House of Lords
Monday, 21 May 2007.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.
Energy: Gas Storage
My Lords, the Government’s statement of need for additional gas supply infrastructure, made to the House on 16 May 2006, set out our commitment to a regulatory environment that enables the market to develop timely and appropriately sited gas infrastructure projects. We have committed ourselves to streamlining and simplifying the regulatory regime for gas supply infrastructure, including gas storage. The planning White Paper, to be published later today, and the energy White Paper, to be published this Wednesday, will contain proposals related to onshore and offshore gas storage planning matters.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive reply. Is he aware that some 10 gas storage projects, including the Caythorpe project in east Yorkshire, which is an important one, are going through laborious planning processes, and have been doing so for some time? According to what he said, will these be expedited under the new planning proposals? Does he agree that, at 4 per cent of annual capacity, gas storage is much lower here than it is on the Continent, which is normally about 16 per cent? In view of the likelihood of serious interruptions to the supply, despite the increase in pipeline connections with the Continent and Norway, is it not a matter of considerable urgency that we should increase our gas storage to avoid major crises, particularly in winter?
My Lords, the noble Lord’s final point is absolutely right; we need to, and are, planning to increase our gas storage capacity significantly. None of the projects is adversely affected by the planning requirements. It is true that they would have come slightly quicker on stream if we did not have our planning problems, but we are confident that we are substantially increasing our gas storage capacity and compare well with countries on the Continent, such as the Netherlands, which, like us, has its own productive capacities. We have roughly comparable gas storage capacity, which we are increasing by a substantial percentage in the next three years. The noble Lord mentioned the Yorkshire project, but he will recognise more distant projects, such as Milford Haven in 2009-10, which will substantially increase our gas supplies.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the private sector has done very well indeed under this Government in ensuring that there is enough gas storage? Does he also agree that the last thing we want now is to agree with the Liberal Democrats that we should start to renationalise this?
My Lords, I am tempted to keep my distance from warring parties. We have no plans to nationalise our gas assets, but we are concerned to create the framework that guarantees the security of supply for the future. We had a very difficult year last year, as the whole House will recognise, but we are certainly optimistic about this winter. We are increasingly favourably placed for the years to come.
My Lords, I thank those on the Conservative Front Bench for offering to write our policy papers. I had not actually heard of that particular policy. Will the Minister say whether the fact that we have had limited gas storage has cost every consumer in the country? Last year and the year before, the gas spot price was so much higher because we had so little capacity; therefore, increasing our capacity must be good for the consumer. Not increasing capacity has cost each consumer in the country a great deal of money.
My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that not just gas storage created the energy supply crisis. He will be all too well aware of the bottlenecks in Europe; as a consequence of Russian decisions that affected, initially, Ukraine, and did no good to the rest of Europe, there were significant bottlenecks in Belgium at the pipeline. We have increased our interconnectors with Europe and have greater facilities now. We have been hugely successful on the point that we sought to make last year; namely, that the European market with regard to energy supplies was not working satisfactorily. The Prime Minister operated at his level to ensure that the market improved. I am pleased to report to the House that very considerable progress is being made in Europe on the free market in energy supplies.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is increasing concern in Europe that, already, 44 per cent of gas supplies for Europe as a whole come from the Russian state monopoly, Gazprom, which is expected to increase. There is considerable political fear that President Putin or his successor might use this power for political means. There might be a threat to cut off the gas. What is the Government’s view of this? In the light of this, under the precautionary principle which is so dear to the Government, how many months’ supply do they think that the United Kingdom should have in storage?
My Lords, clearly this country has moved from a position of very great security of supply when we had our indigenous resources in the North Sea. Because we have moved to being dependent on imports, we must have due regard to who will be the suppliers. We must ensure that the market works successfully and must increase significantly our gas storage capacity, because we need wider margins. On the Russian Federation and the president, for 18 months or two years, there were very real anxieties. However, the whole of Europe has very great interest in the security of supply from Russia and, of course, it is in Russia’s interest to sell its energy production, the basis of which is effective bargaining. The noble Lord will recognise that we are past the stage where we will ever again be able to look to purely British indigenous supplies for energy in this country, if we ever could entirely.
Health: Stroke Patients
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether adequate specialist therapy is available to patients leaving hospital following strokes, in particular speech therapy; and what steps they are taking to ensure that such therapy is available in all areas.
My Lords, all stroke survivors who need it should have access to specialist therapy, including speech and language therapy. The Department of Health is developing a new national strategy for stroke, which will set out the vision for modernising services and delivering the newest treatments for stroke. This will include therapy and other kinds of rehabilitation for stroke patients and survivors.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is he aware, as I am sure he is, that skilled, specialist rehabilitation has been found in research to make a substantial difference to the quality of life and independence of post-stroke patients? Unfortunately, it is not all that readily available in some areas, as the Stroke Association has told me. Without it, people otherwise able to lead independent and useful lives face what amounts to a form of social exclusion because they are unable to speak and to communicate.
My Lords, my noble friend is right about the importance of therapy. A third of stroke survivors have persistent speech and language issues. I can tell her that there has been an increase in the number of speech therapists working in the NHS and, in a Picker Institute survey of stroke patients carried out in 2005, 69 per cent said that they had been given enough help with speaking difficulties after they had left hospital. That is a good foundation, but I accept that more needs to be done.
My Lords, I was interested to hear the Minister say that more speech therapists are now working in the NHS. While it is certainly true that there are more posts, anecdotal evidence suggests that, when they become vacant, many of them are now being frozen. Can he tell us whether the stroke strategy, when it comes out, will include any data on exactly how many people are providing speech therapy in the NHS?
My Lords, the survey will look at workforce issues. The statistics that I have show that in 1997 around 3,742 whole-time-equivalent speech therapists were working in the NHS. The latest census, which was conducted in 2006, shows that the number is 5,149, which is an increase of over 37 per cent.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the stroke group at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, of which I am a member, is being shut down? How many other groups are similarly affected? Does my noble friend agree that ensuring that stroke victims are given effective treatment during their recovery is important? What are the Government going to do about this?
My Lords, I was not aware of the closure of the group that my noble friend referred to, but I am happy to look into it. I accept the premise that as much work as possible needs to be done with people who have suffered a stroke to enable them to recover and get back into full working lives. Great advances have been made over the past few years in specialist stroke services and the work undertaken in rehabilitation. However, more needs to be done and that is what will be covered in the strategy due to be published shortly.
My Lords, is there not a bit of a gap between government policy and what is happening on the ground? In his responses not just on this subject but on many others, the Minister seems just to be reiterating policy. A recent survey showed a dearth of support for stroke patients in, for example, Wales. Can he respond to that?
My Lords, I cannot respond to the situation in Wales, but I can say that the NHS faces specific and serious challenges in giving priority to stroke services. However, the fact is that we have seen a big fall in mortality from stroke in both the under-65s and those aged 65 to 75. Some 97 per cent of hospitals now have stroke units, which is a big improvement on the position a decade ago, and we have seen a large increase in the number of speech therapists. Improvements are being made.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the Stroke Association for its incredibly valuable work. Specialist stroke services have been developed, but not every part of the country has them to a sufficient extent. We wish to use the strategy as a way of encouraging the NHS to give appropriate priority to the development of those services.
My Lords, I declare my interests as a former director of the Stroke Association and as a stroke survivor. In my experience, one of the most important therapies is physiotherapy, especially that provided by physiotherapists who are specialists in dealing with stroke victims. There is still clearly a shortage of such specialists. Will the strategy make provision to increase the number of physiotherapists who are stroke specialists?
My Lords, I am not going to anticipate the strategy, but I can assure the noble Lord that workforce issues will be fully considered in it. As with speech therapists, since 1997 we have seen a considerable increase in the number of physiotherapists being employed in the NHS.
My Lords, it is absolutely essential for many patients that they should have a brain scan very quickly after suffering a stroke. I know that that was not the normal practice in this country, although it was in others, but, under the new policy, how long does the Minister estimate it will be before it is routine?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to point to the importance of scanning. There has been an increase in the number of scanners and the figures that I have for 2006 show that 59 per cent of patients referred for an emergency CT scan had one within 24 hours, which is up from 51 per cent in 1998. But I accept that there is more to do. The report of Professor Boyle, the national clinical director, published about a year ago, stressed the importance of this and the strategy will contain further details.
Child Trust Fund
My Lords, the Government are encouraged that three-quarters of child trust vouchers have been used by parents to open accounts for their children. The Government are continuing with efforts to help new parents to understand the choices available and to encourage them to open a child trust fund account for their child, such as through partnership work with the voluntary and community sector to provide extra help for less financially confident families.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. This is such an excellent scheme that it is a pity that all families do not take advantage of it. Is there evidence showing precisely which families are not using the scheme and how they can be targeted to improve matters?
My Lords, we have been concerned that the scheme should be a success but we regard 75 per cent at this stage as encouraging. As we want as many parents as possible to take advantage of the scheme, there has been a significant amount of marketing activity: a special day was devoted to the subject, advertisements were placed in magazines, and the voluntary and community organisations have been helping greatly to spread the benefits of the scheme. But we are only in the third year and a great deal still needs to be done.
My Lords, to take up the noble Baroness’s point, can the Minister confirm that the take-up of child trust funds in the most affluent areas is over 80 per cent whereas in the least affluent areas it is barely over 50 per cent? Does that not demonstrate that many of the parents who are expected to benefit most from the child trust funds simply do not know what the scheme is about?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for identifying the issues even more graphically. The take-up rate among less well-off families is much lower than it is among more affluent families who see the advantages of the scheme and have the confidence to invest in the financial product. We are doing everything we can to extend the scheme to as many people as possible. The noble Lord is right that we have to concentrate our efforts a great deal more on less well-off families.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the former chairman of the Children’s Mutual. I congratulate the Government: they have done a fine job in launching this programme. The fact that 75 per cent of our young people will eventually have reasonable savings is greatly to be welcomed. It seems that the problem lies in the fact that more than half of parents are new parents. Will the Government therefore give a commitment to ensure that there is major marketing activity every year? Unless you achieve that, you will miss out every year.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for the constructive remarks at the beginning of his question, and I agree with him on the latter part of his question. The Government have a substantial amount of work to do with new parents, which is why we give a 12-month period before requiring take-up. Even if take-up has not occurred then, the Government will make their contribution at the end of the year. However, that contribution will mean little unless the parents are also encouraged to contribute to the savings scheme. We have a great deal to do. As I think we are all aware, financial literacy in this country is much lower than we want. It is demonstrated by the relatively limited take-up among certain sections of our community.
My Lords, the House may be relieved to hear that we do not set targets in this area, but we have ambitions. The scheme is meant to help all children in our society and their parents to invest in their future, but, as the House has readily anticipated, that is more difficult with certain sections of the community than with others. That is why we are working hard to promote greater financial understanding and using extensive advertising directed at such families. We are reliant on the community and welfare organisations that can reach parts which Governments sometimes cannot reach and can help to promote the significance of the scheme.
My Lords, figures released by the Treasury show that 2,830,000 children are eligible for child trust fund vouchers, but that only 2,753,000 vouchers were issued. For noble Lords who are not quite as quick as they were on mental arithmetic, that is 77,000 vouchers that have not been issued. What are the Government doing about that?
My Lords, even the best-run schemes have certain elements that leave a margin of difficulty. As the noble Baroness will recognise, the scheme is working well overall. The Government have to be satisfied that they have successfully identified who should be the recipients of the child trust vouchers, and the noble Baroness has probably indicated in her figures how limited and small the administrative problem is in comparison with the success of the scheme as a whole.
My Lords, Ministers followed officials’ advice about the impact on the finances of pension schemes of the abolition of payable tax credits. The officials’ advice was that the existence of the payable tax credit distorted investment decisions by encouraging companies to pay out dividends. Abolishing payable tax credits encouraged companies to base their investment decisions more on long-term commercial requirements and less on the need to pay high dividends.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the system of advance corporation tax, which is the origin of this problem and was introduced in 1972 after over a year’s very full public consultation, was intended to, and indeed did, remove the double taxation of distributed profits? Is he aware that that is largely in force today? Is he also aware that almost the only exception to that covers dividends paid to pension funds, where ACT was effectively removed by the Chancellor in 1997 without any consultation? Why must pension fund investors be the only shareholders to suffer double taxation on the distributed profits of the companies in which they invest?
My Lords, a strategic decision was taken in 1997 to link this issue to the reduction of corporation tax in order to guarantee incentives for greater investment in our business and industry, which in the longer run would benefit pension funds. That is largely what happened. The economic growth of the country since then has ensured that resources going into pension funds have increased substantially, but the whole House will recognise that the demands upon pension funds are accelerating at a great rate, particularly because of longevity.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that employees’ contributions to pension funds are generally seen as deferred earnings? Will he therefore comment on the negative impact on pension funds caused by a number of employers taking pension holidays and refusing to contribute to their funds? Will he further say whether the withdrawal of the tax credit had the support of the CBI?
My Lords, we are engaging rather more with history than with the country’s immediate position regarding pensions, but my noble friend is right that companies taking pension holidays, which were subsequently found not to be justified, was a contributory factor in the limited resources of pension funds. On the noble Lord’s general point, there have been difficulties for pension funds, as we all recognise; nevertheless, I think that pension holidays are a thing of the past.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it was a legal requirement that employers took pension holidays when certain conditions were fulfilled and not a question of employers choosing to take them, which implies that they voluntarily weakened their pension schemes?
My Lords, perhaps we may return to the present. Will the Minister confirm that the Chancellor continues to hit pension funds and that reducing rate relief on empty property in this year’s Budget will wipe £3 billion from the assets of pension and life insurance funds?
My Lords, the noble Lord cannot have it both ways, because I know that his party is as vocal as any about our current accommodation problem and housing crisis. The Chancellor therefore bears in mind incentives for bringing as much property as possible into use and not keeping it empty. More generally, substantial progress on this matter has been made in recent years. I do not see the advantages in our revisiting 1997. There will always be arguments about a decision taken, but what do we gain from revisiting them?
My Lords, immediately after the Chancellor’s decision in 1997, investment in this country, contrary to some of the more pessimistic perspectives, rose significantly, by 16 per cent in three years. What was not foreseen was the exposed position of the dotcom companies. My noble friend is right that the losses sustained by pension funds from that collapse were much greater than anything that had occurred previously.
Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill
Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendment be now considered.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[The page and line references are to HL Bill 42 as first printed for the Lords.]
3: Before Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
“Community restorative justice schemes
(1) The Secretary of State shall maintain a public register of accredited community restorative justice schemes.
(2) Accredited community restorative justice schemes shall be inspected regularly by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate, which shall report on such inspections to the Secretary of State who shall publish a report.
(3) A report under subsection (2) may make such recommendations as to the conduct of a scheme as the Criminal Justice Inspectorate thinks fit.
(4) If the Criminal Justice Inspectorate considers that a scheme is unsatisfactory or is operating in an unsatisfactory manner, it may recommend to the Secretary of State that it be removed from the register.”
The Commons disagree to Lords Amendment No. 3, but propose Amendment No. 3A in lieu—
3A: Before Clause 42, insert the following new Clause—
“Accredited community-based restorative justice schemes
(1) The Secretary of State shall maintain a register of schemes that appear to him—
(a) to be community-based restorative justice schemes, and
(b) to meet requirements determined and published by him.
(2) The requirements shall include a requirement about cooperation with the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
(3) The Secretary of State shall add a scheme to the register if—
(a) a person applies for the scheme to be added, and
(b) the Secretary of State thinks that the scheme is a community-based restorative justice scheme which meets the requirements.
(4) The Secretary of State may remove a scheme from the register if, having considered any report about the scheme made by the Chief Inspector, he thinks that—
(a) it is not a community-based restorative justice scheme, or
(b) it does not meet the requirements.
(5) The Chief Inspector may inspect a scheme which is registered or which is the subject of an application for registration; and—
(a) he shall from time to time make a report to the Secretary of State on inspections carried out by him by virtue of this section, and
(b) section 49(2) to (4) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 (c. 26) (laying of Chief Inspector’s reports before Parliament etc) shall apply in relation to the report.
(6) The Secretary of State shall make arrangements for inspection of the register by the public.”
My Lords, I beg to move Motion A, that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 3 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3A.
We have discussed these issues at some length and remain of the view that a lot more unites than divides us on this issue. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who in due course will propose an amendment, our view is that the clause already addresses his concerns. What we want to achieve is essentially the same as he intends, and I hope that that offers some comfort. We have some concern that his amendments, which are obviously well intended, will have some unfortunate side effects that he would not wish to see.
The government amendment was drafted by parliamentary counsel to provide that the chief inspector “may” inspect a restorative justice scheme, to confer on him the power to do so. The Government intend that the chief inspector will inspect schemes as regularly as he thinks appropriate. The noble Lord’s amendment creates instead a statutory duty on the chief inspector regularly to inspect all schemes. Under such an arrangement, the chief inspector could be in breach of that statutory duty if he did not inspect all schemes with the same regularity, whether or not he believed it appropriate to do so. This could leave the chief inspector vulnerable to legal challenge when he is merely carrying out the task conferred on him by the Government with the diligence that he has shown in his work so far. For example, there might be occasions when the chief inspector will wish to inspect some schemes more frequently than others, either in response to complaints or simply to satisfy himself that proper standards are being met. The noble Lord’s amendment would constrain him in his ability to do this.
I regret to say, too, that the amendment appears to suggest that regular inspection is required of schemes that are the subject of an application to register. Schemes in that transitional position are subject to a preregistration inspection and are inspected again by consent only if they have initially failed to meet the required standards for registration. The application process should take about two to three months, so we do not see the need for more than one inspection during the application process unless the chief inspector wishes to check that conditional recommendations have been implemented.
As for handling inspection reports, the government amendment provides that each inspection will be reported by the chief inspector but affords the flexibility for several inspections to be addressed in one report when the chief inspector thinks it appropriate to do so. Each of those reports representing all the inspections undertaken would then be published and laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State. Amendments Nos. 3C and 3D remove from the chief inspector the flexibility to report collectively on a number of schemes operating under the same organisational banner. We have seen that operating already very effectively in his collective pre-accreditation inspection report on four community-based restorative justice schemes, affiliated to the Northern Ireland alternatives. That was laid before your Lordships' House on 2 May. But that is a minor point.
The chief inspector will still report on all inspections, but the amendment would limit the exercise of his discretion to inspect and report in the manner that he thinks most appropriate. It is as simple as that. We believe that it is important that the chief inspector retains the flexibility to target those schemes that he assesses might require more frequent announced or unannounced inspections than others. I am certain that is what noble Lords want to happen. Taken collectively, the amendments to the Motion could expose the chief inspector to the risk of unnecessary and potentially mischievous challenge where he might seek to use his own judgment in setting inspection schedules.
On that basis I hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendments. We are at one on this. The policy remains the same as it did before we even started down the route of agreeing to this amendment, which we did at Third Reading. We have simply tried to put the policy as operated into legislative form, meeting the request made by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, which had the agreement of the House. Parliamentary counsel has chosen this way of doing it. It meets all our policy objectives and gives discretion to the chief inspector, who performs the professional function. I repeat the following for the avoidance of any doubt: a power is provided that the chief inspector may inspect a scheme. That has been done in order to confer on him the very power to inspect a scheme. That is the term which parliamentary counsel thought most appropriate in order to give the chief inspector that power.
Moved, Motion A, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 3 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 3A in lieu.—(Lord Rooker.)
3B: line 18, leave out “may” and insert “shall regularly”
3C: line 20, leave out “from time to time make a”
3D: line 21, leave out “inspections” and insert “each inspection”
My Lords, I beg to move, as an amendment to Motion A, Motion A1, at end to insert, “but do propose Amendments Nos. 3B to 3D to Commons Amendment No. 3A”.
I was very pleased when the Minister in this House accepted the new clause that I tabled a few weeks ago. I particularly appreciated the comments that he made in doing so when he referred to the new clause having four main elements, two of which comprised “shalls” and two of which comprised “mays”. He noted that there was a balance between what the inspector would be required to do and those matters on which he would have discretion. He said that parliamentary draftsmen would look at these matters and, if they felt that the drafting could be improved, would do so. I had, and have, no difficulty with parliamentary draftsmen looking at these matters and tidying them up. I shall not fuss about the form of matters; it is the substance which is important to me. However, I regret to say that I believe there has been a change of substance here.
I noted that when Motion A was being considered in another place, the Minister, Mr Goggins, said:
“The Government amendment is therefore consistent with the approach taken in existing legislation relating to the chief inspector's other inspection functions”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/5/07; col. 330.]
Would that it were. The amendment has changed one of the “shalls” that I had in the original new clause to a “may”. I refer to the “shall” that imposed upon the inspector of criminal justice a duty to inspect schemes. Under this amendment that has now become a discretion, which I do not believe is a step in the right direction.
It is instructive to look at the powers and functions of the chief inspector under the existing legislation. This is referred to in the Government’s amendment. Section 46 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, headed, “Functions of Chief Inspector”, begins:
“(1) The Chief Inspector must carry out inspections of the following organisations”.
It does not say “may” or “shall”, but “must”. The organisations listed include the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Forensic Science Northern Ireland, the State Pathologist’s Department, the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland, the Probation Board for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Justice Board. All these things must be inspected, but when we come to community restorative justice schemes, the Government prefer “may”.
I refer to the publication of reports. Subsection (5)(b) in the Government’s Amendment No. 3A refers to Section 49 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002. The amendment states that,
“section 49(2) to (4) of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002 … shall apply in relation to the report”.
It leaves out Section 49(1), which states:
“The Chief Inspector must report to the Secretary of State on each inspection and review carried out by him”.
Against the background of those mandatory requirements in the 2002 Act, I found great difficulty in sympathising with the argument put by the Minister. If it is a matter of form, I am not concerned with it; it is a question of the substance. The substance with regard to the other functions of the criminal justice legislation under the 2002 Act is to put a duty on the inspector to inspect, and to put a duty on him to report with regard to each inspection. If that is the function and the duty of the inspector with regard to all those other matters that he has to look at, why should those responsibilities be less with regard to community restorative justice schemes? The other functions that the inspector is inspecting—the police, the prosecution service, the juvenile board, the probation board and all the rest of it— are carried out by professional persons whose knowledge and skill is known from their strong record. A duty is put on the inspector with regard to the inspection of those professional persons carrying out duties that they have carried out before in a responsible way.
Here, we have community restorative justice schemes which, by and large, are going to be run by former paramilitaries—the guidelines adopted by the Northern Ireland Office are designed to enable former paramilitaries to run them—yet with regard to them there will be a lesser requirement in terms of inspection and publication. That naturally gives me concern. I want to see community restorative justice schemes operating properly, and the only measure that we have to ensure that is the inspectorate. The inspectorate therefore should be operating with regard to community restorative justice schemes to the same standard and under the same duties as apply to the functions of the inspectorate generally.
Moved, as an amendment to Motion A, Motion A1, at end to insert, “but do propose Amendments Nos. 3B to 3D to Commons Amendment No. 3A”.—(Lord Trimble.)
My Lords, noble Lords will be well aware that my party and my honourable friend Laurence Robertson did not vote against the Government’s proposed amendment in another place. Perhaps that is because we are a very much more sophisticated refining Chamber than another place. It is quite technical to compare the two amendments. They are detailed comparisons, and my noble friend Lord Trimble, coming from the background that he does, is best able to do exactly that, and he has demonstrated to your Lordships the key differences and the key matters about which we are concerned.
The community justice system is very important. It is a high-risk project in Northern Ireland. It is the last of the major concerns that my party has had as we have progressed to devolution. I was very pleased when the Minister was able to accept the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Trimble. I was disappointed, despite my lack of experience as a lawyer, when I first read the Government’s amendment and realised that they—for one reason or another, and I do not really understand why—had weakened the Bill. The amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Trimble was clear, concise and demanding. The Government’s amendment is not that; it is weak and it leaves more open to chance in a high-risk operation of community justice systems in Northern Ireland, some of which will undoubtedly be run by ex-paramilitaries. I support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I, too, was initially taken in by the Minister’s comments that the inspector needed to have flexibility. Then I heard the incisive argument of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who explained why the power might be too flexible. Given the embryonic nature of these schemes, we are in uncharted waters and much could go wrong with their implementation—although we all hope that they succeed. I understand why we should be more flexible and give greater discretion to inspectors of other agencies, but tight scrutiny by the inspector is needed in the initial period. I was persuaded by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. If he were to press his amendment, we would support him.
My Lords, if I had wanted to take offence, I could have. The noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, should know that I am not trying to take anyone in. The Government’s proposal in the amendment of the other place is wholly consistent with what has been said here. I repeat that the chief inspector, under Amendments Nos. 3B, 3C and 3D, would statutorily be required to inspect all schemes on the same basis. However, we are not dealing with criminal justice agencies set up by Parliament. The inspector will not inspect any scheme unless it invites him to do so by applying for accreditation. We are dealing with voluntary bodies set up under the protocol. That is wholly different from the position of the other agencies in the criminal justice system mentioned by the noble Lord. None of these restorative justice bodies will be inspected unless they apply voluntarily to be accredited. There is no comparison with the other agencies in that regard; if they apply for accreditation, they will be inspected. Therefore, there is no difference from what was said previously.
Frankly, I do not understand the point about reporting. Every inspection will be reported upon under the government amendment. It is left to the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice to choose whether to publish single reports or three or four reports in the same week. We should leave that to the professional in charge. Why should we be so prescriptive? I repeat that we are discussing voluntary bodies. I understand the underlying argument and the suspicions regarding people who run such bodies, but those people are responsible for the governance and can voluntarily say, “We would like to be accredited and therefore enter the inspection regime”. If that is the case, they will be inspected. Therefore, one cannot compare that arrangement with that for the other bodies mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble. The government amendment gives the chief inspector power to inspect. We are leaving that up to the inspector. He will report, he can make unannounced inspections, reports will be published and everyone will be able to see what is going on.
My Lords, perhaps I may clear up one matter. When I said that I was “taken in”, I was not accusing the Minister. I was remarking on my gullibility. I have the utmost respect for him, but my frame of mind was such that I was easily hypnotised by his tremendous powers.
My Lords, can the Minister say whether, in situations in which a duty is placed on the chief inspector, there is any implication regarding the number of inspections or anything of that sort that would be elided by the discretionary “may” in the amendment?
My Lords, I do not think that that is the case. I gave an example of the inspector reporting on four schemes which would come under the same umbrella, but there is no limit to the number; it is up to the chief inspector. There is no question but that each inspection will be reported on. The question is whether the reports are made singly or whether the inspector chooses to make a report containing the results of more than one inspection. We leave that to the inspector. I do not think that there is any argument that, by implication, inspections will be made and then reports will gather dust for months because someone says that more than one must be put together. That is not the intention at all.
My Lords, I am sorry; that is not the point that I was concerned with. I accept entirely the point about reports being made once inspections are carried out, but I was interested to know whether the duty imposed on the chief inspector to inspect some of the criminal justice agencies, to which the noble Lord referred, implies that they should be inspected at a particular interval or anything of that sort. That seems to be the Minister’s argument against a duty being placed on the chief inspector to inspect these schemes once accredited. We are talking about inspections being made not before the schemes are accredited but once they are accredited, and my noble friend wishes to make it a duty on the chief inspector to inspect.
I understood and followed perfectly the noble Lord’s introduction and I hope that I was not particularly taken in—I certainly would not have expected to be. I understood him to say that, because a duty would be imposed by my noble friend’s original amendment, that would imply a need for the chief inspector to inspect these organisations at particular intervals and would thus limit his discretion. I should have thought that the discretion afforded by the government amendment would allow the chief inspector not to inspect a particular accredited organisation if he thought that the right thing to do, whereas the argument seemed to be that the duty implied a particularly inflexible timescale in relation to inspections.
My Lords, I am sorry; I misunderstood the noble and learned Lord. In this respect, the noble Lord’s amendment to the government amendment would create a statutory duty on the inspector to regularly inspect all schemes. My interpretation of that is that all schemes would have to be inspected at the same interval; otherwise, the inspector would be vulnerable to legal challenge. If, while diligently carrying out his work, he decided, as a risk base, that some schemes needed to be inspected more frequently than others—that is the important point—then, under the amendment, he would be constrained to report on all schemes with the same regularity. We think that, frankly, that is a step too far.
There is no question but that all the schemes will be inspected. They will be pre-inspected for accreditation and thereafter they will be regularly inspected at the chief inspector’s discretion and each inspection will be reported on. We are simply saying that the inspector should have the discretion to inspect some organisations more frequently than others, based on whether there is a complaint, whether risks are found or whether the people running them change. The inspector has the power to carry out those inspections unannounced. We are saying that the inspector should not be required, as implied in the amendment, to inspect all the schemes that have been accredited with the same regularity. The lawyers are having a field day today and I am just piggy in the middle but my advice is that, if the inspector does not do that, he will be vulnerable to legal challenge because he will not be carrying out inspections with the same regularity, and we think that that would be unreasonable.
My Lords, following on from the debate about the word “regularly”, I think that the Minister has given a very inflexible and rather unusual interpretation of it. Going by normal usage of the word, I do not think that there would in any way be the degree of inflexibility that he complains about. Even if he is still worried about that, he might like to turn his attention to Section 47 of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which is the legal framework that the Minister in another place, Mr Goggins, said would be assimilated under his amendment for the inspection of community restorative justice schemes. Section 47 says:
“The Chief Inspector must”—
there is that word “must” again—
“from time to time, after consultation with the Secretary of State and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland, prepare a programme specifying the inspections which he proposes to carry out”.
The phrase “prepare a programme” clearly indicates not the inflexible regularity that the Minister thinks of, but a regularity that can be tempered with regard to what is being inspected and the appropriate circumstances for it. I do not think that the word “regularly” carries the weight that the Minister attaches to it.
Furthermore, the 2002 Act makes it clear that the inspector can draw up a programme. If that section were to apply to the inspections under the criminal justice scheme, there would be no difficulty. I am not sure whether it does or does not at the moment, because it is not clear to what extent the general provisions of the Justice (Northern Ireland) Act 2002, which regulate the actions of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate and other matters, will also apply to the actions of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate with regard to inspection of community restorative justice schemes. In any event, the Minister’s point is not well taken.
I have some sympathy with what the Minister says about the publication of reports. My concern when I saw the phrase “from time to time” was—and the Minister made the point precisely—that the Northern Ireland Office, which for various reasons is sometimes suspected of having too much tenderness towards the concerns and needs of paramilitaries and not enough concern for the safety and rights of citizens, might be tempted to let some embarrassing reports lie gathering dust for a long time. If that concern can be met in other ways, I shall not stand in the way.
I want a clear duty to be placed on the Criminal Justice Inspectorate with regard to the carrying out of inspections of accredited schemes. That is important because, as I said when proposing the new clause, it will greatly strengthen the hands of the Criminal Justice Inspectorate. That is the only safeguard that we have with regard to these novel adventures, which we know carry risks. It is for that reason and because I am not satisfied with the—
My Lords, the noble Lord can do as he pleases with his amendments and seek the opinion of the House, but I am duty bound to put on the record the position of Ministers in the other place. Section 47 does not provide for regular inspections. Therefore, we do not think that the two can be compared. The Minister in the other place said—the noble Lord referred to this—that they had tried to use the framework for what the inspector does in that respect and to transfer that over as far as possible to the framework of an inspection process of what are voluntary, not statutory, bodies.
Section 47 speaks of a planned programme of inspection under Section 46, but the point is that the inspections in this case are in response to the applications from the bodies. We are not dealing with like situations. Parliamentary counsel tried to make an understandable framework, but we are dealing with bodies that, in effect, will not be inspected unless they request it. That is the position, so we are not comparing like with like.
My Lords, I am sorry to say that the Minister’s first point is untenable. To say that there is a duty on the inspector to report and to draw up a programme for inspections, but that there is no regularity, is untenable.
On the Minister’s second point—I am glad that he mentioned this, because I forgot to deal with it in my earlier comments—the voluntary issue is a red herring. Yes, the schemes are drawn up not by employees of the state but by other groups, but these bodies come to seek accreditation. There would be absolutely no difficulty in saying to those bodies that they must agree to regular inspections as a condition of the accreditation. I do not see that the voluntary character, in so far as there is a voluntary character, affects the issue at all. If they come seeking accreditation, they can be required—as the guidelines require them—to be inspected before they get accreditation. I do not have the guidelines to hand, but it is implicit in them that there should be inspections after accreditation, so the Minister’s point on that is also bogus. That being the case, I have no option, particularly in view of the support offered to me in various places, other than to test the opinion of the House.
On Question, Motion A agreed to.
My Lords, with permission, I should like to repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on the planning system. The Statement is as follows:
“With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the planning system.
“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, one of the great civilising reforms of Attlee’s Government. That Act laid the framework for a planning system that has helped to create thriving towns, protect our most beautiful countryside, and ensure green spaces around our cities. Its adaptability has been key to years of success: further reform will help ensure its success for the future.
“Today, we face significant and growing challenges that could not have been imagined 60 years ago: from climate change and globalisation to energy security in an uncertain world. If we are to meet these challenges successfully, planning must be part of the solution. In its current form, it is simply not up to the task.
“Both Kate Barker, in her review of land use planning, and Sir Rod Eddington, in his review of transport infrastructure, have highlighted the shortcomings of the planning system. First, an inaccessible and sometimes baffling system makes it hard for people to have their say on issues which can have a big impact on their quality of life. Too often it favours the well resourced over the less well-off.
“Secondly, decision-making can be painfully slow, causing costs and prolonged uncertainty that are in no one’s interests—not those of individuals, communities or developers. Thirdly, where good and necessary development is held up, it can mean society missing out on the reliable transport, secure energy, clean water or public amenities that we all need.
“The costs of not acting are clear, and will only grow more acute in future: energy shortages, mounting congestion, loss of jobs and a worse quality of life. Indeed, an effective planning system is vital for delivering government policy across a wide range of areas.
“The White Paper that I am publishing today sets out a series of proposals to meet the challenges of the future and continue to reform the town and country planning system. The White Paper represents the result of close working across Government. I am presenting it to Parliament today together with my right honourable friends the Trade and Industry Secretary, the Transport Secretary and the Environment Secretary.
“Let me first address the proposals on how we take decisions about major infrastructure, such as transport, environmental, waste or energy projects—everything from roads to reservoirs, to power plants and wind farms.
“The system for taking these decisions has grown up piecemeal over decades, with complex, unwieldy and overlapping rules. Some developments have to get approval under a number of different pieces of legislation, and make numerous separate applications. We need a simpler system to respond to the challenges that we face. The White Paper will ensure that decisions are taken in a way that is transparent and timely, and that achieves the right balance of interests.
“There are three key elements to our proposed new procedures for national infrastructure projects. First, Ministers will issue national policy statements about the infrastructure that the country needs for the next 10 to 25 years. Those statements will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and intense public debate, making sure that people have early input into the formulation of the policy, rather than rehearsing the same arguments over and over in different local inquiries.
“Secondly, we are replacing the numerous and sometimes overlapping ‘consent regimes’ for major infrastructure projects with a single system. This will provide a far clearer and more accessible application process than at present.
“Thirdly, we propose to create a new, independent infrastructure planning commission. This will bring together experts from key sectors, including planners, lawyers, environmentalists and communities. Guided by the national policy statements, the commission will oversee the planning inquiry process on specific major developments and take the final decisions on whether they should go ahead. It will listen closely to local concerns, and where it approves an application, it will be able to specify measures to mitigate the impact on a local area. It will be accountable to Ministers and to Parliament for its performance. We believe it will bring greater objectivity, transparency and accountability to the decision-making process.
“Some interest groups promote a false choice between speed and public engagement. Our reforms will achieve both, providing opportunities for better public engagement at every step in the process. There will be public engagement in the formulation of the national policy statements, at the scheme development stage, and during the inquiry process. We are backing this up with a new legal duty for developers to consult the public. Consultation must not be a box-ticking process, but a genuine opportunity for local people to have their say in shaping the places where they live. In addition to this, we are increasing resources for bodies such as Planning Aid, helping more communities and individuals to get access to free professional planning advice.
“As well as new procedures for major infrastructure projects, the White Paper outlines measures to improve the town and country planning system. Kate Barker’s report recognised the progress that had been made in recent years to speed up the system and make it more effective. But it also stressed the need to reform further for greater flexibility, responsiveness and efficiency. Our White Paper responds to these recommendations.
“Our aim is to create a level playing field that better integrates economic, social and environmental objectives. We will do this by building on the success of the plan-led system, with sustainability at its heart. New planning policy statements on economic development and climate change will clarify the national policy on these vital issues. We will also streamline our planning policy documents to devolve where appropriate to local decision-makers.
“We will continue to promote prosperous and thriving town centres. Our ‘town centre first’ policy has been a real success, with over two-fifths of retail development now in town centres, compared with just a quarter in 1994. It will remain in place, but there is scope for it to be more effective still. The current ‘needs test’ can sometimes be a blunt instrument. In future, we will require a better assessment of how new developments will affect town centres, including the impact on high streets and local shops. Development outside the town centre should not go ahead where it will have a detrimental impact on the town centre. We are also reaffirming our commitment to the fundamentals of green belt policy. It has served us well for 60 years, and will continue to do so in the future.
“It is vital that planning plays its part in tackling climate change. We will make it easier for householders to reduce their fuel bills and carbon footprint by installing small-scale renewable technologies such as solar panels. In addition, building on the progress made on new homes, my honourable friend the Minister for Housing will work with industry to deliver a significant reduction in carbon emissions from new offices and shops.
“We are strengthening the role of local government in planning. We want to enable local authorities to use planning increasingly effectively as a tool to achieve their vision for their area. We will continue to work with partners, including the Local Government Association and the planning profession, to improve performance. With this growing local expertise we aim to devolve further decision-making to local communities and to reduce the number of town and country planning cases called in by the Secretary of State.
“Our reforms will make town and country planning applications more efficient. We will make it easier for people to make minor improvements to their homes, such as building conservatories or small extensions, while continuing to protect the interests of neighbours and local communities. This will enable councils to focus resources on the genuinely difficult cases. We will both simplify planning applications and speed up the appeals system.
“Our reforms will be good for citizens, who will have greater opportunities to have their say at every stage in the process, and the chance to make minor improvements to their homes more easily. Our reforms will be good for communities—supporting sustainable and vibrant town centres, and helping to create safe and healthy places to live.
“Our reforms will be good for business, with greater certainty about the national policy framework to encourage investment and faster decisions on developments. Our reforms will be good for the country, with better access to reliable transport, secure energy, clean water supplies and better local amenities. Finally, our reforms will put climate change and sustainable development where they belong—right at the heart of the planning system.
“Our proposals build on Attlee’s legacy and give us a planning system fit for the 21st century. I commend this White Paper to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for making the Statement. I would have found it easier to respond if I had had sight of it more than a quarter of an hour before I came into the Chamber. None the less, it is clearly important. It builds on the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, part of which was left in abeyance. Most of the Statement is about major planning infrastructure and involvement with that.
Local planning authorities will find it quite difficult to cope with yet another planning White Paper; they are still struggling with the local development frameworks in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act. As I have said to the Minister previously, local development frameworks were meant to be in place by now, but most authorities are still using their unitary development plans because they have been unable to get the frameworks up and running. This will just add to the fairly substantial burdens on planning in recent years.
I believe that we all would accept that the Heathrow terminal 5 consultation was barely a process and caused enormous difficulty. It certainly let people have their say, but I think we would all agree that the development was held up for a long time. However, do we want to move from that situation to the new commission in this planning White Paper? It is another of the Government’s quangos. People who probably have planning at the centre of their profession will be chosen from among the wise and the good to put together commissions for major infrastructure developments.
Exactly how will this commission go about its business? What consultation will take place? The infrastructure projects will have a big impact on quite wide parts of the country, not necessarily on local communities as was the case in, for example, Stansted, where the new runway was given permission. What will be the structure for consultation? The White Paper also suggests that the commission will be able to grant powers and change legislation. What does that mean? How can a commission grant powers or change legislation, which is in the hands of Parliament—or will those powers be devolved from Parliament to the commission? Perhaps the Minister can explain exactly how that will be carried out.
Much is made in the Statement about how local people will be involved, but what will affect local areas more is the increase in permitted development powers. People in towns and cities can be badly affected by small-scale developments. Extensions encroach on people’s properties because they can be overlooked and so forth. Here I declare my interest as a member of a planning committee, and I can tell noble Lords that practically the most contested applications are those which might be described as being on the smallest scale. What protection will be given to those living next door, who are nearby or whose gardens will be affected by a small-scale decision? How will a planning committee be able to call it in or ensure that the right people are consulted?
On out-of-town shopping developments, when my right honourable friend John Gummer was Secretary of State for the Environment he introduced PPG6 to protect town centres. The Statement says that the Government have protected town centres, but in many areas where there have been out-of-town developments of large retail stores, town shopping centres have been badly affected. If shopping developments on the outskirts of towns are to be allowed, what protection will be offered to ensure that local small shops are not just driven out of existence if PPG6 is not kept?
Green belts have been protected for generations. We all know that there is a great need for housing and that in the future pressure will be put on green belts. The Minister has said that they have been protected until now, but if greater latitude is given to development and less control is exerted by local planning authorities, how will green belts continue to be safeguarded?
I have seen the White Paper, which is, again, a very large tome covering planning regulation that will require more justice than I can give it today. However, if the Minister can start by answering the questions I have asked, we might make a dent in what I think will be longer discussions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and reiterate my concern that these Benches received a copy of it only at a very late stage, which makes it difficult to respond in a meaningful way. However, very helpfully the Secretary of State in another place has spent the whole weekend briefing the media, so we had a fairly good idea of what was to come. Before we start, it is worth reflecting that, although it is 60 years old, the existing planning regime has served us very well. Anyone who has seen development sprawl in countries where planning policies are not so rigorous would attest to the fact that our planning regime has done well. So I begin by cautioning the Minister on moving towards something that looks like a general presumption in favour of development. That would have very serious effects on how our neighbourhoods look. Indeed, sometimes the cumulative effect of lots of small changes can be to fundamentally alter the character of a neighbourhood, especially in historic towns and villages. So I would caution care in this area.
Any planning system has to mediate between competing and often contradictory influences. There will always be a number of people who are unhappy with the outcome, and the tendency will be for them to say, “The system is at fault”. The job of government and of Parliament is to rise above that and to look more strategically, not at the competing interest groups but at the balance between economic, social and environmental regeneration, a process in which the trade-offs are understood, debated and taken into account. That is how we on these Benches will judge the Government’s moves in planning.
There are two aspects to our planning system, the strategic and the site specific—development control, in other words. The majority of site-specific planning applications are fairly small and dealt with expeditiously. Some planning departments are better than others but the answer is to raise the standards of the poorly performing ones. Progress has been made since 2004, and I urge the Government to continue supporting, in particular, the small district councils where capacity clearly is an issue.
We remain concerned, as do many local authorities, about retaining the needs test when taking into account edge-of-town and out-of-town developments. In his report, Michael Lyons referred to his vision of councils as place shapers. If local shops become boarded up as a result of an out-of-town development, it may be a victory for market forces but it would be difficult for a council to then go to a community and say, “We had no choice”. If place shaping is to mean anything, that kind of choice must be retained.
I think it is agreed that the strategic side of our planning system performs less well. I have said several times in your Lordships’ House that the most significant problem has been the lack of a meaningful national framework, whether for housing, energy or transport. Therefore, in principle at least, a new decision-making process which clarifies and separates out policy and decision making is to be welcomed. Up until now, individual applications tend to be considered in isolation from each other and planning inquiries get bogged down for years because they are often the only forum for debating the overall context. Terminal 5 and Sizewell C, for example, are classic examples of where the inquiries ground on for years because they were not only discussing national aviation and national energy policy but also considering proposals for bus stops and junction layouts. We would welcome national policy frameworks for different kinds of infrastructure.
I am most concerned about the independent planning commission, on which I have questions. I hope that the Minister will respond to at least some of them today. Because of the short time that has been available to me, I am still not clear whether the decisions of the planning commission will be executive: whether it will make the final decision or whether it will simply advise the Minister. If it is to make the final decision, it is important to know whether it can be challenged, whether its meetings will be held in public and whether its documentation will be subject to the Freedom of Information Act—in other words, whether its decisions can be scrutinised by the public.
The document contains a list of thresholds of the size of project that will fall under the scope of the planning commission. To my eyes, there is an unusually large number. Can the Minister tell the House approximately how many of these projects it is envisaged the planning commission will look at each year? The proposal is for a body made up of three to five members. Clearly its capacity for dealing with these complex issues is important. I was slightly shocked and alarmed to see a proposal, at least for consultation, that some decisions could be taken by one member. We might agree that the current public inquiry system is cumbersome and lengthy, but to move from that to a system where one person makes a decision requires a leap of faith that I am not sure we on these Benches are ready to make. What changes are being made for schemes which may be large enough to be of regional significance but fall outside the framework of the new planning commission?
We can read the document, study it with great interest and look forward to further debate when we have had an opportunity to hear what the stakeholders think, but on these Benches the test will be whether any new system achieves a balance between economic development and environmental and social considerations, and still retains a feeling of genuine community engagement in the decisions which affect it. We welcome, at least, the start of the debate and what appears to be a genuinely consultative approach.
My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that the noble Baronesses have given to the White Paper. I apologise that your Lordships have had such short notice for the Statement on the planning White Paper, and I shall explore why that was the case. I appreciate that the document is long and complicated, and I look forward to debating it in this House at greater length.
I shall start with some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. She is quite right that there have been many changes to the planning system in recent years; she knows that all too well. We have kept a watching brief on what has been happening with the local government frameworks and we will learn from experience. That is why we make it clear in this White Paper, just as we did in the local government White Paper, that we are looking to simplify some of the processes—for example, in the options and appraisals stage, so that it becomes proportionate and optimal when it is needed.
I and other Members of the Government have been pleased about the warm welcome that has been given to the White Paper by the Local Government Association today. In fact, it has been well received in general. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart, who sadly is not in his place, said:
“The White Paper offers a real opportunity to bring in a planning system which promotes economic growth and attractive environments, rewards innovation and vision and gives democratically elected local councillors the ability to create places where people can thrive”.
I think that that is an important step forward.
On the questions asked by both noble Baronesses about the structural changes involving the new commission, the point is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, said, that we need national frameworks for policy-making under which decisions are made about where things are locationally proper. With the White Paper, we have for the first time an opportunity to construct a framework where the broad policies, whether on waste, water, energy or transport, can be made in full public view and challenged in the same way by public consultation. We will then go on to determine the reasons why we need the sort of infrastructure that we do.
The role of the independent planning commission will be to apply those principles of sustainability and economic viability to the specific applications that come to it. It will take these decisions itself, independently. Its task will be to ensure that the national criteria are met, particularly where they impact locally. Some aspects of planning will be locationally more specific than others and there will be an opportunity for local consultees to be involved at a very early stage with the national policy framework decision. When the application is reviewed, the process will not be as it is at present, when the policy itself is often under scrutiny and there is endless debate about why this is happening. That will have been cleared out of the way and agreed, not least because these policy statements will have to go through Parliament, so there will be a mechanism for dealing with that.
I shall speed on and discuss the consultation process. Running through the whole White Paper is a strong commitment to getting consultation right. It is essentially a three-stage process. There will be thorough consultation on the national policy statements and the sector-specific policy statements, but for the first time, when it gets to the point where the developers are being scrutinised, there will be a legal requirement on them to demonstrate that they have consulted adequately, and there will be a list of statutory consultees who will advise. Finally, the independent commission will run the inquiry as part of its process; again, there will be a rigorous opportunity for people to be involved, including an open-stage process, which we do not have at the moment. The commission will take its decisions but it will of course be subject to legal challenge in court. The Secretary of State will not have the current ministerial role—the accountable role—in making the decisions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked me whether the commission will be able to grant powers and change legislation. We want any applications for major infrastructure as far as possible to have been made under a single consent. That is one of the ways of speeding things up, instead of these multiple regimes that people have to consult at the moment. The present mix of eight regimes includes, for example, compulsory purchase and changing private legislation. We will have to look at how we deal with that multiplicity of issues.
We think that there will be roughly 10 to 25 projects a year, but if only one member were to take the inquiry, the decision would be made by the board of the commission and not by a single person.
As I said in the Statement, town-centre policy has been very successful and has certainly led to a revival of our town centres. Town-centre development increased from 25 per cent in 1994 to 41 per cent in 2004. Sometimes, the needs test has had a perverse effect and deterred competition. We therefore want a better test, building on what works. I confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, that we are not changing green-belt policies, but local authorities are not ruled out from reviewing them.
Important questions about protection were raised, but the present system is perverse. It allows unattractive developments because they simply fulfil the volume requirements. It is spelt out in the consultation paper that we want to move to a system based on height, size and distance from boundary. It sets down clear rules, but in a way that makes it clear to people whether they have to apply for planning permission. We hope to take about 85,000 schemes from an annual number of 325,000 out of the system. That will certainly help to simplify matters.
I am conscious that I have been unable to answer all the questions that were asked. I shall make sure that I do so in writing. I look forward to a continuing debate on this topic.
My Lords, if there is to be a free-for-all, or something like it, in home extensions and alterations, does the Minister accept that there is a danger, even a likelihood, that the cumulative damage to the quality of the built environment will be significant? Will the Government at the very least make sure that advice on good design in such developments and models of good practice from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and English Heritage are made extensively available? Where conservation areas and listed buildings are in question, will the Government ensure that conservation and planning officers in local authorities are trained, advised, empowered and under a duty to ensure the appropriateness of physical change in these sensitive cases and to sustain the quality of our historic environment?
My Lords, those are important questions. One of the reasons for making these changes is to allow planning officers to consider what is important. It is extremely important that we have tighter controls on conservation areas—listed building consents will stay in place—but that we clear away some of those things that can safely be cleared. As the White Paper is a consultation document, I am sure that design issues will be raised and that we will find ways of strengthening the advisory system, particularly in relation to the statutory consultees. However, we have already said that we will look to match materials. At the moment, there is no requirement for the same materials to be used in extensions. We could certainly improve the appearance of buildings if we ensured integrity in the materials being used. We are building on the consultative process in that and a number of different ways. I shall make sure that what my noble friend said is fed into that process.
My Lords, the White Paper is comprehensive in certain areas. It responds especially to those who have been lobbying on microgeneration. Chapter 7.11 answers one of the main points by referring not just to small on-site renewable energy schemes, but also to decentralised renewables schemes, which is a great step forward. Will the Minister confirm that, as it is set out in legislation, microgeneration includes schemes generating up to 50 kilowatts of power rather than just very small, 1-kilowatt schemes? On large microgeneration schemes, will she also say whether guidelines will be set on issues such as whether climate change should be taken into account or whether wind turbines work? It is important that when a microgeneration scheme goes to appeal, as happened when I took a scheme for a small turbine to appeal, one should not have to argue, as I did, about whether climate change was happening or not. That should be taken as read by the planning authorities.
My Lords, I think that I can confirm what the noble Lord has asked about, although he is much more expert than I am on these matters. The general point is that the whole paper will make it possible in different ways for microgeneration to get a more secure hold, whether in the domestic appeals system and permitted development or in encouraging local authorities to go for the renewables option. We believe that it is important to do that. In the debate on the nature of energy through the White Paper, renewables will play a very important role. A 50-kilowatt limit for the IPC will make it possible for local authorities to deal with the smaller generation issues. However, I shall write to the noble Lord about the specific point that he raised about Chapter 7.11 of the White Paper, because I would not want to mislead him.
My Lords, like the noble Lord on the Liberal Democrat Benches, I wish to address a particular subject. It will not surprise the Minister that my point is about energy, too. I have not yet grasped the distinction between the role of the Government in setting the policy, the role of the commission in deciding how that policy will be implemented and what is then left to the local planning authority. In tomorrow’s energy White Paper, we expect the Government clearly to express their support for a programme of major investment in new generating capacity, which may include nuclear. Is the commission the body that will decide where the major developments are to take place? If it is, at that point local communities will want to have their say. I have listened extremely carefully to what the Minister said in response to earlier questions, but I have not yet gathered how that is going to be done and I would find it very helpful if the Minister would explain it.
My Lords, I am happy to try to explain the matter even more clearly. National policy statements, such as an energy policy statement, will set out the principles on what should govern where the infrastructure goes and what infrastructure we need. Some of our papers on energy, transport, waste or water will be more locationally specific because there will be fewer choices. However, with other papers, there will be wider choices to be made and they will be more general in their description of some of those choices. The national policy frameworks will do just that: the statements will set out what the policy is and why we need the infrastructure—and in some cases they will be able to say where we need it more.
The independent commission will be the body that receives the application from the developer, so it will act as a planning commission does at the moment, looking at the merits of the locationally specific application. Local people will be able to have their say about how they will be affected not only at the stage of the national debate—and we are thinking about how we can make that happen most effectively and what mechanisms we need to ensure that people have their say at the right time and place. That is a consultation issue. It may be that for some policies it will be at the national level as well as at the level of the individual application.
On individual applications, local people will again have a legal right, whatever site is involved; that is, the developer has to show that he has consulted local people. If the commission is not satisfied, it will be able to reject the application at that point. The independent commission can, of course, reject any application. That is the relationship between the statement of policy and the role of the commission. The local authority responds to the commission but continues to act as a local planning authority for everything else, including, we hope, in developing renewable energy in the way that I suggested.
My Lords, right at the end of the Statement, my noble friend included a sentence that I thought was remarkable and very welcome. She said that our reforms will put climate change and sustainable development where they belong, right at the heart of the planning system. Can she confirm that that objective takes precedence over other planning objectives? The achievement of faster planning permission could directly contradict that objective. Given the contribution that the unrestrained growth of aviation is making to climate change and CO2 emissions, it would surely be wholly inconsistent if the Government were committed to putting climate change and sustainable development at the heart of the planning system if at the same time they agreed to a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Stansted.
My Lords, the foundation of our current planning system is governed by Planning Policy Statement 1, at the heart of which is sustainable development. That remains the most important statement we have of the need to make that a paramount consideration. For the first time, the national policy statement will integrate the range of issues that we need to address. Certainly, sustainability is primary to that. For the first time, we will have a mechanism for weighing up the benefits across the range of considerations, including economic sustainability in terms of the environment. As I say, we shall have, for the first time, a mechanism for doing that. However, sustainability remains at the heart of everything that we plan to do.
My Lords, following on from the question of my noble friend Lord Faulkner, in view of the speed with which the evidence in relation to climate change is evolving and developing, will the Government apply a more precautionary principle in respect of development where climate change may be an issue when determining whether that development should go forward, because past evidence has tended to demonstrate that that principle has not been applied? I am not aware that it has at any time, but certainly climate change was still being debated very recently.
My Lords, the national policy statements are intended to be living documents that can be updated as and when appropriate. My noble friend is right that the science is moving fast and we need to be on top of it. A whole range of things in the paper makes it possible to take climate change into account more quickly. We have a draft climate change planning policy statement, which is a new tool in our armoury of how we plan to cope with climate change. The process that we shall put in place will be speedier because the national debate on the role of renewables will have taken place. That means that, by the time a matter reaches the independent planning commission, it can be dealt with faster. That will make it easier to put renewables in place, if that is what is decided. A whole range of things is contained in the paper and applies in the context in which we are working, which will make us able to respond more quickly and more effectively.
My Lords, there will in the sense that the independent planning commission will be able to be challenged in the courts, but this planning system will have an integrity of its own. That is how I understand it. If I am wrong, I shall certainly write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, retuning to the free-for-all to which my noble friend Lord Howarth referred earlier, a considerable number of people live in listed buildings in conservation areas, as the Minister will be aware. Will the free-for-all extend as far as them, or will they continue to be bound by what are sometimes tedious and unnecessary restrictions?
My Lords, there are many defenders of the listed building system who are as vociferous in their defence of it as the noble Lord is critical. When it comes to looking at household development consent, we will have to have different regimes for different types of properties, because clearly we want to preserve the quality and integrity of our communities. We will be looking in our consultation document at how to deal with all types of properties.
My Lords, I am still not clear about what will happen if the Government come forward with a new nuclear power programme and how that will fit in with the new national planning permission. Nuclear power stations are completely different; they have more implications for areas than normal power stations that are powered by gas or even coal. Bearing in mind that Sizewell B had a planning inquiry of about 10 years before it was agreed, I would be interested to know exactly who would be making the decisions. How long would they be likely to take? In particular, would all representations be properly heard by the commission?
My Lords, we will have a Statement on energy on Wednesday. Planning is a major issue for all energy sector investments. The noble Lord will also know that we have not taken a decision on whether to allow the private sector to invest in new nuclear power stations, so we will consult on that alongside the White Paper. In response to his question, the policy will be set by the Government, and their decision will be discussed and laid out in the national policy statement. That is where objections to the policy will be heard and challenged and, at some point, if an application from a developer comes forward to build, the process involving the independent planning commission starts. Essentially, it is in the national policy statement that the debate and the challenge will be heard.
Offender Management Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
Clause 1 [Meaning of “the probation purposes”]:
12: Clause 1, page 2, line 22, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “Lord Chancellor”
The noble Baroness said: I will also speak to the other amendments in the group, which are on the same basis. They simply replace “Secretary of State” with “Lord Chancellor”. Two weeks ago, the Government split up the Home Office and transferred part of it to what is now the Ministry of Justice, which was the DCA. We still have a Lord Chancellor at its head, who sits as a Member of this House. Why does the Bill, which has been transferred to the Ministry of Justice for its handling and line of accountability, still refer to the Secretary of State?
I note that earlier this year when the Legal Services Bill was debated in this House, on the first day of Report, the Government conceded the arguments made by noble Lords that the references to “Secretary of State” should be substituted by “Lord Chancellor”. Why should that not be done in this Bill too? Noble Lords will note that I have not overtaxed the use of paper by trying to table an amendment referring to every single use of the phrase “Secretary of State”. If the noble Baroness was minded to accept the amendment, later amendments could be made. She looks as if she is not going to accept the amendment; oh dear, what a surprise. I beg to move.
I am always hesitant to disappoint the noble Baroness, but I hope that I will not disappoint her on this occasion, because she is quite right—I am unable to accede to her amendments. She will know, as I do, the distinction between this Bill and the Legal Services Bill, which looked directly at the role to be played by the Lord Chancellor, as Lord Chancellor, as opposed to as a Secretary of State discharging other duties. It is important that we concentrate on what this Bill is about, although it is fascinating to examine the changes in the machinery of government that occur from time to time.
This start to our discussions may be a helpful opportunity to consider the creation of the Ministry of Justice, which has generated much interest and debate. I remind the House that this debate is about not the Ministry of Justice but the Bill. Perhaps we should not allow ourselves to be distracted from the real issues that we are here to debate concerning the future of the Probation Service.
The Ministry of Justice came into existence on 9 May with one purpose only—to improve the justice system for the public. We will achieve that by bringing together many of the organisations, agencies and stakeholders who have to work together to deliver a successful justice system under the responsibility of one ministry. The Ministry of Justice provides an opportunity for the whole justice system to work together better than ever before. At a national policy level and at a local delivery level the Ministry of Justice will build on the significant improvements that we have seen since 1997 in how agencies work together and will provide clear leadership within government for the justice outcomes that best serve the public.
I turn now to the implications of this change to the Bill. Responsibility for this Bill has now transferred from the Home Office to the Ministry of Justice, as I said it would at Second Reading. I also made it clear that the Government remain fully committed to the policy provisions in the Bill and I am delighted to have the opportunity to continue to oversee the Bill’s passage through your Lordships’ House.
A number of amendments have been tabled in the light of that change. The noble Baroness has rightly raised this issue at this stage, but my noble friend Lord Judd has also referred to this by proposing a change to the commencement clause at Clause 38 which would substitute,
“Secretary of State of the Ministry of Justice”,
for the current term, “Secretary of State”. I am happy to say that none of these amendments is necessary. There is no legal distinction between the different Secretaries of State and it is a matter of mere administrative convenience that responsibilities are divided as they are, and it is not normal practice to make reference to any particular Secretary of State. So the existing references, though originally drafted with the Secretary of State for the Home Department in mind, can be applied in the same way to the Secretary of State for Justice. The amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Judd is, therefore, unnecessary.
The other amendments in the name of the noble Baroness seek to merge the posts of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State. Those posts are quite separate and distinct, although they are, at present, both held by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton. There are numerous references to the Lord Chancellor—
My Lords, I am not saying that he may not, but the functions of the Lord Chancellor and those of the Secretary of State for Justice are separate. When we looked at what should remain as the core functions of the Lord Chancellor, we decided that they should not be subject to changes in the machinery of government in the normal way and that if the core functions of the Lord Chancellor were to be changed, one would have to come back to Parliament, which would have to speak.
The noble Lord will remember from his days in government as a Secretary of State that machinery-of-government changes can happen very quickly. Indeed, when the noble Lord’s party was in government, I recall occasions when a department was changed and neither the Ministers nor the officials knew anything about it until they read it in a press release. Of course, those days have changed somewhat, but machinery-of-government changes can still take place in that way.
We made a distinction between the Lord Chancellor’s core functions and an ordinary Secretary of State’s role. For example, before the Ministry of Justice changes, the Lord Chancellor retained certain specific functions as Lord Chancellor but he also had different functions as the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. At present, those two posts happen to held by one person but at some future date, if another Administration wanted to do things differently, there would be nothing to prevent the two functions becoming separate because they are quite distinct.
There are numerous references to the Lord Chancellor in the statute book but, as I have tried to indicate, they relate primarily to functions associated with the judiciary. The functions with which the Bill is concerned are not judicial and it is therefore appropriate that they are exercised by the Secretary of State for Justice rather than the Lord Chancellor.
I hope that, in the light of that explanation, the noble Baroness will be content not to press her amendments. I invite her to look at the functions that we set out in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, as that clearly delineated the functions that would be reserved to the Lord Chancellor and would not be subject to machinery-of-government changes.
I was intrigued by the way in which the Minister said that changes used to happen quickly and without consultation and that things are much better now. I recall, not so long ago, the Government scribbling on the back of an envelope and trying to abolish the role of Lord Chancellor overnight. The next morning, they found that—whoops!—they were not allowed to do so constitutionally and they had to go back to square one. So I do not think that the noble Baroness can claim virtue in that respect.
The noble Baroness talked about the distinction between the two posts. I am very grateful for the probing questions put by my noble friend Lord Waddington because it is important for the noble Baroness to put her clarification on the record. I shall ask my noble friend Lord Kingsland to look through that for future reference to see whether we wish to pursue this matter further.
I also noticed that the noble Baroness said that it is not normal practice to refer in legislation to any particular Secretary of State. She said that in relation to Amendment No. 137, which the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who is not with us at the moment, may wish to move when we reach that stage of the Bill—one knows not. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of recent developments in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill, which purports to be a Private Member’s Bill but has in fact been rewritten by the Government—very effectively in many respects. In that Bill, the Government accepted an amendment proposed by me and put their name to it. That makes it clear that not all Secretaries of State are the same, as some are excluded from having powers under that Bill. So it appears that there can be occasions when it is right to refer to a specific Secretary of State, and that may assist the noble Lord, Lord Judd, later.
I accept entirely what the Minister said was a core point—that is, with regard to this Bill, these are not judicial functions. Certainly, the Lord Chancellor has a variety of titles and it will be interesting to see which ones he continues to use, but I do not intend to press this amendment or to return to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
13: Clause 1, page 2, line 24, leave out “or persons to whom conditional cautions are given”
The noble Baroness said: With this amendment, we challenge the Government’s intentions regarding the future use of conditional cautions. The expansion of their use as a punishment could have significant impact on the work of the probation services, which are core to the Bill. The last paragraph of Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations that can extend the purposes listed in subsection (1), which we debated last week. He may extend those purposes to include other purposes relating to persons charged with, or convicted of, offences or persons to whom conditional cautions are given.
My amendment would prevent the Secretary of State adding extra purposes relating to those who are given conditional cautions. What extra purposes can the Government have in mind? The Minister will recall that, during the passage of the Police and Justice Bill, we expressed our concerns about the Government’s plans to extend widely the use of conditional cautions and in particular to change the purposes for which they can be imposed. I made it clear that we continued to support the provisions launched by the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which introduced conditional cautions intended to facilitate the rehabilitation of the offender or to ensure that the offender makes reparation—note that it provides for rehabilitation and reparation. But in the Police and Justice Act the Government took the power for conditional cautions to be imposed as a punishment. My colleague Nick Herbert expressed our concerns in another place about the extension of the purpose of cautions to include punishment, but at that time, after much consideration, we agreed that the clause should remain in the Bill while we assessed the impact of the new proposals, when implemented, on cautioning.
I also put on the record our concern about the developments in government policy since the clause was debated in another place. Mr Blair had announced the intention dramatically to increase the use of administrative punishment and to avoid the use of the courts. There was no proper public debate on that matter. In March this year the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General sent me a copy of the consultation on the revised code of practice for conditional cautioning, and I am grateful to him for doing so. When are we likely to see the results of that consultation?
Page four of the consultation paper refers to the rolling-out of the pre-Police and Justice Act cautioning—conditions for rehabilitation or reparation. The Attorney-General’s letter stated that a national roll-out was under way and that the Government were on target to have a conditional cautioning scheme operating in one basic command unit in every force area in England and Wales by summer 2007 and that full implementation of the scheme was planned for March 2008. He added that the Government hoped to introduce the new punitive measures on a phased basis from autumn 2007, so all those changes will take place when the Bill comes into effect and they will have an impact on how contestability in the Bill may operate.
What assessment has been made of the impact of the roll-out on probation services’ resources and their dispersal between the different tasks that the services need to fulfil? What extra funds have been needed so far to cover the supervision of those on conditional cautions? What new funds have the Government set aside to cover all the extra work that will follow for probation services when the conditional caution is used widely as a punishment? One assumes that the costs are likely to be heavier since there will be more resistance to fulfilling any directions that are overtly a punishment as opposed to those intended as part of a system of rehabilitation.
How do the Government intend to use the powers in subsection (5) to extend the purposes relating to conditional cautions? What impact will that have on the probation services and the cost of running the associated services? I beg to move.
In the Bill,
“persons to whom conditional cautions are given”
should not be included with those charged or convicted because they are in a completely different category. I am among those who have supported, and want to continue to support, restorative justice. Conditional cautioning fits in very well with that. On those grounds I support the amendment.
There is a larger underlying point that we should mark as we go past. If we are introducing contestability, the question of how far private providers of services should provide punishment will come up more and more. If a conditional caution is to be defined as a punishment, it raises some awkward questions about the contestability of services. I firmly hold the view that punishment should be provided by the state and its officers, not private service providers. That is something we must debate each time this arises in the Bill.
I support the amendment. As we all know, and as has been mentioned, conditional cautions were introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and are a form of administrative justice. They offer an alternative to entering the criminal justice system for low-level offending and are greatly to be welcomed as a brake on what can be seen as a recent creeping tendency for sentencing to widen the net and for offenders to become criminalised at an earlier stage.
As we have also heard, when conditional cautions were introduced, their objective was absolutely clear. They were an essentially non-punitive response to low-level offending which gave police the opportunity to press home the unacceptability of the behaviour and to attach conditions which were exclusively focused on reparation and rehabilitation. This approach is greatly to be encouraged as widely as possible, not least because those two objectives also have the best chances of giving satisfaction to the victim and reducing reoffending. We strongly support them.
We had some lengthy arguments during the passage of the Police and Justice Bill when the Government wanted to extend the conditions to include other sanctions, such as fines, which went beyond the original intentions and were essentially punitive. As I understood it, it was then agreed that there would be trials in a few areas to test out the wider approach. On the basis that this would be revisited before being more widely applied, we accepted that situation at the time.
The Bill already allows for probation services to be involved in determining whether conditional cautions should be given—and, if so, which conditions should be attached—and for the supervision of anybody to whom such a caution is given. In that sense, it seems entirely superfluous to include this sentence in the Bill, and raises the worry that it is another way of paving the way to the further extensions that we resisted during the passage of the Police and Justice Bill.
The extension of administrative justice, even to speed up the process of justice, which I know was an issue for the Government at the time, or in a limited form, is absolutely undesirable. It would be welcome if the Minister could categorically reassure the Committee that no such measures will be taken, or included in the Bill, until all the issues have been revisited, as we were last year assured they would be.
The provision is very much seen as a tidying-up amendment. I remind the Committee that it will always be open to the individual to decline to accept a caution. If they do not wish to accept a conditional caution, it is therefore absolutely open to them to go to court and have it dealt with. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater of Butterstone, is absolutely right when she says that conditional cautions are a useful way of narrowing, as opposed to widening, the number drawn into the criminal justice system. It is sometimes enough to arrest the behaviour by bringing it to the attention of the individual, considering how best to make reparation, which conditional cautions can enable us to do, and then, one hopes, stopping them from continuing to reoffend. The beauty of it is that a conditional caution is significantly different from a full-blown conviction. It can assist greatly in the long term.
We therefore considered the financial element when we last debated this matter. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about the caution with which she approached those issues. However, I remind the Committee that Clause 1 is based on Section 1 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000, as amended by Section 26 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The 2003 Act added the probation purposes. Clause 1(1)(b) of the Bill provides for,
“authorised persons to be given assistance in determining whether conditional cautions should be given and which conditions to attach to conditional cautions”.
We will discuss shortly the regulation-making power in Clause 1(5). However, Amendment No. 13 would remove the power to extend the purposes relating to persons to whom conditional cautions are given. I understand the spirit in which it has been tabled because it enables us to clarify the purpose.
I commend what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said about the importance and utility of conditional cautions, which was echoed by all noble Lords who spoke. A conditional caution enables the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to offer a caution with conditions attached. It may be given to an adult when there is sufficient evidence to charge him with an offence that he has admitted. The offender must agree to that caution. If the conditions are not complied with, the offender can be prosecuted for the original offence. It is important to remember that if the offender breaches the conditions, he returns to square one and is then prosecuted. It is for the CPS to decide whether a conditional caution is suitable and to identify appropriate conditions.
Those conditions can include reparative work conditions. The National Offender Management Service is currently working with the respect task force, which is funding the project, and the Probation Service to increase the opportunities for unpaid reparative work conditions in a number of pilot sites. The role of the Probation Service in this project is to identify suitable schemes that can be used, drawing on its expertise from involvement in similar schemes. The pilots are expected to last a year, from January 2007 to December 2007, and will be evaluated to provide information regarding the costs and benefits involved in the use of such conditions. That will help us to make a proper judgment about how best to use them.
When the 2000 Act was amended by the 2003 Act, the amendments did not include conditional cautions in the power to extend probation purposes by means of regulation. However, there are certainly no plans to extend the probation purposes in relation to conditional cautions; nor is there any reason of principle to treat this aspect of provision differently from the others. This is simply a tidying-up provision, which I hope noble Lords will agree is sensible.
The respect agenda is an opportunity to look at how others may be able to assist us in this regard. A number of voluntary sector agencies are keen to assist in some of this lighter intervention to help people to get over some of their difficulties. We see this as a helpful opportunity to move forward. With that, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw the amendment.
I accept that this is a tidying-up process, but has the Minister considered the cost implications for the Probation Service? The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked about this. This is the lower end of the sentencing tariff. Why do we want to involve the Probation Service to that extent, bearing in mind that its biggest problems are resources and the financial implications of its work?
I reassure the noble Lord that we are taking cost into consideration. The Bill is an opportunity better to allocate resources and expertise. There are areas in which we need the acuity, skill and experience of the Probation Service, particularly with more difficult offenders, for whose management we will need the greatest period of care. But there is an opportunity for us to develop a lighter-touch intervention with some of the reparative and other work which may enable us to divert people in a way that is quick, effective and successful.
We have talked several times in this House about the importance of intervening early and undertaking a needs-based assessment of what we might best be able to do quickly. I know that the noble Lord has a lot of experience of the work of NACRO, the NSPCC, Turning Point and other charities and organisations. They can assist with some of that lighter work—some at the more difficult end, but especially at the lighter end. We may be able to develop that. That is why we think that it is very important to look at the pilots and the outcomes. The respect agenda is important. Those organisations can assist us with some of the resources involved, and we will be looking very carefully to see what works. That is our template. It is on that basis that we make these proposals.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was right to pick up the issue of cost. It is an issue that concerns me. I still do not have a feel for how the budgets are working, and how they are being transferred from the Home Office to what was the DCA. As a lot of what the Government are trying to do in the Bill is predicated on trying to use more effectively the money that is available, that worries me.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, picked up another issue that worries me as it runs through the Bill. It is why I tabled my amendment that kicked off our first day in Committee last week. That is the future role of probation services with regard to punishment and what we consider punishment to be. Conditional cautions which require punishment will obviously involve probation services, by whomsoever they are provided, in punishing the offender.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she tried to give better clarification. She took us further forward. I am grateful to her for saying that there are no plans at present to extend the purposes of conditional cautions. She will not be surprised if I watch as carefully as I can, given that it is just me, to see that there are no changes. I appreciate what she says about the tidying-up nature in the reference to the 2000 Act. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, which I will not bring back on Report.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
14: Clause 1, page 2, line 25, at end insert—
“(6) Regulations made under this section may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
The noble Lord said: The amendment stands in my name, as well as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I shall speak in particular to the regulatory powers sought for the Secretary of State in relation to the provision of probation services.
Before speaking to the amendment, I thank the Minister for the large package of information which was transmitted to us at 5.42 pm on Friday. I was grateful for it, although I must admit to her that I was enormously disappointed when I saw what the corporate allowance was all about—of the 26 organisations, several were charities, two were hotels and one a garden centre. I had rather hoped for more than that.
I freely admit that the basis for the amendment is the concern that a number of us have about an action taken last September, when a statutory instrument was introduced that changed the composition of probation boards and removed magistrates and members of local government from them by stealth, to be honest, because we were given no warning. We did not have time to go through it before it was introduced. Therefore, we are seriously concerned that that might happen again in relation to probation services. I am particularly concerned at the moment about the introduction of probation trusts, about which I wish to conclude.
I spent considerable time over the weekend going through in great detail what was said last Wednesday, particularly by the Minister. I shall, if I may, replay some of her words to her. I think that we are absolutely at one on the intention behind so much of the Bill; it is the method and the detail that cause concern. First, she said that,
“we could do better on reducing reoffending”.
I think we all agree that we would like the figures to be better, but we will talk about what reoffending means later in our consideration of the Bill, so I do not propose to do so here.
Secondly, the Minister said that,
“we are talking about two different systems: the system of commissioning services and that of the provision of services”.
However, commissioning enables provision, so we are talking not so much about two different systems but about two complementary systems. The Minister went on to say that,
“we are introducing a process of commissioning”.—[Official Report, 16/5/07; cols. 225-26.]
Anyone reading that could be forgiven for thinking that commissioning was brand new, but of course commissioning has been in place ever since 1907. The commissioning of services, whether by a probation service or the voluntary sector, has actually happened. The Minister says that the Government are introducing a “process of commissioning”, which is not the same thing at all: we are talking about a different process, not about commissioning itself. It is the process of commissioning being introduced that is causing concern. There is more stealth in this, as I shall outline. That is what causes us concern, because it is what the Government say they want to do rather than what may be necessary.
Here I come to the necessary bits. I was very interested in what the Minister said about what the Probation Service was already doing. She said:
“All the things alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham,”—
in my amendment about the principles—
“are already part of the framework of what the Probation Service does”.
Noble Lords will remember that that included the partnership between the private, the voluntary and the public sectors in the provision of probation, working in conjunction with local organisations. The Minister went on to say that the Probation Service,
“has gone right to the centre of the criminal justice system”.
If the Probation Service is already at the heart of the criminal justice system, what else do we need from it? The Minister continued:
“Now the Probation Service sometimes drives change and welds the criminal justice system together, an important cultural shift”.—[Official Report, 16/5/07; col. 269.]
If the Probation Service is already at the heart of the system and is welding it together, what change are we talking about that justifies such an upheaval in the method of commissioning?
The Minister then said that,
“compliance with court orders … is an area in which probation performance has improved beyond recognition in recent years. For example, enforcement action is now taken swiftly in over 90 per cent of cases”.—[Official Report, 16/5/07; col. 273.]
If I had a 90 per cent success rate in what I was doing, I would be extremely pleased. We talked so much about the need to improve enforcement and about compliance with court orders being at the heart of what the probation services are doing, but, according to the Minister, a great amount of it is already being done, so what are we actually talking about? Of course we must improve performance. It seems to me that the Bill is not so much about improving performance but about changing the method by which some of that performance is commissioned. That is not necessarily terribly wise, if everything is working as well as the Minister tells us it is.
Having said that, I have three questions for the Minister. The Minister has said:
“We … need to collocate relevant services on a regional basis to provide as efficaciously as possible easy access for those who need it. It makes sense to commission such services more regionally”.—[Official Report, 16/5/07; col. 271.]
How does the Minister propose to collocate private and voluntary sector services on a regional basis when there is no way for the Government to direct the deployment of such services in that way. I think that the Minister means that you need to have local services working together on a regional basis, but that is not the same as collocating them.
At col. 270 on 16 May, the Minister referred to the duty of the Probation Service to provide courts with details of the sentence plan to help them to come to the sentence. With respect, I do not think that that is correct. Until the sentence has been passed, the assessment on which the sentence plan is made cannot happen. The sentence plan cannot be provided before the sentence. Advice is needed by the courts, but a sentence plan cannot be provided as part of the pre-sentence report.
My final concern is that the Minister mentioned that there would have to be personal officers in prisons who would be contacted by offender managers over the supervision of prisoners. I know that there are personal officers in prisons and that that system is under huge stress from overcrowding. Not many prisoners have personal officers, whose job is nothing to do with offender management or sentence planning. I merely question those matters.
This Bill is about a very serious matter—the proper management of offenders and the protection of the public. I am deeply concerned that too much in this Bill is not sufficiently detailed and thought-through in order to enable it to happen. You cannot just let it go. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, put it extremely well when he said:
“I am disappointed, but I hope that she will go away and reflect on what we have been saying … and see whether some adjustments can be made to the Bill to send a clearer signal about its strategic purpose”.—[Official Report, 16/5/07; col. 249.]
I entirely agree.
We also need detail—by that, I mean not just this House but also probation boards and probation staffs. My concern is that those probation boards which wish to be considered trusts have to apply by 4 June. We are told that they will be identified by the end of July and the first trusts will be formed on 1 April 2008. But I have also consulted the probation boards to find out what they think about this, which I have done in the spirit of what I reported at Second Reading; namely, that 638 of the 648 dissenting—or at least critical—verdicts on the so-called consultation paper about probation were against or had some alternative view, and they have been airbrushed. In addition, a very disturbing comment was made by a senior official in the Home Office to the effect that it did not consult senior probation officers on this matter because they were too junior.
The probation boards were asked about this consultation because they are the people who have to put themselves forward. They replied to the Home Office on 17 April 2007. They said:
“We are pleased to provide a response but before addressing the question there are two overarching points we would wish to make. First, we believe that there is a fundamental lack of clarity as to the nature of a trust and how it will be different from a local probation board in real terms and, second, the proposal for trusts to be established in waves is potentially divisive, resulting in two concurrent probation governance regimes that would confuse stakeholders and be bureaucratic and extensive to resource”.
They went on to talk about integrated assessment, on which they were invited to comment.
I have paid close attention to the noble Lord’s words during the 11 minutes that he has been speaking, which have gone back to what he said on our first day in Committee. Is he speaking to his amendment, because I am struggling to understand the relevance of what he is saying to the amendment before us?
It is important to explain why the Secretary of State should be required to use the affirmative resolution procedure rather than what has happened before. That is what I explained when I set out what I proposed to do. I have used the example of what is happening with trusts because it is an area in which something is happening by stealth before being properly thought through. That is precisely what we want to avoid in the better delivery of probation services, which is the whole purpose of this.
I shall not repeat all that is said in the letter, but it is clear that the probation boards are extremely concerned because they do not know who is going to make the judgments on who the trusts should be, what will be the criteria for assessing the quality of leadership, what form will the stakeholder surveys take and so on. In other words, this is not a properly thought-through process. Given that, how do the boards know what they are applying to be on 4 June, who will make the selection and so forth in July, and how something appropriate for the system is going to be put forward next April? I have also consulted the chief probation officers, who are very concerned that budgets have been frozen for three years, which means that they are facing extreme problems given the vast numbers of additional offenders they have to deal with. For example, the chief probation officer of London has had to warn 60 per cent of his staff that they risk redundancy as a result of the cuts that may have to be made. That is not to say that it will happen, but he has given a warning about the impact of the cuts. The Probation Service has lost its headquarters and its national director in all but name, so there is no one now to lead it and be the focal point for chief officers of probation. They are concerned about the fragmentation resulting from that.
I submit that all this is avoidable. However, it should not just be avoided now, it has to be avoidable in the future. That is the purpose of my amendment: to make certain that we discuss these provisions in both Houses before any changes are made which might well impact seriously on the protection of the public, which is of course the major responsibility of the Government. I beg to move.
I want to ask a brief question arising out of my understanding of this amendment, which I see as a probing amendment. As I understand it, the Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform gave a cautious report on the delegated powers in Clause 1(5). Under it, the Secretary of State will be enabled to extend probation purposes by order, subject to the negative procedure. Clause 2 requires him to make sufficient provision for probation purposes. The committee observed that the power in Clause 1(5) was similar to that conferred in Clause 1(3) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. But—I emphasise this—without that precedent, the committee would have been inclined to consider that this power should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Can the Minister explain why the negative procedure should apply in this case?
I support the amendment. It is extraordinarily strange that the Secretary of State should be given what is, as it were, an uncontrolled power to change the Bill. We spent the whole of the first day in Committee discussing the first clause, but apparently we were wasting our time because the Secretary of State can change it at any point he chooses.
I thank the Minister for sending the details of the process that has been under way for some time to us over the weekend. Indeed, a second copy arrived this morning. They certainly gave a clearer view of what has been happening. However, they reinforced my concern that there was a need for a Bill of this kind to enable what has been going on perfectly satisfactorily for some time, on more and more of a partnership basis, with recognition that the Probation Service was doing an extremely good job. Some of the details about the cuts in its resources are very concerning indeed. I, too, have heard comments expressed and they should be seriously considered. I look forward to hearing what the Minister can say to justify the need for the Bill.
My noble friend Lady Linklater is right to say that we see this as a probing amendment. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee report states that the department will allow the definition to be extended but not reduced. It further states that the view of the Minister’s department is that this is the appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny for this provision. Can the Minister give examples of how it came to this conclusion?
When listening to my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, I was reminded of the reforms undertaken by the Government in establishing the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They were very well intentioned and it is now going well. But, at the time, many guardians ad litem left the service because the transition was very poorly considered. I think that is accepted by all. The result was that children’s cases were delayed, and delay is critical in the outcomes for children in these matters.
I am also reminded of the recent proposed reforms to legal aid for family courts. I know the Government are thinking very carefully about this, but the current result is that businesses working in this area are closing down and lawyers are talking very seriously about leaving it because of the introduction of fixed fees.
I am sure that the Minister is taking these concerns very seriously. She is trying very hard to explain what the intention is and I hope that she is successful. I would hate experienced probation officers to leave the service because their morale is reduced by the Bill. I hope she can reassure us.
It is perhaps worth reminding the Committee that we are discussing the relative merits of having either an affirmative or negative resolution procedure. We are not—or should not be—focusing on a wider range of issues in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in his customary style, has broadened things out and away from the purpose of this sub-set debate, which, in essence, is what it is; it is a process issue.
I understand that the noble Lord has major policy differences with the Government about the way in which commissioning should work. I understand that he does not like the general thrust of this modernisation, although, of course, on some occasions he likes aspects of it, but that is not what we are discussing here. Many of the arguments he has raised today were discussed very fully at the outset of the Bill, not only at Second Reading but on the first day in Committee, so perhaps the Committee will allow me to run through very carefully the arguments surrounding this issue.
There has been a great deal of discussion under Clause 1, which sets out the various purposes governing the probation services that are to be provided under the remainder of Part 1. The probation purposes describe the nature of the probation services to be provided under the new arrangements. Clause 1(5) enables the Secretary of State to extend, but not to narrow, the probation purposes by regulations which will be subject to negative resolution. I am sure all noble Lords understand that. The amendments would make any extension to the probation purposes subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.
Perhaps it will assist the Committee if noble Lords understand that the same power already exists in the 2000 Act. Taking on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, about providing an example of how that particular power has been of some value and virtue in the past, I should say that it was the means by which purposes were extended in 2001 to include the giving of information to victims. That extension was widely applauded, not just in this House but more generally. It was a sensible, practical measure, and, I think most people would agree, highly desirable. It is possible that similar needs may arise in future that we cannot now predict, but which would be straightforward extensions of the existing power. It is not that, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suspects, we are forcing or foreshadowing some great extension of power other than things such as the provision of information to victims. It is not a stealthy move, as he has perhaps seen it. We might not be able to predict what those smaller steps might be, but it seems sensible to us to have a simple and effective way of making those sorts of changes without placing unnecessary burdens on the House and its time.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee produced an extremely helpful report, which recognised the precedent that exists in the 2000 Act. The committee does not consider the negative procedure inappropriate at all. I have looked at what the committee had to say about the issue, as has the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and it is worth reading it fully into the record. It says:
“Clause 1 defines ‘the probation purposes’ and subsection (5) enables the Secretary of State to extend the purposes by order subject to negative procedure. Clause 2 requires the Secretary of State to make sufficient provision for the probation purposes. The power at Clause 1(5) is similar to that at Section 1(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 2000. Without this precedent, we would have been included to consider that this power should be subject to the affirmative procedure but we do not consider the negative procedure inappropriate”.
That is the committee’s ultimate conclusion. It can see the virtue of the power and the way it has worked for small extensions of powers that have been required, and it does not see some wider purpose to it. For that reason we resist this amendment; otherwise we would be more than happy to have a broader debate and the affirmative procedure used. This is not a Government stealthily taking a power with some sinister import behind it; it is simply a narrow provision that only requires a negative procedure in this House and another place, and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recognises the strength of that argument. I hope that, having heard that, the mover of the amendment will feel relaxed enough to withdraw it.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation, particularly for what he said about the negative procedure. I am sorry that he introduced the word “modernisation”, because I do not know what he means by that. This is not modernisation. I am all for modernisation if it means making things better, but sometimes when you are dealing with people certain principles have to be observed. I am not satisfied that this process will necessarily enable people to do their job with others in a better way, and I am therefore concerned that he should introduce the term.
I listened to the Minister and I note what he said about the Government not wanting to take a power by stealth, but I am certain that there will be occasions when the Secretary of State may, in an emergency, have to make some sudden change. Of course I accept that. I remain concerned, however, about the general tenet of what I have been saying. The Minister has not commented on the fact that we have another Committee day on Wednesday but then do not appear again until 5 June, one day after people are meant to have applied for something that is not clear. It is appropriate to draw that to the attention of the Committee so that the Minister has an opportunity to consider whether the process, which was started in the Home Office—it replied on it on 17 April—and is now in the hands of the Ministry of Justice, is still appropriate.
I say that because, since 9 May, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has had a meeting with the chief officers of probation and the probation boards, which resulted in their saying that they were not happy that there was a vast gulf between reality as they saw it on the ground and the situation as it was being presented. As a result, they have written a letter to the Lord Chancellor, which it is not my business to see, and are seeking another meeting, which he is granting. That means that the Ministry of Justice is already concerned about this.
I have not said all that I was going to say. It is extremely important that we bear in mind the fact that the Ministry of Justice will take the legislation forward—I accept that, as the Minister said, we are talking about the Bill and not the ministry—and that the conclusions about what trusts should do and what should happen to them will be reached by the Ministry of Justice. I accept what the Minister said, and I am prepared to withdraw my amendment, but I look forward to further discussion on trusts during the remaining stages of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 agreed to.
15: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to co-operate
The Secretary of State, local probation boards, the Prison Service and such other persons or organisations as the Secretary of State may by order designate shall co-operate with one another in carrying out their respective functions, in so far as those functions relate to the purposes identified in section 1 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43) (“the 2000 Act”).”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment would for the first time make clear how the much quoted and welcome notion of “end-to-end management of offenders”, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, expressed it, can be made a truly effective reality by placing a duty on all the relevant agencies in the criminal justice system in England and Wales to co-operate with one another. This would include the Prison Service, whose role in the process has been mysteriously left out of the Bill.
As has been said in our discussions on the consistent management of offenders from beginning to end, the process must include the Prison Service, particularly when it dominates the lives of so many offenders and impacts so regularly on the Probation Service. That is not to mention its ever increasing overcrowding, its costs and the high reoffending rates.
Moreover, given the general, official perception of a need to be tougher and more punitive, the development of community-based alternatives has simply not had the necessary profile or investment to enable them to do what they could and should be doing. I know that the Government’s payback schemes are in operation, but their impact has been limited and they have not yet had the desired effect. As a result, they do not have the confidence or understanding of the sentencers or the public. This is in spite of the oft repeated mantra that custody must be used only as a last resort for the most dangerous, violent and prolific offenders, the reality of the disproportionate numbers of offenders serving short-term sentences filling the prisons, and the inevitable failure, in the midst of untenable overcrowding, to prevent more than two-thirds of the prison population from reoffending. Prisons, and their crucial relationship with probation services, cannot and must not be left out of this discussion. The amendment would put them under a duty to co-operate.
This follows the Scottish model, which has now been in place for just over a year and was discussed briefly at Second Reading. The differences of context in England do not outweigh the similarities. The response to an early consultation process in Scotland revealed a strong resistance to a move towards a single agency, just as was the case in England and Wales when Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-Offending was published—fewer than 1 per cent of responses were in favour of the centralising plan. Concerns similar to those in Scotland were expressed, in particular the wish to keep provision rooted in local areas where offending originates and where it must also be tackled if it is to work. The difference was that Scotland listened to the views of the practitioners and has created a system that is just that: rooted in localities.
I shall briefly describe what is being done in Scotland. Eight community justice authorities have been created, which are a regional tier of statutory bodies. They consist of locally elected councillors, who ensure that criminal justice agencies are joined up and fulfil their duty to work with the Scottish Prison Service to reduce reoffending and to form effective local area partnerships to deliver integrated services for offenders both in prison and in the community. Statutory partner bodies are the police, health boards, the Scottish Court Service, significant voluntary organisations, local procurators fiscal and Victim Support Scotland. There is also a wider range of statutory partners. Additionally, there is a parallel plan for MAPPA, with a similar duty to co-operate between all the relevant agencies. Area plans are drawn up based on local need.
At this early stage, the important lesson is that a more creative, responsive way of working is already developing between agencies and generating a lot of enthusiasm. The amendment represents a proposition akin to that of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to break down the silos and the barriers that prevent constructive partnership from working. It would make end-to-end management far easier, and more shared information means better planning. It is important that we look at such developments and learn from others’ experience, especially when the goals are common and the way of working reflects what most of us believe is essential to good and effective working; namely, that it is rooted in localities and reflects the needs of all members of the community, including the offenders.
Structures are already in existence in England and Wales that have similar potential and play an important part in choreographing local community justice. They include the crime and disorder partnerships and area criminal justice boards. Procedures are in place for local area agreements to bring the relevant agencies together in ways that suit their local circumstances. This is exactly what the LGA is calling for.
Many of us fear that the Bill will create an overcentralised and overbureaucratic system under which providers will find it hard to create real partnerships in the interests of offenders and communities. Contestability in this atypical market could drive a wedge between providers, who should be working together in the interests of offenders and the community, rather than driving up standards as is the hope and belief. The duty to co-operate would bind agencies together in the interests of best practice in offender management and communities.
Many agencies, including Napo and the LGA, already see great value in this way of working. I urge the Minister to give the issue serious thought and not to dismiss it quite as summarily as she did at Second Reading. It has a great deal to offer us. I beg to move.
I support the amendment, which would, as the noble Baroness said, ensure better co-operation between all the relevant agencies. That, in turn, would provide greater safety for the public. The amendment aims to reduce reoffending; it emphasises this rather than competition between the various agencies. I support particularly the reference in the amendment to the Prison Service. The Scottish experience was outlined. As the noble Baroness said, it is a good model to follow.
I support the amendment. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for bringing the Scottish experience into our discussions. I declare an interest as a member of the Scottish Executive’s national advisory board on community justice authorities and convener of the Scottish Consortium on Crime and Criminal Justice.
I, too, very much appreciate the material that was sent round electronically by the Ministry of Justice late on Friday. One paper on the strategy for reducing reoffending says that to deliver results we need simultaneously to tackle the education, employment, financial, housing and health barriers that offenders face while providing support to ensure that they are able to access mainstream services and are effectively reintegrated back into the community. I very much welcome the reference to mainstream services, because once people have been labelled offenders and have been described as the responsibility of one service, mainstream services can be very happy to say, “They are not our responsibility. This is someone else’s business. We are already under enough pressure, thank you”. The idea of a duty to co-operate will overcome any temptations in that direction.
A duty to co-operate can help those supervising offenders to make demands on those mainstream services without which they will not be able to rehabilitate. I refer in particular to the statutory duty on prisons. It is very new in Scotland that prisons should have a statutory duty to co-operate with the community justice authorities, which can therefore make demands on them.
In a sense, the Bill has an emphasis on individuals and their procession through a system, but there is enormous scope for co-operation much more widely than just in relation to the individual pathway of a person through a prison and out into the rehabilitation service. There are ways in which co-operation between institutions can be very beneficial. For example, Edinburgh prison has half a floor devoted to offices where people who resettle ex-prisoners have a desk, a telephone and a lockable filing cabinet. They can be there at any time, and prisoners come to see them. Another way in which co-operation can be beneficial is when prisons make a relationship with the local authority and agree to inform the authority about who is coming out when and what they might need. Those are simply examples of what could flow from a duty to co-operate. I very much support the noble Baroness in her amendment.
I warmly support the amendment and draw my noble friend’s attention to her words from previous deliberations in Committee, when she reassured me and other noble Lords of her total commitment to the objective of rehabilitation. If we are to achieve that, there must be a culture in which everybody shares that purpose. This amendment simply puts the practical pieces in place to ensure that that culture is applied.
It may be helpful to point out that the Government already have this policy with regard to children in the Children Act, under which it is the duty of all agencies to work in partnership towards five clear outcomes for children; there is a children and young people’s plan in each area to guide the agencies in that regard. Will the Minister explain why that works in that scenario and not in this one?
I have been intrigued by the pattern in Scotland, which seems to be a model that we should all bear in mind for the future. On this co-operation and partnership in the work that we hope will be undertaken with offenders and within the local community, my concern lies in commissioning services. There is a difference between one group telling another what it has to do, but not in a partnership way, and the whole approach of the amendment whereby both sides co-operate in partnership to deliver whatever is identified for the good of an offender and the local community. That is what struck me and I would be glad of a reaction from the Minister on that point.
I support the amendment, to which I put my name. At times it is well worth looking not only at the international dimension but at what is happening across the Border. My noble friend Lady Linklater rightly pointed out some of the positive ways in which Scotland has dealt with this issue. My noble friend makes very positive contributions on criminal justice matters, so we should seriously take note of what she says.
The amendment does not take anything out of the Bill but simply adds something very positive. We need to look at how effective such a strategy could be. In the past, the criminal justice agencies worked in a compartmentalised way. While they were effective and adequate in what they were doing, the sum total of what they did often resulted in a service that was not properly co-ordinated. Research into the past will show that that is what happened. However, changes have taken place, for which the Government should take some credit, in setting up local criminal justice agencies, crime reduction partnerships and all sorts of things. For example, at one time, one could hardly get past prison doors, but now we see a number of agencies going into prisons to do something positive. We are looking for that sort of example in how we take this matter forward.
We do not need to be negative here, because there is something very positive in the amendment. I hope that the Minister will take it away to examine carefully how it could supplement the Government’s actions. Perhaps she will come back with it at a later stage to see how we can progress.
I have listened carefully to this debate. I hope that the Minister does not just tell us that the amendment is unnecessary. I suspect that that is what she is about to say, but it would be a great pity if she did. I hope that she will explain what conceivable harm it would do if the amendment was included in the Bill.
I rise not just to support the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, but to associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said about being positive. We are all positive about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, referred to binding together the two services and spreading good practice. I refer back to what I have said before. It is a great pity that the chief binder in the Probation Service seems to have been sidelined—in other words, the professional head of the service. The ability to spread good practice is determined by whether the structure is in place, with chief officers working to the director. If you do not have that, you have no machinery—and spreading good practice is the best possible way in which to turn good practice into common practice.
The noble Lord, Lord Waddington, has foreshadowed what I am going to say, but that does not diminish the efficacy of saying it. I hope that, when I have finished, the Committee will be reassured that we are very much on the same track. We are in many ways in violent agreement as opposed to disagreement. I shall explain why, taking the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that we have already made some very significant changes in the openness with which we are participating, sharing and working together in these matters. We believe that that has had a very significant impact.
There is no disagreement between us that working together in partnership is absolutely critical if we are to be successful. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, for highlighting the parts of the note which emphasise our aspirations and the work that we have already done. I say to her that because we wanted to make sure that these issues were mainstreamed I set up the Inter-Ministerial Group on Reducing Reoffending, on which 11 departments now sit. We are working very hard together to make sure that this is the preserve not simply of the criminal justice system but of all government. The issues in the note that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, highlighted are those with which we are all concerned and to which we are entirely committed.
The Scottish system is attractive but there are some very significant differences between its arrangements and those in England and Wales. The Scottish Act places a duty on Scottish Ministers, the community justice authorities and local authorities to co-operate in carrying out their respective functions in relation to relevant persons designated by order. As the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, made clear, it is important that the members of the body are all elected. This model is not transferable to England and Wales without making radical changes to our central and local criminal justice structures and does not allow for the introduction of commissioning.
This amendment seeks to place a duty to co-operate on all bodies which deliver offender services, and on other related bodies to be defined by order. I thank the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment because it gives me an early opportunity to talk in detail about our commitment to working in partnership. This is the main purpose of the Bill. A wide variety of duties to co-operate in the delivery of probation services already exists in England and Wales. Some of these are statutory, such as crime and disorder reduction partnerships, through which we have delivered the successful Prolific and other Priority Offenders Programme; others are non-statutory, such as local criminal justice boards, which bring together the heads of all the local criminal justice agencies—police, Probation Service, Prison Service, Courts Service, Crown Prosecution Service and youth offending services—in the 42 areas of England and Wales.
We have also established reducing reoffending partnership boards in every region. These boards, convened by the regional offender managers, are proving very effective in bringing together a range of partners responsible for delivering services from outside the criminal justice system who have a part to play in addressing the wider causes of reoffending. Typical members will include representatives from Jobcentre Plus, the Learning and Skills Council, local authorities, health services and the sentencers. Indeed, on Friday I had the privilege of visiting Doncaster prison, where I spoke to people in the resettlement wing. I saw some very impressive work there. The prison had just received £60,000 from the Home Office for a lithograph printer, which has enabled skills training to be delivered. I am given to understand that there is a skills gap in that part of Yorkshire. Some excellent training is now going on in the prison. Indeed, one prisoner has now left with sufficient skills to enable him to become a teacher trainer of printers and receives a wage equivalent to that of the senior prison officer who trained him. So there is a great deal of sharing of expertise. We are trying to replicate the outside working environment in prisons.
I also saw the Together Women Programme in Doncaster and then moved on to Sheffield to look at the work by the partnership to reduce reoffending. Some splendid work is being done right across the piece. These partnerships are already co-operating and working together. We want to build on the successful work of these partnerships, which have been so painstakingly established over recent years. That is why we welcome the move to place local area agreements on a statutory footing in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. I have tabled an amendment, which we will discuss later, to ensure that this applies to the new arrangements proposed in the Bill.
I hope that I have made clear that we recognise that probation services cannot reduce reoffending on their own. Co-operation is crucial to the delivery of partnership working. Clause 3(3)(a) explicitly enables the Secretary of State to authorise or require providers to co-operate with one another and with other agencies involved in crime prevention, crime reduction or work with victims. These expectations will be clearly set out in contracts.
From a wider perspective, the overriding point is that a duty to co-operate with external bodies would not of itself create a change of culture for those delivering probation services. We need to supplement the public sector Probation Service by working increasingly in partnership with the voluntary, charitable and private sectors, and with local communities. I do not see how this would be achieved by this amendment.
I remind the Committee that around 50 per cent of the resources that support offenders come from outside the criminal justice system. The National Offender Management Service is already committed to working closely with all partners at a local level. At the moment the ability of local providers to co-ordinate these resources is hampered and variable. The legislation will give us the freedom to be far more flexible in the way that we do this. To safeguard against fragmentation we will make it a priority for regional offender managers to contract with probation trusts in such a way as to preserve the benefits of coterminosity. We can also make sure that those who commission do so in a way that encourages and enhances the opportunity for partnership rather than the opposite.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to commissioning a service in a way that would not enhance co-operation and partnership. I believe that she is wrong about that. The whole purpose of our commissioning is to encourage and enhance co-operation and partnership working. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that our work with children is a very good example of how we can deliver that. We have been able to deliver that by working in partnership across the piece. We shall continue to work with our colleagues in DfES to do just that. The test bed areas that we have identified with DfES to look at the skills base and how we can work together will very much help us to embed co-operation and partnership working.
We do not disagree in any way with the ethos; we simply say that this method of working could best be delivered by the structure that we propose. We invite the Committee’s attention to the way Clause 3 is structured, enabling co-operation in a way that we think is proper. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
I am grateful for that explanation. However, there is very little difference between what the legislation proposes and what these Benches propose. There is an analogy with race relations legislation. It was all very well people talking about the Commission for Racial Equality and public authorities eliminating racial discrimination, but hardly anything happened until a duty was in place to promote equality. The same applies here. The provision places a duty on agencies and other bodies to co-operate. The ultimate aim is the same, but the amendment boosts that obligation and will be far more effective. I plead, as others have done, with the Minister to take this back, look at it carefully and see whether those bodies can co-operate much more closely than has happened so far.
I hear what the noble Lord says; that is why I drew the Committee’s attention to Clause 3(3)(a). Perhaps, for completeness, it might help if I read it out. It deals with the power to make arrangements for the provision of probation services. It says:
“Arrangements under subsection (2) may in particular authorise or require that other person … 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”.
That enables us, through the commissioning process, to specifically provide in contracts that those with whom we contract must co-operate. We will look later at the detailed amendments. I have tried to indicate other legislation where we already have a duty to co-operate; for instance, there is a duty on CDRPs to do so. I hope as we go through the amendments that noble Lords will see that duty reinforced again and again. The ability to commission in a way that enhances our opportunity to co-operate is very clear. We can make those provisions. It reserves for the Secretary of State the power to do that appropriately.
That is why we are making changes to local area agreements and will be able to put them on a statutory footing. The partnerships that we have created are not restricted to crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Noble Lords will remember that we have local strategic partnerships, local criminal justice boards, CDRPs and the structures that we are now putting in place. Those will all be bound into the structure for putting local area agreements on to a statutory footing. We will be able to identify certain core issues that all local area agreements will contain, but there will be other issues that local areas will be able to better identify to meet their needs in a way that will enhance co-operation and joint working.
I say clearly to the Committee that all the things that we have looked at to date that have worked well have been predicated on various agencies working together. The reductions that we have seen, for instance, in crime and reoffending have been the direct result of conjoined work targeting issues which cause an increase in crime. Our structure gives us a good opportunity to consolidate that and to deliver. I am not saying that we will not take this away, but we have thought about it very carefully and tried to structure it to enable the procedure to deliver exactly what noble Lords wish.
It does, because the whole nature of what we seek to commission is to go across the piece. The Prison Service is incredibly important for offender management when people are incarcerated, but we need to develop services in preparation for prisoners going back into the community. There may be services that we will want to commission that will be part in prison and part in the community, which may be delivered by one entity that will go into the prison and start the work and then continue it outside the prison. It is about seeing offender management as a seamless whole, not separated into different compartmental areas that have no correlation. It is that bringing together which we need to be able to commission across the piece, and it is important for us to do that following a needs-based assessment: we must identify the needs and who could best meet them, and then structure and commission work to enable us to deliver that change.
First, I thank everyone who has contributed so constructively to this short but interesting debate. There has been much expertise from around the Committee. For example, the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, was able to explain the reality in Scotland from her first-hand experience. I was very interested in how the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to children’s services, where there is a parallel. There was also a very powerful parallel with race relations from my noble friend Lord Dholakia. We do not differ so hugely; there are common areas. The fact that there are different structures does not mean that the issues are different. The point that I was trying to make, which the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, drew out, is that there is a real difference when you have the duty to co-operate in the Bill.
I welcome the support shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, in the first instance, and her question, because I still say that there is an extraordinary lack of mention of the Prison Service, which is a distinct body—we mention other distinct bodies. It is such an important part of the management of offenders that I find it unnerving that the Bill is completely silent in that respect. I was grateful to the Minister for highlighting the capacity and the potential of the structures that we already have. That was part of my argument.
I know Doncaster well. In fact the Butler Trust, which I was responsible for, has given recognition to resettlement work. Resettlement is between prisons and the community, and it has an incredibly important role; it specifically locks the Probation Service in to what we are doing. My belief, which I stick to, is that the duty to co-operate has the potential to change culture, as we have seen in a short space of time in Scotland. While I was grateful to the Minister for drawing our attention to Clause 3(3), the arrangements under that provision,
“may in particular authorise or require”,
another person, so it is still a kind of optional extra.
I thank everyone, including the Minister for her response. I hope that she may indeed consider a little more fully what we have been discussing so interestingly this evening. I may wish to return to this on Report, but for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 2 [Responsibility for ensuring the provision of probation services]:
[Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 not moved.]
18: Clause 2, page 2, line 34, after “State” insert “under any enactment (whenever passed or made)”
The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to the other amendments standing in my name in this group. Last week, I acknowledged the perception that our proposals were an unduly centralising measure. I explained that, in fact, the opposite was true. I want to explore why we have come to that view.
Under the new arrangements, commissioning will be an activity taking place at national, regional, and local levels. We do not envisage regional commissioners directly holding myriad small contracts. In most cases, they will agree contracts directly with lead providers who, in turn, will subcontract much of the delivery of interventions to other providers. Commissioning is primarily a local activity for lead providers to organise for themselves within a framework agreed with the regional offender manager, delivering some services in-house, letting out contracts for others and engaging in partnership with others to secure the necessary services to reintegrate offenders back into their communities.
Working locally means working in partnership. The National Offender Management Service is already committed to working closely with all partners at a local level. As I have said, around 50 per cent of the resources that support offenders come from outside the criminal justice system. We have discussed the multitude of partnership arrangements in which probation services already play a key part. One of the most important developments in this area in recent years has been the establishment of local strategic partnerships—the LSPs to which I have referred. They bring together the public, voluntary, community and private sectors to co-ordinate the contribution that each can make to improving localities by agreeing on the priorities and co-ordinating their delivery. These priorities are developed into a local area agreement. LAAs are three-year agreements that set out the priorities for a local area and are agreed between central government and the local area represented by the local authority, and through the LSP, its key partner.
Probation has been an increasingly active partner in the LSPs. From April this year, all LAAs must include performance indicators to assist the LSP in assessing their progress on reducing reoffending. The Local Government White Paper, Strong and Prosperous Communities, published in October last year, set out fundamentally different arrangements for LAAs. The ambition now is for LAAs to provide local authorities and partners with the flexibility and capacity to deliver the best solutions for their areas by changing the way that central government do business with them and their partners. The LAA will become an outcome-focused agreement based on streamlined priorities and targets agreed between local partners and central government, ensuring effective and efficient services for local people. Some targets will be agreed in negotiation with government and will reflect national priorities; others will be purely driven by the LSP and will concentrate on more local priorities affecting local citizens and communities. Local area agreements will then form the central delivery contract between central government, local government and their partners.
In recognition of the critical importance of local area agreements, legislation currently being considered in the other place proposes to place them on a statutory basis. The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill will place a new duty on the local authority and named local partners, including chief constables, police authorities, local probation boards, youth offending teams and fire and rescue authorities, to co-operate with each other in agreeing the relevant targets in the LAA. Therefore, as regards the earlier amendment, the duty to co-operate will be provided for by that Bill. It also places a new duty on the local authority and named partners to have regard to specific targets agreed in the LAA.
Despite what some people have said, the proposals in this Bill today are entirely consistent with the devolutionary thrust of the local government White Paper and with the proposals in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that these amendments are proof of that.
Noble Lords might find it useful if I take them through the effect of each of our amendments to clarify how they interrelate. Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 to Clause 2 are minor and consequential. Amendment No. 18 reflects the fact that the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill has yet to be enacted. Amendment No. 19 tidies up Clause 2(1)(c) to make clearer the effect of the cross-references to Clause 2(1)(c) in Amendments Nos. 42 and 133. Amendment No. 42 to Clause 3 states that the Secretary of State may delegate specific functions to other persons in specific circumstances, as provided for in the substantive amendment, Amendment No. 133. That amends the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill by adding the Secretary of State, when exercising his functions for ensuring the provision of probation services, to the list of partner authorities that will be placed under a duty to agree and have regard to local area agreements. That amendment states that the power to delegate, established in Amendment No. 42, also applies in this case.
We have drafted the amendments in this way because we know, after speaking to organisations such as the Local Government Association, that we must ensure that all parts of the commissioning system are accountable under the new arrangements. This would not be achieved simply by transferring the duty to probation trusts or by giving a general duty to the Secretary of State, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has suggested in his amendment. I am sure that he will have more to say on that.
In practice, these government amendments mean that the duties relating to local area agreements will rest on the regional offender manager as the representative of the Secretary of State. The regional offender manager will then delegate that duty to the lead provider, which in most cases will be the probation trust. The lead provider will engage with other partners in the local strategic partnership to agree and implement the local area targets. This will be strengthened by the commissioning process. Regional offender managers will be under a duty to ensure that lead providers are appropriately funded to fulfil their obligations under the LAAs, and lead providers will be under both a statutory and contractual duty to meet those obligations.
The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill also places partner authorities under a duty to provide information and to have regard to reports by the relevant local authority overview and scrutiny committees. Our amendment places both the regional offender manager and the lead provider under a duty to co-operate with the relevant overview and scrutiny committee as regards the relevant targets in the local area agreements—although, in most cases, it will be the lead provider in the first instance. This is crucial, because it ensures that both lead providers and regional offender managers can be scrutinised by local communities for the way in which they deliver the relevant local priorities. The amendments ensure that probation providers will be placed centre stage under the new arrangements to deliver local priorities to local people. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel able to support the amendments.
I have taken a little time in my explanation. When I responded on the earlier amendments, I tried to indicate why the duty to co-operate was clear, but I hope that noble Lords will see how in these amendments we have sought to reinforce and underline that duty so that it will be real, immediate and accountable. I beg to move.
I am very grateful for the care and detail with which the noble Baroness explained her amendments. I do not think that my amendment in any way contradicts what she said. I put it forward in the first place because I was very concerned about the place of local area agreements in the work done locally by probation services. Frankly, I did not see that reflected clearly enough in the Bill and I therefore tabled Amendment No. 127. It was suggested by the marvellous Public Bill Office, whose work I could not praise more, that this was the best place to put in something which did not appear to have another home. The amendment has—rightly, I think—been grouped with those proposed by the noble Baroness because they refer to exactly the same thing.
There is an underlying question about local area agreements which I referred to at Second Reading. One thing that concerns many people regarding the provision of probation services is what is done to supervise low-level offenders. One great government success in the whole criminal justice area is the introduction of youth offending teams run by local government to look after young offenders. For a long time, I have felt that one of the best ways of doing that—and one way of reducing the strain on senior probation officers, making use of the partnerships being developed by all the organisations and trusts mentioned by the noble Baroness—would be to establish separate adult male and female local offender teams, also under local government, so that the partnership was used to do the work which has been so admirably proved by the youth offending teams. The local area agreement would be the vehicle by which to set up those teams. The requirement on local areas to produce them would in any case need to come via a direction from the Secretary of State to make certain that it was a duty, and I suggest that it would come in exactly the same way as it has done from the Youth Justice Board to establish the youth offending teams. I entirely accept that the local area agreements would have to be subject to the agreement of all the players on both the delivery and commissioning sides. Thankfully, the machinery for that exists.
However, I am slightly concerned about the targets for assessing reduction in reoffending, which we will be discussing later. Reduction in reoffending is a phrase that is used a great deal but, in any case, we are not certain what reduces reoffending. We do not know the results of particular programmes in terms of such a reduction, and I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could expand on that. I am concerned about placing targets on something which is impossible to measure in case it derails the very important process of involving local areas in the commissioning of local measures to deal with offenders who live locally.
First, I welcome the Government’s explanation of the amendments in this group. The Local Government Association welcomes the duty to co-operate with the local authority in the preparation of local area agreements. However, since tabling the amendments, has the Minister had any further discussions with the association? The LGA seeks clarity on how this measure will work in practice, particularly with regard to the development of partnerships between local authorities and agencies for the prevention of reoffending and improvement targets in relation to both the supervision and rehabilitation of offenders. This is consistent with the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill and seeks to develop local area agreements as the primary means of achieving joined-up working across agencies to reduce reoffending. I am satisfied with the Minister’s explanation, but will she take an early opportunity to satisfy the Local Government Association about the purpose of the government amendments?
I very much appreciate what the noble Baroness has told us; it certainly helped me to see my way through these complexities. I am very glad that we have now got round to talking about where decisions should be made, whether nationally, regionally or locally. I preface my remarks by confessing that I have a preference for things being as local as possible, and I would be in favour of a much more localised criminal justice system. It would help local people to understand and trust the system, and local and visible criminal justice activities would be likely to raise confidence in it. It would enable us to have much more diverse provision because crime is very local. We know that the home addresses of those who are convicted are concentrated in certain areas, and that calls for an extremely specific and localised approach. If criminal justice were more local, it would encourage local services to have ownership of their ex-offenders. It would also enable the money that is spent locally to be assessed to see whether it really benefits the local area.
I hope that the Minister can help me here, as I did not quite understand her explanation. I understood—although I am probably wrong—that a local area agreement is a decision between the centre and a local area that money from a government-devised programme will be passed to a local area and incorporated into its budget so that the local area can decide how it is spent, provided that outcomes are set out which are acceptable to all those involved. I certainly thought that that was what local area agreements implied. From what I have read about them in the past, they are a transfer of decision-making power from a central department to the local level in return for an agreement about outcomes. Is that what the noble Baroness was saying? There is certainly a lot to be said for local decision-making by people who live with the problems: they should have the ability to decide. However, I did not hear the noble Baroness say that there would be local decision-making. I have heard that the commissioning will be done by a regional person who is the agent of the Secretary of State. I understand that, in the end, local people and local structures can be involved, but there is nothing local about this system at all. Ultimately, Whitehall decides. I should be grateful if, in responding, the Minister could tell me whether I am wrong—or not, as the case may be.
Where does this leave the role of the regional offender managers? The explanation given by the Minister suggested a secondary, possibly even a minimal role for regional offender managers in this process—certainly not one that justifies the substantial staff they are getting. If I heard her correctly, I also heard her say that regional offender managers can be scrutinised, but I was not quite clear how that process will operate. Since that is the core of a lot of our concerns about the Bill—the degree of local autonomy and the extent to which the commissioning authority is being shifted up from the local to the regional level, and thus to the national one—it is an important point.
I am grateful to the Minister for pointing out the local arrangements, and government Amendment No. 42 will allow the Secretary of State to delegate his role as the provider of probation services to any such person that he decides is appropriate.
This issue is of some concern, as will become clear during the debate on our amendments in the group beginning with Amendment No. 34. We would like to see the role of the Secretary of State as provider of probation services categorically restricted. However, as I will make clear, it will be very important to maintain the role of the Secretary of State as overseer of overall provision. Amendment No. 42 seems to enable the Secretary of State to relinquish direct responsibility for the provision of services in,
“providing for the delegation of that function”.
What safeguards will support the amendment?
I support Amendment No. 127, tabled in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on local area agreements being developed as a primary means of achieving joined-up working across agencies, to reduce reoffending and to hold those agencies to account. I was very interested to hear what the Minister said.
As we know, there is already a level of integration between offender management and LAAs, and of course local partnership working is key to tackling reoffending. The Local Government Association is strongly behind this, as are we, not least because it is a means of tapping into an established structure and process, and does not require reinventing the wheel. As I have already argued, the duty to co-operate on offender management between probation services and providers would help move the reduction of reoffending close to the mainstream and change the culture of local partnership activity by integrating offender management with LAAs and LSPs. Importantly, that would also ensure that these services were more accountable to local people.
This echoes exactly my earlier Amendment No. 2, in that the detail is vital. More clarity is needed on how this will work in practice, especially on how partnerships will be developed between local agencies and the agencies for the prevention of reoffending, and the targets for the supervision and rehabilitation of offenders. Just as the Scottish model has begun to implement, this will involve joined-up working across agencies, and it echoes our discussions earlier in this Committee and our concern that what must be in place is a coherent strategy generally and properly understood, so that confusion, overlap and fragmentation do not occur. It will also require a certain cultural change that will be both challenging and welcome.
Like my noble friend Lady Stern, I was grateful to the Minister for explaining the government amendments. Nevertheless, I think I am right in saying that she said that some services would be commissioned at regional or national level, and would then be subcontracted down towards the local level. I am not a lawyer, but I can foresee that considerable questions might arise of legal liability and responsibility for all those services. Therefore, any subcontracts would need to be crystal clear and make it very plain who was responsible for what, particularly if both statutory and commercial bodies were involved in this process.
Turning to Amendment No. 127, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, I state my support for what he is trying to achieve, and perhaps put into his mind the possibility of including the prevention of not only reoffending, but offending in the first place.
I thank the Minister for the clear explanation that she gave earlier of the Government’s intentions, which I look forward to reading in Hansard. Perhaps she can give an example of how it might work with psychiatric services, for instance, and how the local primary care trust will be drawn into it. That would be helpful for me.
I thank all those who have contributed, especially the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for raising the issue in relation to the Local Government Association. Noble Lords will know that as the Bill went through the other place, there was intensive negotiation and consideration for a number of partners, not least the Local Government Association, because we very much wanted to clarify the position in a way that would help to give confidence that we meant what we were saying. As the local government Bill was going through the other place, it was a good opportunity to reflect that arrangement here. I very much take what the noble Lord says, and I shall be happy to ensure that there is continuing satisfaction with local government on that basis.
Much of what we are now doing is predicated on the work that has already been done with local partners through the local strategic partnerships for the creation of the local area agreements. The LSPs have been very important because they bring together agencies from across the spectrum, which have worked with increasing intensity and with increasing success.
Turning to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, the local area agreement will include a limited number of local improvement targets—around 35—which have been agreed collectively across central government and with the local partnership as being the highest improvement priorities for the area. In addition, there will be up to 18 pre-existing statutory educational attainment targets, together with the 35 others, which will be called the designated targets and will be drawn from the national indicator set described in the 2006 local government White Paper. That will give the call, but it will allow sufficient flexibility to enable those issues that are germane and pertinent to a local area to be better addressed, better targeted and better understood.
I shall deal with the question about PCTs raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. There is a better opportunity, through the local strategic partnerships and the local area agreements, to jointly commission services. I will give an example. The regional offender manager for the south-east, Sarah Payne, is now working with the regional commissioner at four PCTs to look at how they can jointly commission health services to assist those who offend. There is an opportunity to link the local commissioning in a way that will add significant value to it. The agreement, to which I referred, will set out the priorities for the local area agreed between central government and the local area, represented by the local authority and through the local strategic partnership—its key partners—as I tried to make plain. The importance of the regional offender manager is that the manager will be responsible for doing the needs-based assessment to identify with whom he or she will need to contract.
The majority of the work is therefore likely to be contracted through the local probation trust. However, there may be regional and national services which it would be more efficacious to commission nationally or regionally. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, gave us an indication of where that might be so—services directly attributable to sexual offending, for instance, where a regional structure may be better able to meet the needs of the client group than a local structure when the local area may have few offenders who fall into a category with that specialist need. You will therefore have to look at commissioning a service in a regionally specific point, maximising the opportunities of a number of different areas having access to it. To take up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, it is not just the subcontracting—although that is important, which is why the contractual terms will be important. Being precise about the contractual terms, to clearly define which role will be provided by which entity, is also important. I agree with the noble Lord that contracting is important.
We already have some good examples of how CDRPs are influencing delivery on the ground. Again, I give an example of the CDRP I visited in Sheffield on Friday. I spoke to a number of partners—police officers, local authorities and others—who say that they are looking at things in a different way. The assistant chief constable—the chief constable was also there—told me about how they analyse the education issues, such as where the problem schools are, and correlate with the accident and emergency units. They are pooling this information, so each agency is now taking into account information that it would not hitherto have done, in order to set its priorities. The 44 action areas identified for the CDRPs are looking at the hot spots, which are usually for health, education and crime, and trying to work together. The local area agreements also allow them to do that.
I hope that the Committee feels that the ability to work through local strategic partnerships and local criminal justice boards, and using the new local area agreement process, will help us to deliver better services and scrutiny at local level. The scrutiny committees are there to give oversight and a better view. That is why the local government Bill places the partnership authorities under a duty to provide information and have regard to the reports by the relevant local authority overview and scrutiny committees. Our amendment means that both the regional offender manager, as I said earlier, and the lead provider will be placed under a duty to co-operate with the relevant overview and scrutiny committee on the relevant targets in the local area agreements. In most cases, of course, the lead provider will be dealing with that in the first instance.
I hope that that clarifies the issues, and that the amendment can now meet with the Committee’s assent. I hope it is also clear that I do not think that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is necessary, because it is assumed within the government amendments.
I have already referred to the duty to co-operate, which will be in the local government Bill, not this one. It will be in the Bill setting up the CDRPs and the Bill going through the other place referring to the local area agreements. Clause 3 of this Bill, which I referred to, will bind the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will be bound to co-operate by the clauses in the local government Bill, as I have indicated. If the noble Baroness would find it helpful, I can send a note correlating the bits of this Bill and the local government Bill so that noble Lords will see how the two fit together and how what they wish to see will be delivered in practice.
I am slightly confused by one thing that the Minister said, which was that the regional offender manager Sarah Payne was commissioning health services for offenders at a regional level. Surely it is not the case that people under the supervision of the Probation Service lose their access to the local NHS and must have services commissioned for them separately at a regional level.
No. The noble Baroness has either misunderstood me, or I have been less clear than I should have. I said that the regional offender manager, Sarah Payne, was working with a health commissioner, Dr Jo Nurse, to look at provision issues. Two sets of people are commissioning at the same time—the National Health Service and the regional offender management. Working together, those two commissioning structures have an opportunity to ensure and better define how we meet the needs of some vulnerable groups, one of which is offenders. We wish to enhance our ability to deliver services to them.
Members of the Committee will also remember that the health service is now responsible for delivering health provision, both in prisons and the community. Working together in partnership is critical if we are to better understand what each must commission to meet the identified needs of the population it serves. I was merely giving that as an example of how working together will, we hope, deliver better results.
Is the noble Baroness aware that Napo, the probation officers’ organisation, strongly believes that moving to a regional or national model will undermine important public protection work with significant partners such as the courts, police, health service and local authorities? It believes that, instead of a centralised control model, the future direction of probation should be a further shift to local accountability. That is the view of people who already work in the Probation Service.
I hope that what I said earlier underlined how much we agree with my noble friend that local delivery is important. The amendments make clear that we will be enhancing the ability to deliver locally. The regional offender manager, as I hope I clarified, is likely to use the lead provider, likely to be the probation trust, as the first port of call for delivery of local issues. However, there are needs which may or should be better met nationally or regionally. The regional offender manager will be in a position to consider how those needs can best be met. The procedure we are adopting will not pool things in the centre. The way in which we have structured it will enhance local delivery and accountability.
That is why I hope that what I have said will be reassuring to Napo and other organisations that might be concerned that local flavour is being diluted or diminished. Our case is that it is not; in many ways, it is being enhanced. The overview and local scrutiny, the binding of local area agreements into a statutory model, the accountability, the duty placed by the Bill on named partners—including the chief constable, the police authority, the local probation board, the youth offending teams and the fire and rescue services—to co-operate with one another, and the placing of a duty on the local authority and the named partners to have regard to the specific targets will enhance local accountability. The fact that the Secretary of State will be included means that we will also bind the regional offender managers into that structure.
Is the Minister satisfied that the plans she outlines sufficiently take into account the financial implications? Many of the organisations that she listed have tight budgets. I have experienced organisations working through the first nine items on an agenda very satisfactorily, but people somehow having meetings that they have to get to just before the item about sharing the cost comes up.
I know that the noble Lord speaks from painful experience. I have found the change in culture helpful. I can give the Committee the example of creating local criminal justice boards, which mean that partners understand each others’ difficulties better. Two years ago, I knew that we had succeeded when a chief constable lobbied me very hard indeed for more resources for the CPS; I knew that we had arrived. There are other examples; for instance, on Friday, I was talking to the CDRP in Sheffield. Most of the partners were there, and they were talking energetically about what they needed to do together. There was evidence of them having pooled resources. They had identified things that none of them could afford, but as each of them had a little money, they put it together and achieved real results. I have had chief constables saying that they are working in partnership with colleagues from the DfES and local schools and are pooling money. One must not be too pessimistic. Partnership working has started in good spirit and has encouraged the pooling of resources on a voluntary rather than an enforced basis, because local partners have seen that it made sense locally.
I am grateful for what Members of the Committee have said about this and about my amendment. I shall make two specific comments before commenting generally. First, in answer to the point made by my noble friend Lord Hylton, my amendment does not mention reoffending because I am concerned about the measurement of reoffending, but I take his point about the prevention of offending. Secondly, the Minister will not be surprised that I was pleased to hear what she said about the regional offender manager in the south-east talking with primary care trusts in the south-east, because I presume that there might now be some hope of speech and language therapists being introduced to make the proper assessment of young offenders; all primary care trusts would be encouraged to introduce them, and they are of huge benefit in the management of young offenders.
I take the Minister’s point about the partnership, and I have no argument with it. One of my purposes in tabling my amendment was to make certain that there was a better description of what local area agreements are all about, because it is not immediately clear from the Bill. The Minister explained precisely what has been going on in the local government Bill and so on, which will not be immediately apparent to those who pick up this Bill. Therefore, I ask that what I have set out in my amendment is taken into account and that consideration is given to including it as an explanation to help people understand what we are trying to achieve.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
19: Clause 2, page 2, line 35, leave out “section” and insert “paragraph”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendment No. 20 not moved.]
21: Clause 2, page 2, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must liaise with representatives of all sentencers to—
(a) provide information about programmes and performance from all providers of probation services; and(b) consult with representatives of all sentencers before making or renewing a contract with a provider of probation services.”
The noble Viscount said: Amendment No. 21 is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Anelay, and I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Ramsbotham, for adding their names to it. We tabled it in response to concerns expressed by the judicial policy and practices committee of the Magistrates’ Association about liaison with magistrates. It requires the Secretary of State to liaise with representatives of all sentencers to provide information about what is happening on the ground regarding the quality and availability of probation programmes. It also requires the Secretary of State to consult with representatives of all sentencers before he or she makes or renews a contract with any provider of probation services. Local benches can have an invaluable role to play in ensuring that the provision of probation services meets local needs. I beg to move.
I support this amendment for practical reasons. I served as a magistrate, and one of the most interesting developments was the probation liaison committee in which magistrates and probation officers met regularly. That allowed us to know about programmes being promoted by the Probation Service in the area, which were tailored to individual need, and about the performance of individuals within programmes. Sentencers, particularly magistrates, benefited from those liaison committees and from knowing about the work of the Probation Service and about what was happening to individuals.
When such an arrangement has been established, we need to be very careful, particularly when talking about contract renewals. It is important to find out what has worked, what has not and what needs to be done in future before renewing a contract. The suggestion in this amendment is worthy of consideration by the Government.
I support this amendment because it re-emphasises the important link between probation and the courts, which has been at the heart of the delivery of the Probation Service since it was formed. It is important to maintain that and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, to make certain that the voice of sentencers, particularly magistrates in a local context, is properly heard in the assessment of the provision of services.
I support this amendment because it is essential that sentencers understand the implications of what they are doing and are informed about the possibilities. That is essential to the policy of good sentencing, and this amendment is a practical, sensible step in that direction.
One cannot underestimate the importance of the influence of judges and magistrates in the development of the Probation Service. Over the years, their involvement has been crucial. It is unfortunate that one of the consequences of the new scheme is that the direct involvement of judges and magistrates will be lost. We must somehow make sure that we do not finish up with their expertise being ignored. In spite of these changes, we must devise a way in which their influence can still be brought to bear. We must ensure that there is a procedure whereby sentencers can make known their views on the performance of providers. This amendment is crucial.
I, too, support the amendment wholeheartedly, not least because it reflects exactly the work that we have been doing with Rethinking Crime and Punishment, an organisation which I chair in the Thames Valley. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that we have been finding constructive ways of doing precisely what he suggests.
It is an important amendment because it reflects the reality that currently there is all too often insufficient information and understanding about what sentences or community penalties are available to sentencers—in particular, about their quality and effectiveness. That is a constantly changing picture because such provision represents an organic process, often defined by the people who make it work. Of course, that is never static.
Judges and magistrates are very busy people, and keeping in touch with the realities of what their briefing papers may say involves direct contact and dialogue with providers. Our experience in the Thames Valley has demonstrated that that is a very rewarding process—essential to developing confidence in community penalties as alternatives to custody.
The key to that is that the communication between the sentencer and the provider is at first hand, at the point of delivery, on a human level, so that the relevant issues can be understood. While that may seem burdensome at first glance, our experience is that judges have been coming back for more, so rewarding have their experiences been.
The requirement in the second part of the amendment on the Secretary of State to consult with sentencers before making or renewing a contract ensures proper communication and should, if properly done, ensure that best practice is indeed promoted and clear ideas of what works can be developed.
The only caveat to this excellent and essential amendment is that, along with so much else in the Bill, it requires resources of both time and money to ensure that it works as envisaged. I hope that we can have some reassurance on that from the Minister.
I certainly support the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. It takes me back to when I was a juvenile court magistrate chairman for many years. Before the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, we had such a partnership with probation, social services and other experts sitting together and going through the whole process. As has been pointed out, that is a mutual learning process. You can certainly take in other views but, above all, you are following the effect that it has on the young offender. I very much support that.
I also support the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that that brings back into one's mind the concern about who will serve on probation trusts, if the name is to be changed and the grouping of people on them is to be very much reduced. I am not even certain whether members of local government will be serving, or whether that will be only where it is practicable. Someone from the local authority ought to be present, but so ought others with direct experience who can follow through the process as they can now.
I very much support the amendment and I hope to hear more about who is likely to serve on the trusts, if they change from probation boards to trusts, so that we can be gradually reassured on that point.
The amendment touches upon this crucial issue, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate. There is not much disagreement between us about the importance of ensuring that sentencers have that important relationship with probation staff. That relationship cannot be overstated. I was interested to learn of the long history behind this. Reflecting on my experience in this field some years ago, I appreciate and understand why noble Lords place such a high importance on it.
It is for that very reason that we have worked hard to ensure that arrangements are and will be in place for liaison with sentencers. Existing and effective local liaison arrangements allow sentencers and probation managers to meet to discuss local issues and address local operational difficulties. These will, of course, continue under the new system, and work is under way to adapt them to the new configuration.
I also hope that noble Lords will be reassured that we will ensure through a protocol that regional offender managers have continuing appropriate links with sentencers at the regional level, which will inform their decisions about which services to purchase at a regional level best to meet the needs of offenders. The terms of the protocol are currently being agreed between NOMS and the senior presiding judge. An important communication, understanding and information exercise is under way at that most senior level. The voice of sentencers is critical in helping commissioners to develop their plans nationally, regionally and locally.
However, we must draw the line at formal consultation with outside parties on decisions about to which organisation to award a contract, as those must follow proper commercial and procurement procedures. For that reason, we need some flexibility to ensure that those commercial and procurement procedures are properly constituted. We entirely agree with noble Lords who expressed their support for the important relationship between the service and those involved in sentencing. We intend that that will continue.
Later, we will debate the issue of magistrates on boards or probation trusts and we can have further reflection on that then. In that context, it is perhaps worth saying that in the recent recruitment round from members of current boards, we undertook actively to encourage sentencers to apply, with the result that the majority of recruiting boards will have at least one member who is a magistrate or justice of the peace. That link is already reflected in our approach and we hope that noble Lords will find our assurances in line with their thinking on the matter. I do not think that there is much between us on this issue.
The regional offender management structure will develop those links. We think that that structure will command importance and that is where there will be the scope for input, whose value we all recognise. If the noble Baroness would like, I am happy to set out more detail in writing, so that more shape is given, and share that with the Committee.
I am grateful for the wholly constructive support from all around the Chamber for the amendment. I find the Minister’s reply slightly disappointing. He refers to arrangements being in hand for liaison, and so forth. The purpose of the amendment is to see that enshrined in the Bill. We shall go back to the Magistrates’ Association on this, and it is very likely that we shall revisit the matter later in our consideration of the Bill. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
22: Clause 2, page 2, line 37, at end insert—
“( ) In carrying out his functions under this Act the Secretary of State shall—
(a) if he is not sworn of section 6A of the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 (c. 72) act in every respect as if he had sworn and was bound by the oath set out in section 6A(2) of that Act;(b) undertake no action to advantage the probation services by transferring, or threatening the transfer of, resources from those necessary for upholding the independence and effective functioning of the judiciary;(c) in reaching his judgment on the appropriateness of his actions under paragraphs (a) and (b) above, consult the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales as President of the Courts of England and Wales and lay before both Houses of Parliament any representation from the Lord Chief Justice that he is not conforming with his duty under this section.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment goes in a slightly different direction from that taken in the debates that we have just had about the provision of services per se. The Government’s plans for contestability in the Bill, and their creation of the centralised NOMS/ ROMS bureaucracy, have significant budgetary consequences. The transfer of these functions from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor creates new tensions in the budget of the Ministry of Justice. We fear that effective management of the extensive bureaucracy created by the Government to run the centralised contestability system would endanger the delivery of budgets to those who really make the difference—not, of course, the ROMS managers but the probation service providers on the ground. Costs may burgeon to pay for the centralised system. Our concern is that the transfer of the management of offenders to the Ministry of Justice could lead to funds being redirected from existing spending requirements in the old DCA to the needs of the NOMS/ROMS model and more generally to the running of the prisons.
The amendment would ensure that the Lord Chancellor in the newly created Ministry of Justice did not allocate his budget in such a way as to remove from the court system the funds that are required for upholding the independence and effective function of the judiciary and the magistrates. This matter has been touched on twice very recently, the first time on 26 April, in a statement in this House on the creation of the Ministry of Justice. At that stage, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, put the matter clearly when he asked,
“is the noble and learned Lord aware—as I am sure he is—of the concerns of the judge in charge of the Central London County Court as to the lack of resources? As I understood it, the statement that he made was certainly not only in relation to maintenance; he referred to a crisis in the civil justice system”.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor rather batted that away, but did not address the central objection. He said that,
“judgments have to be made as to where you have to spend your resources to ensure that there is a legitimate and fair justice system”.—[Official Report, 26/4/07; cols. 769-70.]
How exactly will that be done, particularly given that the prison and probation services have been transferred to the Ministry of Justice?
In the same debate, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, reminded the House that the revised oath for Lord Chancellor in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 reads as follows:
“I … do swear that in the office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain I will respect the rule of law, defend the independence of the judiciary and discharge my duty to ensure the provision of resources for the efficient and effective support of the courts for which I am responsible”.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, then asked whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor was,
“prepared to give us an assurance that the resources for the courts will be ring-fenced and that the resources available to the judiciary and court system will not be reduced by the demands of the prison population”.—[Official Report, 26/4/07; col. 767.]
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor refused to give that assurance, so understandably my noble friend Lord Kingsland took up the cudgels in a further statement on 9 May, at col. 1454. I shall not repeat what he said, as the Committee may read those words. He reinforced the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, by asking how we could be sure that the money will be ring-fenced to ensure that judicial independence remains and the demands of prison and probation do not drive the policy governing judicial independence.
I note, of course, that the Judicial Executive Board and the Judges’ Council endorsed the position that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice and other members of the judiciary have taken to date, and expressed their support for the continuing efforts to reach agreement. Last week, on 16 May, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice issued a press statement saying that there had been a meeting between the Judicial Executive Board and the Judges’ Council to consider the present state of the working group discussions between members of the judiciary and senior Ministry of Justice officials on the constitutional safeguards to protect the independence of the judiciary and the proper administration of justice. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice had to report to the meeting that no agreement had been reached with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I therefore thought it right that we should table this amendment, particularly in light of the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice is due to appear tomorrow before the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee of another place and that he will present a full report on the current position to Parliament. That report will address the whole issue of judicial independence, which is the background to the amendment.
Will the Minister tell the Committee exactly what sums her right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is soon to be Prime Minister, is transferring from the Home Office budget to the Ministry of Justice budget to cover the cost of NOMS and ROMS? How much has already gone since the Ministry of Justice took over these powers, and how much will be transferred in the rest of the financial year? Will the Government reconsider their position on ring-fencing so that we can be assured that there will be sufficient resources to uphold the independence and effective functioning of the judiciary? I beg to move.
I express the gratitude of Members on these Benches to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for raising this very important issue once again. The question is really about resources. Will there be enough to have a fair and effective judicial system, or will the judges be constrained by their budget in certain important ways, the most important of which being the sentences that they pass? If the Sentencing Guidelines Council has to take resources into account when determining appropriate sentences, and if judges must take available prison places into account in order to be able to send people to prison, we will have introduced a very new concept into the sentencing policy that has heretofore governed the English legal system. Judges have always regarded it as their duty, not to mention their prerogative, to sentence offenders as they think fit. It is then for the Government of the day to provide the resources necessary for those sentences to be put into effect. A clear distinction has therefore been drawn between the function of the Home Office, in providing prison places, and the judiciary, who are to sentence according to the justice of a particular case and not according to what resources are available.
Will the Minister be good enough to share with us the thinking behind the transfer of the prison and parole system to the Ministry of Justice? What was the purpose of that? Why did the Home Office not retain it? We on these Benches have been taxed from time to time in the past few weeks by the fact that the creation of a Ministry of Justice has for some years—someone said 60 or 70 years—been the policy of the Liberals and the Liberal Democrats. Only yesterday, I discovered a paper that we had written on this topic 30 years ago. Very relevant it was; Liberal policies do not die away. The proposal did not, however, include the transfer of the penal system, whether incarceration or probation, to the Minister for Justice whom we had in mind. There are great dangers in this, as the judiciary have warned. A working party has been set up, although it has not reported. There is still a lot of work to do. At this stage, I have only two questions. First, why were prisons and penal matters transferred to the Ministry of Justice? Secondly, can we be assured that any ring-fencing will not impinge on the administration of justice in this country?
I have found this debate interesting, but perhaps I may gently remind the Committee that machinery-of-government changes are within the province of the Prime Minister. With this Bill, we seek to understand how the clauses will operate. It is important to differentiate between the role that will be played by a Lord Chancellor and the role which will be played by a Secretary of State for Justice. During our debate on the first group of amendments, which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, had the opportunity to enjoy, we discussed the difference between the two.
However, it may be important for me to do so again because the concern underlying this amendment seems to be that bringing together the responsibilities for probation with those of the judiciary will jeopardise the ability of the Lord Chancellor to exercise his responsibility towards the judiciary. I want to reassure the Committee that that is not the case, because a strong independent judiciary is fundamental to any criminal justice system. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has a clear statutory duty to uphold the independence of the judiciary in a way that is proper, as set out in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which my noble and learned friend will continue to do.
On this occasion, the substance of the amendment is misconceived, although I understand why the noble Baroness uses it as a vehicle through which to have this debate. Either the Secretary of State is the Lord Chancellor, in which case he has responsibility for the judiciary and is bound by the Lord Chancellor’s obligations to the judiciary, or the Secretary of State is not the Lord Chancellor, in which case he has no responsibility for the functioning of the judiciary anyway. The Lord Chancellor has a statutory responsibility under the Courts Act 2003 in regard to the courts and the judiciary to,
“ensure that there is an efficient and effective system to support the carrying on of the business of”,
“and that appropriate services are provided for those courts”.
He is required by the 2003 Act to ensure, in consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, that there is an efficient system to support the exercise of the business of the Supreme Court—that is, the Crown Court, the High Court and the Court of Appeal—and county and magistrates’ courts, and that appropriate services are provided for those courts. Under the Act, he is also required to take steps to ensure that lay justices are kept informed of matters affecting their areas and that their views are taken on issues affecting them.
The Lord Chancellor exercises that function in line with his duty under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to have regard to “the need to defend” judicial independence,
“the need for the judiciary to have the support necessary to enable them to exercise their functions”,
“the need for the public interest in regard to matters relating to the judiciary or otherwise to the administration of justice to be properly represented in decisions affecting those matters”.
The functions of the Lord Chancellor in respect of the judiciary and the financing of the courts are entrenched in the office of Lord Chancellor; that is, they cannot be removed and given to another Secretary of State without primary legislation, which we referred to earlier. The only way in which the Secretary of State responsible for the Probation Service could be both not the Lord Chancellor and responsible for the justice system would be if Parliament had agreed that this should be the case. Given that clarification, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content to withdraw her amendment.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness recited the oath that the Lord Chancellor has to take when he accepts that office. It is a powerful oath, which is aided by the only four words that she did not read out and which some may think that he will need it: “so help me God”. That is the burden placed on the Lord Chancellor.
Members of the Committee are right to say that there has been progress. There is progress in the working group and attempts have been made to reach agreement on how to expand the role of the judiciary in budget setting. Those processes are continuing and the Judges’ Council has expressed its support. We do not think that ring-fencing is appropriate, as the Lord Chancellor may from time to time, depending on priority and need, have to transfer money from one part of the system to another. Crucially, he is under a statutory obligation to provide adequate funding for the effective and efficient functioning of courts. No matter what allocation he makes, his duty as described in the Act will be maintained. As I explained earlier, the functions were transferred because it was felt that that would make for a more efficient and effective criminal justice and justice system.
Of course, the Office for Criminal Justice Reform remains. The conjoining of the work between the Attorney-General, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice remains. Therefore, the ability to deliver a just and fair system, we believe, is greatly assisted and enhanced. The figures in relation to resources will be published in the ordinary way.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for telling me that the answer to my question on why the Prison Service has been transferred to the Ministry of Justice was debated earlier; I shall read about that in Hansard and, no doubt, learn from it. But I end up rather confused. I thought that the Secretary of State who would be called the Minister for Justice would be the Lord Chancellor. However, from what the Minister said, there appear to be two separate roles; namely, the Lord Chancellor, being true to his oath, providing resources for the judges and ensuring that the rule of law is maintained and so on, and a Minister for Justice, who was referred to as a Secretary of State, fulfilling a different function. Did the Minister say that? If she did, is this news for what is about to happen when the Prime Minister-elect takes office? I understood that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, was at the moment fulfilling both functions.
I say again that I am sorry that the noble Lord was unable to be with us to enjoy our earlier debate. As I made plain then, currently the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice is the same person, which may remain the case in perpetuity. However, it does not necessarily have to be so. Machinery-of-government changes are possible in relation to all offices, save the office of Lord Chancellor. The noble Lord will recall that, when we were dealing with the provisions relating to the Lord Chancellor, it was determined by both Houses that the critical core responsibility of the Lord Chancellor should not be amenable to normal machinery-of-government changes. Before any change could be made in relation to the discharge of that role, it would have to be done by primary legislation. Therefore, although those functions that are currently discharged by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice are conjoined, it would be possible at any stage to remove those functions that do not fall into the core functions of the Lord Chancellor into another department led by the Secretary of State.
Noble Lords know that over time innumerable changes have been made, in accordance with machinery-of-government procedures, which have moved functions from one department to another—and sometimes back again. But those functions are separate from the core functions that are set down in statute as belonging to the Lord Chancellor, which could not be changed. It is for that reason that the Lord Chancellor takes the oath that was read out so elegantly by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. No doubt in due course she will have aspirations of saying it in fact. If her party ever gets back into government, possibly in the year 3000, perhaps that will be the case.
I know that I have reached a milestone birthday this year, but even taking the pills I will not last that long. Under the great leadership of my right honourable friend Mr Cameron, I am sure that I will not have that long to wait. It is not that I aspire to be Lord Chancellor—I would not be learned enough—but I should certainly like to serve the country in some capacity; even from these Benches it is an honour to do so.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for pointing out the dangers that are inherent in the transfer of some of the functions—probation and prison services—to the Ministry of Justice. The Minister has said again very properly, as she did earlier today, that changes to the machinery of government are the responsibility of the Prime Minister. I have to say that since the Prime Minister is about to change, we can all hold our breath and hope that Mr Brown might think again about some of the recent changes and perhaps about the progress of this Bill.
The Minister says that the budgets will be published in the ordinary way. The problem is that that is too late for our consideration of the Bill. That is one of the undercurrents causing problems for noble Lords. We do not have a feeling for what costs the Government will allocate to the commissioning processes.
The noble Baroness says that the Lord Chancellor takes an oath, which it is true I read out in part, and therefore she is sanguine and can say. “All will be well; he will protect the independence of the judiciary”. Of course we have to have faith in the fact that any Lord Chancellor would look first to maintaining the independence of the judiciary, but we have to take note of the fact that the current Lord Chief Justice and his judges have concerns about these matters. If they are concerned, so am I. I will read with care the evidence given by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice tomorrow. I make no prejudgments tonight as to what action I should take regarding this amendment. I will consider carefully what he says and what the noble Baroness has rightly put forward on behalf of the Government today before deciding whether I should resuscitate this amendment, in spirit but perhaps redrafted, on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Universities: Research Funding
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether current methods of funding for research infrastructure are sufficient to allow all universities to engage in basic, innovative and applied research.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have raised this Question on research funding because I believe that an anomaly has crept into the current system which, while all the attention has been focused on the question of metrics in the research assessment exercise, has been overlooked. If it were to persist, it would raise questions about whether the basic aims of the dual funding system, endorsed by successive Governments and seen by many as the key element underlying Britain’s research excellence, are being met.
Let me start with the dual support system and the division of government funding of university research between project-based funding from the research councils, currently some £2.8 billion a year, and the research element of the Higher Education Funding Council for England grants to universities, known as quality-related funding, which amounts to £1.3 billion a year. The purpose of QR funding has long been acknowledged as providing money for universities to meet basic infrastructure requirements. It used to be called,
“providing the well-found laboratory”,
but that terminology now seems to have been lost. In the 2004 White Paper Science and Innovation Investment Framework 2004-2014 the Government define the purpose of QR funding as follows:
“Quality related funding … funds the basic research infrastructure—including the salary costs of permanent academic researchers, support staff, equipment and libraries—that gives institutions the base from which to undertake research commissioned by other funding sources; the flexibility to react quickly to emerging priorities and new fields of inquiry; and the capacity to undertake blue skies research”.
The key question for this debate is how that statement can be reconciled with a situation in which quite a few universities have during the past five years received little or no funding from the QR settlement. That situation has arisen because, after the 2001 research assessment exercise, so many departments had improved their research rating that HEFCE decided to fund only departments undertaking research judged excellent and of national—a 4 rating—or international—a 5 or 5* rating—significance. Under the formula, those rated 5 received three times and those rated 5* four times the amount received by a department of equivalent size with a 4 rating. The result has been, as intended, a concentration of funding on research-intensive universities. In 2005-06, 109 higher education institutions, approximately four-fifths of the total number, received some QR funding. However, the top 25 institutions received 84 per cent of the funding, some £900 million, while the top 10 institutions received over 50 per cent, around £650 million.
For research-intensive universities the result has been good and is judged fair: high-quality research has been rewarded with extra funding. But the other side of the coin has been the loss of funding for other institutions, particularly the post-1992 universities, where many departments, although showing improvement, still have a relatively low rating. This raises three important questions.
First, many of these universities have considerable research activity, often in the more applied areas, and have built up relationships with national and international companies. They also work a good deal with locally based SMEs, where personal contacts and local access are important. A recent AD Little study looking at the outcomes of research in relation to 35 post-1992 universities found that, for every £1 of public funding, over £3 worth of business-funded research was attracted, considerably more than is achieved by the older universities. Yet if QR is to,
“give institutions the base from which to undertake research commissioned by other funding sources”,
is it right to deny this base to so many institutions? The Minister may well reply that these funding arrangements are going to change. A letter from HEFCE sent in March this year about the new arrangements for the research assessment exercise stated that,
“the approach for science-based disciplines will be based on quantitative indicators, including bibliometric indicators of research quality and impact, external research income and postgraduate student activity”.
It also said that these indicators would,
“begin to influence funding allocations from 2010-11”,
but not come fully into play until 2014. What about the period between now and 2010? Will the post-2001 distribution formula hold for the next five years?
The second issue relates to the emerging areas of research. The RAE provides a review of research completed in the previous five years. The 2001 RAE, which dictates the current distribution formula, reflects the pattern of research from 1995 to 2000. Under this system, new areas of growth in the economy—for example, the creative industries, in which many of the post-92 universities run courses—receive virtually no QR funding yet contribute 8 per cent to the GDP. The same is true of nursing, the professions allied to medicine and research underpinning conservation for museums and galleries, an area with which I am particularly concerned at present.
Again, the Minister may respond that in 2003 the Government introduced the Research Capability Fund aimed at supporting research in “emerging subject areas where the research base is currently not as strong as in more established areas”. The problem is that that fund totalled only £22 million in 2006-07, so it is very small in relation to the £1.3 billion allocated under QR and, in any case, it is not clear whether it is to be continued. Is it envisaged that the Research Capability Fund will be continued post-2008 and, if so, will it be increased to meet the growing importance of these sectors in the economy?
The third question relates to teaching. The distinction between university and other post-18 teaching institutions used to be that the staff teaching students in universities were either themselves engaged actively in research or rubbing shoulders on a daily basis with those engaged in research, read the academic journals and were au fait with the latest developments in these areas. That distinction has gradually been eroded, with university status granted recently to former teacher training colleges and the proposal to grant FE colleges degree-awarding powers. Is this deliberate policy on the part of the Government? Do they want to create a new binary divide in higher education between research-active and teaching-only institutions? Do they recognise the difficulty that that creates for courses that involve a third-year project, where students are required to undertake research for themselves? If no staff are involved in research, it is often difficult to find suitable projects and people capable of supervising them.
This issue was raised with me by a member of the engineering staff at London Metropolitan University. He pointed out that universities such as his have many students who are the first generation in their family to go to university, who are from schools without a track record of university entrance, and who would never dream of applying to Oxford, Cambridge or most of the Russell group universities. Is it fair to deny these students the chance of understanding what research is about or moving into the world of research themselves? Are these institutions to have no postgraduate facilities or just a limited number of faculties with them? If we are to expect third-year students to undertake realistic third-year projects in science and engineering subjects, what about the “well-found” laboratory? Has that concept got completely lost?
In conclusion, as things stand there is an innate inconsistency in current policy on funding research, an inconsistency that has got lost in the debate about metrics: while preaching support for the dual-support system of funding research and defining that system as providing, through QR funding, resources to support “a base from which to undertake research”, the distribution formula used to allocate QR provides little or no QR funding for many universities.
I have raised three issues. First, as many of these universities are engaged in research of immediate interest to business, are they to be denied the resources to help create and maintain this base? The second issue is about new and emerging areas of the economy and how research for such areas is to be supported. The third issue relates to teaching and the need for research-active staff and a well-found laboratory to support undergraduate and graduate teaching. These are important questions for the future of our universities. I am delighted that so many noble Lords are joining me in this short debate although sorry that it means so little time for them to make their points. I look forward to hearing what is said and to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to speak in the debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on funding for research infrastructure. It is a pleasure, once again, to see many familiar faces connected with higher education in the House today.
As many noble Lords will know, the UK is a world leader in research and is home to some of the best research universities and research institutions. University research is one of our nation’s success stories. The UK represents only 1 per cent of the global population but produces 9 per cent of the world’s scientific publications and 12 per cent of its scientific citations. Every day, researchers are making breakthroughs that revolutionise our health, security, the environment and our quality of life. By pushing the very frontiers of science, researchers have developed the fundamental building blocks upon which so many other discoveries are being made. It is vital that today’s researchers can continue to ask those important “what if?” questions at the edges of the unknown.
Of course, research can lead to findings that were anticipated, but at times researchers aiming for one outcome stumble fortuitously across unrelated but equally valuable applications. Eureka, a recent publication by Universities UK—I declare an interest as chief executive—highlighted many diverse and serendipitous discoveries by UK universities that are regarded as commonplace today, things such as MRI scanners, DNA fingerprinting, DVD players, IVF and environmentally friendly cars.
The UK’s investment in research improves the relative international and overall innovation performance of the economy. Significant innovations emerge from all research disciplines, not only in the sciences but in financial services and arts and humanities research, which underpins the UK’s enormously important creative industries and contributes £11.4 billion to the UK balance of trade.
Having indicated how valuable university research can be, I should like to turn to how research funding operates within UK universities and briefly touch on some of the issues that are raised under the current funding regime. Noble Lords will be aware that in 2003-04, 75 per cent of quality-related research funding allocated via the Higher Education Funding Council and 84 per cent of Research Council funding went, as the noble Baroness said, to 25 higher education institutions. That clearly shows that the UK is highly selective in how it funds research.
Universities UK has stated that supporting excellence wherever it is found is crucial if the UK is to remain internationally competitive, but there is compelling evidence that the current concentration of research funding in the sector is about as far as it should go, and any further radical concentration would be detrimental to the health of UK research. It would have a negative impact on what we believe is the necessary integration of research and teaching, the training and career development of research personnel, the interactions between universities and business and the emergence of new and developing areas.
A key criticism of the current research assessment exercise process, the RAE, is that it focuses on only “pure” or “basic” research, excluding the applied and user-focus research, which, as I stated earlier, is so important to economic growth and the needs of business. Although simplistic distinctions about what types of research are the most important to the economy can be unhelpful—it must be remembered that the innovation process is very complex—the current reform of the research assessment exercise presents an opportunity to look at how it can better recognise all types of research activity. This would include pure and basic research through to applied research, including support for the creative industries, business and service sectors.
However, it would be dangerous to forget that the UK is the only European country with universities in the top-20 world league of universities and, whatever one thinks about league tables, it is a considerable distinction which we jeopardise at our peril. Only recently in the House, noble Lords recognised the huge economic impact of our universities right across the board. In any developed economy a range of institutions is needed, as is a range of expertise. Every university needs a strong research base as well as a strong teaching base.
I take this opportunity to remind the Minister once more that UK universities have diverse missions and drive innovation in many different ways. The challenge is to effectively recognise those strengths wherever they may lie and to reward them.
My Lords, I should like to focus attention on oral health, particularly the potential for QR income distribution from the current and future RAEs to impact upon our dental schools and the education of future dentists. I declare my interest as a dental surgeon.
Despite government assurances that dentistry is in good order, the embarrassing queues outside new NHS dental practices are confirmation that oral disease is the most common of human diseases and is associated with significant suffering. But how many of us appreciate that there is now convincing evidence that oral diseases such as periodontitis are causally associated with cardiovascular disease, stroke and adverse diabetic outcomes? Indeed, treatment of periodontitis improves glucose control in diabetics, thereby reducing long-term complications and associated morbidity. As our population ages and obesity statistics grow, the public expect to retain their teeth for life. This is a huge public health problem for the future for which we should be planning right now.
The latest ONS adult dental survey demonstrated that we have reduced edentulism dramatically, but the prevalence rates of severe periodontitis, while 10 per cent in adults, are as high as 85 per cent in those over 65. Dental decay, rather than decreasing, has shifted to disadvantaged groups and the elderly. The National Diet and Nutrition Survey has shown that nutritional status is better for those with their own teeth, thus tooth retention is vital to general health and well-being as well as to quality of life.
This improvement is attainable if we invest in basic and clinical research which aims, among other issues, to improve identification, diagnosis and treatment of high-risk groups. All these measures require an improved understanding of the scientific basis of oral disease, improved liaison of dental researchers with industry and the maintenance of a vibrant research culture in our dental schools. In 2001-02 the NHS cost the Treasury £60 billion, and NHS spend on oral and dental care approached 5 per cent of that figure. However, dental schools receive less than 2 per cent of the funding from research councils that medical schools receive. For funding from charities, that amount is less than 1 per cent. That is disproportionate, both to NHS spend and to public health demand. Any further reduction will have a disproportionately greater negative effect on oral health research than other, better funded disciplines.
The problem of obtaining research funding in dental schools is negatively impacting on the recruitment and retention of dental clinical academics. A further fall of 6 per cent in dental clinical academic posts occurred in 2004. That trend continues through to the present. Reductions in QR funding will impact hugely on teaching quality and retention of staff in the 13 undergraduate UK dental schools and two newer graduate-entry facilities. Exclusion of schools from basic research infrastructure funding could be catastrophic, denying them the funding for development of research portfolios and the need for the future generations of dental care professionals to be trained in an environment rich in research and academic excellence.
There is a major concern that, as a result of the current RAE, some universities may decide to designate their dental schools as teaching-only. That would signal a dumbing down of our dental training, currently among the best in the world. It is of extreme concern that the two new schools may well move in this direction. It is essential that the Government recognise that small disciplines such as dentistry would suffer irrevocably under a purely metrics-based system. It is impossible to directly compare dental and medical research in terms of publication citation indices and research income. Medical research attracts disproportionately higher levels of funding relative to the public health demand and spend on medicine. To use a purely metrics-based assessment in dentistry would simply exacerbate the research funding shortfall in oral and dental research.
The situation is so worrying that the British Society for Dental Research has recently published a position paper, a strategic review of oral and dental research in the United Kingdom. In this detailed and objective appraisal the society concludes, among other things, that oral and dental research is indeed underfunded. A dedicated national oral/dental research charity must be established. The government proposals under Best Research for Best Health and the proposed revisions to the RAE post-2008 provide a major threat to orphan disciplines such as dentistry. I urge the Minister to recognise the serious plight of research funding for UK dental research and appreciate that a concerted effort is now required at senior government level to increase funding for this critical aspect of the health of people in this country.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this debate. She is well known in this House as an indefatigable supporter of British universities. I declare an interest as president of the council of the University of Chester. In my 10 years in that post the institution has evolved from a small church college of higher education into a university that is three times larger than it was and has an income four times larger. Ten years ago the college had no professors and was academically dependent on the University of Liverpool for the award of all its degrees. We now have taught degree-awarding powers and, we believe and hope, are about to be given research degree-awarding powers. The academic distinction of the staff of the university has grown, with a significant and expanding number of members of staff of professorial rank. A growth in income and student numbers has enabled us in recent years to appoint a large number of new staff, often young, the great majority of whom have doctorates and proper aspirations for further research. For “the University of Chester” you could read many other post-1992 new universities in this country, although I think we have expanded rather faster than most.
The research funding methodology that has applied in recent years has limited our ability to develop the culture of research in the university, although we have done quite a lot within the limited resources we have had available through various partnerships, particularly in applied research. We have also expanded our research by concentrating on certain clusters of excellence within the overall university estate. We need to honour the perfectly proper aspirations of—especially, but not exclusively—the new staff we have appointed in recent years. Our anxiety is that in the highly selective research funding methodology of recent years the ability of staff to conduct research has been constrained, and that those constraints are in danger of being even sharper if the research funding is applied even more selectively in future. There is a case for such concentration and selectivity in relation to basic research in the sciences, where the capital cost of equipment is high, but the arguments are much less compelling in the arts and humanities.
In addition, in relation to the whole area of knowledge, there is an increasing need for applied research to enable the huge range of human knowledge we now have to be used effectively for the benefit of an increasingly complex society, and not only for economic benefits. For example, the University of Chester has a growing involvement in improving healthcare delivery, with seven practice development units in partnership with NHS trusts focusing on different aspects of improvements in the nursing profession. Such applied and often interdisciplinary research can easily fall outside the traditional categories by which research has been recognised and assessed and the research infrastructure resourced. Research councils in particular can be rather conservative in their approaches, but university research is intrinsically concerned with innovation and crossing previous boundaries, so it needs a good deal of freedom to be given to the universities along with the funding provided to them.
Many of the post-1992 universities will inevitably remain teaching-led institutions, and I expect that this will be the case with Chester as well. Any institution worthy of being called a university, however, must also be informed by a broad research ethos. Any university teacher who has no opportunity to develop research interests, even if they are necessarily limited and constrained, is unlikely to sparkle and inspire as a teacher. That is true at all levels, but not least in the third-year undergraduate case to which reference has been made.
I am continually amazed by the dedication of the university staff, despite burgeoning bureaucracy and the fact that a considerable increase in teaching loads as a declining unit of resource has pushed up student-staff ratios. The comparative salaries of university staff have also suffered, and in some local areas near me it is difficult to recruit and retain staff in IT, law and education. Yet on professional contracts which encourage research, many work very hard indeed to contribute to the research culture to which any university must surely aspire. We cannot make do with a university in the dumbed-down mode to which the noble Lord just referred.
The Government have a stated and admirable goal of a 50 per cent participation rate in higher education. There is still some way to go to achieve this, and a key route will surely be through seeking a widespread culture of research, pure but also applied, across the whole HE sector, including in teaching-led universities. Will the Minister confirm that this is indeed the Government’s aim?
My Lords, it was right in 1992 to abolish the binary line which had so arbitrarily and invidiously divided polytechnics and universities. What we made clear, however, at that time—I was Higher Education Minister—was that this policy was not a green light for institutions to drift from their previous missions. We expected the post-1992 universities to be funded to continue to concentrate on what they were best at: vocational higher education and applied research. I asked every polytechnic, before the legislation reached the statute book, to write a mission statement as an anchor.
We made it crystal clear that while post-1992 universities should be free to make their individual cases for research funding, they should not expect public funding to be available to convert every institution in the system into a research university. Basic research would continue to be relatively concentrated, though we were enthusiastic that ties between business and all universities should be strengthened to generate more applied research. The RAE had already achieved important benefits in identifying research quality and promoting more businesslike management of research, and that drive would continue. With the imperative to expand undergraduate numbers and their teaching, the resources would not be available from the public purse to provide substantial QR funding across the enlarged and enlarging sector.
The harsh reality is that there has not been enough money available through public expenditure at any time since 1992, notwithstanding the very large increases that this Government have provided for research, to pay for the QR funding that post-1992 institutions so eloquently demand. Research gets more expensive, while the leading research universities across the world—the league in which a small number of ours must remain—develop more resources, new endeavours and new achievements. The Government and HEFCE have had no option but increasingly to concentrate resources for research. This process has been compounded—and it had to happen—by full economic costing, which means more money for no more volume. The result has of course been that not only has there been precious little left for the modern universities, but the squeezed middle, where a number of universities that once seemed secure as research universities, are is sliding down the research funding slope. These are painful and difficult circumstances. The RAE methodology in prospect after 2008, metrics, will not offer a reprieve.
I shall make two observations which, though not quite upbeat, are positive. First, it is valid and honourable for a university to be a teaching university. Resources of money and time in universities publicly funded for teaching but not research should permit scholarship, keeping abreast of significant developments in an academic field. In that way, the teaching of students will be informed indirectly by research. In America, this has been accepted for a long time. Secondly, there can be scope in every modern university to develop at least one or two centres in which there is research excellence, funded perhaps by concentration of a continuing small ration of QR and by private resources. In these areas, students can experience teaching informed and inspired at first hand by new research.
Ministers should be candid in the run-up to the 2008 RAE, as perhaps they were not sufficiently before the 2001 RAE, that while they will do all they can in the face of valid competing demands for education funding to preserve funding for university research, there will be no cornucopia from which to reward all those whose research peer review has recognised as good but not the very best. I am sorry to speak so starkly, but I cannot criticise the judgment of Ministers that research funding should be concentrated and that universities should embrace very different roles.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has raised some timely concerns in this debate, but it is only fair to acknowledge that these are partly the consequence of this country’s success in raising the proportion of young people participating in higher education. We are fortunate to be the only country outside the US to have several research universities near the top of the international league.
As a scientist and university professor, I gladly acknowledge two of this Government’s achievements. The first is the introduction of top-up fees, despite the political capital that had to be expended by the key Ministers involved. Without these fees, the issues that we are addressing would be even more acute. The second achievement is the substantial and continuing real-terms growth in the budget for the research councils.
However, other countries are not standing still. The standing of our universities depends on their remaining attractive to versatile talent from overseas as well as the UK. Students will expect higher quality in return for their higher fees. We need to ensure that our graduates meet the Bologna criteria.
If we want to retain research excellence within a diverse university system that depends on public funds, some system like the RAE is a necessary evil as a discriminatory tool for distributing scarce resources that underpin research. It is then crucial to decide how steep the differentials should be. How much more should a really strong department receive than a fairly strong department? How must we diverge from the uniformity of universities on mainland Europe if we want to nurture peaks of international excellence? What should be the floor level of support for any university? These are difficult issues, but what motivates this debate is concern that the concentration must not go too far.
There are obviously a few universities, each with many strong departments, which receive the lion’s share under any funding formula. However, despite the trend towards concentration, there is at least one top-rated department in more than 50 of our universities. These strong departments were not all planned for. Many stem from exceptional individuals who were able in the 1960s and 1970s to build up strong groups. It is important for the country that these opportunities are not choked off. Recruitment into the less well funded universities would be handicapped if prospective faculty perceived that, however enterprising they were, they had no chance of emulating the careers of those who built up, for instance, space research in Leicester and archaeology in Bradford.
Good researchers should be nurtured in all universities, but that is not enough. All our students should be taught by faculties whose expertise extends well beyond the standard curriculum and whose teaching is nourished by research, scholarship and reflective inquiry. That is what distinguishes a university from further education. This does not require that all universities should offer PhD programmes in all subjects. Some of the best undergraduate education in the United States is offered by liberal arts colleges that teach undergraduates only, but professors in those institutions none the less pursue individual research and scholarship. That is just one benign example of the benefits of diversity in American higher education. We need to foster such diversity here—diversity of funding and admission—with not just one league table but many, measuring excellence of different kinds.
Surely a prerequisite of anything that merits the title of university is that the academic staff should be scholars and researchers and a resource of expertise to the nation. This requires that they have enough support and time to pursue projects outside their narrow teaching duties. If that does not come via QR allocations, we need some other route—and that is why we should welcome this debate.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Sharp for introducing this important debate and for her clear and passionate analysis of the inconsistencies in the funding of research. It has been a most interesting debate.
I come to this from the point of view of the students. I believe that students in all universities are entitled to expect research-informed teaching, to be informed by the latest thinking in their field of study and taught to develop for themselves skills of critical inquiry and reflection as part of their higher education study. To me that is the crucial difference between teaching in universities and schools—and in that I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. But they will not get this unless all institutions providing higher education courses leading to degrees get funding from somewhere to do research. We have heard this evening about the various problems with the funding for that.
We should also value and reward high-quality teaching. That is one of the very important areas of excellence that all universities and colleges should develop. I think that we are all agreed that research underpins all that—even the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, in a contribution that he himself described as “stark”. It is significant that the inflationary uplift for research funding has been greater than that provided for teaching. Is that an indication of the relative importance attributed to each or recognition of the fact that we must have research if we are to have good teaching? As we have heard, quality-related funding is supposed to be for supporting research infrastructure and postgraduate teaching in all universities, but actually it ends up boosting facilities in the few top research-intensive universities, leaving many without anything. We have also heard from academics how the peer-review part of the RAE is a time-consuming mammoth which needs urgent review and refinement and the role that metrics, or measurable outcomes, should have.
While we wait for this review—I believe until 2014 for its full implementation—the Government’s two sticking-plaster responses have not solved the problem. The Research Capability Fund introduced in 2003 was, at £22.1 million last year, pretty small in relation to the total £1.3 billion allocated under QR. It was aimed at supporting research in emerging subject areas where research is scarce and there are few existing projects for assessment, such as art and design, communication, media, dancing, drama, nursing, social work and sports studies. That is not a lot of money to go round all those subject areas.
Secondly, the £75 million time-limited core funding which came from HEFCE in January to support physics, chemistry, engineering and metallurgy departments that were in danger of closing down was also not very much when spread around to those who needed it—not even enough per student to keep a “well-found laboratory” going. These departments will have to survive on this until the various initiatives about which we heard in our debate last week on science teaching have the desired effect in creating more demand from new students from schools.
There are many problems with the QR. Naturally, vice-chancellors of research-intensive universities rated five and five starred like it because they benefit from massive influxes of funds. However, it now provides nothing for those universities rated lower than four, even though some of their research may be of national significance, and it has a very strong effect on their teaching. Many universities finding themselves in this situation manage to raise large amounts of research funding from the private sector, but as my noble friend Lady Sharp said there is no doubt that winning QR money actually levers in more from the private sector, so those that do not get it feel a double whammy.
I come back to the importance of the quality of teaching. Is the whole notion of the “well-found laboratory” to be ditched? Does the Minister agree about the importance of having undergraduates as well as graduates taught by research-active staff? Is the infrastructure support for teaching now to be subsumed under the Science Research Investment Fund? SRIF has made a big difference but cannot be fully replaced by the “endangered species” funding. As my noble friend said, we do not even know whether that is to be continued anyway after the initial announcement.
Much of the debate about the future of the RAE has been about the pros and cons of metrics but the issue of fair distribution across the universities has been neglected. That can be disastrous, as the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, mentioned in relation to dental schools.
My Lords, I echo other words of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for introducing this debate with the weight of the very great experience she brings. I enjoyed the knowledgeable contributions of all who spoke in it.
We welcome the decision to look further into research funding for universities. The RAE, for all its initial success in raising standards, had become far too demanding. In replacing it the Government must be very careful not to perpetuate the same problems. Universities must now be allowed to concentrate on serious research rather than navigating time-consuming bureaucracy.
We have always strongly supported higher education, which unquestionably benefits the economy as a whole. The Government must help sustain a level of innovative research that will protect Britain’s continued status as a world leader. Government proposals have not been universally welcomed. The Coalition of Modern Universities expressed deep disappointment that nothing will be done to promote greater research capacity. This compares unfavourably with other countries with rapidly expanding research programmes. Is the Minister confident that the RAE replacement will allow British universities to compete more effectively with countries such as China and other emerging economies?
The proposals are certainly not without their flaws. We understand the background but is it not extraordinary that the RAE 2008 and the introduction of the new funding will both take place in the very same timeframe? What incentive is there to go through the RAE if it will not affect the funding level? Surely this openly contradicts the Government’s own ambition to reduce the administrative burden on universities. The Government’s recent record on funding has come under widespread attack. What impact does the Minister believe the changes will have on those university departments currently facing closure due to claimed funding shortfalls?
Although the RAE 2001 results were excellent, the sector was extremely disappointed with the Government’s underwhelming response. Successful departments were not able to build on their success and roughly a fifth of institutions will now be hit with a real-terms cut in HEFCE funding. What additional sources of support, if any, will the Government make available to these institutions?
There are other ways our research programmes might be more dynamic. What incentives are given to British industry, for example, to become a more active partner in the higher education system, which would greatly benefit the university process?
We seek several reassurances from the Minister. For all the valid criticism of the RAE, it was invaluable in rewarding excellence, improving research planning and providing accountability for the allocation of public funds. Are the Government confident that the new proposals will do the same? We strongly urge that peer review should continue at some level, though clearly it should be light touch and with fewer panels. The sector recognises expert assessment as the most significant and reliable litmus test.
Government proposals for income-based metrics lead naturally to the concerns so forcefully expressed by my noble friend Lord Colwyn. Most critically, they do not appear to correlate funding with quality. We would be deeply suspicious of any system that did not reward quality at all. Some form of quality measurement must continue, which should not be discrete from the allocation of funds. Exclusive use of income metrics could easily breed mediocrity, particularly in the arts.
If universities know that they are being judged other than on quality, they may gear their research to the mechanics of this assessment process. It would be seriously detrimental to research standards if universities attempted to second-guess criteria to secure funding. The new system must encourage genuine research rather than expertise in ticking boxes.
We also require reassurance on the system’s scope. It should continue to serve the whole country’s interests and, crucially, to promote all disciplines. We have previously expressed concerns that the arts, humanities and social sciences may get left behind, with the focus on science and technology. All those disciplines are important in the education and development of our workforce. Can the Minister confirm that there will not be undue funding bias towards particular disciplines?
Finally, the cost and administrative burden of the system are critical. We warmly support the Government’s stated aim to reduce the burden of research assessment, but it is essential that any new model actually achieves this. I finish by agreeing with my honourable friend in another place, Boris Johnson—this time not in a toga—who said:
“The current RAE is driving academics to distraction and it is high time it was reformed. Its demands were continually cited as a reason why lecturers had no time to teach students properly. Whatever the Government put in its place must allow universities to get on with serious research without pointless form filling and the production of mountains of academically worthless papers”.