbidding. Are we soon to expect the Home Office to be renamed the Ministry of the Interior? That would lead to the true continentalisation of our justice system. But politics and justice do not sit together easily. That is what I thought the Constitutional Reform Act was about: to enshrine the principle of separation of powers in our constitution. Of course, we had that already but, to the Government, perception was everything. How typical—dare I say it?

In this amalgamation, the independence of the judiciary is an issue. In fact, it has become quite a big issue. Not surprisingly, the judges are deeply concerned about their ability to retain their own independence as a consequence of the creation of the new ministry. The noble and learned Lord is familiar with the arguments. Among them, the most important concerns the integrity of the court budget. Already the court budget is under tremendous pressure. One has only to talk to the leading figures in the world of either magistrates or county courts. Some of those institutions are in a desperate situation; and now they have the added threat of having to compete with money for prisons—and, heaven knows, more money is needed for those.

Then there is the real—or at the very least perceived—danger that judges will come under increasing pressure to tailor their sentences to the availability of prison places. There is also the strong likelihood of the Minister, not as the guardian of the independence of the judiciary but as a politician in charge of criminal policy and prison policy, being repeatedly judicially reviewed in the courts by the judges with whom he is supposed to co-operate.

As we all know, the process was rushed through with tremendous haste. There was no consultation with Parliament and no resolution of the concerns the judiciary expressed before today. This, of course, is redolent of a previous change in June 2003. Who was responsible for this change? It was the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Having achieved this split, they have now both decided to resign. Perhaps Mr Reid had second thoughts about the wisdom of the split. The broader issue is that the very individuals who have driven the split will not be around to take responsibility for the fact that it does not work.

We hear much from the Government about joined-up policies. But the conduct of the Home Office over the past several years has been anything but joined up. I suggest to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that the split of the Home Office into the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice aggravates the very problems that were the reasons for the split in the first place.

The noble and learned Lord has hardly touched on any of these issues which I regard as absolutely fundamental to the change the Government have made. He has, rather, addressed an important new responsibility of the Ministry of Justice—prisons and sentencing. But it must be plain to everybody that the fundamental problem the Government face is one entirely of their own making. They have continually failed to act to provide the necessary places in prison to fit their prison population projections; and we in opposition have predicted that problem ever since 2003 with the passage of the Criminal Justice Act and all the implications that that has and will have.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor says that he will ask the Sentencing Guidelines Council to review its guidelines on sentencing. Why does he believe that necessary? Does the noble and learned Lord regard the current guidelines as too soft?

The noble and learned Lord concludes that short custodial sentences are of little use and predicts more relevant community sentences as a better answer. Which kind of offences does the noble and learned Lord have in mind? If short custodial sentences are of small value, what is the point of recalling those who offend on licence and incarcerating them for a mere 28 days?

The statistics deployed by the noble and learned Lord are impressive as far as they go, but highly selective. I was particularly struck by the point about increasing efficiency in the Crown Court service. As a supporter of jury service, I was extremely pleased to hear that. But what was lacking in those statistics was one about the problem that concerns the general public most—violent crime. On his first day in office, what are his thoughts on that issue and how will he confront it during his time in office?

My Lords, we, too, welcome the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and thank him for his Statement. I will not make any comment about his names. We welcome the creation of a Ministry of Justice and have long argued in favour of the desirability of having such a ministry to deal with all those justice issues involved in dealing with crime, the management of offenders, the prevention of reoffending and the protection of the public. There is clearly much still to be done in terms of fleshing out the details of the roles of both the new ministries. It is indeed a matter of regret that there has not been much more debate and consultation, both in the other place and in your Lordships' House, on such a vitally important matter as the division of a great department of state—the Home Office.

It goes without saying that the measure has huge implications over a wide range of issues central to the safety and well-being of our nation, and those have not been given the space and time that they need and deserve. Indeed, we would like to know how it was that only last June, the Prime Minister was assuring Menzies Campbell in the other place that there was no case whatever for the creation of a Ministry of Justice, yet by March it had become a fait accompli. What logic and thinking lie behind that change of heart? Why was that thinking not shared more fully? By the same token, we have heard nothing today about the details of how the Home Office, the other side of the same coin, will carry out its new role.

We welcome the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his new role as head of the Ministry of Justice. Will it be short lived, or can we look forward to benefiting from his wisdom and expertise beyond the next few weeks, when we can expect a new incumbent in No. 10? In particular, as we look forward to the next stage of the Offender Management Bill, will we see new Ministers at the Dispatch Box or will we look forward to continuity? Which Ministers will be responsible for what in this place? Will it be the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, as we might expect?

The three-part programme outlined by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has much to commend it. While finding little to commend in the enormous £1.5 billion outlay on new prison places at a time of such financial constraint in other and alternative parts of the system, the suggestion of smaller, local prison provision, particularly for women and young offenders, is greatly to be welcomed. We need to work towards far fewer people ending up in custody at all, but for those for whom it is necessary and appropriate, local and smaller provision is a significant step forward.

The new indeterminate sentence for public protection, however, needs to be revisited. It has been used much more widely than anticipated and the case for eligibility, particularly for young prisoners under 21 and for certain offences, indicates clearly that a review is necessary. We will be pressing for one.

The proposed review of the guidelines used by the Sentencing Guidelines Council is also desirable and should, with the right consultation, go some way to alleviating some of the concerns expressed by the judiciary. The proper application of suspended sentence orders is also necessary, so that they are used in appropriate cases, and the unintended widening of the net can be drawn in more tightly.

We particularly welcome the greater emphasis on use of alternatives to custody, where outcomes in terms of reoffending are much better and could be greatly improved with more resources, particularly for the Probation Service. Indeed, I greatly welcomed the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor’s unequivocal endorsement of the role of the Probation Service and its central part in the provision of these alternatives in his speech last week.

Confidence in community sentences is a major challenge to us all. Knowledge and understanding by communities is the key to this, as is, above all, engagement in the process by which offenders can make good some of the damage done to our communities. We will do all we can to promote this aspect of the ministry’s work.

End-to-end management of offenders is something that we all agree with, I imagine. It requires a clear duty on those working both in the community and in prisons to work together as closely as possible. It is logical, realistic and has the greatest chance of the most positive outcomes for all concerned.

There remains much to be discussed and clarified, both in the broad thrust of this Statement and, even more, in the detail. I hope the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor can reassure us that we will have this opportunity to look more closely at the detail, so that the concerns and different voices can be heard. These include many distinguished voices and different interests. Crucially, and as has already been mentioned, how and where will the financial needs of the various elements involved—courts, sentences, prison, communities and others—be met? One should not find itself benefiting disproportionately at the expense of the others. Prisons, for example, are a huge drain, where investment seems to have been agreed without a murmur. Community resources, on the other hand, have been relatively deprived. The independence of the judiciary is paramount as we all agree, but will the costs of the administration of justice be ring-fenced? We look forward to hearing much more. In the mean time we welcome all that is positive and constructive in today’s Statement by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.

My Lords, I am grateful for the personal welcome, both from the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. I also thank the noble Baroness for her support for the Ministry of Justice.

I completely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, says about the importance of preserving the independence of the judiciary. It is vital that the Ministry of Justice’s arrangements do not affect that in any way. That is why there was discussion with the judiciary before the Ministry of Justice was brought into existence. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said that, provided proper safeguards were put in place, he had no objection to the principle of a Ministry of Justice. The safeguards that he had in mind were ensuring that: the budget of the courts should not be depredated by, for example, the prison budget; there should be no difficulties because of judicial reviews; and there should be no suggestion of the Minister doing anything in relation to the court service that undermined the independence of the judiciary.

I agree with all three. As I made clear in answer to the Private Notice Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, last week, I do not believe that a ring-fenced budget is the way to deal with it. Statutory obligations remain on the Lord Chancellor to ensure a properly financed court budget. I stand by that. The problem with ring-fencing is that justice sometimes requires that some money be diverted from, for example, the maintenance of court buildings to legal aid to ensure proper access to justice. That must continue, subject to proper safeguards for the court budget.

In relation to judicial review, although noble Lords will find this almost impossible to believe, I have been judicially reviewed as Lord Chancellor. Indeed, having checked the statistics, I see that last year I was judicially reviewed on 31 occasions. I am quite sure that they were all completely unsuccessful. It has been perfectly possible for me, as Lord Chancellor, to have a relationship with the judges that is not in any way affected by the fact that, from time to time, the Lord Chancellor finds himself as a defendant in court. Nobody in this country is outside the ambit of the law. The judicial review issue does not create a substantial difficulty.

The history of the split is that during the autumn last year and the spring of this year, consideration was given to where the right split should be. Two considerations apply. First, in the changed world that we face since 9/11, it is right that there be a Home Office able to focus specifically on crime, security, immigration and counterterrorism. It is also right—and one obvious lesson that we all accept—that the more joined-up the criminal justice system and the justice system generally, the better the results. The effect of moving prison, probation, penal and sentencing policies into the department responsible for the administration of the courts is that, especially in relation to sentenced offenders, there is much more joining-up. It also provides the opportunity for there to be two more balanced departments in Whitehall, where there can be political drive not only for security and counterterrorism issues but also for the penal policy issues.

The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, asked what sort of offences I would expect the Sentencing Guidelines Council to look at. I shall give a wide range of offences, but they will primarily be acquisitive offences. He asked, too, what we were doing about violent crime; it is perfectly plain that, although the justice system has a significant role in relation to this, fighting violent crime is a much wider issue than simply the justice system. We need to ensure that communities themselves turn against violent crime in the most profound way. However, I completely accept the implication of the noble Lord’s remarks on this extremely important issue.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, asked about the timing, which I think that I have indicated. She asked about the details of the split. If one looks at the background paper that I have put into the Printed Paper Office, one will find the details of precisely where the lines are to be drawn. I am grateful to her for supporting the remarks that I made about the importance of the Probation Service last week at a conference, and I am glad that I can repeat them here today in substance. I very much value the work done by the Probation Service. We must work in partnership with the service to achieve the results that we all want to achieve in relation to offender management.

I am profoundly grateful to the noble Baroness for her remarks about the various parts of the Statement on penal policy, which was the prime purpose of the Statement. I am very glad to be able to say that my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal will continue to deal with the Offender Management Bill. She remains in the Home Office, which is a source of great personal grief to me—but there should be continuity there. I have the advantage of having the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton of Upholland, with me, who will as time goes on deal with a range of issues of the sort that the department has dealt with. However, I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Scotland will be able to deal with that Bill; she started it, so I think that she should finish it.

My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord the Secretary of State for Justice not agree that one consequence of this change is that in future it will not be possible to describe the Home Secretaryship as one of the three great offices of state? The Home Secretary will be responsible for the police, who answer to local authorities, and for the security services. I would never underestimate the significance of those services, but the noble and learned Lord will know that they operate independently; they report to the Home Secretary but are not controlled by the Home Secretary. One virtue of the Home Office that disappears today is that it co-ordinated the criminal justice system, balancing the tensions between the conflicting interests of prisons, probation, immigration, sentencing and the police. That has now gone. We will now have two separate departments and it seems inevitable that there will be tension between them, not least in the battle for government resources and cash. The noble and learned Lord talks of having more co-ordination, but we are abandoning a co-ordinated regime for a bifurcated regime and we may well find that we lose more than we gain.

My Lords, the Home Office will always remain a great office of state. I do not know whether the noble Lord, when he was Home Secretary, had no disagreements whatever with the Lord Chancellor’s Department. I hope that I am not breaking any secrets here, but there were from time to time tensions between the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor’s Department. This is precisely the right place to put the division between the two. It means that there can be proper concentration on security, terrorism and reducing crime in the Home Office and proper political drive and co-ordination for the justice system. Both have their separate place in government and they will both be better served by the split.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will remember that during the passage of the Constitutional Reform Bill an amendment was moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to the effect that the Lord Chief Justice should assume the title of head of justice. The Government agreed with the amendment. How is the creation of a Ministry of Justice with a political head consistent with that?

My Lords, the amendment concerned the head of the judiciary, not the head of justice. I see an entirely separate role for the political head of the Ministry of Justice, which is a part of a political Government, and the chief judge in England and Wales, which is an independent office completely separate from politics.

My Lords, surely the Attorney-General, who is the Government’s legal adviser, should not sit as a member of a Cabinet committee with responsibility for making policy as the Statement proposes. Is that not inconsistent with the necessary degree of independence from the Government? Of course he should be consulted by the committee, but he should not be a member of it. On another matter, I noticed that almost the entire Statement was concerned with offender management. Does that not increase the concern that prisons and other forms of offender management will dominate the ministry to the exclusion of criminal and civil law and justice?

My Lords, as to the first point, the Attorney-General has ministerial responsibility for the Crown Prosecution Service. It is right that he plays a full part in discussions as part of Cabinet government on the role of the CPS in relation to criminal justice. I accept that the Statement focused almost entirely on offender management. I hope that I made it clear at the outset that the Ministry of Justice has a much wider remit than that, but its first Statement focused on penal policy. I do not forget or underestimate the equal importance of all those other issues.

My Lords, I welcome the setting up of the Ministry of Justice. Will the Secretary of State ask our noble friend Lord Carter of Coles to add something to the review that he has asked him to carry out? Will our noble friend also look at an alternative way of treating those many thousands in our prisons who have a cocktail of mental health and addiction problems, and will he consider the establishment of secure units, properly staffed by specialists not prison officers, where they can be treated rather than simply punished?

My Lords, one of the things that the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, will look at is how to deal with people suffering from mental health problems who have been sent by the courts into the prison system and not the hospital system, and see whether there are alternatives on an estate basis. I accept what the noble Lord is saying.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will recollect that when he gave evidence to the Constitution Committee last week he told us that he had no doubt that agreement would be reached between him and the judiciary on the important matter of safeguards. Does he accept that no such agreement has been reached and that, according to the Lord Chief Justice’s statement to the judiciary, important issues of principle remain to be decided? What will happen if agreement is not reached on those topics between those two parties on a level playing field? For example, will the noble and learned Lord impose his unilateral solution on the judges? How will the matter otherwise be dealt with?

My Lords, because the noble Lord was there and asking me the relevant questions, he will recall that I said that I thought that agreement would be reached. However, I made it clear that I did not think that agreement would necessarily be reached by 9 May. He asked what would happen if agreement could not be reached. I believe that the right thing to do is to focus on the work going on now. If agreement is not reached, we will see what the extent of disagreement is and how we can evolve circumstances to deal with that.

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor accept that one of the ways in which this reform will be judged is how much people feel that the functioning of the courts has improved? I have argued for the reform for many years, so I am pleased about it. As someone who worked for years in courts as a probation officer, I can say that the courts often worked well for those of us who worked in them and for those charged with offences, but that they worked rather badly for the general public and, in particular, for victims of crime. Can we judge the performance on how that improves?

My Lords, that will be one of the measures, because a change such as this is not for the people in Whitehall or Westminster, but for the public in their experience of the justice system, particularly in the working of the courts. Yes, I agree entirely that that will be one of the factors by which to judge the success of this change.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on the part of his Statement that dealt with the study and survey to be conducted by the Sentencing Guidelines Council, but does he accept that nothing that comes from that study, nor the most spectacular increase in prison places, will solve the problem of prison overcrowding in the short term? Apparently, we are now within some 500 places of crashing through the ceiling of 81,000. Nothing that is studied or recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines Council within its authority can change some of the fundamental problems, one of which is indeterminate sentences. The principle behind such sentences is very proper, but it may be fraught with considerable problems in the near future. Academics estimate that within five years no fewer than 25,000 people will be subject to such sentences. Would the noble and learned Lord consider extending the remit of the study to include the possibility of amending the 2003 Act to give judges much greater discretion than they now have under the trigger mechanism for indeterminate sentences?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to identify the importance of the indeterminate sentence. It is, in principle, correct that people who a court determines are dangerous and who have committed one or more criminal offences should be released only when an independent board has determined that they are no longer dangerous. He is also right to say that the number of people on indeterminate sentences is increasing considerably. I do not necessarily accept the figure of 25,000, but the number is going up. It is not within the statutory remit of the Sentencing Guidelines Council to look at the issue of indeterminate sentences; my focus in referring matters to it is not the indeterminate sentence but the determinate sentence, as I made clear. Although I note the suggestion made by the noble Lord, I am not minded to extend the reference—not just because it cannot be done as a statutory matter, but because we must be clear that dangerous offenders will be kept in prison until, according to an independent assessment, they cease to be dangerous.

My Lords, can the noble and learned Lord confirm that the traditional constitutional role of the Attorney-General shall be retained without any hint of government interference?

My Lords, the traditional constitutional role of the Attorney-General remains completely unaffected by the creation of the Ministry of Justice and, of course, there will be no government interference in that role.

My Lords, while we would all welcome what the noble and learned Lord said he would like to happen in our prisons, one of the problems is that no one actually knows how much this will cost. We know how much money is given to imprisonment and we know how much things cost in themselves, but no one has added it all up. Until we do that, we will not know by how much it is impossible for people to deliver. We have heard an awful lot of rhetoric about what people would like to have done, but we do not know whether it is possible to do it because the resources are not there. Will the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, have something like a regulatory impact assessment requirement added to his remit, so that he can look at the cost of what is being suggested and give us some idea of what that will mean and whether it will be possible to deliver?

My Lords, I completely agree about the difficulties that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has identified on costing. I should make it clear that there will be no additional resources during the coming spending review, but I anticipate that, although it would not be described as a regulatory impact assessment, the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, needs to carry out precisely that sort of analysis in order to inform the coming debate.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor paid tribute to the Probation Service for its relative success in reducing reoffending among the people entrusted to its care. I know, because I was a member of a probation board for many years, that that service has been under almost constant churn and change for several years. As the current change begins to operate, can he ensure that the quality of contact between all those involved in dealing with people on probation—not just the probation officers but those who manage, for example, the work programmes, who are absolutely essential to the success of probation—is maintained when the new system of sub-letting, contracting out and so on comes into force?

My Lords, I agree that those relationships are absolutely vital, and I completely endorse what the noble Baroness has said about the quality of the people engaged. Far from seeking to undermine that quality, the further changes envisaged by the Offender Management Bill are designed to increase it. However, I completely endorse what the noble Baroness said about the importance of ensuring quality in the Probation Service.

My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord now like to try to give me a coherent answer to my question about what will happen if he and the judges are unable to reach a bilateral agreement?

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to everything that has been said and I must ask the noble and learned Lord one or two questions. First, does he recognise that changes in the machinery of government are always disruptive and inevitably expensive and that the cost of getting them wrong is very high compared with the time needed to try to get them right? Secondly, does he recognise that we could not have had a better example of that than the astonishing attempt to abolish by press notice the office of Lord Chancellor and the immense cost of putting right that extraordinary way of proceeding? That must cause many of us real doubt as to whether this Government are taking constitutional reform at the sort of pace and with the sort of seriousness and proper thought that are due to this country.

My Lords, I completely agree that machinery of government changes can be extremely disruptive. Indeed, I completely agree that there will inevitably be disruptive consequences from such change. Any responsible Government must assess whether the ensuing disruption and extra cost are outweighed by the benefits obtained. We have thought very carefully about that and are in no doubt that the benefits to be obtained greatly outweigh the disruption and the costs.