House again in Committee on Clause 2.
[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]
26: Clause 2, page 3, line 5, at end insert “; and
( ) the reduction of the causes of re-offending.”
The noble Lord said: There was a sense of self-interest in my intervention. This is a probing amendment, as I want to draw attention to the importance of addressing the causes of crime, whether they lead to offending or reoffending, although I recognise that the focus of the Bill is on reoffending.
There was a time ‘some 10 years ago’ when the Government rightly laid great stress on addressing the causes of crime. Why has that objective got lost? I believe that that is the only strategy that is likely to effect a major reduction in the revolving door of offending, prison and reoffending. I am encouraged by the fact that in our debate on Clause 1 frequent reference was made to the causes of offending, of which many were mentioned, including alcohol addiction, drug addiction, mental health problems, housing difficulties and unemployment.
One that was not mentioned, but which I have heard of increasingly recently, is that we live in a society whose main purpose and measure of success, status and respect seems to be the acquisition by each person of more and yet more material goods. Researchers have shown that the inability to participate in that rat race causes depression, loss of sense of purpose and even the loss of a sense of identity in society. Under those circumstances, people join gangs to take the risks of crime—indeed, the risks of crime are probably therapy, which relieve the utter boredom of an unfulfilled life. I have heard that argument in the context of the extraordinarily good results shown by voluntary work for prisoners.
If probation services are to reduce reoffending, should they not focus on the causes of crime? Would it not be cheaper and better for all if the same effort were put into reducing the causes of offending as what is now spent on trying to control and reform offenders? Should that not be a major objective of the Secretary of State in this Bill? I beg to move.
I hope that the Committee will understand that the fact that I shall be exceptionally brief does not reflect in any way the lack of attention that I am giving to this important subject. When we were in Committee on the first day—I refer the Committee to cols. 277-80—it was assumed that Amendment No. 26 would be covered in that debate, because it was grouped at that stage.
The groups to which we were working at that stage showed it. I am trying to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, why it appears that I was discourteous to him on that occasion when I intended not to be. I said:
“I shall not stray into speaking to Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 because I have said everything I can on them”.
I had done so in our first two debates. I note that, when the Minister responded, he said:
“We have not heard from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, whose Amendment No. 26 is also in this group. I am therefore reluctant to deal with the amendment he would ordinarily, I am sure, have spoken to”.—[Official Report, 16/5/07, cols. 278-80.]
I am trying to explain to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we were all trying to be courteous last week. I hope that we did not stray from that. However, I will have plenty of opportunity to develop the importance of the subject when I get to a later amendment, on reoffending targets, which takes a different tack from that taken by the noble Lord. I hope that he will accept my apologies if I am reticent now.
I had not realised that my noble friend Lord Northbourne was going to be speaking to the amendment. I heartily endorse what he said, albeit that we cannot at this stage go into it in the detail that I would have liked. I am glad that we will have another occasion to do so a bit later.
Our debate a couple of weeks ago on education and young people in custody showed the whole range of reasons why so many young people are in prison, with some interesting and impressive figures from the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. The most horrendous was that 83 per cent of the boys had been excluded from school, with 41 per cent being aged 14 or under when last in school. It is clearly important that we reorganise our resources, as my noble friend has said, as far as we possibly can. I know that the Government are doing a great deal on this, with Sure Start centres and things of that kind.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is right that there was some overlap in the discussion last time. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that I have always believed what he suggests. He is on the right track. This should be how we look at this particular objective and his amendment certainly has my support. It is a shame that we did not have this discussion last time, with that group of amendments, but we do not need to worry about it, as we will have further opportunities.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is making an important point. As somebody who refuses to shut up about the rehabilitation of the offender, I do not see how you can achieve rehabilitation unless you look seriously at and tackle the causes of reoffending. The importance of education, to which the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, have referred and which we so recently debated, cannot be overemphasised.
I, too, am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is here to speak to his amendment. I know that we discussed it last week. I am pleased to welcome him into the same punishment den into which I was earlier condemned by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, for raising something outside the context of the Bill. I am extremely glad that he mentioned the fact that the causes are in society. I have read recently, and I most regret, that the Prime Minister has dropped his phrase,
“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.
We welcomed that when he said it, because it drew the whole of society into the resolution of these problems.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the Prime Minister has not dropped the phrase,
“Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.
The Government remain committed to addressing the causes of crime. Indeed, I remind the Committee that, although some of the erstwhile responsibilities of the Home Office have transferred to the Ministry of Justice, others have not. The crime strategy remains with the Home Office, as do crime prevention and crime reduction. I now have the proud title of Minister of State for Crime Reduction. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that my attention will not stray from the causes.
Let me reassure the Committee about a few things. Noble Lords will have heard me mention the reducing reoffending alliances, the reducing reoffending plan and the reduction that we have seen in reoffending. It is important to consider the cross-government approach to that reduction. In November 2005, I published the National Reducing Re-offending Delivery Plan, which sets out the cross-government commitment to improving outcomes for offenders across seven pathway areas.
The first pathway area is accommodation. Getting offenders into accommodation is the foundation of successful rehabilitation, resettlement and risk management, and it underpins many of the other pathways. There is the skills and employment pathway area, because lack of employment is one of the factors associated with reoffending. There is the finance, benefit and debt pathway area, which is about ensuring that offenders have sufficient lawfully obtained money, because financial security is the key to their rehabilitation. There is the health pathway area, because people within the criminal justice system often experience significant problems gaining access to adequate health and social care services and often have unaddressed needs that prevent them from taking advantage of facilities that are available to them.
There is the drugs and alcohol pathway area, because, as Members of the Committee who have participated in our debates know, those issues impinge on offenders’ ability to recover and lead a law-abiding life, and the criminal justice system is uniquely placed to tackle their drug use and break the cycle of reoffending. There is also the children and families pathway area. Children and families are an issue that I know the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, feels passionately about, and I share his passion. They play a significant role in supporting an offender to make and sustain changes that reduce reoffending. Finally, there is the attitudes, thinking and behaviour pathway area. There is an international evidence base on the effectiveness of cognitive skills programmes for offenders. All those pathway areas go to the causes of crime. If we are to reduce reoffending, we have to address those issues aggressively. Part of the purpose of the Bill is to get all those who could help in that endeavour to do so.
There is an opportunity to conjoin these two agendas. When reducing reoffending was in the Home Office, it was part of crime reduction and crime prevention. Just because part of that function has moved to another department does not mean that those issues should no longer be conjoined. We are looking to see how we can brigade things across government even more. The work of the inter-ministerial group remains of critical importance.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We have not explicitly said “crime prevention” and “crime reduction”, but we still have the 15 per cent target for crime reduction, and we are committed to fulfilling it. Part of the reason why we have 44 action areas is that we have identified those areas that are likely to contribute most to our reducing crime agenda. We are working with them on the causes in their area. Local area agreements, local strategic partnerships, crime and disorder reduction partnerships and all the other issues that we have talked about are all going towards crime reduction and crime prevention. That is what the work with youth offending teams, schools, safer school partnerships and all the other matters is about. We touched on those issues when we had the long—two hours—debate at the beginning of the Committee. Many of these issues were taken up in that debate.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for tabling his amendment. I know that it adds,
“the reduction of the causes of re-offending”,
to the probation aims but, as I mentioned on a number of occasions during our debate last week, the wording of the probation aims is derived from the precedents already enshrined in legislation in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, which currently governs the Probation Service, and in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which sets out the purposes of sentencing. Both the aims and purposes of sentencing already refer to the reduction of reoffending—an aim that can hardly be achieved without considering the causes of reoffending.
Although I am sympathetic to the motivation behind the amendment, I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that it is unnecessary. The proof of the pudding is in the tasting. We have already done work on that basis which, we can demonstrate, has properly identified those causes as issues that we must address effectively.
In the light of those points, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment, confident that what he said powerfully about crime reduction, crime prevention and the causes of crime has been heard and is totally understood. Indeed, it is already embedded in our plans to reduce the level of crime in our country.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. On a technicality of the conduct of this House, I have a paper headed Wednesday 16 May, Offender Management Bill, in which Amendment No. 26 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 25 and 11. Clearly, some Front-Benchers received a different grouping, but no one had the courtesy to send it to me. I am sorry about that, but I guess that some are more equal than others. We will live with that, but I wanted to make it clear that it is not my fault that I did not address the amendment at the time.
No one in the Committee would suggest that it was the fault of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. There were a number of changes in groupings. Noble Lords will know that any noble Lord can ask for their amendment to be degrouped. A number of different models may have been going around and the last model may have been the one to which everyone spoke. That may not have been the right one and we are all relieved that the noble Lord has now had his opportunity to speak to his amendment, as he is entitled to do. We have all had the benefit of that.
I am most grateful for that. Of course I am not being grumpy about it; I just wanted to make my point. Does the Minister accept—I think that she has—that the reduction of reoffending includes the causes of the reduction of reoffending? Does she further accept that the reduction of reoffending includes the reduction of offending? That is not such a small question as it sounds, because we are talking about what the Probation Service is being asked to do. My question is: is the Probation Service entitled—empowered—as a means of reducing reoffending to tackle issues about initial offending?
I certainly agree with the noble Lord that reducing reoffending is part of reducing offending. In order to reduce reoffending, the Probation Service must address the issues to which I have already referred. Those relate to the seven pathways. Addressing the seven pathways could also be used as crime prevention and reduction. Therefore, what we are doing with health, schools, in the DCMS in finding alternative activities for those currently involved in criminal activity, our work with safer school partnerships and other initiatives, go to reduce offending in a crime prevention strategy. The two are intertwined.
I should tell the Committee that consideration is being given about whether we should rebadge the reducing reoffending inter-ministerial group and the reducing reoffending alliances as “reducing offending”. The two departments are working closely with all the other departments to ensure that it is understood that reducing crime is everyone’s business. It is not an issue for the criminal justice system alone. We share that responsibility across government. It was for that reason that I was very pleased that all departments that I invited to join the reducing reoffending inter-ministerial group did so with alacrity.
The Minister has alluded to the fact that every Member of this House has a right to speak to their amendment whenever it appears in the list; so whatever happened to the groupings last week, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, had the right to speak to his amendment today. I am very glad that he did, because his last intervention has drawn from the Minister an extremely interesting answer that I will want to read very carefully. My immediate response to his amendment and to the way in which he spoke to it was that of course part of the work of reoffending is to prevent offending, but that reducing offending is a completely different issue in that it deals with different types of people. The whole community must be assisted not to reoffend, not least by ensuring that families have responsibilities and that, as one is brought up, one does not learn to offend. The Minister’s answer, however, has made me far more confused than I was before about what tasks the probation services are to be given in the future. If probation providers are to be involved in the reduction of offending, that is very different. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has done the Committee a great service today.
May I make it absolutely clear that there are two different areas: crime prevention and crime reduction? As the noble Baroness says, there is work that deals with a different category of persons before they offend. Then there is work to reduce reoffending by those who have offended. This is not semantics: I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, says. Inasmuch as one prevents those who have offended in the past from offending again, one is reducing the level of offending overall because one is stopping the people who have already been at it from continuing it. Of course that makes sense.
So there is the role of the National Offender Management Service, which is there to deal with those who have offended and to prevent them reoffending. The other role has been retained by the Home Office and is being undertaken in partnership with the prevention role of the Youth Justice Board, the DfES, the DCMS, the DTI, and the DWP, which gets people into jobs early and ensures skills acquisition. That is all prevention. However, there is an opportunity for both to work together and with wider government, because each contributes part of the continuum. There is no confusion. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that this is part of that continuum. We should not see this as a series of guttural stops, because they are interrelated.
One example is employment. We are trying to encourage a whole spectrum of employers to join us in preventing offending, reducing reoffending and employing those who have reoffended. A bank would be unlikely to employ bank robbers because of the FSA. Obviously it would not be a terribly healthy thing to do, even if they had been rehabilitated, but they may be very good at working with us in schools to try to get skills acquisition and in prevention roles. We may be able to bring those roles together. This is part of a continuum; it is not confusing the two. This is about understanding that if we are to intervene appropriately in crime, we must have the three levels. We must try to prevent those who we feel may be vulnerable to crime from becoming involved. We must reduce the opportunities for offending by working with business, because sometimes we can design crime out, for example by making cars harder to steal and by making mobile phones that are non-transferable. All that helps us to reduce crime. Then there is reducing the level of reoffending. Those three things on occasion have to be conjoined. They may be dealt with by different people, but they are dealt with none the less. That is what I was responding to in respect of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We are not confusing the two, but we have to see it as a bit of a relay where a baton has to be passed on and we have to work together in order to make the difference that we seek to make. That is what I was saying, and I would not like to mislead the noble Baroness.
Does my noble friend agree that the importance of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is that yet again it reminds us that, while we must effectively tackle the containment and the protection tasks, it must never be at the expense in presentation, public perception and the national psychology of the greatest challenge, which is—I make my point yet again—rehabilitation and, through rehabilitation, the avoidance of reoffending.
Of course I agree with my noble friend. But it also demonstrates what a number of Members of the Committee have said: we need to do it all. When we look at a Bill it is important not to stray into extraneous issues. Particularly in Committee we should be looking at the detail of an amendment and deciding whether every dot and tittle is in the right place, so we will be concerned with commas, ands and buts, and so forth. But a general polemic is perhaps not the best thing for us to do. Since we have all enjoyed this debate greatly, I am sure that we will not have to repeat it.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for what has been, for me, a great clarification of what the Bill was meant to mean. I sincerely saw a difficulty in that there is an overlap between the prevention of crime before the offence and the prevention of reoffending. The noble Baroness has covered that extraordinarily well and I shall look forward to reading what she has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]
28: Clause 2, page 3, line 8, leave out “or will be”
The noble Baroness said: I try not to bring back amendments that have been tabled by my honourable friends in another place. I do so with this because the core question—at col. 30 on 11 January—asked by my honourable friend, Mr James Brokenshire, in Committee in another place was not answered by the Minister. I hope that that will be put right today by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who I believe will respond.
Clause 2(1) states:
“It is the function of the Secretary of State to ensure that sufficient provision is made throughout England and Wales”,
for fulfilling the purposes of probation, which we debated thoroughly under Clause 1. In doing so, he may make provision for probation services under Clause 3.
However, Clause 2(5) provides an exception to that in relation to his duty, which this amendment tries to address. Subsection (5) states that the Secretary of State will not be required to take action or make provisions under subsections (1) and (2),
“if it appears to him that appropriate provision is being or will be made by any person acting otherwise than in pursuance of arrangements under section 3”.
My honourable friend in another place pointed out that a number of issues arise from that, but one was not addressed. Let us imagine that there is a gap in the provision, as it seems to be envisaged could happen under the subsection. Is it right for the Secretary of State to be able to say merely that he is happy that provision will be made? So, the Secretary of State identifies a gap and just says “Okay, there is a gap, but I think that provision will be made, and we will leave it at that”.
We have heard clearly from the Government that their intention is to cut reoffending and to protect the public—we have run over that ground several times. What appears to happen here is that the Secretary of State can sit back and say, “Well, I am satisfied that something will be done at some time, so I do not need to step in now”. It appears to be that we will be left with a gap in provision that could arise. It may be that the Secretary of State has a good reason for thinking that the gap can exist for some time or that perhaps it is unnecessary to fill the gap at any stage. We need to know for how long the Secretary of State will allow a gap in provision to continue. But, more importantly, how will he make a judgment on whether that gap should be filled and, if it is to be filled, when should that be done? It is a matter of asking how the Secretary of State will judge the importance of a gap in provision in terms of whether it should be filled or not.
I hope that by extrapolating rather more from my honourable friend’s original words that I have indicated to the Minister what I am trying to reach for here. I am perfectly well aware that no Home Secretary is going to sit back lethargically and say, “Well, there’s a gap in provision but it will be met somehow or other”. Of course they will think, “How do I design services to fill that gap and when do I step in?”. But we heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that there is a worry that no one will have an overarching view of the quality and amount of provision available, and therefore the Secretary of State may not have the appropriate advice. I beg to move.
Taking out the words “or will be” from Clause 2(5) will tighten up what the Secretary of State is required to do in relation to the provision of probation services. To say that he does not need to take action because probation service provision will be made seems at best to be very vague. Surely it is a requirement that the Secretary of State should be certain that provision is being made, not simply that he has an expectation that it will be. Many a slip can take place in situations where things are not pinned down, and may open the door to lack of rigour particularly, as is likely with the current wording, the Secretary of State is inevitably at some considerable remove from delivery on the ground. Wishful thinking is just not enough and the Bill should be quite clear on the point. This is an example of where a small amendment can make a big difference to delivery on the ground.
I commence with a word of congratulation to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. She always exercises her imagination in bringing forward fresh amendments that reflect thinking different from that of her colleagues in another place, and our debates are enlivened as a consequence. This is an important area for debate. It needs to be examined and I thank the noble Baroness for bringing the amendment forward.
As the noble Baroness has said, under the current legislation the statutory function for ensuring that sufficient provision is made for probation services rests with the local probation board. As she also said, the purpose of Clause 2 is to transfer this function to the Secretary of State to enable a greater range of providers to deliver services in a more flexible and responsive way which we argue will better meet the needs of offenders and, more importantly, those of the communities they affect. That is the key point: it is about providing a better service, so Clause 2(5) does not require the Secretary of State to make provision if it appears to him—after consultation, which is the important point—that appropriate provision will be made through other means.
The point of subsection (5) is that the Secretary of State is not required to take action in circumstances where it is unnecessary for him to do so. Just as we do not want him to take action where appropriate alternative arrangements are already in place, so we do not want him to have to take action in circumstances where such arrangements will be made, such as where services are to be provided by another department, agency or a part of the voluntary sector. It is also possible that arrangements will be put in place in one year for services to be delivered the next. Our argument is that this would be a waste of resources, create possible duplication of effort and deter alternative provision from being made. We think that the amendment would restrict flexibility and, reflecting an argument that has been aired on many occasions in this Chamber today, it would deflect away from the importance of local autonomy by forcing the Secretary of State into an unnecessary and unwarranted intervention.
If the noble Baroness is concerned about a service failure, that is a different issue from the one being addressed in her amendment. I pose that as a question on which the noble Baroness may wish to reflect before we get to another stage. We believe we have got the wording right and that the way we have structured it means it should ensure that a service is provided whatever happens. We would not want to see any failures in provision—that is not what we are trying to do here. We are trying to achieve an improved and better quality of provision and service. We are talking not about gaps in provision but about situations where arrangements are in the process of being made and we do not want to go through an unnecessary hoop of duplication. Having heard that explanation, the noble Baroness may feel happy to withdraw her amendment.
That is a more helpful explanation than the one given in another place and I am grateful to the Minister. At one point in his explanation he referred to the fact that the Secretary of State will be making these judgments after consultation. One of the difficulties that will face those reading this legislation in the future is that if, as I suspect, the Committee agree to government Amendment No. 29, which seeks to take out subsection (6) from the clause and imposes annual plans and consultation elsewhere in the Bill under an “annual plans” new clause, Clause 2 will read rather differently and one’s eyes will not be directed immediately to the issue of consultation.
I accept what the Minister has said and I shall not return to this at the Report stage. I am concerned that, in trying to meet commitments by bringing forward Amendment No. 29, the Government may have slightly skewed Clause 2 and I may need to consider that. I do not think in any sense it will change the meaning of Clause 2, but it does have a different feel to it.
I can assure the noble Baroness that we will look at that point because, if the noble Baroness is right, of course, it would be quite a serious issue. We need to ensure that the wording is consistent and that we have not skewed the issue. I am grateful to her for making the point.
29: Clause 2, page 3, line 11, leave out subsection (6)
The noble Baroness said: The amendments tabled in my name give effect to two commitments I made at Second Reading. The first is to include in the general duty to consult a specific requirement to consult Welsh Ministers on probation provisions in Wales. The second is to require providers to publish plans.
For the avoidance of doubt and confusion, perhaps I may begin by explaining the technical nature of the three amendments before going on to discuss the substance. In the current version of the Bill, the duty on the Secretary of State to consult on the provision of probation services is set out in Clause 2(6). But it makes sense for the consultation duty to sit alongside the duty to publish plans, for which a new clause was needed. So Amendments Nos. 29 and 33 are simply consequential amendments which remove the references to consultation from the existing Clause 2, so allowing them to be moved to the new clause. It is therefore Amendment No. 70 on which we need to focus.
As to the substance, let me begin with the duty to consult. This is a new development; no such duty exists under the current arrangements. But we see consultation as a crucial part of the process of ensuring that offender and community needs are correctly identified and that the right services are commissioned to meet them. This is not a task for commissioners or probation acting in isolation; we need and we shall seek input from a wide range of stakeholders.
The question of whether it was desirable to list those stakeholders on the face of the Bill was debated in the other place, where no consensus emerged. Some thought a list would be helpful to highlight the key interests, which seems to be the approach favoured by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, but others feared that such a list might result, however unintentionally, in stakeholders not on the list being marginalised. Although there was general agreement that consultation should be wide, different Members highlighted different stakeholders as being important to the process. Clearly we want to consult the judiciary, trusts and other providers of probation services, and the local authority. We also expect providers of custodial services to be included, as well as other criminal justice agencies and bodies involved in the provision of services that contribute to the reduction of reoffending. I could go on and on—and, probably, on.
That lack of consensus reflects our own experience in this House last week, when we debated the principles and purposes at some length. In the light of that, we concluded that a list of consultees would not be an especially helpful way to proceed, and that it would be preferable to retain the formulation,
“such persons as the Secretary of State thinks fit”.
However, we take on board the point made in the other place by the honourable Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Mr Elfyn Llwyd, that the position of Wales warranted special consideration, especially in view of the close relationship between probation and other services that are devolved to the Welsh Assembly. I am therefore tabling an amendment that includes subsection (1), a specific requirement on the Secretary of State to include Welsh Ministers in his consultation about probation provision for the following year.
I turn to the publication of plans, which is dealt with in the remainder of the proposed new clause. This was very much sought after, and we believe it is a helpful addition. If we are to consult our stakeholders on the probation provision required, we also need to communicate our plans for making that provision. We accept that fully, and that is why I am proposing to make statutory provision for it. Subsection (2) places a duty on the Secretary of State, before the end of each year, to publish an annual plan for the following year that sets out the way he—I should say “she”—proposes to ensure the provision of probation services, including any arrangements that he may make himself under Clause 3(4). That plan will include, and be informed by, the results of the consultation.
Subsection (3) requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the plan as he discharges his functions during the year. In practice, commissioning will be a national, regional and local activity, as I have already indicated. At the national level we will set the overall objectives and targets for the system. At the regional level, where interventions can be delivered more effectively across a region, commissioners will contract directly with providers. In most cases, however, commissioners will contract with lead providers for the delivery of services in a probation area, and that lead provider will then subcontract to other providers where they are better placed to deliver.
The Secretary of State will discharge his duty under subsection (2) through the publication of national and regional plans. To reinforce the critical importance of the partnership approach as wholly central to the Bill, we anticipate that the national and regional plans will be entitled Commissioning and Partnership Plans—but that is not enough. We also need openness about commissioning at the local level. That is why subsection (4) requires the Secretary of State’s contract with a trust to include a requirement to publish its own plans for the following year. Subsection (5) makes clear that, where appropriate, the Secretary of State may place that requirement on a non-public sector provider as well. That will ensure a consistent and coherent approach.
This is a comprehensive package that addresses the concerns that have been raised about local engagement and openness, and I hope the Committee will support the amendments. I beg to move.
I shall speak to my Amendments Nos. 31, 32, 72, 76, 80 and 81 in this group. Noble Lords will notice that Amendment No. 72 is an amendment to government Amendment No. 70.
I appreciate that the Government’s amendments are intended to meet the commitment given not only by the Minister at Second Reading in this House, but by her right honourable friend Dr Reid at Third Reading in another place in response to amendments tabled by my right honourable and honourable friends. Those amendments were debated in Committee and on Report at some length and would require the probation trusts to prepare annual plans.
I recognise fully that the government amendment makes improvements to the Bill, particularly because subsection (5) of the Government’s proposed new clause on plans requires a non-trust provider of probation services to prepare plans as well as the trusts. However, that provision would not be needed if the Committee were at some future stage in our debates on the Bill to decide to agree to my Amendment No. 48A, which would introduce a new clause after Clause 3. The core government amendment is Amendment No. 70, which introduces a new clause after Clause 6. When I was trying to look at this group of amendments, they became worse than clear as mud, but I shall try to plough on through the mud.
My Amendment No. 72 is probing and was always intended to be. The Minister will be glad to hear that I shall go very quietly tonight, not just because it is getting late, but because the commitment that she gave on consultation is an assurance which it would be churlish of me to turn down. I accept what she said on that.
It will be important for the Committee to consider carefully the effect of the Minister’s amendments on the way in which this Bill will operate. The changes in drafting will have a substantial impact on how we may wish to address some of our arguments about the importance of local commissioning as opposed to commissioning by the Minister. By accepting the Minister’s amendments today, I am not in any way jeopardising my ability to bring forward amendments, which I may wish to press, at a later stage of the Bill. I ensured that my own Amendment No. 48A, which would require trusts to prepare plans, was in a different group. I was advised that this would make sure that the Committee could debate it today even if it accepted the Government’s amendment. This is where the procedure becomes as clear as mud.
I accept that the Minister has brought forward these amendments in good faith. Consultation is important. She said that lists were invidious and that there was a lack of consensus as to who should be consulted. I noticed that she then made her own list and included Welsh Ministers as statutory consultees. All are equal, but some are more equal than others. The Welsh have got their day, but none of them appears to be in the Chamber to celebrate. They have made it into the list, but others have not.
I do not propose to press my own amendment regarding a list. I shall simply put on the record an explanation why, for example, I have two amendments in two places on the Marshalled List on the same issue. It is simply because I wanted to make sure technically that I addressed both the Bill and the Minister’s amendments. My Amendment No. 32 and the final paragraph of Amendment No. 72 would require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on the outcome of the consultation that had been undertaken, thereby ensuring that the Secretary of State would pay more than lip service to any consultation procedure. The Minister will recall that we were scathing about the way in which the Home Office dealt with the consultation document Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-Offending.
Amendment No. 76 would remove subsection (4) of the new clause, which gives the Secretary of State the power to require a probation trust to produce annual plans where he has entered contractual agreements with the trust under Clause 3(2). That part of Clause 3 gives the Secretary of State the power to make any commissioning arrangements for probation services with anyone whom he chooses.
Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 are merely consequential on Amendment No. 76. I cannot resist saying at this stage that when the Minister said that Amendments Nos. 29 and 33 were consequential, I think that she meant paving—cart before horse, and all that.
I tabled Amendment No. 76 to signpost the fact that this is one issue to which we shall need to turn our attention when we debate the core issue of who should be the commissioner of services and where the power should be vested.
I am grateful to the Minister for introducing the amendments. We shall not necessarily accept all of them at later stages but we accept them today.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I am lost in admiration for the way in which she has weaved in and out between these various clauses and amendments. I am not sure that I have followed her exactly, so I shall follow my own notes.
These amendments, which relate to the requirement on the Secretary of State to consult the judiciary, local authorities, providers of probation services, the voluntary sector and probation trusts could not be disagreed with, and parallel our earlier discussion on the duty to co-operate between all agencies. All possible efforts must be made for a coherent, absolutely clearly understood system for all concerned to be in place, so it is axiomatic that consultation should be a legal duty for the Secretary of State.
Publishing plans is equally essential. It sets the framework and all concerned should know where they stand, although I understand that we will return to that matter with a further amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. However, it still begs the question of where decisions on commissioning are carried out. Our position is that this is far more effectively, appropriately and properly carried out at a local level, where needs, provision and appropriateness are understood. That is where the links between local authorities, voluntary agencies and private provision are known and understood.
For the Secretary of State to have any understanding, he will of necessity be relying on the ROMs for all information and be delegating down to that level. But given the size of the areas for which ROMs are responsible, they in turn will of necessity have to have recourse to those local agencies, for it will be totally impossible for a ROM to have the knowledge necessary to make proper, intelligent decisions, even if the commissioning process is passed back up the line again. Does the Minister acknowledge that this is the reality?
Consultation between all levels is of course essential but, in the end, the decisions will have to come from where it is meaningful. In drawing up plans, the Secretary of State would ignore local knowledge and advice at his peril. His ultimate duty is to report to Parliament following the consultation process, which is also where the test of the effectiveness of the lines of communication will lie. It is also at that level that the consultations with the sentencers and others must occur, as we have already discussed.
We support the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on her amendments in this group.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for the support that she gives to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I can only assume that because the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, accepts the amendments at this stage, the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, does too. Therefore, I give her thanks for that implied assent. I assure her that there will be no ignoring of local knowledge and advice. I agree with her that many of the decisions will be predicated on understanding what is needed.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 30 to 32 not moved.]
33: Clause 2, page 3, line 16, leave out from “(c. 30))” to end of line 17
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.
34: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
“Power for probation boards and probation trusts to make arrangements for provision of probation services
(1) This section applies to any probation provision which the probation boards and probation trusts consider ought to be made for the purposes mentioned in section 2(1)(a) and (b).
(2) Probation boards and probation trusts may make contractual or other arrangements with any other person for the making of the probation provision.
(3) Arrangements under subsection (2) may in particular authorise or require that other person—
(a) to co-operate with other providers of probation services or persons who are concerned with the prevention or reduction of crime or with giving assistance to the victims of crime;(b) to designate individuals as officers of a provider of probation services;(c) to make contractual or other arrangements with third parties for purposes connected with the probation provision to be made, including, in particular, contractual or other arrangements—(i) for provision to be made, or for activities to be carried out, by third parties on behalf of that other person; or(ii) for individuals who are not members of that other person’s staff to act as officers of a provider of probation services.(4) Probation boards and probation trusts may not make arrangements under subsection (2) unless a plan has been prepared for that year.
(5) In this section a “plan” means a plan prepared under section (Requirement for probation trusts and probation boards to prepare plans).”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 35, 45, 48A and 84. The question I seek to address is: where should the power of commissioning be vested? We say that it should be vested locally whereas the Government say that it should be with the Secretary of State. Earlier today I listened carefully when the Minister moved her local area network agreement amendments. She tried to persuade us that the Government’s heart was still beating, that there was no concern that they would override local wishes, that Dr Reid was kind and caring—well, we shall see—and that the Government would deliver these services in a way that complies with local wishes. We heard about local influence, local delivery and local flavour. However, enhancing local flavour does not have much to do with vesting power in local communities. That is where the difference between us lies.
My amendments are designed to ensure that probation services are primarily commissioned locally by probation trusts and that commissioning is not centralised in the hands of the Secretary of State, who, I agree, may devolve his power of commissioning to a ROM. It may be subcontracted out to somebody to provide the service, but under the Bill the decision-making and control are in the hands of the Secretary of State.
The amendments would also provide a backstop position whereby the Secretary of State would retain the power to commission services where the trusts fail to do so. That is the fill-the-gap syndrome to make sure that a service is provided. They would leave intact the Government’s proposals for the development of contestability as the basis upon which probation services will be provided. I hope that that makes it crystal clear that the Government’s stated objective of involving the voluntary and private sectors to a much greater degree can still be met within a system of local commissioning powers.
We have made it plain throughout our debates here and in another place that we do not oppose the principle of contestability and wish to see it given its chance to prove its worth. We have no philosophical or political objection to probation services being provided from outside the existing public provision. However, we continue to have serious doubts about the Government’s ability to develop contestability appropriately. Those doubts are addressed by other amendments, in particular my amendment to introduce the super-affirmative procedure regarding the removal of the protections for core services in Clause 12. Here I concentrate my objections on the Secretary of State’s proposals to strip local probation trusts of their powers to use their local knowledge to best advantage and to commission services to meet perceived local needs.
Last year we saw the Government push through a statutory instrument to change the probation boards into what they term more “business-like” trusts. That was the terminology that they used in the letters that went out to the probation boards. In one breath the Secretary of State says that he wants to make probations trusts “business-like” but in the next he makes it clear that they cannot be trusted to exercise that business-like acumen because he seizes from them the authority to commission services.
Clause 3 imposes a system under which contracts will be awarded centrally by the Home Secretary or, at best, by the persons to whom he has delegated power—his regional offender managers, who are accountable to him. The line of accountability goes upwards to him. The Bill gives central control over what service provision should be and how it should be delivered. The goalposts in Clauses 1 and 2 are wide and, as we have seen, Clause 1 can be changed by statutory instrument.
We believe that local trusts are in a far better position than the Secretary of State to identify the types of services that will be required in their area and the agencies or persons from whom those services should be commissioned.
The difference between us is that the Government are saying that they would take that into account and we are saying that it should be the account of what should happen; they should direct it.
The Government have acceded to the requests made in both Houses that there should be local authority representation on the trusts; that allows local knowledge and accountability to be fed in through elected members of local authorities. That influence and information falls short of providing the local decision-making that we seek. We have had extensive debates on the nature of probation services throughout both days in Committee, and they have been extremely valuable in highlighting the commitment of this House to making probation services serve our local communities not only well but very well indeed.
On community sentences, we must put first and foremost the issue of public confidence in the services provided. The offenders are not just people living in their local community; they are seen to be serving sentences that should relate to the effect on the local community. The community needs to have confidence that the offender is being appropriately managed, that the sentence reflects the concern that the local community expresses about crimes committed locally, and that the results of the sentence are likely to be rehabilitation and a reduction of reoffending. If we are to have any hope of extending the use of community sentences widely, there needs to be confidence among members of the judiciary, especially the lay magistracy, that they can impose a community sentence that will be properly administered.
The Government have so far failed to convince us on these Benches that their centralising model will command the confidence of the public in the delivery of probation services that will serve the needs of their community. I have tabled the amendments to give the Government the opportunity to put a better case. I turn now to the technical explanation of my amendments. I realise that it is late; it is always unfortunate when one reaches the most important group of amendments at such a time, but that is the luck of the draw.
Amendment No. 34 vests a power in probation trusts to commission probation services. It shadows very closely the Government’s drafting for Clause 3 as it was before it was amended, but it ensures that the primary power of commissioning is vested locally, not centrally. It adds a condition that the probation trusts cannot commission services unless and until they have made a plan for the year. As “business-like” bodies, that should come naturally to them, but we felt that it was right to put the guarantee into the Bill to ensure accountability. Amendment No. 48A sets out our proposed new clause after Clause 3, which gives the detail of that guarantee. It specifically gives the Secretary of State one of our two backstop powers in this group of amendments. If the Secretary of State believes that the trust’s plan does not provide for sufficient services, he can modify it.
Amendment No. 35 provides the main backstop power for the Secretary of State. Where services are not provided under our proposed new clause after Clause 2, he may either provide those services himself or commission others to do so, either by contract, partnership or any other means appropriate. We are trying to be as flexible as the Government always say one should be. Amendment No. 45 removes Clause 3(5), the Government’s definition of a provider of probation services. Amendment No. 84 inserts a new clause before Clause 7 detailing our own definition of a provider of probation services. We had to provide a new definition because it has to fit in with our package of amendments to enable local commissioning of services, but it also covers a situation where the Secretary of State exercises his backstop power and either commissions services or provides them himself.
The Minister and her Bill team will have noticed that the amendments in this group are very different from and much more comprehensive than those tabled by my right honourable friends and honourable friends in another place, but they have the same objective of achieving local commissioning while ensuring that the Secretary of State retains a backstop power. They have been drafted in an attempt to amend the Bill in such a way as to make it workable. I realise that the amendments tabled in another place would not have had the right effect. They had the right intention and they had the heart, but they did not have the body to carry it out. I wish to give the Committee an opportunity to consider these amendments so that I may listen carefully to comments and consider how they should best be dealt with between now and Report. I anticipate that they will require some redesign. In the mean time, I beg to move.
I support this comprehensive list of amendments that relate to local commissioning, which is where we on these Benches believe commissioning belongs. Probation boards and/or trusts are the most appropriate bodies to judge local needs and to commission accordingly. The bodies or agencies may well be voluntary or private providers, and the boards have been commissioning them since 2001. Locally accountable chief officers and strengthened probation boards also provide a sound basis for closer links between probation and the courts.
This is vital if local sentencers are to have a better understanding of, and greater confidence in, community sentences, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has restated. Confidence is hard to develop and easy to destroy. It requires a constant and close relationship between users, sentencers and providers. We have a long way to go in building confidence. We are strong on the theory of community sentences and in our expressions of support for them, but in reality confidence is not high.
Locally commissioned probation services can work closely with local authorities and can use already-established local strategic partnerships between voluntary groups, local government and other relevant groups. They could further develop local area agreements—we have covered that territory—to allow joined-up working across agencies within and beyond the criminal justice system. All of that facilitates the sharing of information and flexibility on how to manage the probation arrangements that are in place.
There is a real risk and deeply felt concern that the Bill will disrupt a system and process that has been in place only since 2001, in which the Probation Service is performing well against all its government targets. That applies to enforcement, compliance, orders reaching the halfway point without being breached and, most sensitively, supervision of the most high-risk offenders under MAPPA. It is feared that without clear, simple and enforceable arrangements, there will fragmentation, lack of coherence and lack of the end-to-end management that is necessary for the best outcomes for society and offenders. The general thrust of government policy in the past few years has been a greater devolution of local affairs, but this is the most centralised set of proposals that we have seen. We have also stated the accepted fact that offending is a local phenomenon. A recent YouGov poll showed that the public view local rather than national agencies in a positive way.
The management of MAPPA, which is a sensitive area politically and practically, is especially worrying. It is hard to see how the national or regional model will work and how significant partners such as the courts, police—now under the Home Office—health services and others can be effective unless they are kept near the ground, close to where the needs, problems and solutions lie.
In relation to that, the issue of representation on the trusts remains vague. The concession that a local councillor should be a member of a trust is welcome, but confusion remains as to whether magistrates or judges, for example, will be represented. Will there be a conflict of interests if commercial contracts are entered into by a trust and a judge is a member? I understand that Judge Levenson, a senior judge, said that he thought not. If that is the case, an important link will be severed. Can the Minister clarify that for us? It is such a key area that we will listen to what the Minister says and return to the matter on Report for further discussion and clarification.
I strongly support the concept of the amendment, which is hugely helpful in setting out what we mean by “local” and the “local commissioning process”. First, I am extremely glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, drew attention to the essential matter of confidence. We know that, time after time, one reason why community sentences are not regarded by the local population with any degree of satisfaction is that there is no confidence that they are doing what is required with the offender in return for what the offender has done. Confidence is critical and will be developed if people have ownership or feel that they are part of what is being done. All experience shows that local ownership is more likely to produce confidence about something directed from the remoteness of Whitehall.
Secondly, I am extremely glad that the noble Baroness introduced the subject of MAPPA. There is no doubt that the leadership of MAPPA by the Probation Service is one of the successes of that process. Chief probation officers say that, in their experience, other organisations come in with them and they are developing the co-operation about which we have talked because of their leadership of this hugely important process.
I am also very glad that in her Amendment No. 84 the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, includes national commissioning, which must not be forgotten. Perhaps I may give an example of why I think national commissioning is important. Citizens Advice is a very important part of the whole resettlement process. It would seem logical for there to be a CAB outstation in every single prison involved in resettling prisoners, possibly with Probation Service links as well. However, under the present arrangements, that is not possible and governors have to negotiate individually with CABs. So here is a need for a national commissioning let-out. Therefore, I am extremely glad that, while Amendment No. 84 focuses on the earlier details of the local aspect, it does not leave out the fact that there are certain national and regional aspects as well. We all agree that this partnership is not just between the public, private and voluntary sectors; it includes wider as well as narrower, local elements to reinforce the local aspect. The CAB, for example, deals locally with local matters, even though there is a national requirement to have bureaux everywhere.
These are extremely helpful amendments and I sincerely hope that the Minister will at least be able to acknowledge them and consider them very seriously.
I have a lot of sympathy with this series of amendments. I feel that the more commissioning, initiation and so on that can be done locally, the better. At the moment, probation boards have expert members who direct well qualified and trained probation officers but, even so, there is some risk of trying to manage everything from the office. I trust that, in future, contestable Probation Service arrangements will not become bureaucratised, as I fear has happened with some traditional social services. They often seem to be too preoccupied with political correctness, avoiding legal liabilities and failing safe. In the process they have become rather remote from the clients they are supposed to serve. I trust that the new probation arrangements will avoid these pitfalls and retain their creativity and close relationship with clients. I hope that there will be a further opportunity to talk about the length of contracts that will be offered.
I, too, have a great deal of sympathy with these amendments and particularly with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone. I am particularly concerned about who will be serving on the probation boards or trusts. I hope that we will begin to hear the Minister’s reactions on that.
The need for confidence—the confidence of local people—has been mentioned. The word confidence has come back; it partly echoes what the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has said previously about the authority that those undertaking probation services must have to do their job properly.
I question the meaning of the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, pointed out that there was a “may” in the government amendments whereas she was looking for a “must” as regards entering into partnerships in order to make them effective. Proposed new subsection (2) of the new clause states:
“Probation boards and probation trusts may make contractual or other arrangements with any other person for the making of the probation provision”,
but proposed new subsection (3) states:
“Arrangements under subsection (2) may in particular authorise or require that other person”
to do what is in (a), (b) and (c). Is the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, requiring that, in certain circumstances, there will be that formal “must” as regards the authority? That is certainly what I would like and it is why I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, said.
As we are in Committee perhaps I may respond to that now, rather than taxing the Minister with having to deal with that as well. Amendment No. 34, as I explained earlier, closely shadows the government clause. I did so purposely because, in this case, it is right to have “may”. A person who is to commission services, whether it is the Secretary of State or a probation trust, must not be in the position of always having to commission a service; otherwise they would still have to commission it even if there were no need. In this case, I was therefore content to follow the government line of saying that a probation trust “may” commission. It gives it the power of judgment in when services are needed and when they are not. It also means that there is a backstop for the Secretary of State where the probation trust has decided that it may not exercise its power because no service is required but the Secretary of State perceives that a service is required, so that he may then step in. I do not want to force probation trusts always to commission services if they are not absolutely required. I hope that that rather convoluted argument explains it.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for tabling these amendments. As she said, they give me an opportunity to make the case more clearly. I take her point about confidence in the system, a point which was echoed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I say to all those who have spoken—including the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who spoke so forcefully—that we, too, understand the importance of locally commissioned services. We believe that the framework on which we have embarked is the right one. Responding to the amendment also gives me an opportunity to discuss in more detail how we intend to implement the provisions of the Bill. In so doing, I hope that I can dispel a few of the myths that have built up around our proposals. I hope that I can make clear that we are not as divided on this issue as it might first appear.
I am conscious of the time. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says, it is unfortunate that her important amendment is being considered so late. However, I think that I have to give her the courtesy of replying now. I know that she wishes to consider it before taking matters further.
As we discussed, Clause 2 gives the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring sufficient provision for probation services. Clause 3 sets out how he may go about this. It enables the Secretary of State to make contractual or other arrangements with any other person for the making of probation provision. Before I turn to the amendments, however, noble Lords may find it useful if I speak in a little detail about what the clause is intended to achieve and how we propose to implement it. I do not think that the three tiers of commissioning are well understood. At the national level, the overall objectives, standards and targets for the system are set. At the regional level, contract management, probation trusts, prisons and purchase of the interventions that are more effectively delivered across a whole region are managed. At the local level we have the purchasing interventions that the offender managers need to deliver their sentence plans. That is the framework.
Currently, 42 local boards are each required to make provision for all services in their individual area, working centrally to set targets. We want to move from this to an approach based on commissioning. This is the process of identifying and then securing the services needed to reduce reoffending and protect the public. As I indicated, commissioning will be national, regional and local. Within the framework, although most services will be commissioned locally, some will be better commissioned at the regional level. Last week, the noble Baroness Lady, Howarth—who is not in her place today—shared with us the difficulties that an organisation such as the Faithfull Foundation, doing specialist work with sex offenders, can experience with local commissioning. Regional commissioners also have a key role in strategic partnership working, operating alongside other regional bodies such as strategic health authorities to ensure that the full range of services are available to tackle reoffending—a theme the importance of which several noble Lords highlighted both last week and today.
In touching on that, I should correct myself. When we were talking earlier about the work undertaken by Sarah Payne in the south-east, I had neglected to recall that Dr Jo Nurse is a consultant attached to the Government Office for the South East, specialising in public health. That is how she comes to look at those issues. As I say, however, most services will be commissioned locally by lead providers operating within a framework agreed with the regional commissioner. They will deliver some services in-house and subcontract for others, ensuring that they have the best available services to meet the needs identified in the offender’s sentence plan. That will help to guard against the fragmentation which some have feared by ensuring that the regional commissioners are not, in fact, holding myriad small contracts with lots of providers. It will maintain local engagement because commissioners at local level are best placed to understand the needs of their local community, and it will help to protect the position of small voluntary sector organisations. The Bill will enable us to ensure the right balance between those different levels.
I am struck by how the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, seem to be intended to achieve similar outcomes to our proposals. As she explained, her amendments are intended to ensure that probation services are commissioned locally. On that, as I have already made clear, we are agreed. However, I hope she will forgive me for saying that I do not think that her amendments would create a workable model. They would create a situation where the statutory duty to provide probation services rests with the Secretary of State, but he has the power to make arrangements only if they have not been made by probation boards or probation trusts. In particular, the model provides no clarity of responsibility or accountability for the provision of probation services and the relationship between the provider and the Secretary of State is unclear. It is also unclear under what circumstances and on what basis the Secretary of State would intervene to commission services directly. The apparent presumption in favour of the public sector cuts across our presumption in favour of the best available provider.
I heard what the noble Baroness said about not being antipathetic to commissioning or contestability, but I say as gently as I can that that is not apparent in the amendments. It is unclear how the structure proposed by her amendments will enable other providers to make a full contribution. As I have already said, it is not enough to say, “Just give the powers to probation boards and they will do it,” because we know that that is not sufficient. The fact of the matter is that probation boards have the power now to make arrangements with others to deliver services on their behalf, yet the current sub-contracting rate of only 3.6 per cent of services seems to show that they are not choosing to do so. I simply cannot believe that the public sector probation service is best placed to deliver 96 per cent of probation services. I referred to this in an earlier part of the debate when I said that probation services have tended to hold too much to themselves. We know that there are others who can share that burden with them.
As I have already made clear, that is why we need the powers in the Bill to ensure that a greater range of providers is enabled to play a part and to enable the public sector to focus on its strengths, which are considerable. We also need to be able to commission across geographical and organisational boundaries where that makes sense; for example, where a specialist service might be more effectively delivered across a region than on an individual area basis or where it could sensibly span the prison/custody divide.
Commissioning enables us to ensure that services are delivered by the best available provider according to local needs. We can ensure that the work of professional probation officers is supplemented by other sectors enabling them to concentrate on making end-to-end offender management a reality. We can do so with absolute clarity, setting out clearly in contract what is expected from every provider.
That brings me to the question of plans, which we discussed under the previous amendments. In our amendment, we set out a comprehensive set of provisions for plans to be published by the Secretary of State, probation trusts and any other provider so designated by the Secretary of State. The relationship between the plans is clear, reflecting the clarity of the relationships between the providers themselves, and offers a consistent and coherent approach. Further provisions are therefore unnecessary.
As I mentioned earlier, there is really not as much dividing us as the noble Baroness might think. We actually want the same outcomes, but I am afraid that the model that she proposes offers a recipe for confusion with no clarity on who is responsible for delivering what and for whom. That is not a basis for improving performance or making an even better impact on reducing reoffending. I say that with a note of surprise because in all the work that I have done with the noble Baroness, she has always insisted on asking who, what, when and for how long. Therefore, when I come to draft and work with my officials, I always have her clearly in my mind. I know the questions that she is going to ask me and how I must answer her. As gently as I can, I say to her that I am surprised that she has not followed her own rubric.
Clause 3 provides a sensible set of options to make arrangements for the delivery of probation services. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
What she proposes is very similar to what we currently have, but without the clarity. At the moment, we have the 42 independent local probation boards, the Secretary of State with a reserve power to intervene, but only in the case of failure, and the boards now commission 96 per cent. The system that she intends to put in place is almost the same as that which we have now but without the safeguards.
Our system is very different. We think that we have the local balance right. We think that many changes have been beneficial—the plans being written into the Bill; making it clear how we will commission; the issue of accountability; and the issue of consultation. Those are all very important amendments and improvements that we have crafted together in the other place and, now, here.
I hope that I have given the noble Baroness a huge amount to think about and have persuaded her that I have followed her advice and that we now have the system right.
The Minister mentioned that the subcontracting rate of probation boards was now down to 3 per cent and that there is a feeling that boards tend to keep too much to themselves. Earlier today, I drew attention to the extreme financial problems being experienced by trusts and the fact that, for example, in London, they were having to issue redundancy warnings to 60 per cent of their staff. Is it therefore fair to say that they are trying to keep too much to themselves or do they simply not have the resources available now to do more in letting out contracts to the private and voluntary sectors, which they all tell me that they would love to do if they had the resources? Is the Minister being entirely fair in saying that they have tended to keep too much to themselves when they simply do not have the resources to do anything else?
First, I cannot confirm the figure that the noble Lord has given about redundancies. That is not the figure that I have been given, but I can certainly write to him about that. Secondly, I remind him—although I am sure that he has not forgotten—that there was a time when probation commissioned more than 3.6 per cent. We have had a reduction in that regard. There was a time when good practice demanded from probation boards that they contract out more, for no other reason than to address the needs of the individuals whom they seek to serve. There are areas which already commission more than 3.6 per cent. We must raise all probation boards to the same standard. We want that inclusion. There are helpful signs. Since we indicated that we were going in this direction, many boards have improved their performance.
I am by no means deprecating the hard work and commitment of many people in the Probation Service who do a splendid job. All we are saying is that we could do better together if we drew on the expertise of all three sectors working together. We are very encouraged by what is happening in some of the best areas.
I invite noble Lords to look at the work currently being undertaken by West Mercia, which is working intensively with partners in the voluntary and private sectors and is delivering great results in the Connect programme and elsewhere. We think that everyone can do better and we think that we have a model that will assist them so to do.
When the Minister responded to my amendment, she ended up by asking three questions. At this time of night, it is tempting for me to answer them simply by saying yes, no and no. I shall resist a little; I am sure that noble Lords will bear with me for two minutes. Those who have been here on the duty roster, waiting for a vote that will not happen, can go home and should not worry about it. If they listened to my introduction to the amendment, they will know that I said that it was probing. I always keep to my word.
The Minister attacked the defects of my amendment. Well, what a surprise. I said that it was defective in the first place; it is there simply to raise issues and responses, which I received. Been there, done that. The Minister says—surprise, surprise—that the system suggested by my amendment is pretty much the same as the system now. Well, yes; my amendment suggests local commissioning and local power, but with contestability. The big change is in trying to ensure that contestability is encouraged. The Minister still says that we should not worry; there will be local commissioning. I worry because the power is not in local hands but with the Secretary of State. That is where my concern lies.
The Minister ends by saying that overall my amendments are a recipe for confusion. As my wonderful mother-in-law would have said, she has one heck of a brass neck. After two days of debate in Committee, this Bill remains one recipe for confusion. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 [Power to make arrangements for the provision of probation services]:
[Amendments Nos. 35 to 37 not moved.]