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Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I declare an interest, as I have done before, as a member of a probation committee. It is not a financial interest.

First, I welcome the reference in paragraph 30 of the Statement to increases in the number of probation officers providing throughcare support. That has varied over the years as prison officers manage their budgets. Are the Government telling us that they have some method of ring-fencing the budget for probation officers within prisons?

My second question relates to the additional annual grant to the Probation Service. At first glance it is an enormous improvement on the year on year reduction in real budget from which the Probation Service has been suffering. However, it would be useful if the Minister will tell us the likely percentage increase year on year. Is this a real increase, or is it an increase that has to be discounted by inflation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is a real increase. The figures I have given start at £18 million as opposed to a cut of £6 million increasing to an additional £127 million, with factors for anticipated inflation--the Treasury factors--taken into account.

As regards ring-fencing and further working, the relationship between the Prison Service and the Probation Service will be part of the review.

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A consultation document will be published shortly. That will set out the Government's proposals more fully. I dare say that the question of funding, and whether or not specific funding should be ring-fenced will be addressed there. In effect, the provision for the service mentioned in the context to which the noble Baroness referred will be ring-fenced. However, one should wait, I think, for the fuller consultation document. The Home Secretary firmly believes that it is artificial in many ways, and certainly inefficient and often not productive, to have the Probation Service in one box and the Prison Service in another. The boxes are not different. It has always been my view that they are different aspects of the same spectrum of dealing with people who have offended. They are the same people who have offended, whether they are in prison or outside--sometimes as a result of a sentencing decision and sometimes not.

Scotland Bill

5.56 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Sewel.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before your Lordships agree to move into Committee, I feel obliged to make similar remarks to those I made on the last Committee day. In the words of F. E. Smith, your Lordships will have taken cognisance of the position of the hands of the clock. They will see that the hands of the clock are not in the position one would expect them to be at the beginning of a Committee day on an important Bill.

It is almost six o'clock. One would normally expect to start this Bill today shortly after three o'clock. It would be bad enough, but something one could put up with, if this had been the first day on which we had made a late start; but it is not. In fact, we are marginally better today, starting at three or four minutes to six than last Tuesday when we did not begin until ten past six. On Thursday we did not begin until five minutes past seven. For three out of the four days we have had truncated Committee days.

As I said last Thursday, we agreed--I stated quite clearly at Second Reading that I had every hope and expectation of it--that we would clear the Committee stage of this Bill before the Recess with something like eight Committee days. This is now the fourth Committee day and we have had only one complete day. I make no complaint about Statements. They are an inevitable part of the parliamentary process; we are used to that. However, it is the other business, albeit agreed through the usual channels, that the Government need to squeeze into the programme which is causing this important Bill to start at such a late hour, and therefore for important issues to be discussed late into the night.

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It is not satisfactory. Before we agree to go into Committee, I wish to log again the fact that we are now well behind any undertaking I made at Second Reading to complete the Committee stage of the Bill in eight days or before the Recess. I hope that the Government will take some account of this when discussing the pattern of future business for the Bill.

6 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to make one point. Harking back to the earlier stages of our proceedings this afternoon, has the noble Lord talked to some of his very voluble colleagues on the Benches on which he sits?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Lord refers to earlier stages of our proceedings this afternoon. I thought perhaps he was meaning previous stages of this Bill. I have not talked to them, but my noble friends are fully entitled to make the points they wish to make on important government business; and, frankly, whatever time today's business took we would still have an erosion of the fourth day in Committee on this Bill.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I think that excessive volubility is to be deplored if there is now a complaint about the time factor.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the alleged difficulties that we find ourselves in are a consequence of the weight of business to an extent and perhaps to a stringing out of business beyond the time that is absolutely necessary. However, I understand that these matters and the programme have been discussed between the usual channels, and I do not think there is cause for the type of comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. If I could make just one plea, is it this: it is still possible for us to make progress expeditiously.

Lord Hughes: My Lords, does my noble friend still expect to complete the Committee stage this month, without unacceptably long sittings?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, that is a matter for the Chief Whip--who happens, by perfect happenstance, to arrive in the Chamber at this very moment. I have an answer ready if he does not.

Lord Hughes: My Lords, could I ask my noble friend whether he has heard my question, and will he be able to answer it?

Lord Carter: My Lords, I did not hear the question but I am prepared to answer it.

Lord Hughes: My Lords, I asked my noble friend whether he still expects to complete the Committee stage of this Bill this month without unacceptably late sittings.

Lord Carter: My Lords, it is fair to say that it will be quite difficult. I have not heard what has gone on,

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but I can guess. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, has made a point about the late start on the Scotland Bill today and the progress, or lack of it, that might be made. I can only repeat the answer that I gave on the last occasion when he raised this point. I sympathise with him. But I hope he understands the problems that I face with the Northern Ireland Bill, to which I have had to give priority because it has to receive Royal Assent, as part of the peace process, before the Summer Recess. There was at one stage a discussion as to whether we should continue the Scotland Bill during the first week of August, and it was agreed through the usual channels that this would not be the case and that we would not sit in the first week of August for reasons which I know the noble Lord understands.

I can only suggest that we make the best progress that we can today. I understand the problem; of course I do. I have been in Opposition for enough years to understand that some years a big Bill comes along and it is started late in the evening. I hope the House will understand the problem that I face with Northern Ireland legislation and the landmines legislation, all of which has been agreed through the usual channels and between the parties. This legislation, it has been agreed, must be completed by the Summer Recess. We have had to fit in a major Bill around this one. I apologise and I suggest that we now continue with the Committee stage and make all the progress that we can. As always, the usual channels will be in constant touch over the progress of the Bill.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is true that there has been a great change of heart in this House? It used to rise in August so as to prepare for the grouse season. Has this now been changed for fishery?

Noble Lords: Ah!

Lord Carter: My Lords, the noble Lord perhaps has some information that I do not have. It is interesting to remember that in an equivalent Session during 1979 there was a government who had similarly come into office after a long period in Opposition and during that summer they actually sat until 8th August. We have decided that we will rise on 31st July, for reasons which the House understands, and we are coming back on 5th October.

I apologise again for the problem and I suggest that the best thing we can do, now that we know the reason for it, is to make all the progress that we can on the Bill. Let us see where we shall be next week. We have the rest of today; we have Thursday; we have next Monday, next Tuesday and next Thursday; and with the brevity and succinctness of which I know the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is a past master, aided by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon, I am sure that we will finish the Committee stage.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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House in Committee accordingly.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Lyell) in the Chair.]

Clause 23 [Power to call for witnesses and documents]:

[Amendment No. 135 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]


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