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Offender Management Bill

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2007

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 4.

12: Clause 4, page 4, line 19, at end insert “; or

(c) is for the provision of assistance to the Parole Board and the Secretary of State in the early release and recall of prisoners.”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is similar to one that I, along with my noble friend Lady Turner, submitted in Committee. It aims to keep what I believe is a vital public protection function in the public sector and so prevent the conflict of interest which, in part, led to the Government listing court work as a restricted provision.

The Probation Service does an excellent job of providing professional advice to the Parole Board which is impartial, accurate, reliable and skilled. It undoubtedly assists the board in making its decisions about releasing prisoners. If those are honeyed words, so be it, because I believe them.

The information is provided in writing and also verbally, and a risk assessment is offered where that is deemed appropriate. If this important function were to be commissioned, there could be an immediate conflict of interest. That is what my amendment is about. It is not that I dislike the voluntary sector. Before I came to this House, I had responsibility in my union for many thousands of members who worked in what we then called the non-profit sector, so I have knowledge of them and their work and a tremendous amount of respect for them. However, I do worry about a conflict of interest.

An example I gave in Committee was that, if a writer were to be employed by a company with a commercial interest in the outcome—for example, on tagging or on private jails—that would affect the ability of the Parole Board to carry out its functions. I am not the only one who has fears. In 2005, in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, a representative of the judiciary warned that they could not be involved in a body such as a probation board if competition were introduced into services for the courts and therefore, surely, into the Prison Board’s decisions as well.

As my noble friend Lord Judd said when we debated this in Committee, it is very important if we are co-operating with others, as this Bill allows—indeed, wants us to do—outside the formal public service, to remember what the priorities are. Surely, one priority is to maintain what works well at the moment and not to detract from it because that would be detrimental to everyone, especially offenders. Although my noble friend the Minister has assured the House that there are no immediate plans to open up this area of work to competition, I and the National Association of Probation Officers believe that it would be better to ensure that this does not happen in the future either. I beg to move.

My Lords, I very much support this amendment. I supported it on a previous occasion. Indeed, this afternoon at a more private meeting I again asked the Secretary of State about the matter. He did not quite respond to my question. It is crucially important that there should be probation officer reports on the dangerous prisoners who are out on parole—that is agreed in the amendment, it was agreed in another place and we have certainly supported it in your Lordships’ House—and that should also apply to anybody who is asking for parole or is asking to be submitted to the Parole Board for a decision. If the wrong people are let out on parole, without the appropriate high-level assistance that the Parole Board’s expertise can provide, we shall not be in a good position for the future.

I cannot understand why we have not had a definite reply on this. It seems such an obvious area that the Government could accede to. I hope very much that we shall now hear something really positive on this issue.

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment, as I have done previously. I do so for a very particular reason in addition to the reasons given previously, which included the fact that the Secretary of State had announced that he was not going to move offender management from the public service for three years, but that interventions would be open to contestability. That seems to me absolutely right.

I do not know whether noble Lords read in the Sunday Times over the weekend an article by my successor as Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, in which she said:

“The drivers of the next crisis are already in place. There are 9,500 lifers and indeterminate sentenced prisoners—far more than any other western European country and far beyond the capacity of the prison service that holds them, the parole board that will need to decide on their release and the probation service that will have to supervise them for lengthy periods”.

In the context of this amendment it is interesting that the Parole Board has really been brought into the front line. Indeed, the growing number of indeterminate sentenced prisoners are choking the ability of the probation boards to get through the work. They can do it only if they have the very best professional service. Therefore, it seems to me absolutely vital that this should remain in the hands of the professionals because it is now such an obviously front-line service.

My Lords, I rise briefly to support my noble friend’s amendment, to which I have added my name. It will be recalled that we had a debate in Committee in which we expressed concerns about possible conflict of interest. This is another situation where a conflict of interest could well arise if the writer to whom the business had been contracted were to have a commercial interest in the outcome, because he or she was involved in contracting for other business connected with the service. The House has already expressed an opinion on conflict of interest, and this is another such issue.

My Lords, I readily acknowledge the principled stand that is being made on this amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson of Market Rasen. She also tabled the amendment in Committee.

In Committee I made it clear that we do not seek to interfere in the Government’s negotiations with those who are trying to protect more offender management services from being opened up to contestability. This amendment would add to the Clause 4 protection the provision of assistance by the Probation Service to the Parole Board and the Secretary of State in the early release and recall of prisoners.

I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, that the Probation Service provides impartial, accurate, reliable, skilled and professional advice to assist the Parole Board in making its decisions on the release of prisoners. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, I make no excuse for those being honeyed words—they describe what happens; and that is what we should be doing. The noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, argues that if this function were to be commissioned via contestability, there could be an immediate conflict of interest.

I merely make two observations. First, in Committee, at col. 1032 of the Official Report of 5 June, the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, appeared to say that the reason for the Government refusing this amendment was mainly that the Parole Board Rules 2004 already provided robust safeguards and that the rules would soon be further tightened in the form of a statutory instrument. When will we see that statutory instrument? Secondly, what is the Government’s view of the harm that would be done by adding this protection if it will exist anyway? I am rather puzzled by that.

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Gibson for moving the amendment, which enables us to clarify the Government’s position. I entirely respect the views that have been expressed from all around your Lordships’ House on the importance of the amendment. In particular, I dwell on the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who rightly expressed concern about the importance for public safety of the issue. I am mindful of that.

The amendment seeks to add the work that probation does in relation to the Parole Board to the definition of “restricted probation provision” in Clause 4. The Government fully understand those concerns. To demonstrate our commitment on this point, we have given a guarantee to Parliament that we will not contract with a non-public sector provider for core offender management work for three years, which was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I am happy to assure noble Lords again that this guarantee includes the provision of assistance to the Parole Board. In addition, the new provision in Clause 3(7) would make explicit the contractual obligations that probation providers would be under to ensure that there is no conflict of interest between their duty to give advice impartially and their financial interest. That is an important issue, which is important to my noble friends Lady Gibson and Lady Turner.

However, it is not appropriate to add this work to the restrictions in Clause 4. The clause was added to the Bill to meet the specific concerns that had rightly been expressed in relation to court work. Having listened carefully to our stakeholders and to the Members of the other place, we agreed that it was right that we should not seek to complete this area of work until we could demonstrate to the House that the safeguards in place were robust enough to meet those concerns.

The work that probation does in relation to the Parole Board is of a different order, because robust safeguards are already in place. Probation involvement in the parole process is rigorously governed by the Parole Board Rules 2004, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred. It is our intention, as I think has been picked up by the noble Baroness, to strengthen that even further by revising the Parole Board Rules so that they take the form of a statutory instrument. That is extremely significant, because it requires parliamentary scrutiny. The noble Baroness asked when that statutory instrument will be brought forward. I cannot give her a precise date, but it is at the forefront of our thinking. If we were to decide that the time was right to open up this area of work, the rules would be rigorously applied to all the providers involved in delivering the work, regardless of whether they were from the public, private or voluntary sectors.

With that in mind, I hope that my noble friends will agree that their amendment is unnecessary and that they will withdraw it. We greatly value the work that is done by the Probation Service, and we understand entirely the sensitivity of the work that it does in support of the Parole Board. From an earlier ministerial incarnation, and having read many of the reports that are prepared on Parole Board cases, I greatly respect the professionals who do the work, which is of the highest standard. It has to be so, for the very reasons referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I assure the House that we will pay very careful regard indeed in this policy area.

My Lords, I begin by thanking all those noble Lords who have spoken in this brief but important debate. I thank them for supporting and for questioning the amendment, because it is important that we clarify at each stage of the Bill what is being said. Therefore, the questions about the statutory instrument were extremely helpful. My noble friend’s reply was helpful. He cannot give us a date yet, but it is on the record that it will happen. I thank my noble friend for his thoughtful reply, which was more fulsome than the last time, and I am pleased about that. Obviously, I shall read Hansard over the weekend, and I will reflect on what has been said. For the time being I shall withdraw the amendment, although I have the option of bringing something back at Third Reading if I felt that was necessary. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Power to establish probation trusts]:

12A: Clause 5, page 5, line 8, leave out subsections (6) to (8)

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments Nos. 37B and 37C in this group. They clarify the intention behind an amendment that I successfully pressed to a Division in Committee. I wish to apply the affirmative resolution procedure to the power in Clause 5(1) to establish and dissolve probation trusts. I am grateful to the Bill team for pointing out to me that the amendment on which I won the Division did not quite do what I had hoped—I got it wrong. Apparently the amendment I pressed applies the procedure only to the power in Clause 5(6), which is not what I intended. In addition, parliamentary counsel does not think that it works technically either, so it was a double whammy. The Bill team has kindly proposed the tidying up amendments that are before the House today.

I accept—through gritted teeth—that even though the Government will not oppose the making of the amendments today, that is without prejudice to their view on the merits or otherwise of applying the affirmative procedure in this instance. I accept that the Government are merely assisting me to tidy up the Bill to facilitate proper consideration in another place so that the effect of the amendment is clear to all there. I naturally hope to persuade the Government ultimately to accept my amendment, but in the mean time I move Amendment No. 12A with the caveats that I have entered on the record. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on having won her amendment last time round, which gives me the happy opportunity of saying that unlike most occasions when the note starts with “resist”, today it starts with “accept”. We do so for the very good reasons that the noble Baroness set out.

I ought to make it clear that the Government are still considering our position on the policy implications of the amendment, but I am happy to accept this technical improvement and join in the general congratulations to our officials in the Box on helping to clarify the position.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Probation trusts: further provisions]:

13: Schedule 1, page 28, line 27, leave out “are for the trust to determine” and insert “shall be determined by the Secretary of State”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a return to a subject discussed in Committee that is extremely important to me, to the National Association of Probation Officers and to trades unions generally: collective bargaining. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 transfers the determination of terms and conditions for probation staff to probation trusts. This amendment keeps collective bargaining at national level and retains the status quo. I make no apology for that. National collective bargaining for the Probation Service is a necessary prerequisite for the maintenance of probation as a profession across England and Wales. If each trust were allowed to have different terms and conditions for probation staff, it would not only be detrimental to the efficiency and effectiveness of the service but would also cause chaos. It would not be good for the well-being of workers in that service. In Committee, I said that it is always difficult and demoralising for staff who are carrying out the same jobs to be paid on different pay scales. That has been proved time and time again, and that does no service to probation as a whole. I make no apology for reminding the House of what was said in Committee because it is crucial to the aims of this amendment, which is not designed to produce what was described by my noble friend Lord Bassam as,

“an ironclad straitjacket for the service”,—[Official Report, 5/6/07; col. 1075.]

but to ensure that something that has worked well, efficiently and effectively is not destroyed in future. Although the Probation Service has always been made up of a number of local probation employers—there are currently 42 probation areas in England and Wales—since the 1940s there has been national collective bargaining. There is also continuous service for staff moving between different areas. For example, service-related entitlements, such as annual leave, are not affected by moves between probation areas, and all staff are covered by the local government pension scheme. This means that there is a national professional career structure which enables them to move between probation areas without detriment. This free flow of staff between areas has been to the benefit of the service as much as the staff, enabling enhanced professional career development for staff, reducing staff wastage and ensuring maximum benefit from the training investment made in staff. In other words, national collective bargaining underpins the very existence of the national probation profession.

Probation Service pay and conditions have been recently modernised and, with effect from April 2006—only last year—the Probation Service pay modernisation agreement was implemented. This modernised pay structure has introduced harmonised terms and conditions for all grades, new flexibilities—an “in” word—for employers and a job evaluation system for all grades. Geographical and market forces arrangements are also in place to enable employers to take account of the circumstances in which they find themselves without needing to move away from the national agreement.

Separate collective bargaining arrangements for each probation employer would be inefficient: it would necessitate an increased role for human resources and industrial relations for each separate employer. Such separate arrangements would be particularly inefficient for a relatively small staff group, with the Probation Service covering just over 21,000 staff across the whole of England and Wales, and having only 6,500 qualified probation officers. In the interests of efficiency and effectiveness, and to ensure the continuation of the probation profession, it is therefore important that national collective bargaining for the Probation Service be retained and provided for in the legislation.

In response to my amendment in Committee, my noble friend Lord Bassam said that the Government,

“have no plans to change the current arrangements whereby pay and terms and conditions for probation staff are negotiated on a national basis through a national framework and national machinery”.

Naturally, I was pleased to hear that. However, he then went on to talk about an element of flexibility being needed,

“to respond to future local circumstances which by their very nature”,

cannot be anticipated. Of course they cannot. But then he went on to talk further of flexibility and localism. Alarm bells rang even louder in my head, as they would in the head of anyone who has ever been involved in national collective bargaining, and that applies to either side of the industry. Elements of flexibility and recognition of the localism of the service cannot sit alongside national collective bargaining in relation to pay, pensions and leave. The two are totally incompatible.

It is no good saying to me that the Government’s intention is not,

“to undermine in any way the national negotiation process or machinery”—[Official Report, 5/6/07; col. 1075.],

and then to go on to enthuse about elements of flexibility and localism—the very elements that would destroy national collective bargaining once and for all. Unfortunately, I was not reassured by my noble friend’s response in Committee and neither were those working in the probation services, hence the reintroduction of this amendment.

In Committee, I spoke about what happens when there is not collective bargaining and used the car industry as an example. Tonight, I shall give an example of what I think could happen in the Probation Service if the amendment is not accepted. Probation officer A is based in Liverpool and is responsible for John Brown, who is serving his sentence in Walton prison. After 15 months there, John Brown is sent to a prison on the Isle of Wight. Probation officer A, under this new system, still has responsibility for John Brown, so he has to visit him on the Isle of Wight. During that visit he meets probation officer B, who tells probation officer A that he and his colleagues have just negotiated a good pay rise and more holidays. Probation officer A returns to Liverpool and tells his colleagues about this, and they immediately put in a pay claim, and a claim for additional holidays.

From an industrial relations point of view, this would be a disaster. There would be anarchy to the detriment of all concerned. I maintain, as I did in Committee, that unless pay, pensions and holiday entitlements are negotiated nationally, there will be chaos. At this point, I mention the position of the Probation Boards’ Association—the employers, in other words. This morning, the PBA reaffirmed its support for national collective bargaining, and that it wished the stability of current arrangements to remain.

This is the amendment that I, the National Association of Probation Officers and the TUC care most about. I hope that none of us will be disappointed in the Minister’s response to this debate. I beg to move.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, on putting forward such a positive case on national bargaining. We are privileged in this House by having people with such vast experience on the basis of their previous work, and she makes a lot of sense. It is about time that the Minister examined every argument put forward by the noble Baroness, and perhaps this is the time to go back to the drawing board and come back before Third Reading to what is appropriate in this instance.

I shall not repeat many of the arguments that the noble Baroness has advanced, but under Amendment No. 4, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, we were talking about replacing the role of the Secretary of State and bringing in the probation boards. We heard the arguments from the opposite Benches about how ineffective they were and why the Secretary of State should be in charge of these things. I am flabbergasted. Now they are reversing that role and saying that the boards are the efficient people who should be negotiating the national terms and conditions of probation staff. That is plain daft, if I may say so. I wish the noble Lord, Lord Warner, were here as I should love to hear the views of new Labour as against old Labour on the discussions that we are now having.

My Lords, I am not being unkind. He is not in his place, but he is a good friend and he will take it in good heart.

Schedule 1 refers to the role of probation trusts. There is a serious danger that negotiations with a large number of bodies will be done differently and there will be no uniform standard. The noble Baroness mentioned “efficiency” and “effectiveness”, to which I would add “standardisation” in terms of the procedures that apply to employment matters.

I have some difficulty, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is a very reasonable person. Unfortunately, I do not know how he will respond to this. I can see the difficulty for the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, sitting on the side where she sits. I wonder whether she will have the courage on Third Reading to reach a conclusion on this matter. Let me put her mind at rest. I have not heard what the Minister is going to say, but if he does not satisfy her and she does not take this matter further at Third Reading, I give advance warning—irrespective of how the House feels about whether we can tidy this up at Third Reading—that I shall move an amendment and seek the opinion of the House, including that of the Labour trade unionists, on the Government’s action on the matter.

My Lords, I support the amendment, and I hope that the Minister will have some words of encouragement in response. My noble friend Lady Gibson has made out the case for the amendment. She is obviously representing the views of the National Association of Probation Officers, with which I have considerable sympathy, hence my hope that the Minister will have something helpful to say. I noted with interest what he had to say about the approach of the Probation Boards’ Association, and suggest that he ought to grab this amendment with a degree of enthusiasm.

My background is in the transport industry, not least the railway industry. I saw the effects under the previous Government of the break-up of that industry and national collective bargaining. One group within the railway industry whose bargaining position was greatly strengthened by the decisions of the previous Conservative Government was the train drivers, because negotiations then took place on a company-by-company basis. They had considerable bargaining power and, having secured a particular increase in one company, went along to the others and demanded comparable increases. The result has been a considerable improvement in the pay of train drivers.

The Minister may feel that we might end up with a shortage of probation officers or staff. If we do, and if we have bargaining done separately by each probation trust, precisely the same scenario will apply. If a probation trust feels that it has a problem securing sufficient probation staff, it is likely to offer an increase which will attract such staff. If staff in surrounding areas find that the rate of pay or conditions are better in the next area, they will simply decide to move. Then that adjacent area will have a similar problem, and will have to move on its pay levels.

Therefore, an argument could be made that it might be in the interest of the National Association of Probation Officers to go along with what is proposed. Clearly, however, the association has a view, with which I sympathise. It is better from its point of view to have national bargaining and a degree of stability. I say to my noble friend that it may be in the interests of the Probation Service to go along with this amendment. If there are issues over recruiting sufficient probation staff, he may find that not having national collective bargaining causes problems for the different probation trusts, which after all will be under contract to deliver services. Something that they might think about in negotiations is that if they do not pay an appropriate rate, and have difficulties recruiting, that may affect their ability to deliver contracts. I am sure that that would concentrate their minds quite considerably.

My Lords, I add my voice to those supporting the amendment. I do so from a contrary position but in agreement with the previous speaker. For a decade, I had the privilege of being the general-secretary of the Institution of Professional Civil Servants, which, by definition, consisted of professionals who entered the Civil Service anywhere in the United Kingdom but in a career service. In a sense they did not care, when they left university or qualified, whether the job was in London or Manchester; they joined a national service to serve wherever they were required. The Probation Service has had that privilege. Over the years, people have risen to the most senior ranks in the Probation Service, and that should not be given up easily. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Rosser that that has been the result of empowering ASLEF in the railway industry. I argue that it is not a sensible route to go down, because in practice you want to have the best qualified staff in the best jobs and in the best places to play an efficient role in the Probation Service. I very strongly support the amendment.

My Lords, I support the amendment and wish to make two brief points. First, the noble Baroness gave a mythological illustration. I can bring noble Lords nearer to reality with an illustration of what happened when the Welsh CAFCASS was split from the main body of CAFCASS. The Welsh decided to pay its staff more than we paid ours in England. As a consequence, we experienced considerable difficulties in negotiating because the costs of paying all the staff in the English regions would have been considerably more than in Wales. That illustrates what can happen.

Secondly, this demonstrates that the Probation Service is a national service. Our earlier arguments about local and national are illustrated here. Some things need to be national. It underlines what the Government have been trying to present: having some issues where you can look right across the piece—collective bargaining—but ensuring compliance in other issues. The value of having similar pay and conditions is that you can have similar expectations of people undertaking a task. That needs to be driven, I fear, from the centre. That does not mean that I am a centralist; I think there are great issues about local determination. The noble Baroness pointed out that flexibility at local level is possible within collective bargaining. With those two points I support the noble Baroness.

My Lords, it is not surprising that, as a former union official, I am in favour of collective bargaining, and national collective bargaining in appropriate circumstances. In this situation, the circumstances are indeed appropriate. As my noble friend pointed out at some length—she made an excellent case, and I have no need to repeat it—we are looking here at career progression in a profession. Obviously, as has been pointed out, if you have a national profession, people expect to have terms and conditions of service that apply across the whole structure.

On localism, it has already been pointed out that there is a modernised pay structure in operation, with certain flexibilities. There is a job evaluation in operation, which allows for variance. Geographical aspects and market forces can be taken care of under the same arrangement. Therefore, the limited localism which is necessary in the structure is already provided for. As my noble friend pointed out, if we were to depart from a national collective bargaining arrangement, the result would simply be anarchic and very, very bad for morale. I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept this amendment. Everybody who has spoken in the debate so far has been in favour of it, and I am sure that my noble friend on the Front Bench would like to respond in a similar way. I hope he is able to do so.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, not only on tabling the amendment but also on the way she presented her case. One of the things of interest to me throughout the debate is that, although we have talked about many things, we have not often concentrated on the probation staff themselves. In prisons, nothing will be right for prisoners unless things are right for staff, and the same goes for offenders in the hands of the Probation Service; unless things are right for the probation staff you will not get the quality of service out of them.

One thing that has concerned me is that the Government created a National Probation Service, but it has not been in existence for very long before we find that its headquarters have been subsumed into NOMS and its director is now a subordinate of someone called the director of performance and improvement somewhere in NOMS headquarters. I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Howarth reminded us that we are talking about a National Probation Service. There should be national things for a national service. National collective bargaining must come in the whole collection of national things required for a national service with a national role to play.

My Lords, I support the amendment. My noble friend argued the case extremely well, as did other noble Lords who have contributed to the discussion. My noble friend on the government Front Bench is a reasonable person. If he listens to the arguments today, he cannot but agree that there is force to those points. I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone put those words into the Bill in the first place. They do not make any sense. I am sure that my noble friend is thinking: “Why am I stuck with this one?”. It happens from time to time if one is a Minister: one is stuck with things. The best thing is to withdraw gracefully and accept that the arguments against the Bill as drafted are pretty good. I hope that my noble friend will meet the wishes of the House.

My Lords, I also strongly support the amendment. As the basic idea of the Probation Service is accepted but is being thought through again as a national service, the amendment will provide the protection needed during that period to ensure that the whole service emerges as a national body. As has been rightly said, there has not been a single voice against the amendment, and I hope that the force of that argument alone will carry it with the Minister.

My Lords, I will not break the record of any noble Lord being against the amendment, but we on these Benches have not passed judgment on the matter in the past and we do not seek to do so tonight. Like many noble Lords who have spoken, I have been rather confused about the Government's position on the issue, so I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, has in the most eloquent way given the Minister the opportunity to clarify the matter.

From my reading of proceedings on the Bill in another place, and from correspondence on the Bill, it appears that the Government previously gave a commitment that an amendment would be forthcoming to satisfy those who support the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. I also note that the Probation Boards’ Association says that it would prefer to phase in the abolition of national collective bargaining as and when the new trusts are formed and feel that it is appropriate for them.

I echo the sentiments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia: will the Minister tell the House whether any Minister has ever given a commitment to bring forward an amendment on this matter? If no such commitment has been given, has any offer of reassurance been given that might be acceptable? Exactly what is the Government's position now?

My Lords, I have thought about this and have concluded thus. If ever I am in need of trade union representation in future, in this incarnation or another, I am jolly sure that I will seek out my noble friend Lady Gibson, because she has given a tour de force this evening. It is apparent to me that I have lacked that trade union expertise behind me in my previous jobs. I cannot fault the noble Baroness for her persistence, for the quality of her argument and for her determination on this point. I thought that I had offered a modicum of clarification in Committee, but it is clear that I may have been lacking in that department. I shall endeavour to do my best this evening and to demonstrate that the Government do indeed listen to arguments. In our previous debate I thought that I had made it clear that we were committed to continuing the current arrangements for national collective pay bargaining, but I fully recognise that my noble friend Lady Gibson and Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House remain concerned about what might happen in the future, which is why they tabled the amendment.

Given the continuing concern about this, I am prepared to consider whether we can offer further reassurance. However, the amendment is not the best way in which to deal with the matter, not least because it is technically deficient; the change proposed is not consistent with paragraph 8. I understand the spirit in which it has been tabled. I would like to reflect further. I have heard the voices around your Lordships’ House. I noted in particular that my noble friend Lady Gibson said that neither she, nor for that matter the staff involved, are opposed to flexibilities. That is a very sensible position to adopt, because it is clearly not a million miles away from the Government’s position. If she will at least give the Government the opportunity to give the matter some further thought, we can demonstrate this evening that we have made some progress on this issue.

My Lords, will the Minister let us know what the Government have reflected on before Third Reading, as that will give us the opportunity to table a suitable amendment at that stage if we disagree with him? If he does so, we will be perfectly satisfied with the present course of action.

My Lords, that is when we would have to give the matter further consideration in the House. We would therefore have to consider any amendment in the interim and perhaps discuss the matter with the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, who raised the issue, and other noble Lords who have expressed concerns. So, yes, we have to do so between now and then.

My Lords, I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate tonight. I really appreciate the support that noble Lords on all sides of the House have given me at this time of night, and I thank them very sincerely. I am a little surprised, but delighted, by what the Minister has said. Obviously he has agreed to consider whether more assurances can be given. If I can help in that process, I will be delighted to do so. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that it would be helpful to the whole House if we could know what was happening as soon as possible. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

14: Schedule 1, page 29, line 32, leave out “the trust” and insert “a probation trust”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendments in this group are entirely technical and consequential. This reflects the fact that probation boards in Wales are subject to different audit requirements from those in England, and the amendments are designed to carry that forward to trusts. At the moment, local probation boards in England are subject to the Audit Commission Act 1998, whereas those in Wales are subject to the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004. We need to ensure that the Public Audit (Wales) Act continues to apply to probation trusts in Wales when they replace boards, which is what the amendments achieve. I beg to move.

My Lords, without wishing to alarm the Minister, I am using this opportunity simply to give advance notice that I shall not move Amendment No. 23. Having had a rather lengthy day, with much to face on this Bill, I suspect that noble Lords may be relieved at that. Although the reduction of reoffending is central to this Bill, I do not think that my amendment, which refers to reoffending targets, is central; therefore, I am prepared not to cover that. I hope that that might assist us to finish business tonight at a reasonable hour.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

15: Schedule 1, page 29, line 33, at end insert—

“(2A) The Auditor General for Wales may examine any accounts of a Welsh probation trust, any records relating to the accounts and any auditor’s report on them.”

16: Schedule 1, page 29, line 34, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—

“(3) In the Audit Commission Act 1998 (c. 18)—

(a) in section 11(2) (consideration of reports etc), after paragraph (f) there is inserted—“(fa) probation trusts;”;(b) in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 (bodies subject to audit), after paragraph (p) there is inserted—“(q) a probation trust (other than a Welsh probation trust as defined in paragraph 13(4) of Schedule 1 to the Offender Management Act 2007).”(3A) In the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004 (c. 23)—

(a) in section 12(1) (local government bodies in Wales), after paragraph (i) there is inserted—“(j) a Welsh probation trust (as defined by paragraph 13(4) of Schedule 1 to the Offender Management Act 2007).”;(b) in section 24(2) (consideration of reports in public interest), after paragraph (d) there is inserted—“(e) a probation trust.”; and (c) in section 25(3) (procedure for consideration of reports etc), after paragraph (d) there is inserted—“(e) a probation trust.”.”

17: Schedule 1, page 30, line 4, at end insert “; and

“Welsh probation trust” means a probation trust which is for the time being designated as such by the order establishing it under section 5(1).”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 6 [Power to make grants for probation purposes etc]:

18: Clause 6, page 5, line 19, after “person” insert “or organisation”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 deal with different points, but have been grouped. I think that it is for the convenience of the House that I deal with them together. In Committee, we dealt at some length with Amendment No. 18. I simply want to say that I believe that legislation should be clear to those involved, and it is not immediately clear to everyone in the voluntary sector and the outside world that “person” also covers organisations. In the light of my own work and experience, it is absolutely clear that some alarm bells might be rung in the voluntary sector if people interpret the legislation to suggest that these arrangements should be with a “person”. There is a great sense of corporate responsibility in the best of the voluntary sector in which everyone feels that they carry, individually and collectively, the responsibility for what is being done, how money is being spent and how the objectives are most effectively achieved.

For that reason, I cannot understand why we are limited—there may be an over-riding legal argument, which I have yet to hear—to this concept of “person”. If my noble friend and the Government are determined to use “person”, they at least should add “organisation”, which would clarify the situation immensely. If my noble friend suggests that this could be clarified in guidance, that would be helpful, but I cannot see why the point cannot be made plain in the Bill.

On Amendment No. 19, I have noticed the very helpful Amendment No. 24 standing in the name of my noble friend, which is a move in the direction concerning a lot of us. But when policy is made, it is important that we think hard about means as well as objectives and general purpose. To give the Secretary of State responsibility for ensuring that professional training is properly resourced seems very sensible. This is happening in many parts of the education sector, including higher education, where departments of state with particular interest in aspects of the work are able to finance it.

As I have argued before, if we are to take professional training and preparation seriously, it cannot be approached just on the back of an envelope, switched on and off, and improvised and arranged at short notice. People have to make sound arrangements and be confident that those arrangements will be sustained over a sensible period. In that context, I urge my noble friend, even at this stage, to take seriously this issue of means for achieving the ends. I beg to move.

My Lords, we on these Benches are sympathetic to the aims and objectives of these amendments. Perhaps it would be helpful if, in responding, the Government would also speak to their interpretation of government Amendment No. 24, which covers some of the same ground. Part of our difficulty with Amendment No. 24 is the difference between “may publish” in proposed new subsection (1) and “must publish” in proposed new subsection (2), and whether guidelines are enforceable.

We are concerned that while we have well qualified people in the service, particularly for serious offenders, the number of serious offenders we let out on licence is likely to increase. We need to make sure that the people concerned with them have the right qualifications and experience. I feel that both in Committee and on Report, the Government have not been well served by some of the more enthusiastic supporters of privatisation and the corporate state. They tend to give the impression that we do not need to worry about these things because the private sector will provide somehow or other and, if it does not produce qualified people, we need not mind because they will be bright and they will do the work. We are in favour of co-operation and a mixed economy, but nevertheless we want to make sure that the right people are in the right place and that they have had the right training. Amendments Nos. 18 and 19 are good probing amendments for that purpose. Our discussion of this needs to tie in with what the Government mean in their rather unclear Amendment No. 24.

My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has raised this. Although we are going to discuss qualifications under Amendment No. 24, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has rightly pointed out, a lot of that amendment is about guidelines. We are not just about guidelines; we are about the actual delivery of training. We are not just interested in it going to individuals; we are interested in the training of the organisations that have to carry out tasks, and that covers the public, private and voluntary sectors.

“Training” sometimes sends shivers up my spine when I think about the difference between what is said to be happening, what is required to happen, and what is actually happening. To my concern, I heard the other day that, for example, the so-called eight-week training for prison officers has been reduced by a week to seven weeks. In other countries, prison officers have a degree-based course for up to a year. I have the same concerns now that we have an increased number of less than fully trained probation staff, many of whom are asked to carry out tasks for which they are not adequately trained. As the private and voluntary sectors become more involved—we all hope they will—it is terribly important that their people are trained in exactly the same way to carry out these purposes, and that there is a mechanism to make certain that the training is verified so that they are not allowed to practise until they have been tested or attested to see that they are up to the right standard.

This looks like a small amendment, but coming from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, naturally there will be more to it than that. I am extremely glad that he has raised the issue in this way, and I am glad too that “professional preparation” has been included, as well as “training”, in Amendment No. 19. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendments in the spirit in which they are meant so that they can tie in with government Amendment No. 24, which is on the same subject—although guidelines are not the same as delivery.

My Lords, this is another area in which I support the noble Lord, Lord Judd. It is absolutely crucial as we move into this somewhat flexible world that people are equipped to carry out whatever level of professional supervision is required, and that there is appropriate training at the right level. We are in a state of flux, as we all know, because the degree to which contracts are being offered is very limited—one year, two years, whatever it is—because of the transition and we need a period where that can be worked through. Above all, we need to be assured that the professional standard which has been the key mark of the probation training organised and provided by the department—whatever it is to be called in the future—will conform to the level necessary for its probation officers to supervise their clients.

I hope the amendment will be accepted. Anyhow, I intend later on to table a more detailed amendment on training to ensure that the future is provided for. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will support that amendment as well, as he supported me on a previous occasion. At the moment, we need some reassurance.

My Lords, I support the amendment. I am most concerned about the continuing professional development of probation officers, which is costly to ensure. It involves a probation officer having time away from dealing with clients and administration; that is one cost which has to be set aside. It also requires a senior probation officer to have time away from dealing with clients or administration, so that is another cost. It is very easy for an organisation which is worried about its expenditure to cut back on the time allowed for continued professional development and to cut back on supervision from senior officers. That is catastrophic for the retention of staff and the ability of staff to form and keep therapeutic, if you like, relationships with those in the front line.

I am grateful to the Minister for sending me a sample contract, which is helpful to some degree, but the minutiae of practice—supervision, for instance—is not laid out in it. In one sense, one understands why—it seems like only one detail of practice—but that kind of detail can get lost. For instance, we are talking now about having different providers and we heard earlier that there is no reason to judge one kind of provider against another; that we should use simply outcomes to judge performance. I have a lot of sympathy with that point of view. But if one looks at care homes, at children’s homes or at prisons, one finds that where private providers are involved—although there are good examples, particularly if the private provider has worked in the industry in the past—there is the danger, where one is trying to save costs and looking at the situation in a strictly businesslike way, that one cuts back on the essential support for those working in the front line.

It can be really costly to spare the time for people in the front line and their managers to sit back and reflect on practice, yet that is exactly what the social care White Paper, Options for Excellence, has emphasised. We need to do more to help staff to reflect and we should be developing learning organisations. That is the way forward. I would appreciate reassurance from the Minister that he takes that concern on board, and that—I know we will talk more about this issue on Amendment No. 24—in the minimum standards there is a strong protection for the supervision of probation officers in the future. There is real concern that it is already deteriorating.

My Lords, Amendment No. 18, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is on—I hope he will not think I am being offensive—a narrow, rather legalistic point. If he will forgive me, I shall not address that; it will be interesting to see how the Minister responds to it.

In Amendment No. 19 the noble Lord returns to the issue of training, which occupied so much of our energy in Committee. He is right to bring it back. In Committee, noble Lords on all sides expressed a concern that there was no reference in the Bill to something as essential as training. In approaching the issue of what should be in the Bill, my first principle is that one should be looking to set a benchmark that everyone should seek to attain, but one should not try to put into the Bill something that is so prescriptive that it writes out of the scene those—I am thinking in particular of the smaller charities—whom I wish to encourage to take an active role in achieving success under contestability, getting the contracts and providing the services.

I agree with what has been said: what is under discussion on this amendment must be informed by the Government’s position on Amendment No. 24. When I saw that amendment I was extremely encouraged. There have to be some reassurances from the Minister about the implications of that amendment, but at first blush it appeared to provide a good balance between ensuring good practice and avoiding the heavy-handed prescription that could serve to shut out the smaller charities from bidding for contracts.

I accept that when we get to government Amendment No. 24 there will be issues about the words, in its subsection (1),

“The Secretary of State may publish guidelines about… qualifications”,

and, in its subsection (2),

“The Secretary of State must publish guidelines under subsection (1) in relation to work”.

But when I looked at the implications of that, I found it reassuring. I thought the Government might well have found a way through the training minefield. Of course I am not going to jump to conclusions—we have not heard the Minister on that amendment—but I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that it is my expectation that I may well be satisfied with the government amendment. That is why I do not offer my support to him at this stage, because I suspect that his amendment will be withdrawn pronto because of Amendment No. 24.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Judd for setting out with his usual eloquence his thinking on these issues. He did so very expertly in Committee. I acknowledge readily that the issues he raised are important and deserve careful consideration. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, echoed some of the noble Lord’s concerns in his comments about professional development, and I will come to some of that in a moment.

There are two areas of concern here. Amendment No. 18 proposes that the Bill should make clear that payments made under Clause 6 can be made to any other organisation as well as to any other person. I share the noble Lord’s conviction that organisations involved in the serious work of managing offenders should collectively take legal—and, of course, moral—responsibility for the work they do. However, the amendments he has proposed are not the best way to achieve that. The term “person” has been used because it has an established legal meaning that covers a wide variety of bodies with which the Secretary of State might wish to make arrangements, and the term “organisation” is covered by that definition, as is the term “institution”, which my noble friend proposed in Committee. As with his earlier amendments regarding arrangements for co-operation, the way that we will achieve the outcomes I think we all want will be through the contracting process and—to go back to the point I made on the co-operation amendments—through guidance when the Bill is implemented. That is where it is best left. Those definitional terms can be explained in a way that gives clear meaning to the process.

Amendment No. 19 deals with training. We have had a lot of debate on that. Since tabling this amendment, my noble friend will have seen Amendment No. 24, to which noble Lords referred. My argument is that Amendment No. 24 goes much further than the noble Lord suggested. I trust that that will ultimately meet his concerns. I would very much like noble Lords to consider Amendment No. 19 in the light of what we are trying to do with Amendment No. 24. We will debate that on another occasion; that will be the right place to explore the issue in depth.

We tabled Amendment No. 24 explicitly to meet the concerns expressed by noble Lords about training. It requires the Secretary of State to publish guidelines on the qualifications, experience or training required of probation officers working directly with offenders—that picks up the point of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. It makes it clear that the guidelines will apply to all providers from all sectors as appropriate. I hope that it will be widely welcomed. I hear what my noble friend says and I understand what he is trying to achieve with Amendment No. 18 but the way in which legal description is required is as I have set out.

On Amendment No. 19, my noble friend should take careful cognisance of Amendment No. 24, which deals with his central concerns. I hope that he will feel confident if not happy to withdraw the amendment.

My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who spoke in this debate. I stress how much I am looking forward to the amendment to which the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred. I shall certainly want to associate myself with it—we have discussed it.

I was very encouraged, not for the first time—I frequently am—that my noble friend understood what Amendment No. 18 was about and agreed with the purpose. If that is the case, it is not really convincing to go on to say, “But this is not the way to achieve it”. We should be hearing from my noble friend how it could be achieved. I would feel tremendously positive about the approach of the Government, with all the expertise and legal advice at their disposal—I cannot possibly hope to assemble that—if I felt that all that involved saying, “Yes, the Minister said that we agree; now let’s find how we can do it”. That needs to be clarified. I would be prepared to withdraw Amendment No. 18 on the understanding that before Third Reading he will have something to say about it and that his department will do some serious work on backing up his words.

On Amendment No. 24, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was very generous, which I appreciated; I respect her thoughts on these matters greatly. She said that we should not be too prescriptive. I do not really find the words “the Secretary of State may make payments” highly prescriptive; it is enabling but it is certainly not prescriptive. Now that she has alerted me to the point, I am beginning to wonder whether I should have tabled some other amendments. I am very grateful to her.

Similarly, I have been told by the noble Baroness and others that Amendment No. 24 covers my point. I said in my introductory remarks that I was encouraged by Amendment No. 24—it does not, in fact, cover my point. We must put in the Bill the responsibility of the Secretary of State to ensure—I put here in parenthesis that the noble Baroness has indicated that the Secretary of State has the ability to ensure this under the proposed legislation—that what is spelt out as an aspiration, a purpose, even in guidelines, will actually be resourced. I cannot say how much frustration I come across among agencies working in the front line of social policy when aspirations expressed in legislation are not backed by the necessary resources. Here we have a chance to underline the point that aspirations must always be linked to the provision of resources.

We will be debating this more when we reach Amendment No. 24. I have grave anxieties on this front, but in view of the continuing debate, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment, noting again that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, will be bringing forward a more detailed amendment in this context. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

Clause 8 [Annual plans etc]:

20: Clause 8, page 6, line 7, leave out “3(5)” and insert “3(4) or (5)”

21: Clause 8, page 6, line 9, leave out subsection (4)

22: Clause 8, page 6, line 12, leave out “3(2)” and insert “3(4) or (5)”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.