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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I find nothing amusing. Someone was whispering in my ear.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, perhaps I misread the body language. I shall pose only one question to the Minister. If he responds to the thrust of tonight's debate in a way that panders to what I believe was being asked by most of those who have spoken in the debate, can he tell us this? Of those who would be sentenced to prison, who would be diverted to community programmes and what category of offender or offence would qualify for such a diversionary programme?

7.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I thank the noble Earl and all those who have contributed to our discussions tonight. The Probation Service has developed significantly during the past decade. Savings have had to be made and they have not been comfortable ones. I wish to say at the beginning of my short remarks that I endorse what was said so graphically by the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, and reiterated and reinforced by other noble Lords.

The Probation Service and the work that it does is valued and appreciated. I can say that having had long experience of it both in practice prosecuting and defending in criminal cases and, not without significance and of great value in terms of experience, in sentencing as a trial judge, I know the valuable work that it does and I know the difficulties under which it labours. It is vital that if community sentences are to be available to the courts they and the public are confident that those sentences are effectively carried out.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked a question, saying that if I were to pander--a curious word--to what had been demanded I should be obliged to say of those prisoners who now go to prison, in which detailed category, which would be dealt with by alternatives. I believe that in our country sentencing is a matter for the courts. The Government's duty through legislation in Parliament is to provide alternatives. It is not possible to answer that question in a considered way because it does not focus on the point. The Government are determined to provide that the courts have at their disposal a range of effective sentences in which there will be public confidence.

I believe that the probation service will have a good future because it is essential as a component of our penal and criminal justice system. It is certainly true that community sentences have in the past been regarded as

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a soft option. One must recognise the proposition that sometimes they were a soft option, often because of delays built into the system, so that a community service sanction ultimately seemed of no effective matter to the offender. That is a situation which the Home Secretary promised to attack almost from his first day in Queen Anne's Gate.

It has been said by a number of your Lordships that one needs to have resources properly allocated and properly considered. I understand the slight tease from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, about KPIs. One cannot spend millions of pounds of public money without having some testing. I am bound to say, both of us probably coming from a similarly philistine background, that when I first encountered KPIs before going to Queen Anne's Gate I thought that they were management mumbo jumbo. In fact, when one examines them one sees that they are not, because one must discover what is the most effective use of public resources.

The noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said that this is intended to be a benign debate. I take it as such. I cannot repeat too often that these debates ought not to be the occasion on which to try to score party political points and I hope your Lordships will hear none of that from me tonight.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, said that announcements should be made to Parliament where at all possible and I entirely agree. That is why I am happy to say that today my right honourable friend the Home Secretary made an announcement to Parliament in another place in the form, I believe, of a Written Answer when he announced the review which is to take place. It is to take place on the following basis. All noble Lords know that there is on hand a comprehensive review of all Government spending. The Home Office review, which my right honourable friend announced, is looking at other options for integrating the work of the Prison and Probation Services in England and Wales. I regard that as an entirely prudent, sensible approach.

As has rightly been observed, the two services have grown in different ways. They have a different history and they had different purposes to attend to when they respectively came into being. The Home Secretary believes, and I am sure that he is right, that it is time to have a review into how they interrelate. They have different management and organisational structures, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, pointed out. But the point underlying the philosophy of the review is that they deal often in turn with the same individual offenders. They have the same aims of protecting the public from harm and of bringing about the rehabilitation of offenders.

I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, was a little unkind to the three-year plan because if one looks at Goal A in paragraph 2.2 and then casts an eye through pages 11 to 13, there is a good deal of material which can, as the noble Baroness said, be read only in the context of rehabilitation--the critical success factors identified, crime reduction on release, post-release licences, employment and training work and physical

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and mental health problems. I think that the noble Baroness made a good point that that is all in the context of rehabilitation and can mean nothing else.

Therefore, the review will attend to various options. I was gratified to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said about my honourable friend the Minister responsible for prisons and probation. I think what he said is generally recognised and it is a benefit to have my honourable friend looking after prisons and probation in that way, not simply because of her quality as a Minister but because it is more appropriate that it be done that way.

We do not wish to waste time. I shall specify the parameters of the review in a moment. It is intended originally to be an internal review which will provide options for the Home Secretary's consideration by the end of November. I do not believe that to be an unreasonable timetable. The initial part of the review will be internal to government with a view then to wide consultation when credible options for improvement have been identified. It is not the case of one service taking over the other. The question is what areas of work they have in common; how they can better help each other; and how they can better serve the wider community, which both wish to do.

The terms of reference are: first, to identify and assess options for closer and more integrated work between the Prison Service and the Probation Service in England and Wales, including any implications for the structure, organisation, management, working practices, human resources, funding and legislation governing the functions of those services. Further, it is to examine international models reflecting good practice and to identify any lessons concerning the effectiveness and efficiency, organisation and management structures exhibited by those models. Perhaps I may say that in the past, I think we have tended, in that area and others, to be rather too insular and to believe that there are no lessons to be learnt from overseas experience. We wish to put that right. Thirdly, we also intend the review to provide a preliminary analysis of the options identified, including estimated costs and benefits as a basis for consultation.

That is a step of practical utility. It is time limited to the end of November for the Home Secretary and thereafter open to the widest possible consultation. I recognise readily that we shall get nowhere in these difficult areas without consultation with those most intimately affected; namely, as the noble Lord, Lord Graham, said, the Prison Service and Probation Service.

As regards money, it is well-known that our policy is to stick to the overall base lines set when we came into office. That means that the amounts envisaged for the Probation Service are £428 million in the present year going down to £425 million next year and £417 million in 1999-2000.

I hope to offer this crumb of comfort. That does not rule out adjustments to the level of funding given to the Probation Service. But it would mean that since there are no extra resources overall, any extra given in that

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area would have to be funded by a cutback elsewhere. Of course, that is one of the purposes of having a review.

Qualifying training was a distinct question raised by a number of your Lordships. At the moment, there is no legal requirement for any specific qualification for appointment as a probation officer since the change in the regulations. We have had a presentation from ACOPS, CPC and NAPO. We understand their concerns. We are giving careful consideration to their proposals. I hope that the Government's position, in its definitive state, will be announced before too long. I hope that that may be of assistance.

The noble Baroness asked me specifically about two projects. With her great knowledge, I believe that she was referring to Teesside and Shropshire. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for providing me with the opportunity to tell the House that those projects are continuing. We support their continuation. The Home Office is carefully evaluating the projects and when we have got the lessons, we shall consider them with great care, including possible implications for legislation. I hope that that is a satisfactory answer to what I may describe fairly as a most helpful question which illuminates part of our debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about prison shops. I should like to give careful thought to that and I undertake to transmit it to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary for his careful consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said that we are looking for a fair deal. I agree, within the limits of what we can deal with. He said that we must assess objectives. I agree. I am bound to say that I think the Home Office has, in the past, assessed objectives even though different conclusions have been reached. I do not think it to be a legitimate complaint that the Home Office had not put its mind to the point, even if we may have reached different conclusions.

The question was raised about information as regards serious offences committed while under probation supervision. The public has rights. One of those rights is the right to information. There was no intention at all to undermine the Probation Service when that material was provided: quite the reverse. The intention in releasing the relevant probation circular to the press was to set the information in context. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the proper context was--and I happily repeat it--that the Probation Service has about 200,000 offenders under supervision at any one time. Many of them present real risks. No one overlooks the gravity of the offences which were mentioned but in the context of 200,000, it may be that that should have received a rather more careful reflection in some newspapers.

That is the problem about information. Either one clutches it to one's sweaty bosom and lets it out to no one or one distributes it into the public domain. We thought that it was right to distribute it. It is unfortunate that a counterspin--I use the vogue word--was given to it on this occasion because it seems to have been rather unfair and perhaps rather ill considered.

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