House of Lords
Tuesday, 3 July 2007.
The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Why individuals born after 1961 to a British mother and a father who is not a British national are entitled to British citizenship but those born before 1961 are not.
My Lords, before 1983, women were unable to pass on their citizenship in the same way as men. On 7 February 1979, a concession was announced that the children of UK-born mothers aged under 18 could apply to be registered as British citizens. In 2003, we introduced a provision to register the adult children of UK-born mothers who were born after 7 February 1961. Those born before that date could not have benefited under the 1979 concession.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but since the legislation in 2003 the situation has changed. Thousands of people with no connection whatever with the United Kingdom have been granted British nationality but this group continues to be discriminated against, on the basis not only of which of their parents were British, but of age. What is the justification for continuing that situation? Will the Minister undertake to look at it carefully to see what can be done to change it, and at least deal sympathetically with any individuals with a clear British connection who wish to become British nationals?
My Lords, I certainly understand the point that the noble Lord is making. Of course, it is within the facility of anyone who has a British connection that goes back over—I think—five years to apply for naturalisation. Many of those who will not otherwise have received the benefit of the 2002-03 amendment may well benefit from that. In the end, I go back to my noble friend Lord Filkin, who explained the position thus in 2002:
“One can only go so far towards righting the wrongs of history before the number of ‘what ifs’ to be taken into account becomes unmanageable”.—[Official Report, 31/10/02; cols. 295-96.]
They were wise words then, and today.
My Lords, in that speech the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, called this one of the “wrongs of history” and when the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, answered a similar question in 2006 she said that the problem was,
“sexism and nothing else as far as I am concerned”.—[Official Report, 7/2/06; col. 630.]
Since neither Minister gave any logical or substantive reason for refusing the request, is there some ulterior reason why the Government are denying the right to register as British citizens to older siblings born to British mothers overseas? Can the Minister come clean and tell us what it is?
My Lords, I deny that there is an ulterior motive, so I have nothing to come clean about.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am one such person, born of a British mother and a father who was not a British national? I took the precaution of marrying a Brit and in that way became registered as a British citizen.
My Lords, how wise can one be?
My Lords, the Minister said a moment ago that he did not have an ulterior motive. Nevertheless, there must be some motive; he cannot be completely irrational. Can he tell the House what it is?
My Lords, I fear this is becoming a very forensic Question. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that point. My noble friend Lord Filkin got it about right; there is no absolute and precise science to this. The noble Lord’s Government brought a degree of rationality to it, but at some stage you need to have a cut-off point, and we determined that to be the best possible one in the circumstances.
My Lords, why should the cut-off point be 1961 rather than 1948, when the British Nationality Act was introduced? Is the Minister aware that the class involved is closed, because no new people can be added to it? It is a very small one, and I can see no possible problem with allowing them to enter the United Kingdom. Is the Minister further aware that I have tabled an amendment to the UK Borders Bill to raise this issue again?
My Lords, I was aware that that was a likelihood, and I do not doubt that it will fall to me to deal with it as well. Whether I shall deal with it any more convincingly on that occasion than I am doing this afternoon I am not sure.
My Lords, could there be a healthy Exchequer consideration in these matters?
My Lords, I shall think about that one.
My Lords, in response to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Higgins, the Minister referred to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, saying that one can go only thus far, without giving any reasons why the particular point that they had reached was chosen. Why did the Government select, in the words of the noble Baroness who is now the Leader of the House, a sexist solution?
My Lords, I do not think that they did in that way. The Conservative Government in the early 1980s tried to rationalise the situation and take the sexist element—if you like—out of it.
My Lords, further to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, can the Minister spell out whether there is any difference in the residence criteria, first, for British citizenship, secondly, for a British taxpayer and, thirdly, for membership of this House?
My Lords, that is a good one; usually I ask for notice of questions like that. I am going to fall back on the old standby and say that I will write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, how many people are excluded by the present provision?
My Lords, that is a good question, to which I do not have an answer. I had anticipated the question, but briefing on that point there was none. We think the number cannot be vast, because of the number of those making an application who fall within the criteria, which is an average of about 3,000 a year. As I explained at the outset, those who have been resident here for some time can apply for naturalisation, and I suspect that is how most people resolve any difficulties that arise.
My Lords, I am sorry. We have reached the eighth minute, and we must move on.
My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Mar and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:
Whether the document Homeopathic Services, which was sent to primary care trusts during May 2007, was issued with the knowledge and approval of the Department of Health; and, if not, what authority the document has.
My Lords, our inquiries, which are continuing, indicate that the document was not issued with either the knowledge or the approval of the Department of Health. Decisions on commissioning or funding treatments are a local matter. NHS providers need to consider the safety, clinical- and cost-effectiveness of treatments, the availability of suitably qualified practitioners and individual patient needs.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Could she give the House some reassurance that the Government will make it absolutely clear to all PCTs that this was not an official document and, therefore, ought to be totally disregarded?
My Lords, I would like to be able to give a simple yes or no answer, but I cannot at the moment. As I said, our inquiries have not yet been concluded. Once they are, we will certainly take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, and I will, of course, keep the noble Lord and the noble Countess informed. I take this opportunity to pass the best wishes of the House to the noble Countess, and hope that she recovers soon.
My Lords, I have seen the letter which accompanied that paper. Is it not clear from the letter, written by some of the most eminent medical authorities in the country, that all they are suggesting is that primary care trusts should look at the evidence on homeopathic remedies? Given that the National Health Service is short of funds and that NICE cannot recommend certain very effective treatments for serious diseases because of the lack of funds, is it not eminently sensible to suggest that the NHS should not spend its money on remedies for which there is no scientific evidence and whose effectiveness has never been proven? As homeopathic remedies are diluted infinitely, they have about as much effect as a glass of water.
My Lords, the views of the noble Lord are well known. I say with respect that some eminent clinicians are in favour of alternative medicine and others are not. The Government believe that it is for local PCTs to decide. They are best placed to do that, as they know the needs of local people and how they can best be met.
My Lords, I served for many years as a member of the Homeopathic Hospital management committee. Until that time, I had no idea what homeopathy was—I thought it might be something almost illegal. However, I discovered that there is a place for homeopathy, just as there is a strong place for allopathy, which is the normal medicine that we know. I was concerned when the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said that unofficial documents should not be allowed to be presented to PCTs. It is important that any group of people who think they have a case should be entitled to present it. The important point is to be clear what has an official imprimatur and what does not.
My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. Everyone has a right to see information, whether it is official or not. The important thing is the status of the document. The document carried the NHS logo, and what is at issue is whether it represents NHS policy.
My Lords, the noble Baroness has said twice now that decisions on such matters are for individual PCTs, and one can understand that. However, is this not overridden by NICE or can the PCTs ignore its advice?
My Lords, NICE has not yet appraised homeopathic medicine. As I said, it is for PCTs to make decisions on the commissioning of complementary and alternative therapies, including homeopathy. Some clinical guidelines produced by NICE have included references to complementary and alternative therapies alongside more conventional treatment. We believe that NICE should look at both conventional and alternative medicine.
Kurds: Regional Autonomy
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether they will assist the development of regional autonomy for the Kurds of eastern Turkey and western Iran, similar to current arrangements in northern Iraq.
My Lords, we have no plans to assist the development of regional autonomy for Kurds in eastern Turkey and western Iran. We respect the territorial integrity of Turkey and Iran.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. Is it not the case that the Kurdish people represent the largest single ethnic and cultural group and that the great majority do not enjoy self-determination? Is it not time for this country, the United Nations and others to wake up and make it possible for some degree of autonomy to be worked out?
My Lords, it is absolutely proper that the rights of ethnic minorities—or large ethnic minorities—should be respected. However, autonomy and self-determination are, and must be, a matter for sovereign Governments.
My Lords, the Government support Turkey’s entry into the European Union. The reforms to make Turkey more democratic and more in tune with European standards surely include respect for minority rights and a degree of regional autonomy for such a large country. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government must in principle be in favour of greater regional autonomy for the Kurdish areas of Turkey within a sovereign, autonomous but more European Turkey.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government want the Kurdish areas of Turkey to flourish. We believe that they are deprived in a way that they should not be. That is why we very much support the EU’s giving £45 million pre-accession money to those areas so that they can flourish as much as the rest of Turkey.
My Lords, this whole area is a cauldron of intrigue, difficulty and danger at the present time. Many areas could explode and add to the violence. Although I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is determined to do his best for the Kurdish people as a whole, would it not be best to go step by step? Is not the first step to ensure that the Turkish people, who, after all, are our allies and friends, establish a good relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan and some kind of agreement on its status within Iraq? At the same time, the very violent PKK, the Kurdish workers’ party, should be brought to a more peaceful pattern and move away from violence and terrorism on an extreme scale. Are not those two moves necessary to prevent a new crisis over Kirkuk and new deals with the Iranians, whose latest threat is to say that they want to take Basra? These are very dangerous waters. Does the Minister agree that we should proceed very carefully indeed, and step by step?
My Lords, I entirely agree that these are dangerous waters, which have global implications. We must move very carefully and in a stable way, and we must have discussions with the whole of the region.
My Lords, is it correct that a greater number of Kurds in Turkey now live in Istanbul than in eastern Turkey? If so, does that complicate the matter?
My Lords, I regret that I do not have the figures in front of me. It may well be true that there are more Kurds in Istanbul than in eastern Turkey but, wherever they are, their rights must and should be respected.
My Lords, Does the Minister agree that it would perhaps be helpful if the Government advised the regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan to take a tougher line on PKK terrorists who use their territory? That might do a great deal to advance their cause for full autonomy.
My Lords, we certainly encourage Turkey to work with the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to address the PKK presence in northern Iraq, and we welcome the ongoing trilateral co-operation between Turkey, Iraq and the US.
EU: Internal Market
asked Her Majesty’s Government:
Whether the proposed revision to the European treaties agreed at the Brussels European Council on 22 June to remove a reference to undistorted competition will affect the achievement of a fully functioning internal market.
My Lords, we succeeded at the European Council in obtaining a legally binding protocol to the reform treaty, which confirms that the internal market includes a system ensuring that competition is not distorted. This means that there is no substantive change to the legal position under the existing EC treaty. Removing barriers to competition in the internal market, along with stopping uncompetitive mergers, fighting cartels and using strong state aid rules to tackle illegal subsidies, will all remain a fundamental part of the EU’s task.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. He has done his best to convince us that, despite the removal of the phrase “undistorted competition”, there is no threat to the free market. He does not mention the insertion in the text of the phrase advocating a “social market economy”. Would he care to define that phrase?
My Lords, I am not able to define that phrase, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that things remain precisely the same as far as competition goes. That is confirmed by two senior figures. Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Competition said:
“The Internal Market and Competition Protocol is a legally binding confirmation that a system of ensuring undistorted competition is an integral part of the Internal Market”.
Secondly, Michael Petite, the director-general of legal services, said:
“It is also worth recalling that, from a legal point of view, a protocol forms an integral part of the Treaty to which it is annexed and has the same legal value as Treaty provisions”.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the notable achievements of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was to get an absolute commitment to the development of the internal market? That was done in 1992, 15 years ago. It was an absolutely correct objective, the attainment of which has not always been helped by all our European partners, particularly the French. Does he further agree that, if we are to get a fully functional internal market, we should not allow the majority to be held to ransom by the odd member state that wants to be against? This is one area where we should resist the use of national vetoes and encourage the development of qualified majority voting.
My Lords, as usual, I agree with practically every word my noble friend said. We must remember that the important matter of undistorted competition was under threat. The British Government fought and won a battle on this issue. We therefore do not need to worry about having proper competition within the EU.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is quite understandable that the noble Baroness has been confused about the results of the Brussels European Council of 22 June, particularly on this issue? She has undoubtedly taken the view she expressed on this Question having read the reports on the Council in what I like to refer to as the foreign-controlled press. Will the Minister confirm that, under the new Government, attention will no longer be paid to what appears in the Sun, the Times and the rest of the Murdoch press on matters such as this?
My Lords, I very much hope that the noble Lord is correct. There are substantive issues relating to the EU that need to be discussed in a proper and adult way. We should take no notice of tittle-tattle in the totally popular press.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the words to which President Sarkozy objected have never appeared in any Community treaty, that they were not in the original founding treaties, and that the extremely successful competition policy that the European Union has operated for 50 years now was based on other provisions in the treaties which have been applied and will continue to apply? Will he also confirm, as the noble Baroness the then Leader of the House did, that the protocol that has now been negotiated has the same effect as the treaty and therefore makes the situation slightly better than before? Personally, I regret the disappearance of the phrase to which President Sarkozy objected, but then it was in the constitutional treaty, which I am not sure all those speaking on this Question in this House supported.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for those two points. I can confirm that he is accurate in both his conclusions. We must recognise that the French president was playing a game of internal politics. It was clear that he did not manage to get his way, and it is encouraging that so many other countries in the EU and the European Commission, the guardians of the treaty, endorsed this Government’s view.
My Lords, it is the Conservatives’ turn.
My Lords, thank you very much. I will keep it short. Does the noble Lord really imagine, on advice that he receives about the omission of some crucial words from Articles 85 and 88 of the Rome treaty as implemented by Regulations 17 and 27, which, alas, I was involved in drafting before we acceded to the European Community, that the Commission and the European Court of Justice will pay no attention to a fundamental amendment of the text?
My Lords, I am advised that the words,
“a system ensuring that competition in the internal market is not distorted”,
were removed from the original treaty, but the protocol negotiated by the Government and supported by many other countries and the Commission is legally safe and will not be challenged. That point was made by Mr Michael Petite in the Financial Times:
“To avoid any risk of uncertainty as to settled law and to make fully clear that competition will continue to be one of the main policies aiming at the good functioning of the internal market, the European Council decided to provide for the protocol referred to”.
I reassure the noble Lord that the European Commission is more than satisfied that this will not be open to legal challenge.
My Lords, recognising that to remove a reference to “undistorted competition” will affect the achievement of a fully functioning internal market, can my noble friend advise the House on the extent, if any, to which that will have an impact on employment opportunities within the European Union?
My Lords, as far as I know, it will not have an impact on employment opportunities because, as I said, the negotiation of the protocol, which will be annexed to the reform treaty, will provide precisely the same results as the original article ensuring that competition in the internal market is not distorted.
My Lords, outside the Sun and the Times, has the Minister read yesterday’s Le Soir in Belgium, in which the Prime Minister of Luxembourg stated that the revised treaty involves major transfers of sovereignty but we must not tell the British?
My Lords, the noble Lord will be more than surprised to hear that I have not read yesterday’s Le Soir. There is a lot of chatter in several EU countries. Belgium wishes to have a referendum; we do not; and all these matters are open for discussion.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the articles of the presidency’s conclusions following the summit explicitly states that all the innovations contained in the 2004 agreement will be carried forward to the new treaty? Incidentally, those innovations include the passerelle clause, making it possible to change competencies from national Governments to European level without the sanction of parliamentary ratification. As it was those innovations that, in the Government's view, required a referendum in the first place, how can the Minister possibly justify not having one now?
My Lords, this has gone some distance from the Question on the Order Paper.
The Government would not countenance a referendum because this is an amending treaty not a constitutional treaty. There is a long tradition of these matters being subject to parliamentary process rather than a referendum: the Single European Act, Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. In the words of my noble friend the right honourable Lord Blair, people who ask for amendment really wish to get out of the EU.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, while it is absolutely right to welcome the development of the European single market, it is about time that the Government organised a campaign to enlighten the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as those of England, that we have been members of the most successful single market in the world; namely the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I propose to answer that. My noble friend is absolutely right, but we are talking about another enormously successful market that goes beyond the enormously successful market of the United Kingdom. We should take delight and pleasure that this country is part of those two vibrant and important markets.
My Lords, coming back to the original Question, the Minister has attached himself to the negotiation of a protocol that he describes as the result of a successful rearguard action by the British Government after certain words were removed. We all know that those certain words were removed at the insistence of the French president. How come that happened without the British Government knowing about it or objecting to it when it happened?
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite wrong. This was part of the discussion at the European Council. The British Government realised what was happening, did not take a rearguard action and actually intervened. With the help of the Commission and many other European countries, they managed to get the result that this country and many of our fellow European countries wanted: to make absolutely sure that competition in the internal market is not distorted. I quote that phrase to bring us back to the actual Question that I was asked what now seems like two hours ago.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Ashton will deliver a Statement later today on reform of the constitution. We have agreed within the usual channels and, I hope, with the agreement of the House to take the Statement at four o’clock. It is important to get the timing reasonably precise today, so I hope that, should we be in the middle of a very long group of amendments, we can intervene to make sure that the Statement comes at a sensible time.
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the Lord President (Baroness Ashton of Upholland) be appointed a member of the following committees, in the place of Baroness Amos: House, Liaison, Privileges, Procedure and Selection.—(The Chairman of Committees.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Rating (Empty Properties) Bill
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Rating (Empty Properties) Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Read a third time, and passed.
Offender Management Bill
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
Clause 9 [Officers of providers of probation services]:
moved Amendment No. 23A:
23A: Clause 9, page 6, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State shall—
(a) by regulations make provision for national qualifications for all staff employed by a provider of probation services;(b) accredit training providers for a minimum period of ten years to provide these qualifications;(c) by regulations, require providers of probation services to contract only with accredited providers to provide training for all staff;(d) require providers of probation services to employ sufficient staff with degree level qualifications as is necessary to deliver the probation purposes.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, as this is the first time that the noble and learned Baroness has spoken to the Offender Management Bill as Attorney-General, I hope that she—indeed, all your Lordships—will forgive me if I spend just a second saying how absolutely delighted we are with her promotion to that role. We wish her the greatest luck with it, and know that she will bring her considerable expertise to bear on the Bill.
Amendment No. 23A, in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is exactly the same amendment that we tabled in Committee. We did so purely because we hope that when the Attorney-General speaks to her own amendment, she may be able now to give a little more detail about the proposals for training and qualifications for those in the probation services. How far has the planned new overarching qualification, at which she hinted, if not outlined, previously, been developed? Will it enable people who are qualified in one public service to get so far and then switch to the probation services by adding another qualification? Equally important is the question of the universities that will deliver not only the current qualifications but those that are proposed for the future. In Committee, a number of us commented on the fact that a contract of only four years does not allow universities to attract the highly qualified staff needed to deliver these qualifications, or indeed to develop their skills.
Will the Attorney-General further assure the House that only fully trained probation officers will write parole reports for, and otherwise supervise, the most complex and difficult of offenders into the future? As I am sure she and other noble Lords will totally understand, given the current terrorist situation, that is even more essential if, as the Secretary of State said in another place, the public are to remain safe and lead normal lives, and if we are to meet the Government’s priority of reducing reoffending.
Finally, proposed new subsection (1) in government Amendment No. 24 says that the Secretary of State “may” publish guidelines about any qualifications, experience or training required to perform the work of an officer of a provider of probation services. Yet proposed new subsection (2) says that the Secretary of State “must”, under proposed new subsection (1), publish guidelines on work involving the supervision of offenders. Will the Attorney-General answer that point when she speaks to that amendment? I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I take this opportunity to endorse heartily all that she has said about the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. It is splendid news and we wish her well.
The amendment highlights an obvious need. It is quite disturbing to think of the future of a probation service. I emphasise the word “service”, because I hope we are not slipping into a frame of mind in which probation is just about managing offenders. A probation service is based not only on experience, which is vital, but also on learning and insight. As the noble Baroness has said, some of the people for whom probation officers will be responsible are among the most complex and difficult members of society. To begin any effective work, it is necessary to have the perspective and understanding that leads those doing the work to take into account, right from the beginning, the sociological, the psychological and the economic pressures that have led to someone becoming an offender.
At other stages of the Bill, others have said that we must not desert the word “punishment”. I completely endorse that view. If someone has committed an offence, it is necessary to bring home to that individual, and to society as a whole, that it is an offence, that it is unacceptable and that punishment is therefore an appropriate concept. To leave it at that is, as we have said repeatedly in our deliberations, madness. It does not make economic sense, and it does not make humanitarian sense. It does not make economic sense because if people continue to reoffend, the cost to society in economic terms is still greater than just the cost to society in human suffering. In a humanitarian sense, some of those people are the most disturbed, tragic examples of humanity that it is possible to imagine, living trapped, stunted lives. The whole purpose of successful probation work is to enable people to grow out of that, escape from that and become positive members of society.
To think that that can be done casually or by people just of unquestionable good will is very foolish. It requires a learning perspective and, I emphasise, experience, although the amendment does not deal with it. It is not just about training. I am one of those who believes that we gloss over the difference between training and education: training is vital but education is crucial. Those providing the education and training need to be able to resource it properly, to have the proper staff in place to do it and to plan ahead for their effective role in the operation. Hence the importance of referring to the need for them to have a clear and secure run in the work that they have undertaken.
If we do not take on board what the amendment is about, we would be irresponsible and let down the whole Probation Service in the future. I support the noble Baroness.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, knows an enormous amount about the subject, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. We all appreciate their hard work in trying to make sure that what happens under the Bill is against a background of high quality. I speak as somebody who was responsible for training in a big voluntary organisation for many years. It is important for us to remember that voluntary and not-for-profit organisations can produce high quality work and that they do it in their own way. They derive their expertise from different sources and cultures in their area of work. It is important that the legislation does not pin them down. I fear that if the approach of the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord were adopted, voluntary organisations would be pinned down into doing things in a common way, which would spoil their work. There have been many examples of that through the years in different areas of voluntary work. It almost always happens because of the intervention of the statutory into the voluntary.
I think that the Government are following the right line here. We shall hear from the noble and learned Baroness—how beautifully that phrase rolls off the tongue, and so appropriately—why she feels that the Government’s approach is preferable. However, my own inclination is that the Government are absolutely right here, although that is not to denigrate in any way the aspirations of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because they are absolutely right to say that standards for voluntary organisations, for those who come in, are essential.
My Lords, how is it that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, always get up saying that she knows nothing about the subject but then puts her finger exactly on the point? That point might have been one that some of us who thought we knew something were going to make. I am grateful for her point.
I want to ask two questions relating to the amendments. My noble friend’s amendment refers to training being related to the provider of services in the hope that some of those providers might in the future be voluntary organisations—I prefer “voluntary” to “non-governmental organisation”, as I know does the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I assume that we are looking for some change and difference in how services are provided, in the hope that we can find new ways of intervening in criminal behaviour. My hope is that, whatever is agreed, the training package is time-proofed. I would like reassurance in relation to the Minister’s amendment. One of my great worries is that we shall build a framework so rigid that it cannot meet the changes that we are looking for. I would like the reassurance that, while we are looking for high standards, we are able to use alternatives. After all, there are many exceptional programmes—I cite the circles of trust, where offenders are looked after in communities. That work has been extremely successful, overseen by highly qualified workers but carried out in the community by ordinary people on the ground.
My Lords, we on these Benches congratulate the Minister on her appointment to one of the most interesting but also challenging and delicate positions in government. I wish her well in managing to balance between the independent legal position and the advice to the Government which the job entails.
We are discussing both amendments in the group, and we need to know more from the Government about their interpretation of Amendment No. 24. We take the point that what one wants from the voluntary sector may be a little different from what one expects from the private sector. One of the problems of the Bill is that we are talking about a mixed economy with a range of providers in which one may expect different backgrounds for different tasks. I note that the letter the Minister sent us on Amendment No. 24 sets out specifically that the Secretary of State will be required to,
“publish guidelines about any qualifications, experience or training required,
for probation staff working directly with offenders.
We need to know what the phrase “direct contact with offenders” means in rather more detail. Is that intended to mean “not very many”, or does it refer to all those who will be writing court reports, because they are in effect dealing with offenders?
As the Minister knows well, there are those outside who fear that the Bill is about cheap privatisation, putting in unqualified people working for for-profit organisations who will quote for work previously done by qualified people. Part of my problem with the Bill has been that the legislation promoted by the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Filkin, was rather different from that being promoted by the Government. Indeed, the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, on the last day of the Report stage, that the service had failed does not seem to be a good basis for saying, “What we need now is to move towards a group of probation providers with fewer qualifications than is currently the case in the Probation Service”. While we are sympathetic to toughening up the qualifications required by moving towards Amendment No. 23, what we want to know the most is how the Government interpret their own amendment. Indeed, it may be appropriate for us to take this back again and come back at Third Reading with the wording slightly amended to a form which we can all accept.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble and learned Baroness. It is a great source of encouragement to many of us that that particular and distinguished office can be held by someone as committed as she is to the rehabilitative and restorative nature of our criminal justice system. With regard to these two somewhat competing amendments, I have to say that on reading the material, I was somewhat agnostic about which approach I preferred. But I should like to make just one point about which I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will be able to enlighten me.
The problem seems to be that the Probation Service suffers from two alternative messages. On the one hand, we speak of it as thriving on localness and voluntariness, independence, imagination, innovation and so forth. This is the approach we all want to take until things go wrong. When they do so and the headlines roar, it is then very easy to talk of what happened as though it was a failure to adhere to the national standards we all expect. What is really important is that we should clarify the national standards we all expect and to which officers of whatever part of the service will be held to account and we should clarify the areas where genuine innovation and initiative will be encouraged. It would be most unfortunate if innovation and imagination were encouraged, but only to the point where people were sat on heavily if those innovations and experiments did not work out.
My Lords, in a sense, I support both Amendment No. 23A and Amendment No. 24. Of course, it is a little difficult to speak to Amendment No. 24 because, as it is a government amendment, the noble and learned Baroness has not yet put the case for it. I imagine that the rule still applies that we shall not be allowed to speak after the noble and learned Baroness has spoken, so I must do my best now.
I come back to the question of the children of offenders. Will the noble and learned Baroness give a clear assurance that the guidelines on qualifications and experience will include a requirement for knowledge and understanding of the problems that arise from imprisonment, its effect on the children and the impact that the effect on the family has on the rehabilitation of the offender?
The noble and learned Baroness may think that I am being churlish in coming back to this issue because, in Committee, she said:
“I hope it is clear to the Committee that we are fully committed to ensuring the welfare of the children of offenders”.—[Official Report, 12/6/07; col. 1629.]
I accepted that until I opened the draft consultation on the service level agreement between the National Offender Management Service and Probation Board intervention services, which contains not a single word about the family and children of offenders. I therefore need some further assurance from the noble and learned Baroness. As I shall not be able to speak later, I should put her on notice that, if she cannot help me, I may come back to this at Third Reading.
My Lords, I was fascinated and intrigued by the sharp contrast between the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. I have had more than 40 years’ experience in a wide range of voluntary organisations and, yes, they can be excellent bodies—full of good will and compassion, and ready to innovate and, sometimes, even to show entrepreneurial drive. Nevertheless, I do not think that, just because voluntary organisations happen to be established, their officials are the right kind of people to deliver reports that may make the difference between whether or not an individual goes to prison. That is why I come down on the side of Amendment No. 23A. It emphasises the important need for qualifications and for organisations to have continuity of provision of training and education so that people are qualified and fit and proper for the work that they have to do.
My Lords, I wish to highlight two concerns. First, the Leitch report on skills, which was debated by your Lordships’ House last Thursday, clearly laid out that the shortage of skills in this country has affected our productivity over many years and that, if we are to be successful as a global nation in the future, we need to address this area. This was recognised in the Prime Minister’s reorganisation of departments when he put skills with education.
The danger is that, while competition can have many beneficial effects, when one has different sectors competing against one another and there is not enough money available to fund the job adequately, sectors could compete downwards rather than upwards. For instance, voluntary organisations could train up staff and then those staff could disappear to the statutory sector because they would get more security there. That would not be helpful. Alternatively, the private sector could try to compete with the statutory sector, and staff could leave the private sector to join the statutory sector because it provided more security. There would be a disincentive on the contracted-out sector to train staff because it would know that it would lose them to the statutory sector, and so it would pay less attention to the training of staff. There is also the question of releasing staff to spend time training and releasing senior practitioners to spend time training them. If attention is not paid to these matters, there could be unfortunate consequences.
My Lords, the House has succeeded yet again in causing this Minister to feel acute embarrassment. Although a number of people have simply told me that I should enjoy it, I suspect that my enjoyment will wane if it continues for much longer. I am assured that noble Lords believe that a change of colour in me is less visible, so they wish to see it more openly displayed.
I am pleased to speak to the amendment. Amendment No. 24, which is tabled in my name, was very much to answer the pleas that were made on the previous occasion when we debated the need for training to be clearly put in the Bill and for there to be a better understanding of the nature and depth of training and education as they impact on the work of the different people who have come into the pool to assist us. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, has put her finger on it, as she always does. There is a tension between having the ability to encourage those who wish to do so to reach the highest possible professional standards and qualifications, while at the same time not discouraging the volunteer, or sapping their vitality and energy, when they can be so powerful in the contribution that they make simply by being able to walk with the offender through a very difficult time. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was therefore right to talk about circles of truth, which are an exemplar of the willing, innovative volunteer working in conjunction with the professional. The training that one would wish the professional to have would differ to some significant degree from the training and experience that the volunteer may have.
I also understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, that in having this range one would go for the cheaper option—the one with fewer qualifications. I say to him that the whole thrust of what we are doing is towards not cost-efficiency, but cost-effectiveness. We have to look at the outcomes. How can we band together those who will interdict the criminal behaviour of the individual so as to make them cease to behave in that way and grow better?
I hear, too, what the right reverend Prelate said about the Probation Service hearing two messages. The two messages are important, however, because we are setting national standards. We are saying that this is the template against which people will be judged. The House should perhaps remember that—I know that this is not a great comfort, but it is certainly of some comfort to me—when we examine things that have gone wrong, we often find that it has been not because people have adhered to the highest possible standards of the profession, but because tragically they have failed to do so, for a plethora of reasons. It is important for us to have appropriate standards and for those standards to be assured and asserted. It is important, if those standards are met, for us then to be confident that those whom we entrusted with that role performed it to the best of their ability and in accordance with what we asked of them.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and to my noble friend Lord Judd for indicating that I should not focus on the precision of their amendment, but rather see this as an opportunity to test whether my amendment meets the challenge that it was set. I hope that I have given reassurances on our commitment to training. I explained on the previous occasion that we are working on a new qualification pathway that will cover all practitioners currently working at the levels of probation service officer and probation officer, in both offender management and intervention. I added that, under the new arrangements, we will award contracts to providers in the first place only if they are able to demonstrate that they will have staff who are appropriately trained for the services that they are delivering. I stressed—and I stress again—that contracts would set out with absolute clarity our expectations on this matter.
I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, with his rightful passion about the rights of children and their families, says about the draft document that I circulated. I emphasise what I emphasised previously: the document is in draft so that the House can have a taste of what is under consideration; it is not the perfected document. I agree with the noble Lord that the children and family issues are important and that we shall need to address them very carefully in the final document.
I hope that noble Lords will take those assurances into account. We have considered carefully all the concerns that the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and others have expressed. That is why, on reflection, we agreed that it would be sensible to provide such a commitment in the Bill. Amendment No. 24 is the result. It has been drafted specifically to meet the concerns that were raised in our earlier discussion and the concerns raised in the other place. Subsection (1) makes it clear that:
“The Secretary of State may publish guidelines about any qualifications”—
I emphasise “any”—
“experience or training required to perform the work of an officer of a provider of probation services”.
Subsection (2) clarifies this by stating:
“The Secretary of State must”—
here is the impetus—
“publish guidelines … in relation to work involving the supervision of offenders and other work requiring direct contact with offenders”.
We hope that this resolves the issue with which we wrangled in Committee about how we should best define to whom the guidelines should apply.
We believe that those two subsections acting in conjunction—particularly subsection (2)—will cover work that involves direct supervision of and interaction with offenders. This covers the writing of court reports as well as risk assessments, the running of offender behaviour programmes and other such matters, particularly work with high-risk offenders, an issue about which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, was particularly exercised. I hope that the House will appreciate that the importance of doing that is made absolutely clear.
The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, would mean that the qualifications for all staff, from the most junior administrative grade to chief officers, would have to be rigidly codified. I know that that cannot be what she intends. It would require the Secretary of State to accredit training providers for a minimum of 10 years. However forward looking we are, we cannot know what will be appropriate in 10 years’ time. The amendment would require providers to employ sufficient staff with “degree level qualifications”, which could have the unintended consequence of encouraging providers to employ staff with experience and degrees that are not the most important or the most necessary for the work that they have to do. Sometimes employing someone with a very old degree that has not been used for a very long time can be the cheaper alternative to employing someone who qualifies via the nationally approved route, or, indeed, to employing someone who has a wealth of experience by virtue of which they command a higher wage. I know that that is not what the noble Baroness or my noble friend Lord Judd would want.
If I may respectfully suggest so, government Amendment No. 24 is, on the other hand, a sensible and measured way in which to achieve what we all want. It will require the Secretary of State to publish guidelines about the qualifications, experience and training demanded of probation staff working directly with offenders. It also makes it clear that those guidelines should apply to all providers undertaking the work, so that we will have really good parity of treatment for all those who come to work in the sector. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, would say, it gives us the innovation, the flexibility and the opportunity to grow and change as needs dictate.
I hope that that has given noble Lords a modicum of reassurance. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, says that he would prefer Amendment No. 23A, but I hope that I have explained why the amendment that we propose, Amendment No. 24, is the better course. I very much hear what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, says about competing upwards and downwards. He ably described the tension that there can be in that situation, but I think that our Amendment No. 24 enables us to respond appropriately.
I hope that noble Lords, having heard what I have said, feel that we could dispatch this issue at this stage, on Report. Of course, if noble Lords wish to look further, we could do so, but I think that we have settled on a position that does justice to the aspirations that we voiced when we last met and discussed these matters.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the further explanation that she has given. She is of course quite right. Indeed, I am quite certain that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would also not want to provide for a rigid scenario that would rule out voluntary organisations and voluntary personnel in the way that the Minister has described. The point about guidelines in subsection (2) is reassuring. I hope that I am right in assuming that that will apply beyond the four-year period in which there is a fairly rigid agreement that only the highest-qualified probation officers will have contact with the most difficult and the most needy, befriending them and helping them to lead a different life in future. Judging by the nod that I think I saw—
My Lords, I am happy to confirm that the training provision will remain applicable after any change that happens concerning other matters that we have debated.
My Lords, I am grateful to have that reassurance, which will help other noble Lords, whom I also thank for their contributions to the debate, whether they agreed with the points that we were making or took the opposite view. The point about children and families made by my noble friend Lord Northbourne is crucial, and the assurance that the Minister has given on that is very helpful. With all that in mind, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 24:
24: After Clause 9, insert the following new Clause—
“National framework for qualifications of officers
(1) The Secretary of State may publish guidelines about any qualifications, experience or training required to perform the work of an officer of a provider of probation services.
(2) The Secretary of State must publish guidelines under subsection (1) in relation to work involving the supervision of offenders and other work requiring direct contact with offenders (including offenders held in custody).
(3) Guidelines under this section may make different provision for different purposes.
(4) In exercising his powers under section 3(2) and (5) and 9 the Secretary of State shall have regard to the need to secure, so far as practicable, that guidelines published under this section have the same effect in relation to every provider of probation services whose officers perform work to which they relate.”
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[Amendments Nos. 25 and 26 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
moved Amendment No. 27:
27: After Clause 13, insert the following new Clause—
“Code of practice on workforce matters
The Best Value Code of Practice on Workforce Matters in Local Authority Service Contracts shall apply to all contractual arrangements for the making of the probation provision under section 3 above.”
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, heeding as ever what my noble and learned friend said, I merely say that I believe that this House is very lucky to have her and our new Leader, my noble friend Lady Ashton of Upholland, among us. They are two very able people.
Last autumn the former Home Secretary, John Reid, announced that a set percentage of probation work would have to be contracted out each year. Initially it was set at 10 per cent, but was to increase incrementally over subsequent years to a maximum of £240 million of all work. At the time, that was controversial, in that it was believed to be arbitrary and bore no relation to the efficiency and effectiveness of existing probation work. We were therefore pleased to hear John Reid change that policy. At Third Reading in the House of Commons, he said:
“I turn now to the question of targets—a matter that has been raised constantly both with me and with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. People are very concerned, but we already have targets determining how much work must be contracted out of the public sector. In other words, they determine the outcome for services that must be put into the non-public sector by the probation board. In future, we shall abolish the existing targets and replace them with an entirely different type of aspiration. In future, the aspirations—the targets—will not be based on the a priori assumption that there is a level of non-public sector work that must be carried out, whether or not it gives best value or is from the best provider. That would be a dogmatic approach that could unjustifiably force work out of the public sector ... Let me make it clear: if a public sector provider is good enough, even outwith time scale or theme, or the assurances about ring-fenced areas that I shall give, it will have as much chance as anyone else to win the work—some would say a better chance, given the history of some providers’ involvement and experience. Our aim is simply to ensure that the best provider delivers best value for the taxpayer. That is our purpose”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/07; col. 1019.]
The proposed new clause would implement the former Home Secretary’s concession. Essentially, it would place certain general duties on those authorities in the Local Government Act 1999, and is similar to the clauses in that Act.
Bearing in mind the time—I know that there is to be a Statement at four o’clock—I beg to move.
My Lords, I support my noble friend. I also add my congratulations to my noble and learned friend and my noble friend on the Front Bench; I am pleased that they have attained those positions of authority and welcome it very much. I am sure that they will serve the House very well.
The proposed new clause places a duty on the Secretary of State to ensure that the probation trusts or boards act as best value authorities. That will ensure that the best provider of a service wins contracts, and that arbitrary percentage targets are therefore abolished. The amendment was supported by Napo, which was concerned that arbitrary percentages might be imposed on the service to the detriment of best value. I therefore hope that my noble friend will feel inclined to accept the amendment.
My Lords, my two noble friends should not feel that they are on their own. I strongly support their amendment, which particularly applies in the sphere of co-operation with voluntary agencies; I speak as one with years of experience in the voluntary sector. There is some indication that we are beginning to get a contract-oriented type of NGO that is therefore out to cut corners. For all the reasons that the noble and learned Baroness put in answer to Amendment No. 23A—I was impressed by her response—it is important that we ensure that the message is clear that we are looking for quality and the best suited organisation. Of course, however, cost-effectiveness matters, and that can be tackled in negotiations.
My Lords, I support the amendment. The list of best value seems an enormously helpful document because it sets out, for the first time that I have seen, a large number of those probation purposes that actually require contracting from whichever sector is concerned. I think that as a list, which will be developed over time, it is therefore an enormously helpful document to have in the hands of those who might be thinking of applying for the contracts to provide these services. Therefore, I am extremely glad that the amendment has been proposed.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Gibson for tabling the amendment, which highlights the importance of probation staff in relation to the new arrangements provided for in the Bill. I begin with a few words about best value. Last week, my noble friend wrote to noble Lords setting out our approach to best value in more detail, but I emphasise that this is absolutely not about awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. Of course, value for money is important, but the emphasis is on value; we want to focus on outcomes, raising standards and cost-effectiveness, not simply cost-efficiency. We want to give other providers the chance to show what they can do, but only where they can demonstrate that they are better placed to deliver. The best value process will be used to improve the quality of probation services across the board, which I am sure is what all noble Lords seek to achieve.
I will now address the position of staff. We have frequently paid tribute to probation staff and we have expressed our appreciation of the difficult, dangerous and often thankless work that they carry out on behalf of us all, and I do so again now. Probation staff have delivered the improvements in service delivery of recent years, and probation staff will carry on delivering the even greater improvements that we look for in the future. None of what we have in mind will be possible without them. We are determined to ensure that proper safeguards are in place to protect the position of staff. Many of those safeguards are set out in Schedule 2 to the Bill, which provides for terms and conditions to be protected in the transfer from boards to trusts and in any future transfers to alternative employers thereafter.
My noble friend has raised a specific point in relation to the best value code of practice on workforce matters in local authority service contracts. I also highlight the code of practice on workforce matters in public sector service contracts, which applies to contracts let by central government. As I am sure my noble friend will appreciate, it is almost identical to the local authority code, except where the latter makes express provision for local government matters. This code, rather than the local authority code, is in fact more relevant to contracts for probation provision.
However, the purpose of both codes is the same. They both set out an approach to workforce matters in public sector service contracts that involve a transfer of staff from a public sector organisation to a service provider, or in which staff originally transferred from a public sector organisation as a result of outsourcing are TUPE-transferred to a new provider under a retender of a contract. The aim is to protect the terms and conditions of the public sector staff transferring and to prevent the emergence of a “two-tier workforce”, dividing transferees and new joiners working beside each other on the same contracts.
Both local and central government are required to ensure that the code that is relevant to them forms part of the service specification and conditions for all such contracts, except where specific exemptions have been announced. The codes recognise that there is no conflict between good employment practice, value for money and quality of service. On the contrary, quality and good value will not be provided by organisations that do not manage workforce issues well. The Cabinet Office code of practice on workforce matters in public sector service contracts does not have statutory force as such, but compliance with it is considered to be mandatory for all central government departments.
The National Offender Management Service already incorporates the code in those contracts which it lets directly for services that involve transfers of staff. It will also incorporate the code in the contracts with trusts, to ensure that trusts in turn incorporate its provisions in any relevant contracts that they enter into. There is therefore no need for further statutory provision in this regard and, with that reassurance, I trust that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have supported the amendment. I thank the Minister for his positive response and his reassurances, because of which I am pleased to withdraw the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, all Members of this House and all the people of this country have a shared interest in building trust in our democracy. And it is my hope that, by working together for change in a spirit that takes us beyond parties and beyond partisanship, we can agree a new British constitutional settlement that entrusts more power to Parliament and the British people.
“Change with a new settlement is, in my view, essential to our country’s future. For we will meet only the new challenges of security, of economic change, and of communities under pressure—and forge a stronger shared national purpose—by building a new relationship between citizens and government that ensures that Governments are a better servant of the people.
“Let me pay tribute to the contribution to our thinking and the wider constitutional debate already made by parliamentarians on all sides of the House. And because I want this process to be one in which we consult and involve not only all political parties but also all the people of this country, what I propose today is not and should not be seen as the final blueprint for a constitutional settlement, but a route map towards it.
“This route map seeks to address two fundamental questions: to hold power more accountable and to uphold and enhance the rights and responsibilities of the citizen.
“And while constitutional change will not be the work of just one Bill or one year or one Parliament, I can today make an immediate start by proposing changes that will transfer power from the Prime Minister and the Executive. For centuries they have exercised authority in the name of the monarchy without the people and their elected representatives being consulted. So now I propose that in 12 areas important to our national life, the Prime Minister and Executive should surrender or limit their powers, the exclusive exercise of which by the Government should have no place in a modern democracy.
“These are: the power of the Executive to declare war, the power to request the dissolution of Parliament, the power over recall of Parliament, the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament, the power to make key public appointments without effective scrutiny, the power to restrict parliamentary oversight of the intelligence services, power to choose bishops, power in the appointment of judges, power to direct prosecutors in individual criminal cases, power over the Civil Service itself, and the executive powers to determine the rules governing entitlement to passports and the granting of pardons.
“I now propose to surrender or limit these powers to make for a more open 21st century British democracy. Let me set out the measures, the details of which are included in a Green Paper published today by my right honourable friend the Justice Secretary.
“While constitutional change should never limit our ability to deal with emergencies and should never jeopardise the security of our forces or any necessary operational decisions, the Government will consult on a resolution to guarantee that, on the grave issue of peace and war, it is ultimately this House of Commons that will make the decision. I propose, in addition, to put on to a statutory footing Parliament’s right to ratify new international treaties.
“We will also consult on proposals that this House of Commons would have to approve a resolution for any dissolution of Parliament requested by the Prime Minister, and that while, at present, Members of Parliament cannot decide whether the House should be recalled, for the first time, a majority of Members—and not just the Prime Minister—should have that right, subject to your authority, Mr Speaker.
“The House of Commons should also have a bigger role in the selection of key public officials.
“I propose, as a first step, pre-appointment hearings for public officials whose role it is to protect the public’s rights and interests, and for whom there is not currently independent scrutiny. This includes the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the Local Government Ombudsman, the Civil Service Commissioner and the Commissioner for Public Appointments. For public offices where appointments are acknowledged to be market sensitive, the Chancellor will set out today how pre-commencement hearings will apply to new members of the Monetary Policy Committee, including the Governor of the Bank of England, and the chairman of the Financial Services Authority. I propose that we extend pre-commencement hearings to utility and other regulators; that we review the arrangements for making appointments to NHS boards; and it is right that this House of Commons vote on the appointment of the chair of the new Independent Statistics Board.
“Mr Speaker, I can announce that from now on the Government will regularly publish, for parliamentary debate and public scrutiny, our national security strategy setting out for the British people the threats we face and the objectives we pursue. I have said for some time that the long- term and continuing security obligation upon us requires us to co-ordinate military, policing, intelligence and diplomatic action, and also to win hearts and minds in this country and around the world. So, following discussions over the last few months, I have decided to establish within government a national security council, charged with bringing together our overseas, defence and security but also our development and community relations effort, and sending out a clear message that at all times we will be vigilant and we will never yield in addressing the terrorist threat.
“As the security agencies themselves recognise, greater accountability to Parliament can strengthen still further public support for the work they do. So while ensuring necessary safeguards respecting confidentiality and security, we will consult on whether and how the Intelligence and Security Committee can be appointed by, and report to, Parliament. And we will start now with hearings, where possible, held in public; a strengthened capacity for investigations; reports subject to more parliamentary debate; and greater transparency over appointments to the committee.
“The Church of England is, and should remain, the established church in England. Establishment does not, however, justify the Prime Minister influencing senior church appointments, including bishops. And I also propose that the Government should consider relinquishing their residual role in the appointment of judges.
“The role of the Attorney-General, which combines legal and ministerial functions, needs to change. And while we consult on reform, the Attorney-General has decided, except if the law or national security requires it, not to make key prosecution decisions in individual criminal cases.
“To reinforce the neutrality of the Civil Service, the core principles governing it will no longer be set at the discretion of the Executive but will be legislated by Parliament—and so this Government have finally responded to the central recommendation of the Northcote-Trevelyan report on the Civil Service made over 150 years ago in 1854.
“The frameworks for granting pardons and for issuing and withdrawing passports should also be set not by Government but by Parliament. And I propose that we reduce the advance sight that government departments have of the release of statistical information from as much as five days currently to just 24 hours.
“Mr Speaker, even as we reduce the power of the Executive, we will also increase their accountability. Following my decision to revoke the provisions which previously allowed special advisers to give orders to civil servants, I am today publishing a new ministerial code, which provides for a new independent adviser to supervise disclosure and who I can ask to scrutinise ministerial conduct, including conflicts of interest.
“I propose that we reinforce the accountability of the Executive to Parliament and the public with a Statement in the summer prior to the Queen’s Speech on the provisional forward legislative programme and annual departmental reports debated in Parliament, beginning this summer.
“But just as the Executive must become more accountable to Parliament, Parliament itself must become more accountable.
“Given the vote in this House in March for major reform of the House of Lords as a second and revising Chamber with provision for democratic election, a Statement will be made before the recess as we press ahead with reform; a Statement on the reform of local government will propose a new concordat between local and central government; we will fulfil our manifesto commitment to publish our review of the experience of the various voting systems introduced since 1998; and the House will have a full opportunity to discuss in detail and vote on the legislation that flows from the European Union amending treaty.
“Just as we have appointed Ministers for each region of England, I propose that, to increase the accountability of local and regional decision-making, the House consider creating committees to review the economies and public services of each region, and we will propose a regular question time for regional Ministers.
“But while we will listen to all proposals to improve our constitution in the light of devolution, we do not accept the proposal for English votes for English laws, which would create two classes of MPs—some entitled to vote on all issues, some invited to vote only on some. We will do nothing to put at risk the union.
“The right of all the British people to have their voice heard is fundamental to our democracy and to holding public institutions to account.
“Britain is rightly proud to be the pioneer of the modern liberties of the individual, and I think it right to make it a general rule that in this area there is independent oversight of authorities and accountability to Parliament. I also encourage this House to agree a new process for ensuring consideration of petitions from members of the public.
“Disengagement is too often reflected in low turnout in elections. Britain is unusual in holding elections on weekdays, when people are at work, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will announce a consultation on whether there is a case for voting at weekends.
“The Government will also bring forward plans to extend the period of time during which parties can use all-women shortlists for candidate selections and to give more time for all parties in this House to take up this new right if they choose. And while balancing the need for public order with the right to public dissent, I think it right, in consultation with the Metropolitan Police, Parliament, the Mayor of London, Westminster City Council and civil liberties groups, to change the laws that now restrict the right to demonstrate in Parliament Square.
“The measures that I have just announced represent an important step forward in changing the way that we are governed. But it is possible to do more to bring government closer to the people. While our system of representative democracy—local as well as national—is at the heart of our constitution, it can be enhanced by devolving more power directly to the people, and I propose that we start the debate and consult on empowering citizens and communities in four areas.
“First, powers of initiative will extend the right of the British people to intervene with their elected local representatives to ensure action through a new community right to call for action and new duties on public bodies to involve local people.
“Secondly, there will be new rights for the British people to be consulted through mechanisms such as ‘citizens’ juries’ on major decisions affecting their lives.
“Thirdly, there will be powers of redress—new rights for the British people to scrutinise and improve the delivery of local services. And, fourthly, there will be powers to ballot on spending decisions in areas such as neighbourhood budgets and youth budgets, with decisions on finance made by local people themselves.
“At the same time, we must give new life to the very idea of citizenship itself. All of us in this House would acknowledge that there are very specific challenges we must meet on engaging young people and improving citizenship education, and I hope that there will be all-party support for a commission to review this and make recommendations. While the voting age has been 18 since 1969, it is right, as part of this debate, to examine, and hear from young people themselves, whether lowering that age would increase participation in the political process.
“Consultation will take place with you, Mr Speaker—and, through the Leader of the House, this House—as to whether the Youth Parliament, and the Youth Parliament alone, should be invited here in this Chamber, once a year and on a non-sitting day.
“What constitutes citizens’ rights, beyond voting, and citizens’ responsibilities, such as jury service, should itself be a matter for public deliberation. As we focus on the challenges that we face and what unites us and integrates our country, our starting point should be to discuss together and then, as other countries do, agree and set down the values, founded in liberty, which define our citizenship and help define our country. There is a case that we should go further still than this statement of values to codify either in concordats or in a single document both the duties and rights of citizens and the balance of power between Government, Parliament and the people.
“In Britain, we have a largely unwritten constitution. To change that would represent a fundamental and historic shift in our constitutional arrangements. So it is right to involve the public in a sustained debate about whether there is a case for the United Kingdom developing a full British Bill of Rights and Duties, or for moving towards a written constitution.
“Because such fundamental changes should happen only where there is a settled consensus on whether to proceed, I have asked my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice to lead a dialogue within Parliament and with the people across the United Kingdom by holding a series of hearings, starting in the autumn, in all regions and nations of this country. He will consult the other parties on this process.
“The changes that we propose today and the national debate that we now begin are founded on the conviction that the best answer to disengagement from our democracy is to strengthen our democracy. It is my hope that this dialogue of all parties and the British people will lead to a new consensus, a more effective democracy and a stronger sense of shared national purpose. I commend the Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. It was a long Statement, and rightly so: the subject is massive and there have been enormous changes over the course of the past few years. Does she recognise that this House regards these matters as having a great deal of importance and will she use her good offices to provide us with time for a debate on the issues and on the Green Paper at some stage—perhaps after the Summer Recess?
The Government have a new adviser on these matters, whom they have found on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I assume that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has advised on the Statement and perhaps even the noble Baroness discussed it before reaching conclusions.
There was a great deal in the Statement that was welcome, but to listen to it, you would not think that the man who made it had been the second most powerful man in the country these past 10 years. The main message from the Statement was an attempt to distance the present Prime Minister from his predecessor’s cavalier treatment of our constitution. That is why there is such a great need for change and thought as outlined in the Statement.
Of course we welcome a willingness to reach out to other parties, which I hope will embrace some of the enormous experience of the Cross-Benchers sitting here in your Lordships' House. We welcome the ending of the shameful Order in Council giving political appointees power to give orders over civil servants. We welcome ideas to give more power to Back-Benchers in the House of Commons. That echoes the Conservative programme for Commons reform. We welcome also many of the controls on the operation of the Executive through the prerogative, but there are practical considerations in issues as diverse as the declaration of war and the appointment of bishops which will require careful consideration. Can the noble Baroness say whether the extra powers to be given to Parliament over the ratification of treaties will cover the powers of this Parliament over EU legislation?
There was much in the Statement about extra roles for the other place. I also welcome that. But as Leader of this House, can the noble Baroness say whether this House will be given any role in hearings before the appointment of senior public officials? This is a two-Chamber Parliament. Will the noble Baroness act to ensure that this House, with its unparalleled experience, plays its part in this and other new initiatives? One has only to think of the authority that the US Senate has in these matters to realise the potential importance of that to this House.
If the Prime Minister genuinely wants discussions with other parties, will the noble Baroness accept that we will take part in a practical spirit, just as we have in talks on the future of this House being led by the Secretary of State for Justice? The principles that should apply are clear but sadly have been ignored by this Government over the past 10 years. Change to the constitution should be based on consensus. It cannot be imposed by a one-party majority in one House. It cannot be designed to be to the benefit of one party or two; the interests of the country must come first. The consequences of every change must be carefully thought through before change is made. We want no repeat of the disastrous attempted abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor. Parliament must emerge stronger from any change, unlike too many changes over the past 10 years that have drained power from Parliament and given it to a range of other bodies, many of which are shamefully not even elected.
The astonishing thing about the British constitution is that since the middle of the 18th century we have, alone among advanced countries of the world, enjoyed over 250 years without civil war, without revolution, without overthrow of Governments, except by a vote of the people in this Chamber or in another place. Yet, at the same time, we have accomplished massive social change. Change was made possible by an unwritten constitution, rooted in convention, that gave unprecedented flexibility, and by a doctrine of parliamentary primacy, the rule of law and constitutional government. This was a prize beyond belief. Now we are being asked to have a fresh look at all of this.
After 10 years of unilateral action the Prime Minister wants a multilateral approach to help sort out the mess. Well, so be it, but can the noble Baroness tell us why this so-called new constitutional settlement fails totally to address the scandal of Scottish MPs voting on English laws when English MPs have no say on similar matters in Scotland? The Prime Minister says this will create a two-tier class of Members of Parliament. That two-tier class already exists today. Why does the Statement not consider apportionment of resources between parts of our kingdom? If, as Scotland’s First Minister says, Scotland’s resources finance England, or if, on the other hand, the Barnett formula works to the disadvantage of England, why should these issues not now be studied? Why is there no proposal to review use of referendums in the United Kingdom? There is talk of removing power from Government, so why will the review not look at who decides whether we have a referendum and what the rules will be? What is the noble Baroness’s view on the right balance between the referendal principle and parliamentary democracy? If we cannot have a referendum on the transfer of power from this Parliament to Brussels—something explicitly promised in the Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos—is there any case for referendums at all?
I welcome talk of a review of our damaged voting system, a system once trusted beyond doubt and understood by everyone, now riddled with confusion and tainted by corruption. Will it end the use of three or four different voting methods on the same day? This has demonstrated the weakness of proportional representation, and we see no case for importing that system to Parliament.
We will take part in discussions on a written constitution and other ways of asserting individual rights. But as the Prime Minister says, this would represent a major change in the way things have been done in this country. Much recent constitutional change has been lawyer-driven and lawyer-made and it has not always been well made. Does the noble Baroness see any dangers in subjecting constitutional decisions of this Parliament to judicial oversight?
Surely what we need most of all is a fundamental reverse in the dragging of power to the centre. Where in the Statement is the real return of authority to local government and local communities? Where is the return of power from the quangos and unelected regional bodies to elected local authorities? Where is the scrapping of targets and controls from the centre, not only in local government but across the public sector as a whole? Will the noble Baroness confirm that there will be a full-blown Civil Service Act? Perhaps she might tell us whether it will be introduced in the next Session. If her answer is yes, we very much welcome it.
Before we define the new rights, should we not stop to consider what happened to the old ones, such as habeas corpus, privacy, a citizens’ police force, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and the freedom to travel without signing up for an ID card, which once made this country the envy of the world? No one had to write down the freedoms of the British people then; they were inborn.
What we now need is a massive programme of repair to our constitutional arrangements. We will play our part, and with the conviction and resolution that this House and the noble Baroness would expect. Our conviction is rooted in a deep love of liberty and freedom, and our resolution will be twofold: to give back to every individual, every family and every local community more power and say in the things that affect their lives; and to restore to this House and to this Parliament their central place in the key decisions that shape the future of our society and our country.
My Lords, I thank the Lord President for repeating the Statement and for the Green Paper, which was published simultaneously. Some months ago, when we debated the reform of the House of Lords, I said that I detected the thunder of reform coming down the Corridor from the other place. There was some laughter from Members on the Conservative Benches when I said that. I hope that they will at least concede today that my hearing was not at fault.
As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, the devil is always in the detail when it comes to constitutional reform, and I will not try to cover everything in the very long and detailed Statement. I note, however, that there are symbolic signs of momentum in any cause. I see three such signs here. First, this is a prime ministerial Statement. Constitutional reform cannot be carried through without the whole-hearted commitment from the Prime Minister of the day, so I find it very encouraging that the Statement comes from the Prime Minister himself. Secondly, it is also encouraging that Mr Jack Straw has been left in post. Others speculated that he might have wanted grander prizes. It is very encouraging that he has decided, and the Prime Minister wishes him, to stay the course in carrying through this programme of reform. Thirdly, it is also encouraging that the Prime Minister has asked the Leader of the House to come into the heart of these negotiations.
I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the need for consensus. That is to be welcomed, but not at the expense of progress. If we had waited for progress, the Member for Old Sarum would probably still be sitting in the House of Commons and we would probably still have 700 hereditary Peers in this place. Constitutional reform, too, needs momentum and commitment, but, again, there are good signs. The Government can draw on the excellent power report that was produced under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and an excellent paper that was published this week by Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit of UCL—my old college—which proposes a nice agenda for government. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, there is the Power to the People report by the Conservative Democracy Taskforce, which is chaired by Mr Ken Clarke. There is also the policy paper of the Liberal Democrat policy working group, chaired by my noble friend Lord Tyler, and I ask the Lord President to get off the shelf and dust down the excellent report on voting reform by my distinguished predecessor Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. It would make excellent reading for the Prime Minister. While making this list, I also include the excellent initiatives already taken by our Lord Speaker in her outreach role.
I have a few questions for the Lord President. I see no mention in the Statement of the Freedom of Information Act. Can she assure me that that Act will not be amended unless there is post-legislative scrutiny by a committee of both Houses which allows both those who wish it strengthened and those who wish it weakened to put their case?
I am interested in the references to Civil Service reform. Although the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, is not in his place, I am sure, like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that he would want me to ask whether that means a Civil Service Act. If so, we on these Benches certainly welcome that redemption of a pledge made by the first Gladstone Government.
The interesting comments and proposals on security and the royal prerogatives would give tremendous new powers to the House of Commons. In taking on those new responsibilities, will there be parallel reform in the House of Commons to make it fit for purpose? On House of Lords reform, will the noble Baroness ensure, as Leader of the House, that reform is not a euphemism for weakening the House? Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his new position does not entirely fill me with confidence. I would trust him with the National Health Service to my dying day; whether I trust him with the constitution remains to be seen. I quote to both of them the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart: unless this House retains the right to say no, it becomes a debating chamber and not a legislature. We must retain the right to say no.
It would be churlish not to recognise the Statement for what it is: an historic Statement, a bold Statement and one that should give people in all parties, and in none, the opportunity to address some of the real challenges and worries about our society. We need democrats to make a democracy work. All of us involved in politics know of the shortcomings of recent years. The devil is in the detail, but the Prime Minister has thundered today and we welcome him for that.
My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome. I agree that it is as if thunder has indeed arrived. I am also grateful for the approach of both noble Lords and their desire to search for consensus as far as possible. I echo those sentiments. It is important that we all engage in the process that my right honourable friend has set out for us today.
Although I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, is indeed offering his advice to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, and although today is his birthday, he has not played a role in putting together this Statement. It has come from the Prime Minister and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice, with input, as noble Lords would expect, from members of the Cabinet.
I am grateful that we will have an opportunity to consider these proposals in the future; I have no difficulty with debating these proposals in your Lordships’ House. I am sure that, with the Leader of the Opposition and with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, we shall find time to do so, as noble Lords would wish. Part of that debate will be to take forward these proposals. As I said at the beginning of the Statement, it is important to see these in the context of genuine consultation, genuine proposals and by no means the end of the story. I agree too that the devil is in the detail. As the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, said, we need to take forward practical considerations. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister would concur with that. He has set out the objectives and the direction of travel. It is for us to contribute to the process of ensuring that the practicalities are considered properly.
The Ponsonby rule will apply for European legislation, as noble Lords would expect—the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about that. Hearings for public appointments would be very much down to the consideration of the elected Chamber, but I have already said to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice that I would want to discuss with him what role the House of Lords and its committees might play, not necessarily in that part of the deliberations but more generally. As Leader of the House, I will report back on those discussions.
As I indicated, it is important that we have discussions with other parties. I believe that this is a moment to rejoice, to quote a former Prime Minister. It is important that we consider the proposals as being about making our democracy and Parliament stronger and more accountable to the people. That is a fundamental part of what my right honourable friend has indicated.
We have no intention of doing anything to destroy the union. We will not do that. We can have as many debates as your Lordships wish about English and Scottish MPs, but we believe that the union makes us stronger and that the right level of devolution has occurred with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The debates and the process will continue, but we are not moving one inch from where my right honourable friend the Prime Minister indicated that we would be.
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is now wedded to referendums. I am delighted to hear it. However, there are many ways of consulting the British people and involving organisations, politicians of all sorts, local government, voluntary organisations, local people, young people and Parliament itself. That is what we should do. As for judicial oversight of constitutional issues, those are important considerations, and in looking at what should be codified and written down we should consider the consequences for the role of Parliament and the judiciary.
I was asked whether the measures would be part of a Civil Service Act. Our proposal is on page 22, in paragraph 43, of the document published today:
“The Government believes that, as part of the legislation it intends to bring forward in the next Session, it is right to include measures which will enshrine the core principles and values of the Civil Service in law”.
That is how we will seek to do that. The Freedom of Information Act is not mentioned. I agree that, if any changes were to be discussed, they would have to be taken very carefully in considering exactly what ought to happen. Noble Lords will know that, as a former freedom of information Minister, I feel strongly about that.
My role is to make sure that I lead for the whole House, as I indicated yesterday. In participating in debates with my right honourable friend I will make sure that that is the role I perform.
My Lords, yesterday I welcomed the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, to her new post but I did not then know how short the honeymoon would be. We have here a substantial and major Statement, on which a large amount of work will be needed over a long time.
I cannot speak for 205 independent Cross-Benchers and, in any event, I have only had a short time to look at this important Statement, but I would like to make one or two comments. Our Benches will certainly be favourable to the idea that power should be more accountable. That is the first point in the Statement. Some of the 12 points listed may be disagreed with, but the principle of making power more accountable will be welcomed, I am sure, as will a bigger parliamentary role in some areas, such as key public appointments, including the Civil Service Commissioner and the Local Government Ombudsman.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we will ask first whether Parliament means both Houses or one. We believe that it should mean both. That question will come up in due course. Also under that heading, I think that my colleagues will welcome the reinforcement of the core principles of the Civil Service not being at the discretion of the Executive but in legislation by Parliament. We will come back to the important point on whether there will be a Civil Service Act.
Secondly, I am sure that there will be strong support for enhancing the rights and responsibilities of citizens, including at the local level—while it is often felt that they ought to be there, in practice they are not always. That will also be greatly welcomed.
The third point is that this document rightly refers repeatedly to involving the public in a debate on important issues such as whether there is a case for a British bill of rights and responsibilities and whether we should move towards a written constitution. On this, the theme among my colleagues will certainly be, as the Government state in this document, that we must proceed only with a settled consensus. That is the vital element of such an important issue.
I am extremely glad to see that the Prime Minister has carried through his reputation for prudence in the sense that there is very little in the Statement about this House. How prudent that is. None the less, we look forward to a Statement before the recess.
I do not have many questions for the noble Baroness, but I think these comments are needed on such an important document.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, for his comments and questions. Both are extremely valuable as we consider this important document. I agree with the thrust of his remarks about greater accountability and that there is an issue about the two Houses of Parliament. But the Houses are different, so let us not begin by assuming that we have the same role as the elected place. We will have to consider what our role should be in an appropriate manner. That will form part of the discussions and deliberations from the Ministry of Justice, to be led in your Lordships’ House by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, whom I would certainly entrust with anything to do with a new constitution, or indeed any other aspect of government policy he was willing to take on. As I indicated, I will work closely with him. I am also pleased that the noble Lord mentioned the local dimension. There is much that we need to think about regarding engagement with people at the local level.
My Lords, we are most grateful to the Leader of the House for repeating the Prime Minister’s historic Statement. I am sure noble Lords will wish to know that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England, has today welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister regarding changes to the process by which diocesan bishops are appointed. The Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice consulted the most reverend Primate about his intentions, which we believe are in accord with the declared wishes of the Church of England. Indeed, the church being the decisive voice in the appointment of bishops was called for by the General Synod of the Church of England back in 1974—not quite 150 years ago.
The Church of England is grateful for the Prime Minister’s thoughtfulness and his overt support for the role of Her Majesty the Queen as Supreme Governor of the Church of England and the establishment by law of the Church of England, which has been quite strongly reiterated in the Green Paper. Further, the church is grateful for the way in which the Prime Minister has confirmed the valued relations between church and state.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the right reverend Prelate and for his work with the Church of England. I am also delighted that we are now catching up with the General Synod of 1974.
My Lords, I do not want to sound unduly churlish, particularly in the light of the magnificent way in which the noble Baroness has handled her presentation of this brief this afternoon, but does this not proffer a mammoth menu of measures, many of which have a genuinely modish appeal to them but risk being a case of Utopian overindulgence? Is it not likely that no institution in the country will remain unruptured by the consequences of what has been set out? It amounts to material for a dozen or so Queen’s Speeches and two or three general elections, put forward by a Prime Minister who may well be said to require a mandate before he starts on such a mammoth task. More seriously, and worst of all, does not this huge agenda risk overloading in general and in detail a Parliament that already struggles to handle competently its workload? I regret having to say it, but is this not an overambitious agenda from an understandably impatient man?
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, about the way in which I put forward the Statement. However, I have to say that having a “modish appeal” is not something I associate with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister; indeed, that is not how he would wish to be seen. He has considered very carefully where he believes we need to strengthen and move forward our democracy and he has put those issues in a Green Paper today, at the beginning of his premiership, for consideration in Parliament and in the country beyond.
I began the Statement by saying that this is not about one Bill, one year, one Parliament. Indeed, my right honourable friend has laid out the beginnings of a process, which I hope noble Lords will embrace, but not in a way that suggests that all this is about legislation or the things that Parliament has to do; rather it is an entire process of looking at how we can strengthen our democracy through the engagement of our young people, supporting people at a local level, thinking about our institutions more carefully and considering how best we can deliver for the people of this country. I believe that is what we have done.
My Lords, I seek two assurances from the noble Baroness, the very welcome Leader of the House. First, do the Government accept the unanimous recommendations of the Cunningham committee, which they and this House unanimously accepted, that there should not be legislation to lay down the conventions of this House? Secondly, do they also accept the unanimous view of every government spokesman on the subject since 1999, that the independent Members are a vital element of this House which must be preserved in any reform?
My Lords, in considering the future of your Lordships’ House it will be important to look at the recommendations put forward and to note, as I do, the strength of feeling within them. We will take account of them in our considerations. As regards the independents, noble Lords will know that we have had several votes in your Lordships’ House and in the other place, and they will know in which direction my right honourable friend the Prime Minister voted. The issue will form part of my discussions in considering the future of the House. My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath will work on behalf of the Ministry of Justice in your Lordships’ House to consider how best to take the matter forward.
My Lords, I think it is the turn of the government Benches and then the Liberal Democrats.
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that the Statement will be greeted with enormous enthusiasm by all parties who care about the quality of democracy in this country, particularly because it focuses on the often-ignored concept of citizenship. It defines and hardens the notion of our people as citizens and not simply as subjects.
First, although it is rightly said that we do not have a written constitution, it is far more written than it was. Is this not a major step further towards a written constitution, which many of us would welcome? Secondly, this Green Paper of 63 pages does not have the space to mention the word “devolution”. Is this significant?
My Lords, on the latter question, there is nothing significant in that; we have been very clear about our position on devolution, which I referred to earlier. As to a written constitution, I have made it clear in the Statement that there are issues to consider about what should be written down and what should be codified that will require the kind of consensus we have described. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Morgan for raising the very heart of what is being proposed: citizenship.
My Lords, I begin by expressing great satisfaction that the Prime Minister has shown such openness about the process of modernising our constitution and recognising that consent will ensure that it is well established. In particular, his unrivalled 10 years’ experience of Government at the top makes him better equipped than any previous Prime Minister to introduce a comprehensive programme of constitutional reform.
Is it recognised that transferring power from the Executive to Parliament is entirely welcome because that enhances accountability and so increases the potential effectiveness of government, reflecting better the will and values of the people? If power is to be transferred to Parliament, let it also be transferred to a reformed second Chamber. Otherwise, the risk of overload would be repeated in another form.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan of Rogart, who has a long and distinguished history of being concerned about constitutional reform. I agree with his comments about my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, his 10 years at the top and his ability to consider what now needs to be done. I agree that this is about increasing the effectiveness of Government. Part of that is considering the roles of your Lordships’ House and another place, and ensuring that we consider how they can best serve the people.
My Lords, I ask the Minister for reassurance on an important point. In the discussion on the Intelligence and Security Committee, I see that various things will be done in the future that will be considered and discussed. However, the Statement says that,
“we will start now with hearings, where possible, held in public; a strengthened capacity for investigations … and greater transparency”.
I suggest that that is an extremely dangerous thing to do without further consultation. First, what you say to your friends your enemies also hear. Everything that is said in public is heard by our enemies as well as our friends. Secondly, I assure your Lordships that the difficulty in recruiting agents will increase substantially. I can think of no agent who will wish to be recruited if they know that there is going to be public discussion of intelligence matters and operations. I seek reassurance that that too is for consideration, and is not going to happen at once. I am worried about the words,
“we will start now with hearings”.
My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness immediately that only those issues that it is appropriate to be able to discuss would be taken forward. My noble and learned friend the Attorney-General has just said in my ear that we will need to be, and will be, extremely judicious in the way we approach this. The comments of the noble Baroness, with her long experience, are well made and well understood.
My Lords, the Statement refers to the House of Commons having a greater role in the selection of public officials,
“whose role it is to protect the public’s rights and interests”.
On the face of it, that would include judges; indeed, it is a good description of what they spend most of their time doing. Will the noble Baroness the Leader of the House confirm that there is no intention of holding pre-appointment sessions in the House of Commons or anywhere else in the appointment of judges?
My Lords, to my knowledge there is absolutely no intention of so doing. We have described a discussion we wish to have to consider our residual role in the appointment of judges, but that is not about transferring it to another place.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend, particularly on the inclusion of the proposal to limit the power of the Executive to ratify international treaties without decision by Parliament. Is she aware that the deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations said to me that the United Kingdom was the only member of the UN not to have parliamentary ratification for international instruments? This will certainly remedy a democratic deficit. Can she confirm that international treaties include all international legal instruments, not just treaties; for example, conventions and protocols to conventions?
My Lords, I am not entirely certain whether it is accurate to say that we are the only country, but the point is well made by my noble friend. I will write to her about exactly what will be included, for she has reasonably raised issues that I am not certain about and I would not want to mislead the House.
My Lords, when a Statement is made before the Recess about elections to this House, I beg the Leader of the House, first, to make sure that there is no suggestion that a House with greater democratic legitimacy should have fewer powers, because that would be completely absurd. Surely it should have greater powers to protect the public from precipitated action by a Government with a temporary majority. That is one of the most important functions that the second Chamber can perform and any new constitutional arrangement should certainly include a prohibition on further curtailment of the delaying powers of this House without this House’s consent.
Secondly—and quickly—instead of appointing Ministers for each region and creating committees to review the public services of the regions, is the priority to increase the authority of local government by devolving more power to it? Regions may be much loved by governments but they often do not reflect any community of interest and they do not command the loyalty or affection of citizens in the way that local government does. If the Government are serious about devolution, devolution should be to existing local authorities and not to the regions.
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with great passion. There is no question within the Statement that I have described of the idea of a concordat between local and central government and we need to think carefully about what that should include, but there is a desire for those involved in regions to be able to express their views, to look at services and so on, and a regional committee is a proposal that may enable us to do that. As for powers, I know the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House; they would be part of the discussions that we need to have.
My Lords, the Lord President referred to my new role as independent adviser to the Secretary of State for Justice on some aspects of constitutional reform. I am grateful for the intervention and this is a birthday present for me today. May I clarify my role? Although I am not a Christian I hope that the right reverend Prelates will forgive me for saying that I regard myself as instructed by the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 verse 24:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”.
I am certainly not serving wealth because I have an unpaid post and I do not regard the Prime Minister as God. My role is to be independent and to seek in the best way I can to serve the wider interests of the people of this country. That is how I see my role without betraying my Liberal Democrat colleagues and any of the principles that I hope that I adhere to. I would like to explain that I have not had any part to play in the document and I would like to ask the question: am I right in thinking, because I have not read the document before, that there is no intention on the Government’s part to repeal the Human Rights Act or to weaken the European Convention as recommended by the Leader of the Opposition, described by his colleague as constitutionally illiterate and xenophobic?
My Lords, I have always been a long believer that in your Lordships’ House we have people of talent whom we should utilise and I am delighted that the noble Lord is available to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice in the way that he has described. There is no question at the moment of looking to repeal anything. What we have said within the document is that we want to look further at what else might be done and it would be in that context that we will explore the issue.
Offender Management Bill
Further consideration of amendments on Report resumed.
moved Amendment No. 28:
28: After Clause 15, insert the following new Clause—
(1) Within a period of six months of the coming into force of this Act, the Secretary of State shall lay a report before both Houses of Parliament containing—
(a) a review of the proposals contained within the report published on 11th December 2003 “Managing Offenders, Reducing Crime: A New Approach”;(b) the collated responses to the consultation document “Restructuring Probation to Reduce Re-Offending”;(c) a review of the responses referred to in paragraph (b); and(d) proposals for reform of the Probation Service.(2) The Secretary of State must include in a report under subsection (1) notification of when he will exercise his power under section 40(1A).”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, following the earlier admonition of the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General, I shall not repeat what I said in a letter to her, but she knows my sentiments.
Since the Bill was launched in this House there have been several changes of Ministers and ministries. Noble Lords who know the railway line between Edinburgh and Newcastle will know that one of the things you pass on the left-hand side is the Bass Rock. I am very glad that throughout the Bill we have had our own Bass Rock in the form of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, whom I am delighted to see in his place, where he has been throughout. He represents continuity in the process.
As I said at Second Reading and in Committee, my purpose in tabling this amendment is not to kill the Bill but to seize the opportunity presented by the creation of the Ministry of Justice and the appointment of new Ministers to review the evidence not just in this Bill but in a large number of other Bills—54 in total—and in a huge amount of other legislation that is associated with it.
Last night we were due to have debated for the fourth time an amendment to the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill. Shortly before we were due to start I received a request from the Secretary of State for Justice to defer that debate until he had had time to consider the Bill as it stood. In discussion with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats it was very easy to agree to that and to welcome it. Indeed, I took the opportunity to pass to the Secretary of State a suggested date which he might consider, which I would have mentioned on the Floor of the House. I welcomed the request because it seemed evidence of a willingness to engage in constructive debate. We have just listened to the Statement about the Prime Minister’s intent to have a national debate on many constitutional issues. My amendment seeks further debate about the management of offenders within the criminal justice system.
This Bill had at its genesis a paper by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, but that report was based on a false premise that there would be a stable prison population. Indeed, both he and the then Commissioner for Correction said that the National Offender Management Service, as suggested, could not come to pass unless there was a stable prison population—and there has not been one ever since. Therefore, in many ways, NOMS had a flawed beginning. However, that is not to say that we do not agree with the principle of the proper management of offenders throughout the time that they are in the hands of the criminal justice system or with the partnership of the voluntary, private and public sectors in providing their treatment. We have agreed that throughout our discussion. However, the problem with this Bill is that it is not about the management of offenders; it is about the management of the management of offenders, and in particular the introduction of a new way of commissioning probation services. Therefore, it is a falsely named Bill. Why does that matter?
One of the reasons the Government put forward for not being keen on including custody in the corporate manslaughter Bill was that they were sailing into uncharted waters and that they needed to test the temperature before they went further. We are in uncharted waters in the Offender Management Bill. The only country in the world that has gone down the route that has been proposed is New Zealand and that resulted in a gross increase in prison numbers, which worried their Government so much that it has been dropped.
Since this Bill was launched—I forget which number it is; the number of Bills now reaches 54, which is more than there had been in the previous 100 years at the Home Office—No.10 Downing Street issued a paper called Building on Progress: Security, crime and justice. It is the fourth policy review on this matter and has six chapters, including one of reform of the criminal justice workplace. In addition, it announced a term of reference for another review by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. He has done Wembley, he has done a legal review and he is now reviewing prisons. One of the things that he has been asked to do is to assess the management and efficiency of public sector prisons. Surely that has a key part to play in offender management, which is allegedly the subject of the Bill, yet the Carter review will not be included in the conclusions of the Bill. The management of public sector prisons has a huge impact on the rehabilitation of offenders, which is what we agreed a lot of the Bill is all about.
If that was not enough, last week, as a leaving present, the former Prime Minister landed on the desks of those who cared to pick it up the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. It is a monster of 129 clauses and 23 schedules, and it included the suggestion that there might be a commissioner for offender management and prisons. That has not come near the statute book. My case is that, frankly, this is the wrong time to take this Bill—when it is taken in isolation—because it does not take into consideration what is included in all the others.
I am currently a member of the Regulators Select Committee, and we are looking particularly at financial regulators. One of the things that has been brought to our notice is that the worst aspect of the whole process is something called the regulatory impact assessment, which is required to be done on every new piece of regulation, and they are very badly done. Indeed, the National Audit Office reviewed regulatory impact assessments and pointed out that they are badly done and that, because they are badly done, they have an impact on what the regulation is meant to achieve. I have drawn attention to the regulatory impact assessment on the Bill. We have not drawn up a league table of regulatory impact assessments but the one on this Bill would figure pretty near the bottom of the league. It says that the options are to “do nothing” which means that,
“we would be unable to realise the full benefits of the NOMS reform programme”,
or to implement in full, which,
“would allow the us to take forward the reform agenda”.
But it does not explain at all the impact on costs, the impact on other services, the impact on the voluntary sector or the impact on all the people who are working to rehabilitate offenders, or whether this process would improve. It is merely about whether the Government’s proposal would be taken forward. I do not believe that that is what a regulatory impact assessment is all about.
I have been delighted to hear during the course of this debate that organisations such as the CBI and some private sector companies are very willing to come forward and be involved in the contracts. I am delighted that organisations such as Turning Point and some of the large voluntary sector organisations and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations also want to take part. Of course they do, but that is not the whole story. There is a whole myriad of other small organisations, which do an enormous amount of work in this field. I have been associated with a number of them. I heard yesterday, for example, of a study 10 years ago into the provision of proper nutrition in a prison. It proved that proper nutrition and diet produced a reduction in offending behaviour in prison of 40 per cent. We spent 10 years trying to be allowed to replicate that—10 very frustrating years dealing with people who say that they support the voluntary sector. Meanwhile, the Dutch came in, took our evidence, went away to Holland and published their reports yesterday showing that there was a 47 per cent reduction—we had underestimated.
I mention that because, over and again in the sector, the arts organisations and small organisations dealing with particular aspects do not feel included in what is happening. They want to be sucked into the dialogue. Therefore, the purpose of my amendment is not to stop what is happening but to say, in welcoming it and the arrival of a Ministry of Justice that has to focus on all these issues, “You don’t have to rush ahead with the Bill. You’ve got a crisis on your hands at the moment of too many prisoners and probation officers who need to be handled now by what you have. Introducing a long, drawn-out change to the commissioning process will not help you solve that problem today. Get on with today and, in the mean time, use the opportunity to look at all the evidence, all the things that have been said on the Bill, all the attention that has been drawn to the items that have been left out of the Bill, all the links to other services such as education and healthcare, and the detailed involvement of the voluntary sector. Then let’s have a proper debate within the criminal justice system to see that what emerges as the national system for the management of offenders is robust because it consists of a coalition of the willing, who feel that they’re willing because they’ve been involved”.
My amendment is designed to suggest that the new Secretary of State should accept that and seize the opportunity presented. Then he should conduct that inquiry and engage with the House, knowing that when he does so everyone—certainly everyone whom I have spoken to—is minded to go along with the general proposition, but is dissatisfied by the detail that has been presented. It is in the spirit of seizing an opportunity to get something right in relation to all the other things that are on the table, rather than in isolation from it, that I beg to move.
My Lords, it is good to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is a friend of the Bill, but with friends like that who needs—let me leave the quotation incomplete. I am unpersuaded by the argument. It is yet another example of looking for any and every reason to oppose the broad thrust of the reforms.
The argument is that, after we have been discussing these issues since 2003, we should find yet one more reason to go slower when we all face a level of repeat criminality in this country that we ought to be ashamed of. To believe that we should wait yet further to address that with considered, important and difficult reforms feels like an indefensible and embarrassing argument to have to make. The further argument that the House should, in a sense, second guess the Government in their executive responsibilities about moving forward with reforms when Parliament has given its proper consideration also seems inappropriate. We say that we support the reforms and respect the importance of developing a much more vigorous system that looks afresh at how all the constituent parts address reoffending. That is right—I hope that we believe that—so let us get on with it.
We argue at times that we should spare the staff from the changes. As someone who has spent far too much of his life seeking to reform public services, I say that where you believe you have a clear vision of reform you should get on with it. The staff do not welcome you dallying around and putting them through further agony, particularly because some will put blandishments in their ears and say, “This further delaying mechanism might mean that reform will really go away and we can afford doing it”.
Mechanisms such as this one help people who do not want to face the need for change to try to continue to avoid doing so. Therefore, I urge the House not to give succour to those who believe that we do not need change in this agenda when we desperately do, and to those who think that they can put off the evil day of change that they do not want to face by finding yet further reasons for delay. Let us give these measures proper scrutiny, but let us then get on with it and seek to reduce reoffending in our society and better protect the public from criminality, because we are not doing sufficient at present. These changes are needed; we should get on with them.
My Lords, I understood that it was precisely the role of Parliament to second guess the Government and to examine whether the proposals made by the Government have a clear rationale. I have struggled with the Bill to find the underlying, clear rationale behind it, and there have been points when I felt that there were two or three different Bills popping out from underneath it. As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will know, I have become increasingly sceptical about the mantra of public service reform, the employment of large numbers of outside consultants and the pressure to change for the sake of change and to push towards the private sector.
We all agree with the principle of more integrated offender management, and we understand that the purpose is the reduction of reoffending and in parallel a reduction in prison numbers. When I read the Carter report—which has a good beginning and a good end, but I missed the argument in the middle that links the beginning and the end—I understood that one of the major problems is that fines are not enforced. Nothing that we have read in any of the papers since then deals with how better to enforce fines, which might make a major contribution to a reduction in prison numbers.
We talk about community penalties and community punishment, but that takes us into the question of which part of a mixed economy one is moving towards. There still seems to be confusion in the Bill about whether we are moving from public provision to largely private sector provision—for profits and for large companies—or to large non-profits that are commissioned centrally, or at the most regionally, or the voluntary sector, which is often much more local working with the community. I note that in the Government’s paper Reducing Crime, Changing Lives, the implication is very much that we should be talking about local community involvement, local community punishment and working with the not-for-profit sector. I hope that is the direction in which we are moving, but I am not entirely clear.
Today’s very welcome Statement from the Government on constitutional reform suggests that we should be doing everything to move back towards local community and local engagement as far as we can. That is what we on these Benches support, and that is why we are so unhappy about the extent to which regional commissioning seems to be taking over from local boards. That is why we were so deeply unhappy when the noble Lord, Lord Warner, suggested that one would have trusts, which one would set up and abolish every day of the week, if you like. Some noble Lords will recall him saying very proudly that he had abolished 200 primary care trusts in a year and set up 55 more and thinking that that was an excellent example of our process of public sector reform.
We therefore think that there is still a case for a pause. We have not seen the Government’s response to the many responses to their original proposals. I have read the Carter report, the Government’s response and all those things, and I still do not see an underlying rationale passing through them. In this process, we have had a succession of different Home Secretaries offering different things. If we are to make a very important change in the management of offending, we need to be entirely sure that it makes sense, that it lasts and that everyone is happy with the lasting settlement. We need to make sure that we do not rush through yet another change that will be succeeded with yet another change in three or four years’ time, but only after a large number of outside consultants have said that the last one did not work.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was right in one respect—these are important reforms. They will shape for perhaps a generation to come the future delivery of probation services to those who are in need of them. They are very important services, particularly for the security of this country. It is therefore important that we get them right. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, went on to say that there was a clear vision of reforms. I disagree. In our five days in Committee and one day on Report, we have not seen clarity. We have seen an attempt to shield the truth. These are centralising reforms presented as being responsive to local needs.
Last week, the mask slipped when we debated an amendment on which I divided the House and was fortunate in persuading it to support me. I argued that the Secretary of State’s centralising powers to commission services should instead be devolved to the probation trusts. The Government’s argument throughout has been to say to me, “Don’t worry, we are closer than you think. In practice, the majority of services will be commissioned locally”. Last week, suddenly we heard from speaker after speaker on the Benches opposite, behind the Minister, the argument that if my amendment were passed nothing would change and that the local trusts cannot be trusted to deliver commissioning on the contestability basis to private companies and the voluntary sector.
Clarity was there none. It is absolutely important, as the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, suggests, to give the new Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor the opportunity to look again and find the clarity that the public deserve. I support the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.
My Lords, it is with some temerity that I stand up and say that I am a somewhat simple soul in that I believe that the management of offenders and the management of the service are one and the same. I agree with my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham and other speakers that unless we get that right there will be real difficulty for the service. However, I have a quite different view of where we are. I could be wrong and no doubt my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham will put me right in his response and the Minister may clarify for me where I think I stand, but I simply do not see us in the uncharted waters that everyone else is trying to show.
The framework of probation will be the same. I would have liked to see more radical reform, as noble Lords will know, not because I am a great one for change—I have argued significantly against some of the health service and social services changes that have gone on and on and left the services in great disarray—but I argue for this change because I believe that out there the probation services are in the middle of it and, having worked for most of my life in change management with organisations, I know that that is nearly the worst position we could continue to leave the probation services in.
Not only is the framework of probation pretty much the same, I think that we have a clear rationale which, as I understand it in relation to the services in the voluntary sector in which I work that touch the probation sector, is trying to find new ways of intervening. I have heard lots of discussion during this debate about those interventions perhaps not being as “high-class” as others. The services that I have worked with have been exceptional, with highly trained workers intervening in a way that has set the standard for other probation services. If we had that kind of service we would see greater innovation and greater development. Of course I have the same fears as others about whether large companies will come in and undercut my services. Therefore, I ask the noble Baroness yet again to reassure us that what will count will be the quality and not low cost.
The commissioning element is all that is really different. There are other small changes in the Bill but its central core is this commissioning element. I have said this before, but I am surprised that the Conservative Benches are not pressing this forward and that they do not see that commissioning and contestability are a way forward in changing and improving skills. They widen the scope of the skill set. At the moment the changes are proceeding at a very conservative pace. On the ground, services are being told that they cannot have the three-year contracts, which they thought they could have, because of the uncertainty. If we delay again, that uncertainty will go on, not just for the probation services, but for all the local voluntary services that are trying to deliver different but quality services on the ground. These groups are not huge. The one I know best, the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, is not a huge organisation; it is a specialist foundation. The circles, working with the Quakers, are small organisations. They have managed to hold their positions, and they will do even better if in future they are more able to get their contracts.
In my view, the one thing probation does not need is yet another period of uncertainty; but it needs clear knowledge about how to move forward. I am quite sure that my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham will say that clarity is the one thing that is lacking. But I think that on the ground there is room to move forward. What we do not want is rigidity. We have got to get this right, but to get it right we have got to get on with it. We should not change for the sake of change but this is marginal change. Let us make sure that we do move forward, that we remove the uncertainty, build better services for the future, and, by improving services that stop offenders reoffending, make our country safer.
My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. I say straightaway that I too have been in a very privileged position. From this Dispatch Box I have expressed the views in relation to this matter of the previous Home Secretary John Reid and before him my right honourable friend Charles Clarke, the former Lord Chancellor, my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer, and now my right honourable friend Jack Straw as the new Secretary of State responsible for justice and the new Lord Chancellor. The last three have one thing in common: they all agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, that we must now get on with this and delay will not inure to anyone's benefit.
I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, says about centralising reform. I disagree very much with that suggestion. The construct put forward by her on behalf of her party is, I respectfully suggest, one of no change. However, no change will not give voice to the needs both of the victims and the offenders, who demand that we change in order better to address the needs that they each have.
The structure we suggest is not one which is unreasoned or so fast as not to take people with us. Of course we have listened very carefully indeed to the debate that has gone on throughout the whole passage of the Bill. I recognise the genuine desire of those who have spoken to ensure that we have the best possible set of provisions. We all want to see a strong, confident and effective Probation Service able to play its full part in reducing reoffending and protecting the public.
I understand the anxiety that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has so cogently expressed in terms of the different tensions in this situation, but what is less clear to me is how this amendment will assist. I am puzzled about why the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, thinks that the addition of a further stage in the parliamentary process and the accompanying delay and uncertainty is necessary or how that uncertainty and delay would further inure to the benefit of those we all purport to serve. The import of what the noble Lord was saying was, “Postpone this Bill and all its parts. Consider afresh again whether all or any of its contents need to be embarked on at all”. Some noble Lords might say that what he is saying is “Rip it up, put it in the bin and start again”. That would not do justice to the hard work and dedication of all the sectors who have now engaged with such energy in making this change possible. I respectfully remind the House that it is not for nothing that the CBI, ACEVO and many others have said that they wish to see these provisions on the statute book.
I was grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for identifying the smaller organisations involved. The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a specialist organisation, but it is not a large organisation. Circles of Support and Accountability, which is an effective organisation, is not large. Clinks, which, as I mentioned to your Lordships last time, is leading the work on how we can get smaller organisations better supported, is not a large organisation. Those organisations need continuity, and commissioning would enable them to have that.
Perhaps this amendment is inspired by a sense that the Government have rushed these proposals and that a period of reflection is necessary. But if we look at the history of the Bill, we can see how it has changed, developed and deepened in the understanding of what is necessary. This policy has been evolving and in the public domain since December 2003. I know that some in this House think that it should go as slowly as the public sector reform that is contemplated in relation to civil servants for which we have had to wait for more than a hundred years, but I think that we can go a little more quickly. We can hardly be accused of having rushed these changes.
The amendment would require certain documents to be prepared and laid before the House. There is concern therefore that there will be insufficient opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny of these proposals. But I respectfully say that that can hardly be the case either. This is a modest-sized Bill—just 34 clauses and five, mainly technical, schedules when it was first introduced. Yet in your Lordships’ House alone we have had six Sittings in Committee. Indeed, at the outset of Committee, our scrutiny was so considered and detailed that we were progressing at the rate of roughly one clause per Sitting.
I am sure that noble Lords would also agree that my noble friend Lord Bassam and I, with the full support of our colleagues at the Ministry of Justice, have gone out of our way to be very full in our responses to points raised, both on the Floor of the House and in the written material that we have regularly circulated outside. Where appropriate, those responses have extended to agreeing to amend the Bill itself. We have done a lot of good work in that regard with the valid contribution from all Members who have taken part, but I cannot see that further scrutiny is needed or what purpose it would serve.
Perhaps there has been insufficient opportunity for those outside Parliament to have their say. Your Lordships have had the advantage of hearing from many of those who made a contribution. The preponderance of that comment has been supportive of this Bill. The evidence is that the service is committed to change. As I mentioned in Committee, two-thirds of those boards eligible to apply for trust status in April 2008 expressed interest in being considered. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, is right when she says that they want to get on with this. That makes 22 areas in which 13 have been invited to apply to become a trust in the first wave. The applications are due to be returned by the 13th of this month. Any further delay and uncertainty risks undermining the plans for implementation and will have an adverse effect on the morale and serviceability to prepare for the future. I am sure that the House will agree that that cannot be in anyone's interests.
I reassure the House that there is no basis for thinking that if there were a postponement significant or material change is likely. The Government's commitment to the provisions in the Bill remains undiminished either by the machinery of government changes on 9 May or the ministerial changes of last week. Once the parliamentary process has run its proper course, there can be no justification for or advantage in further prevarication. The Bill was on the agenda before the last election. We committed ourselves to bringing proposals forward once we were re-elected and that is what we are doing. It is a part of the democratic process which has integrity. I therefore invite the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to withdraw his amendment and allow us to proceed in the normal way, confident that he has made a material contribution to the way that this Bill will leave this House.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. In particular, I thank the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General for the way she responded. She will not be surprised to hear me say that in the very first of my remarks I said that this was no attempt to kill the Bill. Never, throughout all our deliberations, have we had any intention of killing it, stopping it or being against change. One of my frustrations when I was Chief Inspector of Prisons was the number of recommendations for change that I put forward—some 2,800 over the time of which only 70 were picked up.
The noble and learned Baroness mentioned that this Bill first appeared in December 2003. That is when the problems started. At that stage, the Government clearly listened to the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and rushed ahead with change without thinking. Because they rushed ahead and announced things without discussion, we have had this long drawn out period of uncertainty and retrenchment. Is the Probation Service national, regional or whatever? Will the services be united and merged? What is happening to the regional offender managers who have been in position for three years without budgets and so forth? This uncertainty spread because, right at the start, there was no consideration.
I am not seeking to delay the Bill just to delay it. I am saying that, while this Bill has come within the context of the criminal justice system, other Bills have been launched and other proposals have been made. Other studies have happened that have an impact on it. Therefore, it is incomplete in context in terms of the criminal justice system and the way that offenders are managed. Unless offenders are managed properly, we will not get what we all require—the rehabilitation of offenders and protection of the public. Nobody wants change more than I do. Nobody is more concerned about the lack of morale and the uncertainty that exists in the services today. I was at a conference this morning listening to deeply disturbed members of the voluntary sector who do not know what is happening. Last Friday I was with the Probation Service and others in Newcastle where people were very disturbed about the lack of clear direction.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said that the framework is the same. It is not the same. The headquarters of the National Probation Service has disappeared and the leader of the service is subsumed into a department in the National Offender Management Service. It is not the same. There is not an organisation that can drive change.
All I am saying is that to achieve the change that we all want, it behoves the Government to see whether, in the light of all the other things that are going on, it would be sensible to ensure that everything is taken into account, rather than rushing off in one direction. I am sure that the noble and learned Baroness will not be surprised that I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 19 [Powers of director of a contracted out prison]:
moved Amendment No. 29:
29: Clause 19, leave out Clause 19
The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is unfortunate that this amendment was originally tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. It would remove a clause which has long needed to be reviewed. When we originally looked at the whole idea of private sector prisons in 1991, it was decided that there should be a public sector representative in those prisons to monitor compliance with the contract.
When I was chief inspector, I was often conscious that the relationship between the director of the prison—in many cases, someone who had been a governor of a public sector prison—and the controller was difficult because of one particular factor, which was that in the 1991 Act it was agreed that one activity should remain in the hands of the public sector: the adjudication of prisoners. That was because adjudication involved punishment, which was the responsibility of the state. I do not believe that has changed; nor do I believe that any suggestion that the requirement for controllers who are, in effect, contract monitors in private sector prisons has gone. In some of the reports of my successor as chief inspector, she says that she has been concerned about the number of times that private sector companies have been tempted to fudge figures to appear to comply with contracts and not be liable to sanctions. In the treatment of offenders, that simply must not be tolerated.
What does not appear in the Bill is the suggestion, which I hope the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General will be able to comment on, that there are two public sector monitors in each private sector prison at present. The number will allegedly be cut to one because it is assumed that adjudication takes a day—it does not. Also, if done properly, contract monitoring takes more than one monitor. Therefore, rather than try to play around with words, it is appropriate to remove this clause and leave the status quo: leave the state responsible for punishment and leave contract monitors in place to fulfil their role of supervising what is done on the public’s behalf by the private sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have necessarily stayed out of the discussion on this Bill until now, owing to pressure of underwork. Memories of our debates in 1991 were so sharp and poignant when I heard what was being proposed in Clause 19 that I felt I had to come, reluctantly, to your Lordships’ House to express my dismay.
As I recall, the support of wavering Conservative Peers like myself was solicited by the Government of the day—and by their Home Office spokesman the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, whom we all hope to see back with us before too long—for the proposal that two pairs of eyes from the public sector would see what was going on and that things that should not be known in public were not being done in secret. The focus of this concern was adjudication—how fair and appropriate their punishments were to the people concerned.
When you take freedom from a citizen, you assume a terrible responsibility. When you take it from more than 80,000 prisoners, it becomes enormous. When a significant proportion of those are handed over to an organisation other than the state it becomes necessary to retain some hold on what is done. As I understand it, Clause 19, by transferring the right of adjudication to a governor, makes the monitor no longer necessary for the functioning of the prison. The monitor is necessary for its fair functioning, but not necessary for its economic functioning. This reminds me of what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said a moment ago about the danger of figure-fudging. Contractors have targets to meet—haven’t we all these days?—otherwise they are in breach of their contract. Therefore, it is very important that the statistics, which reveal the performance against the target, are managed suitably for the contractor. In other words, there is a strong conflict of interest between the interest of the state in fairness and the interest of the contractor in profit. That may be an odd sentiment to express from the Conservative Benches, but we are dealing with matters of principle, and I believe that this House consented to this form of prison on the principle that there should be representatives of the public sector in it to act as referees and whistleblowers, and to protect the defenceless against injustice where the private sector was clearly motivated on occasion to commit injustice. For those reasons, I wholly support the amendment.
My Lords, I have some sympathy for the amendment to remove Clause 19. I had the privilege of representing prison officers in Parliament for some years, and I visited many prisons, so I have had experience of the nature of prisons and the prison environment. I also have a deep respect for the dedication of prison officers and prison governors. The background against which the existing legislation was made is very interesting. I draw attention particularly to punishment being the responsibility of the state. In that context, although many things can be parcelled out, privatised or sub-divided, ultimately—I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said about his memory of the atmosphere and the intention at the time—the Minister should be obliged to tell us where this is coming from.
What consultation has there been, particularly with the Prison Officers’ Association and the Prison Governors Association? I would like to hear not only that there has been consultation with those two bodies but that they approve of the intention behind the clause. I do not think that they do; in which case, what is being gained? More than once, the Attorney-General has stressed that this is not driven by efficiency savings but is designed to make the system more efficient. How much more efficient would the system be if we were told that prison governors are burdened and that, in the absence of the clause, they would continue to have the responsibility to adjudicate; indeed, that they were screaming blue murder because of the weight on them? Whom have the Attorney-General and her advisers consulted? Someone told me that they had taken the views of the CBI. The Attorney-General can deny that—indeed, I hope that she will be able to do so—but I would be very worried if the views of industry were to reign over those of the people at the sharp end.
Let us make no mistake; despite the disputes involving prison officers and prison governors about conditions, pay and all the rest of it, they are at the front line, or the last line, of defence in this country in dealing with many, many people. We know that many people in prison should not be there, but a great many others should be and are determined to make the lives of other inmates bad. I was once asked at Wakefield prison to peep through the window in the door to the cell of a man who had murdered two prisoners while in prison. That is the kind of person with whom we are dealing. Prison officers are prisoners just as much as prisoners themselves, because they are locked in the prison estate and have a terrible job.
On equity, it is eminently right to say that the persistence of the clause is a condemnation of the present situation, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, was built 16 years ago on the foundation of a major step—the introduction of privatisation into the prison estate—about which many of us still have questions. It is, however, now a fact of life, and I hope that the Attorney-General can satisfy the House that the alarm bells are ringing without reason. If she cannot, however, I very much hope that she will say something to allay my concerns about being party to a situation about which I am not very happy.
My Lords, I have considerable sympathy for what the noble Lord, Lord Graham, has said and the questions that he has asked. As an occasional but regular visitor to prisons, the prisons with which I have been most impressed, certainly in the past 10 years, have been private and have been of great benefit to the system as a whole. However, the atmosphere in a prison can very easily become difficult for both prisoners and staff, so the principle of a co-operative regime, particularly when sensitive issues such as punishment arise, is a good one. Even in private prisons, the principle of the involvement of state officials in the punishment of those who are in prison is at least to be considered and quite possibly insisted on.
My Lords, I did not intend to speak to the amendment. Indeed, I may have misunderstood it. If I have, it will become painfully obvious in the next couple of minutes. As I understand it, the clause intends that the director of a private sector prison should be in much the same position as a governor of a public sector prison when it comes to disciplinary issues, and that is what is objected to and what the amendment seeks to remove. If I have got that part of the amendment right, surely a director of a private sector prison would have to work under basically the same instructions and rules as a governor of a public sector prison would in exercising such powers. Presumably the training requirements would therefore be similar to ensure that the individuals concerned were competent to exercise these responsibilities. Presumably, then, this is almost a professional question of being able to exercise these powers appropriately.
I also understand that private sector prisons are not exactly divorced from inspections. They are still subject to them, and must operate under the terms of a contract and in a particular manner. If they fail to do so, they leave themselves open to challenge. If my understanding of the position is basically right—it may turn out to be wrong—I really do not see what the difficulty is in enabling the director of a private sector prison to have very similar powers to those of a governor of a public sector prison in this regard.
My Lords, I hope to be able to answer the question that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has just asked and to explain why this is such a very bad idea. I should make it clear that this debate is not about whether private prisons are a good thing, whether they are value for money or whether they should be more publicly accountable. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, about the propriety of suggesting that the power of punishing prisoners should be handed to a non-state agent, and about the possibility that handing this power to the director of a private prison will lead to conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived. Justice must be done and seen to be done. If the procedures are not seen to be fair and legitimate, the state of a prison will suffer because of the unhappiness of the prisoners and the way in which they feel they are treated.
I remind the House that the punishments available for prison directors to impose after adjudication are substantial. Directors may no longer add days to a prisoner’s sentence—that has to be done by a visiting magistrate and applies to the more serious offences. However, prison directors can confine prisoners to their cells for 21 days; exclude them from work so that they get no wages for up to 21 days; stop their earnings or make deductions from their earnings for up to 84 days; remove them to segregation for up to 28 days; and institute forfeiture of any privileges under rule 8 for up to 42 days.
The significance of that is that prisoners can be demoted on the incentives and earned-privileges scheme and so may have their entitlement to visits from their families reduced. Furthermore, the imposition of those punishments can have wider implications for prisoners. The power to reduce family visits affects Article 8 of the ECHR, on the right to family life, as given effect to by the Human Rights Act. The frequency and level of punishments given in an institution will go on parole reports and will affect whether prisoners receive parole. The Parole Board takes those matters into account when deciding whether it is safe to release prisoners; therefore, there is an effect on the right to liberty.
Directors of private prisons are in a difficult and very different position from a public prison governor. They have to take account of the requirements of their employers—that is, the company, which is usually far from the day-to-day concerns of the prison—the requirements of the contract and the need to avoid fines and penalties that such prisons attract if they fail to carry out the contract. It also puts the private prison director under strong pressure and would make it very difficult for even the most well trained and longstanding prison director to be seen to operate fairly and without being accused of conflicts of interest. It seems to me that private prison directors would not want to be put in that position, and this House certainly should not allow that to happen.
My Lords, I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has encapsulated what I feel about it. I have been approached by the Prison Governors Association, the Prison Reform Trust and the Prison Officers’ Association on this, and they all support the amendment. Very often, when the Prison Officers’ Association is mentioned one thinks only of state prisons, but it also has members in private prisons. I do not want to repeat what others have said, but I support the amendment.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. An underlying principle, which we should not cross, is at stake. This is not a criticism of private prisons. We are all conscious that, on the whole, the introduction of private prisons has had a beneficial effect on prisons in this country. Next week, I am to visit a prison whose reputation is among the best of the private prisons in this country.
The principle at stake is the relationship between the state and the private sector: the proper management of public/private partnerships. The state should have the monopoly of force, and punishment is a use of force. Earlier, I spoke about the difference between the American model of privatisation and the Nordic model of a mixed economy of public/private partnerships. In the United States, they are very relaxed about private contractors carrying guns: mercenaries operating on behalf of the state. We are not happy with that. The state should retain the monopoly of force. If we cross that line we enter a very different world.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said, there are potential conflicts of interest. The lines of authority and accountability of a private prison governor and his unavoidable concept of role and responsibility are, to some extent, necessarily different from that of a governor of a state prison. That is in the nature of a public/private partnership and, therefore, it is entirely appropriate that proper tension between the public and the private sectors should be built into the system. The amendment would retain that; Clause 19 would cross that line.
My Lords, the amendment raises a very important principle. I shall be interested to hear how my noble and learned friend replies. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has just made a comparison with the United States, which has a more relaxed attitude towards private contractors carrying guns and the rest. That is about security; in the prison system, we are talking about justice. The amendment raises the issue of whether we want a system in which justice is operated by people with a commercial interest in the operation. I make no criticism—I have no ground for making any—of any director of a private prison at the moment, but a crucial principle arises about justice: how it should operate and how it can convincingly be seen to operate, as has already been said. My noble and learned friend should not dismiss the amendment lightly. In view of her new responsibilities, I shall be interested to hear how she deals with the point about justice.
My Lords, my noble friend is right to emphasise the importance of justice, but also important is parity of treatment in relation to how we house and deal with those who are sentenced to periods of imprisonment. I want to clear up a few points as there may have been some misunderstanding.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, is concerned that we are removing the role of the controller, as a third pair of eyes, from the process. I can reassure him that we are not doing that. Controllers will no longer conduct adjudications, but will still monitor the conduct of them by private prison staff; for example, they can even attend individual adjudications if they want to. That is not changing. We agree with him on the need for that scrutiny to be maintained.
The consultation process was raised by my noble friend Lord Graham. I know how seriously he addresses the issue. I can reassure him that we have consulted the Prison Governors Association and there has been further consultation with contractors and existing controllers. Plans have been developed in discussion with the public sector Prison Service to ensure parity with its procedures. My noble friend Lord Rosser was correct in the premise that he made about the way in which we seek to deal with the matter. These are sensitive issues. I assure the House that the Government recognise that sensitivity and the nature of the changes contemplated in the clause.
We are also aware of the need to ensure the proper and fair treatment of prisoners, as I made plain. With that in mind, we have taken careful measures to ensure that our approach is balanced by appropriate and robust safeguards. The powers proposed to be transferred by the clause are essential tools for governors in public sector prisons, used to maintain order, control and discipline. As part of our clearly expressed desire to ensure parity of performance between the public and private sectors, we feel that this is precisely the right time to extend the powers, so that they apply equally in private prisons. Specifically, the changes proposed will enable directors to be fully responsible for order and control within their establishments. Controllers, who currently undertake the task on behalf of directors, will then be freed up to spend more time monitoring the quality and value of the service provided by the contractor. Consequently, the change will ensure that the disciplinary system in private prisons operates as speedily and effectively as possible, but also that better oversight of the whole range of services is being delivered by the contractor. This will, I hope, bring real benefits to prisons and prisoners generally, and to the public, with better value for money.
I was much encouraged by what the right reverend Prelate said, because in his capacity he has had the advantage of going into a number of prisons, both public and private. His experience of a number of private-sector prisons reflects that of the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Ramsbotham, and others.
The powers are already highly regulated by secondary legislation—not least the prison rules and the detailed instructions in the Prison Discipline Manual and Her Majesty’s Prison Service standards, which private prisons are, respectively, statutorily and contractually bound to follow, so that they exactly reflect those that apply in public sector prisons. We are simply creating a parity of powers between directors and governors—neither will have any greater freedom than the other as they perform identical tasks. That is why my noble friend Lord Rosser was right.
We are also going to require contractually that, before directors can adjudicate, they must have passed the equivalent training course as their public sector colleagues. I know that this is a matter of complaint but, as most directors are ex-Her Majesty’s Prison Service governors anyway, they are already likely to be very experienced in the task. My noble friend Lady Gibson has complained about the number of private prisons that have—some would say—purloined for the private sector some of the best from Her Majesty’s Prison Service. That is always an issue of tension. However, the controller will ensure that the rules that apply to one are adhered to by the other.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, is right about a strong safeguard, which already exists, in cases of a disciplinary offence that may result in the award of additional days. The requirement, under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, is that such cases must be dealt with by an independent adjudicator rather than by the government controller, in both public and private sector prisons. This proposal does nothing to alter that. My noble friend Lord Judd asked me about my new role conjoined with my old role and my thoughts on that. I hope that he will be content that I believe that we are being consistent. This proposal does not in any way alter that. Such a safeguard was not in place in 1991, when controllers were first introduced. That would have been of concern to the noble Lord, Lord Elton—that controllers were going to be adjudicating on issues where there might be a positive punishment—but we do not have that difficulty now.
Some are also concerned that a director’s impartiality would be jeopardised by commercial considerations, as we heard today. There is, however, no evidence in how they use their existing powers to support that. The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, rightly referred to perceptions, as opposed to the reality. But there is no evidence on which that perception can justifiably be found. Most notably, the incentive schemes, which often reward good behaviour, are much more imaginative than those in the public sector. However, even if a director were minded to adopt a commercial approach, the requirements of the Prison Discipline Manual, the detailed procedures to be followed, the route of appeal, plus scrutiny from the controller, the IMB, the inspectorate and the ombudsman surely offer us all some reassurance that they would be immediately detected.
The powers of segregation and control are already available to directors in an emergency, when they simply seek retrospective approval by the controller. The clause will simply enable those existing powers to be exercised by the director acting alone, even where there is no emergency. There is no evidence whatever to suggest that directors have misused the existing powers since the first private prison opened in 1992. Indeed, private prisons have been credited with a key role in improving decent treatment and the conditions of prisoners in both the public and private sectors over the past 10 years. Such a view is not my own, I hasten to add, but comes from no less a source than Martin Narey, the former director-general of Her Majesty’s Prison Service.
I also urge the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to reflect on his own decision, when Chief Inspector of Prisons, to tackle the press about their inaccurate portrayal of the privately owned and operated HMP Doncaster. He may recall that at the time he was so impressed on an inspection by the capability of the director and staff that he personally intervened to demand that the press recognise the excellent practice to be found at the prison. It must have had quite an effect on him, because as recently as January, at the Conservative evidence session for the Bill, he described HMP Doncaster as:
“a frightfully well-run prison … staff had extremely good relationships with the prisoners and the organisation running it had done all sorts of imaginative things with education…work…and so on, which weren’t happening in the public sector. And when I asked the Governor why he was doing this, which conflicted with what I’d seen of prisons in the public sector, he said he’s not allowed to do it in the public sector prison”.
I use not my words but those of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to reassure the House that this is not something that we need to be frightened of. I will not pretend that private-sector performance is always excellent. There have been recent problems at Her Majesty’s Prison in Rye Hill, for example, which the inspectorate has reported on and were the subject of the “Panorama” TV programme. My point is that similar problems occur in some public sector prison as well. Good or poor practice is not the sole preserve of one sector or the other. If further evidence of the quality of private prisons is needed, I would invite your Lordships to attend to the most recent prison performance ratings, published by the National Offender Management Service, which shows that eight of the 11 private prisons are rated at level 3 or above on the four-band system. This is a ratio that compares well with the public sector. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has previously described private prisons as models of what prisons should be like.
That is a lot of reinforcement of what I hope is a safe and satisfactory move forwards. Restrictions may have been prudent when private prisons were first introduced; I believe that they were. However, considering the good operating record of the private sector since then, we believe that they are no longer justified. Finally, some would argue that these tasks are essentially functions of the state. That was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and others. The arguments around the propriety of imprisonment being conducted by private companies were debated at length in 1991 and we all know the outcome. To rehearse them again now is perhaps unnecessary.
In conclusion, we have seen over time a great deal of evidence which reassures us that what we are doing is not a step too far. I hope that the House will feel that the safeguards I have outlined in some detail, which will enable these powers to be effected properly—the contractual mechanisms, the detailed operating procedures, the scrutiny of the controller, the IMB and the ombudsman—suffice to give noble Lords comfort. The proposals are safe and, I suggest, a logical next step in balancing the procedures between public and private sector prisons to the ultimate benefit of both prisoners and the general public. Further, for the avoidance of doubt, the term “prison” in relation to this clause also applies to young offender institutions, although at present no YOIs are being run privately. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will feel that this is not such an avant garde move as they might initially have feared.
My Lords, will the noble and learned Baroness answer three questions with an eye on future Administrations? First, am I right in thinking that, so long as Clause 19 is in the Bill, no future Administration could withdraw controllers from the private sector? Secondly, if that clause is removed from the Bill, would it be possible to remove controllers from the private sector? Thirdly, is the noble and learned Baroness aware of the enormous comfort that it gives me and many others to see that she is still looking after this brief? I congratulate her on her other job.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord. There is nothing in what I have said to indicate an ability to precipitously or improperly remove the controller. We believe that that function is an essential one. We want the controllers to be able to monitor with an even greater degree of precision what is happening on the ground in these prisons so that we can be assured that the quality we wish to see delivered in all our prisons is in fact delivered, whether they be public or private institutions.
My Lords, I did mention the suggestion that one of the two controllers was going to be removed. Can the noble and learned Baroness confirm or deny whether that is going to happen?
My Lords, I have no information to indicate that one or two of the controllers are going to be removed. I have made it plain that as far as I am aware they will not be removed. They are no longer going to do the adjudications, but that is a different issue. They will still be there to monitor what is happening. If I find that anything I have said is inaccurate, I will notify the noble Lord and make the appropriate correction immediately. But I do not believe that I am in error.
In transferring these duties across to contractors, we accept that we will be required to fund this new work requirement. NOMS is currently considering options as to how to do this, and one of those is to reduce the head count in controllers’ teams by the equivalent of one post to fund the expense the contractor will incur. To suggest that this will remove all benefits in transfer, however, would not be accurate. So there is no suggestion at the moment, but I shall certainly be happy to write to noble Lords. I think they would prefer me to do that rather than read out the whole of the note.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson. Noble Lords have considered every aspect of this problem in their contributions. It all comes back to the question of justice and punishment, and who is responsible for delivering it. With respect to the noble and learned Baroness, I do remember all that I said about Doncaster, which at the time was being called “Doncatraz”, although it certainly was not. I also remember saying things about other prisons, including Altcourse, Blakenhurst and others which were doing extremely well. But with respect, that was not the point. It was not about adjudications, but about the way the prison was being run: the treatment of and conditions for prisoners on which I was required to report. I gave examples of why it was better, and I was intrigued about what was said about doing things which the private sector could do but the public sector could not. Personally, I think that this remains one of the issues which the public sector should keep a rein on.
We have just passed an amendment which suggests that this Bill needs to be looked at again. I hope that, by raising this issue in that context, this is another of the issues which will be looked at very carefully when the Bill is considered to see whether it needs to be strengthened and improved. I should like to withdraw the amendment at this stage, with the possibility of bringing it back at Third Reading. By then I will have seen the note. I say that because you cannot carry out the oversight we all would like to see if the number of controllers is reduced. With that proviso, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 22 [Conveyance of prohibited articles into or out of prison]:
moved Amendment No. 30:
30: Clause 22, page 15, line 1, at end insert “prison rules or by”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we now turn to an amendment originally tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, which concerns Clause 22 and the granting of authorisation for bringing prohibited list A items into and out of prisons. We recognise that there are times when both prison staff and those from external agencies may need to take certain otherwise prohibited articles into or out of prisons in order to carry out essential duties. The prohibited items are broken down into three clear bands grouped according to seriousness. While the legislation as currently drafted permits authorisation to be granted by the Secretary of State or by Prison Rules for lists B and C, only the Secretary of State can grant authorisation for list A items. The amendment seeks to allow authorisation to be granted for list A items by Prison Rules. As noble Lords will be aware, list A items are the most serious category and include controlled drugs, explosives and firearms.
We did not consider when first drafting the clause that there were any routine circumstances in which there might be a need for authorisations for list A articles. However, having carefully considered the noble Baroness’s amendment, I am now convinced that there are circumstances, such as in medical emergencies, in which we might wish to grant authorisations under the Prison Rules. As such, I am content with the amendment as tabled by the noble Baroness in Committee as we think it achieves a useful purpose and will improve the working of the Bill. I also want to put on the record my gratitude to the noble Baroness for tabling such a helpful amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise simply to thank the Minister for accepting the amendment I tabled in Committee. He will not be surprised if I tease him just a little. When I put forward this amendment in Committee, the Minister said that not only would the Government consider it, but that they would also come back with a drafting that fits the Bill. I am just pleased to note that not only have the Government accepted the principle, they have also for once accepted my drafting. I am grateful to the Minister.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 31:
31: After Clause 25, insert the following new Clause—
“Independent monitoring boards
(1) The boards appointed under section 6 of the Prison Act 1952 (c. 52) (boards of visitors) are renamed as independent monitoring boards.
(2) Accordingly, in section 6 of that Act—
(a) for the sidenote there is substituted “Independent monitoring boards”;(b) in subsection (2), for “board of visitors” there is substituted “group of independent monitors”;(c) after subsection (2) there is inserted—“(2A) The groups so appointed are to be known as independent monitoring boards.”; and(d) in subsection (3), for “boards of visitors” there is substituted “independent monitoring boards” and for “a board of visitors” there is substituted “an independent monitoring board”.(3) In section 6(2) of that Act the words from “of whom” to the end cease to have effect.”
The noble and learned Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to the amendments in my name listed in the group. Noble Lords will recall that when we debated independent monitoring boards in Committee in response to the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, my noble friend Lord Bassam pointed out that the amendment required drafting changes but made clear that the Government were willing to consider it. This we have now done and the amendments before us today are the result of that consideration.
Since 2003, boards of visitors have been known as independent monitoring boards, a title that more accurately reflects their role as monitors and emphasises their independent status. Some 1,800 board members—unpaid volunteers—appointed from the local community visit their designated establishments on a regular basis to monitor the care and treatment of those held in prison. Their commitment to this difficult, vital and highly responsible role is quite inspiring. When I was the Minister responsible for offender management and, therefore, prisons, I had the privilege of meeting a number of board members and I have never failed to be deeply impressed by their commitment and energy.
The amendments give statutory effect to two important changes recommended by a working group established in 2000 under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Lloyd, to review boards of visitors. These recommendations were, essentially, as follows: first, to change the title “board of visitors” to “independent monitoring board” more accurately to reflect the role and functions of these bodies; and, secondly, to remove the statutory requirement that at least two members of the board needed to be magistrates.
For the avoidance of any doubt, let me make it clear that the removal of the requirement for at least two members of a board to be magistrates is in no way intended to erode the significant contribution that magistrates make to the work of boards. The Government fully accept that justices of the peace bring valuable experience and knowledge to the role of board members. The clause seeks only to remove a requirement that was introduced when magistrates had an adjudicatory function in prisons. That function was removed some 15 years ago and the requirement is therefore now obsolete. Magistrates will continue to be welcome on boards as members of the local community. All the amendment does is to ensure that the boards are not required to select a magistrate in preference to another applicant who may be better suited to IMB work and who can bring special knowledge and skills of which the board is in short supply.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, for proposing the amendment. I hope this version will receive her support and the support of the House.
I understand that the Magistrates’ Association was a little concerned about these issues. The boards have many excellent magistrate members, as I have indicated, and I am delighted that the Magistrates’ Association regards continued involvement in this area of work as a worthwhile activity for its members. I know that Sir Peter Lloyd, who is president of the National Council of Independent Monitoring Boards, has been in contact with the Magistrates’ Association to explain the difficulties with the current requirement and how it does little to help the many magistrates who are well suited to board work and make successful applications for places. The Government share Sir Peter’s view that magistrates can bring valuable knowledge and skills to the boards. Applicants from the magistracy will always be welcome, especially those whose background and experience would help to make boards more diverse. I understand that Sir Peter has already invited the Magistrates’ Association to liaise with the IMB national council on how this might be achieved. So perhaps I may say, cheekily, that if any Members of your Lordships’ House are minded not to apply, I ask you to desist. I beg to move.
My Lords, in declaring an interest as Sir Peter Lloyd’s designated successor, I thank the noble and learned Baroness for her remarks about independent monitoring boards. Although I completely agree with the proposed amendment, it will be important to ensure that over the national big picture a significant number of magistrates make that contribution. I am sure that will continue to be the case.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Baroness—I had the great fortune to be first to congratulate her yesterday when we had the Statement—for the way in which she put the Government’s case on this amendment on the record. She will know that when I saw the drafting of the Government’s amendment I immediately contacted the Magistrates’ Association, as is my custom in these matters, simply to check that it was content and had been consulted. There were concerns that perhaps there had been an unintentional slip between the two sides and that, as a result, there was a misunderstanding that an agreement had been reached that had not been reached with the magistrates. I am delighted that the Government have taken prompt action and that Sir Peter Lloyd has ensured that the correct information has been made available to both parties.
I heard the noble and learned Baroness say that the magistrates now regard their continued activity as valuable. They always thought it was vital to the work of the independent monitoring boards. Their original concern was simply that their right to have two places was being removed. I appreciate the way in which the noble and learned Baroness has made it clear that Sir Peter Lloyd welcomes wholeheartedly—and, indeed, encourages—applications from magistrates, particularly from those whose background and experience would help to make boards more diverse. It is on the basis of the way in which the noble and learned Baroness has put her case that I am able to support the amendment today.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General—I really just wanted to say that. I am grateful that the amendment was accepted, reformulated so that it was in proper words and will now go on to the statute book.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to endorse the glowing comments that have been made by the magistracy. We would be very upset indeed if magistrates did not understand how vital their role can be, and has been, on these boards. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for what she said about the reassurance that this gives. We would all wish to celebrate the contribution of magistrates and the last thing we would want to do is discourage such fantastic volunteers from continuing their volunteering.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 32:
32: After Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—
“Disability equality dutyDisability equality duty
(1) The Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005 (S.I. 2966/2005) are amended as follows.
(2) In regulation 2(3)(d)(iii) after the words “Part I” insert the words “or Part V”.
(3) After regulation 2(6)(c) insert—
“(d) in the case of a public authority listed in Part V of Schedule 1, 1st December 2008.”(4) After Part IV of Schedule 1 insert—
“PART V Her Majesty’s Prison Service
A prison operated by Her Majesty’s Prison Service
Any contracted out prison within the meaning of section 84 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991”.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I speak to the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Low of Dalston, who is in America, I should like to make good a failure from earlier in the day. I am sure that all Members of the House will join me in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on her announced elevation on her party’s Front Bench. We are all delighted about that.
This issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Low in Committee and we were not satisfied with the Government’s answer that they would bring back disability legislation by making provision through Prison Service orders. On reflection, we do not think that that is satisfactory. There is a similarity here to what happened with the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill when the noble and learned Baroness described it as a brave move by the Government that Crown immunity was dropped for certain activities. When I inspected Her Majesty’s Prison Frankland in Durham I discovered to my horror a disabled man confined to the healthcare centre because he was wheelchair borne. Frankland was a new prison. I had seen the plans for Frankland, which included provision for disabled people to get around, including those in wheelchairs, but they were not included in the final build. When I questioned the Prison Service about this, I was told that because of Crown immunity the service was not required to conform to the disability legislation and had therefore excluded them. The man was denied access to work, education and everything else because of his disability, as he could not get out of the healthcare centre.
Therefore, in the spirit of lifting Crown immunity in the context of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, it is perhaps right to look at all the other aspects of this sort of legislation, including disability, where Crown immunity has previously been prayed in evidence. It was, for example, prayed in aid as a reason why the conditions of the Children Act should not apply to prisons until that was overturned by judicial review.
The background to the amendment is explained clearly by what is required by the Disability Rights Commission, which is that there should be a disability equality scheme in every public place. There are already requirements on probation boards, schools, NHS trusts, passenger transport executives and many other public sector bodies to produce such a scheme. The Prison Service has one, but it is not one of its own; it is an adjunct of the Home Office disability equality scheme, and it applies only to staff, not to prisoners. That is not acceptable. The Prison Service must have a scheme of its own, applying to both prisoners and staff. In the context of lifting Crown immunity, the disability regulations must apply. A Prison Service order is not good enough. An explicit duty must be laid on the Prison Service, quite separate from anything connected with its sponsoring department.
That is the purpose behind the amendment. The current treatment of disabled people in prison is not adequate for a whole range of disabilities, as has been mentioned many times. Merely putting a requirement in a Prison Service order does not add any urgency to the requirement to put the situation right, but I believe a duty would. I beg to move.
My Lords, your Lordships will forgive me for joining in the debate at this very late stage. The noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Ramsbotham, who did a very good job of bringing forward the amendment, have a very good point here. The prison population has a high number of disabled people, who are mainly unidentified.
My interest in dyslexia is probably fairly well established in this House. The number of undiagnosed dyslexics in the prison population is unacceptably high; the only question is how high. I have seen work recently that identifies them as being roughly 50 per cent of the prison population. The same study, at Chelmsford prison, which did a good job of identifying people who were avoiding education and thus not taking themselves forward, was also identifying a lot of people with similar types of problems due to head injury. The biggest problem they had was short-term memory loss, which tends to lead to language function loss and so on, which means bad organisation. Where that was identified and dealt with, the knock-on effects were surprising. One of them, I was told by a prison officer I spoke to, was that the number of assaults had decreased dramatically, because the amount of defensiveness among a large part of the prison population had dropped. Consequently, so had the touchiness and the number of flare-ups. I asked the prison governor how many people it took to deal with one assault. He said it took about nine people for half a day. The cost implications of getting a duty that allows you to take action, and which is suited to the environment, have to be massive. Why are we not introducing such a duty here?
When I have represented disability interests I have not been above saying, “Poor people, we are all nice”, and so on. But disability runs across all sections of society. Unfortunately, certain groups in society have a slightly higher propensity to commit crime, according to the statistics. If you can identify them you stand a chance of breaking the offender cycle, before middle age basically knocks it out of them and you are left with an almost unemployable person.
This type of duty stands a chance of being able to deal with the situation. It is absurd, given the amount of time and effort we have put into getting legislation, that groups with more obvious disabilities, such as being in a wheelchair, should be excluded from the equality duty. We are not saying that they should be allowed out of prison earlier or that they should not be sent there in the first place, but merely that, once they are there, reasonable adjustment should be made for their situation. Surely the Government should embrace that. They have resisted it in the past, but I hope they are starting to think more coherently about the problem.
My Lords, I support the amendment. I served on the board of visitors of a young offender institution, now a monitoring board, for 27 years. During that time I was often given disabled inmates. They had all sorts of disabilities; I remember two severely deaf boys, blind inmates, people who had cerebral palsy, and of course there were those with mental health problems—they are in every single prison in the country. Also, sadly, we had one young man who had asthma. He told the prison officers that he thought he was going to die, and they did not believe him. The young man died. It was tragic; he was a young lad of 17.
I have visited many different prisons and young offender institutions. Like my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, I once visited HMYOI Onley, but for a different reason: the institution was running a project where the young men were helping young people with mental problems who came in and used their gym. That was very good, because they were doing something to help other people. That, I feel, is rehabilitation.
At that institution was a young man who was paraplegic. He had committed a serious offence. He was housed in the hospital wing because of space, but the prison officers wanted to integrate him on a wing. He wrote to me and rang me because he was desperate. He was put in a cell but could not turn his wheelchair because the room was too narrow. In the end, he had to go back to the hospital wing, because there is always more space there, but the people there are not integrated into the whole prison. A lot should be done.
I am a member of the All-Party Group on Prison Health here in Parliament. We look at health problems and visit various prisons. Last year, we went to Leeds prison, which has become a sort of dumping ground for disabled people for the north of England because it has some facilities for them. That prison had a tetraplegic—someone paralysed from the neck down—who also had a problem with his leg, and he had MRSA. There were many other prisoners with different disabilities who were causing the prison a lot of difficulties. They needed a special bed for the tetraplegic inmate, and they had managed to get one. Maybe, now that the NHS is looking after health problems in prisons, the situation will get better, but disability is often right down at the bottom of the list. When I served in the Yorkshire health region, I was always having to remind people about disability needs: people forget. Provision in the Bill is therefore necessary.
I hope the noble and learned Baroness the Lord Chancellor—I am sorry, the Attorney-General, the appointment on which I congratulated her yesterday—will be able to do something. We were told that a report was being done by a Minister in the other place, but he has probably moved on now. Someone must take that up and carry on. Disability covers a wide variety of people throughout the country. I hope she will take this seriously.
My Lords, I support the amendment, which has the crucial support of the Disability Rights Commission. As we know, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 gave the DRC the right to be consulted on additions to the specific disability equality duties, so it is important that it is in favour of the amendment. The Prison Reform Trust and Diabetes UK have reported cases of hypoglycaemia being treated as a disciplinary issue. I do not have my noble friend’s experience of prisons, but as a member of the murder and life imprisonment inquiry in 1989 I visited a few prisons. My noble friend Lord Ramsbotham said that the existing Prison Service disability equality scheme covers only staff and he said that it should apply also to prisoners. He also put in a plea for disabled visitors. I found that there was nothing there for a disabled visitor. Parkhurst changed and improved its disabled loo because of my visit. One was discovered in Durham jail that no one knew existed. There was another upstairs but there was no lift to get up to it. I hope that that was changed, but I would put in a plea for visitors to be included under the scheme.
My Lords, I support the amendment wholeheartedly. We have had briefing from the Disability Rights Commission and my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham has explained the background. Had my noble friend Lord Low been here, I am sure that he would have added a few more vibrant descriptions of some of the horrors that are experienced by disabled people, but we have been lucky enough—at least I have—to have received a briefing from his assistant, William Moy, who has done an effective job in setting out a range of areas where there are clearly problems and a lack of awareness. This equality scheme must go broader than just staff and apply equally to visitors and families, but surely it must also apply to the training of staff, so they understand and can look for the points at which they may wish to refer to a doctor or call in some other form of specialist help. With all that as a background, I do not want to repeat everything that has been said. We had some poignant cases at the end picked out from Sean Humber’s published prison report from the journal of the Prison Reform Trust, all of which make fairly horrifying reading, not to put too fine a point on it. Along with my noble friends who have already spoken, I hope that the noble and learned Baroness the Attorney-General will be able to see her way through to doing something.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of the amendment. The punishment of prison is to be deprived of one’s liberty and disabled prisoners should not have an additional punishment of being treated unequally and having less favourable treatment. Only if every prison is required to produce a disability equality scheme will we ensure that they start to make progress in doing such things as ensuring that disabled prisoners have equal treatment and opportunity in taking part in education, in employment schemes, library services, behavioural programmes or visits. I hope that my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General will see her way to support the amendment.
My Lords, may I say how charmed I have been by listening to all the different manifestations of my name? I will value each and every one of them. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, seems to have slipped one past me on this occasion. I take this opportunity to congratulate her on her new role. I feel a little distressed that because of the nature of that role we may no longer have her constant appearances at this Dispatch Box and I hope your Lordships agree that her party has therefore done this House a great disservice.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for raising the issue. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Low, is not in his place, but it is an important issue and it does honour to this House that so many have spoken in the debate who have great knowledge and passion for it: the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Darcy de Knayth, and my noble friend Lady Wilkins, together with the fine advocate for disability and dyslexia in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Addington. These are important issues.
We also have an opportunity to debate how we are responding to the issue. I hope that I made it in clear when we last spoke about it that the Government are firmly committed to tackling all aspects of discrimination and inequality across the criminal justice system. I hear loudly the comments that have been made by those who accurately say that disability should not form a secondary punishment in relation to the criminal justice system. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is concerned about how disability issues are handled in the public and contracted-out Prison Service, particularly in relation to prisoners. The noble Lord, Lord Low, made that point. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, makes a good point about visitors, as does my noble friend Lady Wilkins.
However, the amendment would require that each individual prison establishment, whether managed by Her Majesty’s Prison Service or contracted out, has a separate disability equality scheme and that they each publish a report on the same. The Government consider that it would be disproportionate to make each and every individual prison a separate entity under the Disability Discrimination Act. We do not require the same under the Race Relations Act, nor do we require it of police stations, which stand in a similar relationship to the police authorities. I hope that my comments will in no way diminish the importance of this because I hope that I will be able to explain how we are going to respond. That said, I understand the basis of the concerns of all noble Lords who have spoken. As my honourable friend Gerry Sutcliffe made clear in his recent letter to the noble Lord, Lord Low, on the subject, the Government accept that there are shortcomings in the current Prison Service disability equality scheme and that it does not currently adequately address issues relating to prisoners.
That is why Her Majesty’s Prison Service is currently drafting an expanded disability equality scheme to cover prisoner issues in greater depth. This is despite the fact that Her Majesty’s Prison Service is not currently specified in the legislation as a separate entity. The Prison Service order on prisoners with disabilities is also being revised and updated, and will introduce a mandatory requirement for all prisons, both public and private, to produce an individual action plan detailing obstacles which need to be overcome and the necessary actions to be taken at local level.
All prisons, whether publicly run or contracted out, are required to abide by all applicable Prison Service orders—of which I can assure the House this will be one. In publicly run prisons, compliance with the order is enforced by operational management. The Prison Service standard, which supports the Prison Service order, is auditable and will be revised to include the requirement to produce an establishment action plan. In contracted-out prisons, compliance is enforced through the management of the contract by the National Offender Management Service. Failure to meet the requirements of the order would have contractual implications for the companies managing the private prisons.
The Government believe that the revision of the Prison Service order and the requirement to produce local action plans is the most appropriate and the most effective way of meeting the concerns which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, on the previous occasion and very ably by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and all those who have spoken.
I should point out that the amendment is technically deficient as the Disability Discrimination (Public Authorities) (Statutory Duties) Regulations 2005, as amended on 6 April 2007, already has a Part V. However, I do not think that should impede us doing our duty.
I very much welcome this debate, and the support from all sides of the House for the principle of challenging discrimination on any grounds in the delivery of public services. I do not believe that this amendment will help us to achieve any greater compliance from prisons with the spirit and letter of the Disability Discrimination Act than the existing provisions, but I very much welcome the opportunity to have said what I have said, and put it on the record so that it can be returned to if it is found that the assurance that I have given to the House is not being properly complied with. I know that that will be used to good effect by all those Members of the House who retain an interest in these issues.
My Lords, as the noble and learned Baroness said, we have had an extremely valuable debate marked by the contributions of those with detailed personal knowledge of the problems and an understanding not only of what it is to be disabled but to face double jeopardy, as it were, in prison.
I was not referring to individual prisons; I understand where the noble and learned Baroness is coming from there. I felt that the issue concerned the Prison Service as a whole. However, it would be churlish of me not to accept what the noble and learned Baroness said and the assurance that she gave. Therefore, it behoves us to go away, to read the Official Report and to think about it, with the option of bringing the amendment back rather than pressing it at this stage.
My Lords, before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, I should point out that the Disability Rights Commission states that, unlike full disability equality schemes—after all, every school has to produce an individual equality scheme—
“‘Action plans’ do not guarantee the involvement of disabled people in their drafting, the gathering of data or review which are intrinsic to disability equality schemes”.
My Lords, that is precisely the point I was making about looking at the assurance and checking the measure against that which applies in the Probation Board, schools, NHS trusts and others, which have had to form schemes under the legislation, to see whether it matches theirs. It should have the same bearing on the Prison Service.
My Lords, I know that I am not supposed to respond further, but I shall take back this matter because it accords with our good practice to involve stakeholders. I wanted to add that because it might help.
My Lords, with that proviso, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 33:
33: After Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—
“Offender Management Board
(1) There shall be a board to be known as the Offender Management Board (“the Board”).
(2) The Board shall be based within the Ministry of Justice.
(3) The members of the Board shall include—
(a) the Secretary of State who shall act as chairman,(b) the Director-General of the Prison Service,(c) the Director of the National Probation Service,(d) the chairman of the Youth Justice Board,(e) the Commissioner for Women appointed under section (Commission for Women Offenders), and(f) other persons who the Secretary of State may nominate.(4) The Board shall be responsible for—
(a) disseminating policy to, and(b) establishing good practice with respect to,all organisations involved in the operation of the offender management system.
(5) In carrying out its functions, the Board shall comply with any directions given by the Secretary of State and act in accordance with any guidance given by him.”
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 33, which we tabled previously, concerns an offender management board. This time I have added a link to Clause 34. Therefore, I shall speak also to Clause 34. I refer to the very specific addition to the members of an offender management board of the Commissioner for Women, whom I hope will be appointed as a result of the recommendations of the Corston report.
My reason—and that of my noble friend Lady Howe—for adding a further paragraph to the amendment concerning the Commission for Women Offenders is to seek enlightenment from the noble and learned Baroness. In May, I tabled a debate on the women’s commission issue. At her request, I withdrew the debate because she said that she would produce a formal response to that and therefore it made sense to have a debate based on the government response. Since then, the noble and learned Baroness has moved to another position. I was told that I should instead contact Vera Baird in the Ministry of Justice, who is now the Minister responsible. I wrote to her. I have not had a reply, which is not surprising as she is no longer in that position either. Therefore, one of my purposes in tabling the amendment is to ask the noble and learned Baroness, before she moves from her position, what exactly will happen and when we can expect the matter to be debated. It is hugely important to have women’s issues properly tackled. They must be represented on an offender management board. That is my purpose in retabling the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that although I have changed my role I have not disappeared. This issue is certainly of acute interest both to myself and to the new Solicitor-General, Vera Baird. The issue is under consideration across government and in due course there will be a comprehensive response to my noble friend’s report. We shall then be able to take these issues forward.
My Lords, I had rather hoped to add something. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will—
My Lords, I beg the noble Baroness’s pardon.
My Lords, I shall not reiterate what my noble friend said, but we were all very much looking forward to hearing something about this. The number of women prisoners has almost doubled in 10 years but they are still a small proportion of the prison population. I was enthused by the Corston report. Given the quality and the experience in your Lordships’ House, I should have thought this would have been an area on which we would be consulted, and that the appropriate department might take our views into account when thinking the matter through.
Unsurprisingly, the report suggests that if women should be in prison at all—I shall say a few words about that in a moment in relation to my visit to Downview—they should be in small, easily accessible units. Those units should, if possible, be situated in cities, although that may be a little unfair to those who live in rural areas. However, they should be situated in easily accessible areas to enable family members such as husbands to keep in contact. As we all know, families are likely to stay together longer if such contact is maintained, and, we hope, long enough for the children to get the full benefit of that.
The idea went through my head—noble Lords might think it quite mad—that, although a couple of women’s prisons have already been sucked into the male circuit, if all of them became male prisons, that would provide places to resolve prison overcrowding and the new set-up could begin almost at once. The rather splendid idea of providing these sorts of prisons could be introduced. That may or may not make sense.
I visited many women’s prisons while I served on the Parole Board, but on my recent visit to Downview I was struck by two things. First, all the women participating in an excellent course to train to be communicators and run a television unit were hard on me, asking why on Earth women had such long sentences compared to men. Only about a third of them, compared to many more men, had previous convictions when sent to prison. When one thinks it through, quite a lot of them were there for carrying drugs, maybe as mules, but then we need to think why and who sent them there. Were they subject to abuse? Were they in some form of slavery? I suspect that that side has not been sufficiently researched for some time, and it reinforced my thoughts about this range of issues.
At Downview it appeared that a number of good initiatives were going on. One brilliant woman won a prize from Asda—I think I mentioned that to the noble and learned Baroness—and the television unit made a film about it. She was given a great deal of attention by the local Asda. Out of all that came the interesting thought that Asda central office was not taking the view that all Asdas might take in offenders, think of them in this way and get rid of the awful feeling that anybody who has been in prison should not be recruited. It could have done that, but it has not. If the noble and learned Baroness, as I suggested to her, got Asda central and other companies likely to behave in the same way involved, you could extend enormously the number of employers—when a lot has already been done to get them aboard—that would take on the problem.
We should think about women as part of the scene, as a crucial part of society. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, wanted a report in six months. Well, we have had another amendment passed that is looking six months hence. I would like some assurance from the noble and learned Baroness that the important and rather different role of women is being taken account of and that wider consultation is going on rather than just inward discussion.
My Lords, I—
My Lords, I am sorry, but the Minister has already spoken and we ought to bring the consideration on the amendment to a close.
My Lords, I apologise; the misunderstanding is my fault. I tried to bring forward the commissioner amendment and to speak to why I was proposing that the Commissioner for Women should be on the offender management board. I apologise if I caused any confusion because my noble friend has been saying something that needs to be said, and the importance of women must be recognised. If it is not appropriate to speak now to the commissioner issue, I would welcome guidance on whether I should now reply to what the Minister said.
My Lords, the noble Lord is faced with having to withdraw his amendment or insist that the House consider it.
My Lords, obviously I would like to hear what the right reverend Prelate has to say, if that is possible.
My Lords, I do not have the precise reference in the Companion, but it is pretty clear about the rules of debate on Report. I apologise if that is the case, as I feel constrained myself in offering advice to the noble Lord, but that is how the House is supposed to work.
I refer the noble Lord to paragraph 7.134 on page 122 of the Companion, which states:
“Only the mover of an amendment or the Lord in charge of the Bill speaks after the Minister on Report except for short questions of elucidation”.
That is the position.
My Lords, I accept that and it is clear that I should have tried to amend the grouping before it came out. I failed to do that because I did not see it until late.
The issue has been raised, and I understand the noble and learned Baroness as saying that it will come back to the House in the form of a major debate. I hope there will be one, because then we could raise these issues in a much wider context.
I was concerned to hear the other day how suddenly one of the women’s prisons, Cookham Wood, had been changed into a male young offender establishment. An enormous number of good things had been going on in Cookham Wood. Many organisations had been funded by voluntary foundations to do work there, and imaginative programmes were being introduced, but all those have gone. One of my reasons for suggesting that we have a Commissioner for Women right at the heart of any offender management planning is that that sort of issue could be better represented by someone who knows all the issues, knows what is going on and can fight the case to prevent the unnecessary destruction of a vast amount of good work specifically designed around the needs of women and young women to prevent their reoffending. I apologise for the confusion caused. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned and begin again at 8.27 pm.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
Palestine: Occupied Territories
rose to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether, following the 40th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories in June, they will make representations to the Government of Israel about the return of those territories.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the Government Whips’ Office for the opportunity of raising this subject now and for providing time for the debate. I am delighted to see many noble Lords far more distinguished and competent than I am to debate these complex and frustrating issues, particularly when the authorities in Glasgow, London and elsewhere are grappling with the present emergency. For the moment, at least, the near East seems to have gone quietish, but for how long that will last is a matter of conjecture.
Above all this debate is about the search for justice and fairness for the Palestinians and real security for the state of Israel. After what has happened over the years, the time for toying around with endless American pseudo-initiatives for a settlement is over.
I launch this debate above all as an enthusiastic friend of Israel of many years’ standing. It has become a great and impressive country in the effervescent near East cockpit, a normal country with major internal socio-economic problems as we have here in Europe and Britain, but a country none the less of great achievements. The economy is strong and the country is militarily completely safe other than from marginal and often futile bomber attacks, which have anyway declined markedly in recent months. The Hamas long-term hudna appears to be holding, for the most part.
Having quite rightly built up Israel to be the unbeatable military power in the region to ensure its relative high security and the safety of its citizens, the United States, after 1967 and especially since the arrival of the most incompetent and mediocre President in post-war history in 2000, decided that, through the excessive use of US vetoes in the Security Council and elsewhere in the UN—indeed more than 30 times since resolution 242 after the six-day war—Israel should be strangely exempted from the normal obligations of UN members to adhere to international law and to withdraw from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.
Successive US intermediaries came and went over the years, including the highly distinguished Senator George Mitchell, all with sensible recommendations for peace, all ignored. Was there a secret Bush-Sharon agreement? Many people still think so, but the jury is out on that. On 14 June, I asked the then Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Triesman—whether the Government here would make a further request to the US Government to persuade the Government of Israel to follow international law in response to UN resolutions 242 and 338. He replied:
“We ... have consistently called for Israel to follow international law with regard to its actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We continue to work closely with the US and the EU on the peace process and agree that the road map is the way forward”.—[Official Report, 18/6/07; col. WA 17.]
I welcome that Answer very much. Some sceptical observers think that the Blair Government here were pretending about all that, but I give them the full benefit of the doubt. Far too many years have been wasted already, and it is a total disgrace that the quartet exercise has never even begun because the Israeli Government will still not open proper negotiations with the Palestinians. I believe that the Minister—I thank her very much for coming, listening and winding up the debate—and the new Prime Minister are sincere in wanting a just solution to the Palestinians' hideous plight, and the even greater enhancement of Israel's security and civic safety that will result from that lasting settlement.
A bad moment ensued on 21 June at the special summit in Egypt with Israel and Jordan when Prime Minister Olmert still refused to start substantive talks with President Abbas, after all that the latter had done in recent times by way of deep co-operation and conciliation of Israel’s perfectly legitimate security demands. What will Mr Blair’s role be as some kind of putative peace emissary, not involved in negotiations? We wait to see the clear details of the mandate. Mr Wolfensohn gave up in disgust in spring 2006 and went home, so the jury remains out on that question as well.
Also, can we really trust the Americans after all the sad incidents that have taken place? The jury must be out on that too. When I was in the West Bank in November 2005 with Gerald Kaufman MP, Hillary Clinton was visiting Israel. She went only there; she did not go to the Palestinian territories at all, and she declared the new wall a very good idea. I am not sure you will get an even-handed approach from the Democrats, unless they miraculously bring back Jimmy Carter.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian territories seethe with huge rumours of US plots to split Palestine into two docile future parts. It is up to the Americans to show that those rumours are unfounded nonsense. Naomi Klein, the distinguished writer, recently and vividly described the new boom in Israel as the creation of the,
“fortress state, surrounded by furious enemies ... a 24-hour-a-day showroom”,
with new entrepreneurs inventing equipment to,
“spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack, and extract confessions from ... prisoners”.
She went on to say that such items had all become important exports for Israeli companies, like other military hardware. Why not, but is that the total economy to be created if no lasting security comes?
I understand perfectly that, for many Israeli citizens, it makes much more sense to concentrate on seeking the good life—it is easily available if people work hard in Israel—rather than be bothered with what is happening in the Occupied Territories. It is just like how we Brits used to shrug our shoulders at the unrest and the mistreatment of Catholics in Northern Ireland. Of course, that cosy stance is a fine piece of self-delusion for a people led by—I am sad to say—a short-sighted and narrow-minded Government under Prime Minister Olmert. For instance, the despair and anger expressed in the vivid report of Álvaro de Soto, the Middle East UN envoy, at his end of mission on 5 May emphasised that western-led peace efforts had failed completely. He also thought that the boycott of Hamas was extremely short-sighted. Sending Hamas into exile had, he asserted, “effectively transformed the Quartet” into a sanctions-imposing body, harming a,
“freely elected government ... under occupation as well as setting unattainable ... conditions for ... dialogue”.
Many international observers consider that all the quartet powers are in breach of international law and the Geneva Convention in allowing the Palestinians to be subjected to huge collective punishment in ghettos separated by often brutal Israeli checkpoints, apartheid roads and no-go areas in their own towns, with the Israelis still holding over 9,000 detainees, mostly without due process. For example, the French press on Monday reported that Said al-Atabeh had had 30 years in detention without any trial whatever. The sad situation goes on unless real action is taken by the international community and the immediate parties concerned: Palestine, the future state, and Israel, the present state.
I ask noble Lords to read the appalling details of Amnesty International's latest report on the misery of the occupied Palestinians and its accompanying letter of 4 June. The fourth paragraph of that letter read:
“Our research has found that a growing number of Palestinians are suffering from malnutrition, anaemia, stunted growth, vitamin deficiency and other health problems as a direct result of measures imposed to restrict movement of people and goods. As the economy fails, poverty and food insecurity are growing. Farmers are prevented from reaching their land and foodstuff is left to rot in containers as checkpoints are closed”.
Most of the assertions in that and other similar reports have been backed up repeatedly not just by the international NGOs of repute, but by the home-grown Israeli and Palestinian ones as well. Once again, I pay tribute to the wonderful work of Israeli groups such as Peace Now, B’Tselem and the brave ladies of the checkpoint watch organisation, trying to stop young and often nervous IDF soldiers misbehaving and harassing the local population. The recent vicious civil war in Gaza and the West Bank has left the majority of thinking, civilised Palestinians in despair.
The West cannot leave the Palestinians to rot in this mess created by Israeli intransigence, American defiance and EU myopia. The situation remains a total disgrace. The real bilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority should have started years ago. At least a miserable overall scenario is mitigated by the amazing courage of individuals, groups and organisations from both Palestine and Israel who still work together to promote coexistence, despite an atmosphere of deterioration. George Soros's criticisms of the activities of AIPAC in the USA with pusillanimous politicians there is relevant, too. I feel sad that I have to say that.
Why are the Palestinian missions in the capital cities, particularly Washington DC, so feeble and badly organised? I am sad to make that criticism as well.
Israel is an established and successful state, with wide international support. Palestine is fighting a despairing battle for statehood and recognition. Surely the established state has the moral and legal obligation to take the lead in ending its colonial occupation forthwith and asking the provocative settlers to move back to Israel proper, to a prosperous economy with plenty of jobs available in the future. That is the key to Israel's survival as a mainly Zionist-based state, otherwise the population growth statistics will confound the legitimate aspirations of millions of sensible Israeli citizens. That remains the reality.
It took years for the West to stand up to the nauseating evil of apartheid in South Africa. There are no direct comparisons to be made between that and what is happening between Palestine and Israel, but Israel needs to accept the overdue demand of the whole world community to do what is urgently needed. Israel has so much and Palestine so little, with only 22 per cent of the combined territory left if they return to the 1967 lines.
My Lords, now is the time for Israeli generosity, pragmatism, imagination and, above all, courage.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for reminding us of 40 years ago, at least in the Question if not in his speech. Too often, commentators speak as though the whole Palestinian-Israeli problem started in 1967, and it does us all good to remember the real situation then. Israel was under a dire threat from surrounding hostile armies poised for war. Israel expected Egypt and Syria to fight, which they did, Egypt losing Gaza and Sinai and Syria the Golan Heights. However, Israel did not also expect Jordan to attack, which it did—unfortunately for it—losing the West Bank and east Jerusalem, with the old city.
I was in Israel in August 40 years ago and remember, in the weeks after the six-day war, the euphoria and high hopes of peace at last that permeated Israel, and the mad rush of Israelis to see places—many of them holy to Judaism—that they had not been able to visit since 1948. They fully expected that many of those places would, under any hoped-for settlement, not be in Israeli hands for long.
I would like to put on record that I visited Gaza then for the first time. It was a hellhole, and it was only a matter of weeks since it had been Egypt’s responsibility. We now know that the hopes for peace were dashed, and after some ups and many downs we are where we are now. There are some signs of hope again. First, on 25 June, Egypt hosted a summit at Sharm el-Sheikh of Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders to try to advance the peace process and to consider the Saudi initiative. The Saudi peace plan was first proposed in 2002, and it is now being reconsidered by all the interested parties. Israel has restated its commitment to withdrawals of West Bank settlements, and it is releasing funds for the Palestinian Authority under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Last—because it is all I have time for—but by no means least, Tony Blair is now the Middle East envoy of the quartet. He said on appointment that a solution was possible but required “huge intensity and work”. None of us who know him doubts that he is capable of both, as he so amply demonstrated in Northern Ireland and throughout his premiership. Given all his other talents of negotiation and persuasion, we have grounds for hope. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the whole House and all people of good will should wish him well in his formidable task.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for initiating this timely debate. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum, and I am involved in interfaith dialogue promoting peace and harmony among different racial and religious groups. I am convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a durable two-state solution.
That being said, history has proven that Israelis and Palestinians, even when they are ready to negotiate directly, will need a credible third party to guide them through the process. Here, the role and full support of the President of United States will be essential. America remains the only power that is acceptable to both sides. I welcome the appointment of Tony Blair as the Middle East quartet’s new envoy. He is likely to obtain support from America and from other countries. He has the skills to engage with Hamas as he did with Sinn Fein.
The UK must continue to work closely with the quartet and with regional partners to negotiate, mediate, help strengthen Palestinian institutions and to improve security. We must offer President Abbas our full support in putting together a “moderate” Government of national unity that is critical to taking forward the peace process. We have made it clear that we would be prepared to move forward on the quartet’s three principles: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. There are encouraging signs. At a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Ehud Olmert promised to release some $560 million in frozen tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, to free some 250 Fatah prisoners from Israeli jails, to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and to enhance Israeli trade with the Palestinians. Such actions are vital to the Palestinian people and will help to improve the humanitarian and economic situation, which is dire and critical. Greater freedom of movement would produce immediate and significant benefits. A lot of the violence is a result of frustrated Palestinians who are not able to obtain the basic necessities of life.
The peace process ought to be based and concluded on the basis of a two-state solution, and I believe that there is a glimmer of hope emerging for renewed engagement between Israel and the Palestinians.
My Lords, I remind the House that when the clock reaches three, that means that three minutes have passed. This is a timed debate, and we are very short on time.
My Lords, just give me two seconds.
I am impressed by the One Voice movement, which is an organisation that is working towards achieving peace in the Holy Land. One Voice is holding a solidarity event on 25 July on Abingdon Green.
My Lords, to address the issue of Palestine in three minutes is absurd, but I will do my best.
Among all the recent grim news from Palestine, why should we not be sitting back and letting matters take their course? We should not do so because the situation in the Palestinian territories is one of great instability, in a region that is already plagued by instability following the insurgency in Iraq and the fighting in Lebanon last summer. Things could easily spiral out of control again. The split between the West Bank and Gaza, if it continues and deepens, is a threat to the only viable basis for a solution to the Palestine problem; the two-state template to which all Governments and all Arab Governments and Israel are committed. Above all, a negotiated solution to the Palestinian problem is a necessary, if not a sufficient, element of any counter-terrorist strategy worthy of the name. Of course, a Palestinian settlement would not at a stroke bring terrorist attacks to an end; indeed any settlement and those who subscribe to it would no doubt be attacked with the greatest violence by the terrorists and their backers, but a settlement should drain away much of the support for extremism, which feeds on the present mood of helplessness and anger, and it would help to legitimise politically the actions that moderate Governments in Muslim countries take to resist the pull of violence.
What needs to be done urgently, if inaction is a poor option? First, Israel needs to release all the Palestinian money that it is withholding and loosen the stranglehold that its myriad of roadblocks is exerting on the West Bank. Outside donors need to resume structured efforts to build up the institutions of a future Palestinian state. That needs to be done in ways that do not deepen the split between the West Bank and Gaza and which do not deprive the inhabitants of Gaza of money that is rightfully theirs and of access to humanitarian aid. A policy of punishing the citizens of Gaza for the predicament into which they have fallen would be neither viable nor morally defensible. I would like to hear whether the Government share that view and, if so, how in practical terms they intend to proceed.
Short-term solutions will not be enough. There needs to be a resumed peace process that addresses not only the route to be taken but what is called the political horizon, which is current diplomat-speak for final status issues. Any such process needs to be inclusive, reaching out to and involving talking to all those parties, whether in government or not, who are involved in the politics of the region. I was really shocked to read in the fascinating report by Alvaro de Soto that he was forbidden by two successive Secretaries-General, no doubt under strong external pressure, even to speak to Hamas leaders. If we learnt anything from our experience in Northern Ireland, it was surely that exclusion does not advance the cause of peace. We must not fall into that heresy, which is so prevalent on the banks of the Potomac, that one talks to one’s adversaries only when they have fulfilled a whole list of onerous preconditions; that contact with us is something for which they have to make substantive concessions. Should we not be putting that sort of appeal behind us? I can see the noble Baroness rising to her feet; I am about to sit down.
There have been two appointments in recent days that have given some encouragement. First, Ehud Barak was appointed as the leader of the Labour party and the Minister of defence in Israel. The other is the courageous decision by the right honourable gentleman the former Prime Minister to put his efforts at the service of the international community. We need perseverance and inclusiveness in the period ahead.
My Lords, I was very glad that I could at least agree with the last few sentences of the noble Lord, which were after the end of his time. I remember a wonderful Arab proverb that says that one hand alone cannot clap. As an Arab leader said to me, we shall either all live together or we shall die together. What matters is what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, that Muslims and Jews in particular must work together.
There are issues on which we agree, one of which is to deal with peace in Palestine and Israel together. That is the view of Prince Hassan of Jordan, with whom I have worked very closely in the Coexistence Trust, in which Muslim and Jewish Members of Parliament from some 47 parliaments work together with some distinguished people from this Parliament, too. Yes, we work with Israel, but especially with Arab countries, most of which I have visited. If you want a really rough time, try to learn the Arab language and you will know how miserable you can be.
I pay my respects to Salam Fayyad, a member of that organisation, who has been appointed Prime Minister of the West Bank. We wish him luck and peace and we hope that Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, will now help to reunite the Palestinian Authority as a partner for peace. There has to be a two-state solution. Shimon Peres, who has pressed for that all these years, will be appointed President of Israel next week, and I am sure that we all wish him luck, success and health. We are proud that someone of his use can cope, as some of us still try to do.
As for the officers, including Prime Minister Olmert and Netanyahu—no, they do not agree, but there is a democracy in that place, unlike in most other states in the area. But they all want peace; they will all take different routes and they will all say that two hands alone are needed to clap. Yes, Olmert repeated last week that he hopes to withdraw from parts of the West Bank, but that must be part of an overall peace plan, so that the miseries that followed the Gaza withdrawal will not happen again.
Let us join in saluting Tony Blair and wish him the best of the luck in a hellish task. Let us hope that two hands will clap together. Let us hope that two sides will live together, not die together. Living in salaam and shalom together should be our hope. We should help in any way that we can and we must do all that we can to assist people in that aim.
My Lords, this is very like a Shakespearian tragedy in brief—I do not know whether you are familiar with them. However much some people like to deny the fact, the injustice which is Palestine is one of the major causes of the rise of terrorism in this world. Ever since 1948, Palestine has been used as a battle cry and a propaganda weapon for Islamists worldwide. I have witnessed this in some African countries and, more recently, in Bangladesh.
Palestine is what the West does to Muslims. That is the message. The Palestinians have been brought to their knees. A cultured and well educated society with high skill levels has been reduced to a third-world country. The statistics are there for all to see. If noble Lords do not believe me or any of the other speakers, the Select Committee for International Development in the other place produced a good report this year. I hope that noble Lords will read it. It tells of injustice—injustice to Palestinians.
The new Government talk of rebuilding the economy in Palestine and of getting the Palestinians back to work, which is very welcome. But how will they do that with road blocks, checkpoints and Bantustans divided by settler-only roads? How can an economy work in this situation? Even education is being destroyed as children are terrorised by rai