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Community Development Foundation

Baroness Wilkins asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: The next review will start in the autumn and is due to be completed by April 2001. It will be conducted under the terms of guidance for reviewing Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPB) included in the Government's Modernising Government White Paper. The review, which will be carried out by external consultants, is in two stages, in which the organisational options are considered first. Then, if NDPB status is confirmed, a forward-looking examination will be undertaken as to how to help develop and improve performance. An announcement of the results of stage one will also be made to Parliament. The senior official responsible for the review will be the head of the Government's Active Community Unit, based in the Home Office.

Road Traffic Offence Penalties

Baroness Wilkins asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to publish the results of the review of penalties for road traffic offences.[HL 3727]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government aim to publish a consultation paper on proposals arising from the review of penalties for road traffic offences during the summer Recess.

Prison Boards of Visitors

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they propose to take to help prisons' boards of visitors to be more effective in the way they monitor Prison Service establishments and report on their findings.[HL3729]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The Government value very highly the important role boards of visitors undertake as the watchdog of the Secretary of State and the independent and impartial advice they are able to provide on the standards of fairness and humanity with which those placed in custody by the courts are treated. The majority of boards work very effectively and provide a good service to Ministers and the public. However, in the light of changes within the Prison Service since the last major review of the role of the boards of visitors five years ago, we have decided that the time is right for a further review of the boards' role and we are pleased to announce that Sir Peter Lloyd has agreed to chair a Working Group to take the review forward. Sir Peter is currenty the Chairman of New Bridge, a charity which recruits and trains volunteers to visit prisoners and provides an employment service for ex-offenders.

A board of visitors is a body created by statute, and there is one attached to every Prison Service establishment in England and Wales. Board members are lay people appointed by the Secretary of State, who are empowered under the Prison Act 1952:

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    "at any time [to] enter the prison and. . .have free access to every part of it and to every prisoner and hear any complaints which may be made by the prisoners and report to the Secretary of State any matter which they consider it expedient to report."

The Prison Rules, made under the Prison Act, set out general and specific duties. We are looking currently at ways in which to improve performance management in the Prison Service and how to ensure a greater involvement of the voluntary sector in prison issues. Against this background, it is right that we should look again at the context in which boards operate and see what can be done to improve the overall effectiveness of the system.

I have agreed with Sir Peter the following terms of reference for the Working Group.

    "The Working Group has been established to review the legal context in which BOV operate and the effectiveness of the existing structure, and to develop proposals for enhancing the performance of the system.

    The review will take account of the relevant recommendation made in the final report of Lord Laming's Targeted Performance Initiative Working Group. The main work of the review will be to consider in depth issues relating to:--

    the composition of and appointments to boards, including whether there should be any limitation on the overall period of service by members;

    the duties, commitment and levels of performance expected of boards, the way in which they function and whether existing powers enable them to undertake their work effectively and raise with Ministers issues they need to be aware of;

    the level of funding required to enable boards to operate effectively;

    the amount and quality of training provision for boards, and whether it is sufficiently well focused;

    the most appropriate agency through which boards should be accountable and report to Ministers; and

    the way in which boards' views should be represented to Ministers and the nature and amount of support they require at national level."

The membership of the Working Group will include the following:--

Helen EdwardsNational Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders
Barbara StoweOffice of the Prisons' Ombudsman
Professor Michael MarlandFormer Head Teacher, North Westminster Community School
Dr Rennie PorteousChairman, National Advisory Council
Tom WeisselbergMember, Wormwood Scrubs Board of Visitors
Steve WagstaffeGovernor, HM Prison Hull

The full membership has still to be finalised.

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Police Information Technology Organisation: Annual Report

Lord Stone of Blackheath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they will lay before Parliament the Annual Report of the Police Information Technology Organisation.[HL3737]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: In accordance with the requirement of the Police Act 1997, I have received, from the Police Information Technology Organisation, a report on the discharge of its functions during the year 1999-2000. I am arranging for copies to be laid before Parliament and placed in the Library.

Prison and Probation Services: Inspection Arrangement

Baroness Turner of Camden asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for the future inspection arrangements for the Prison and Probation Services.[HL3728]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My right honourable friend the Home Secretary wants to open the debate on what the future inspection arrangements should be. He intends to publish a consultation paper setting out a choice of options for drawing the work of the two inspectorates closer together. He would expect to reach a decision before the end of the year, taking full account of the consultation exercise.

Prison Staff: Pay Review Body

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made in setting up a pay review body for prison governors, prison officers and related grades for the Prison Service in England and Wales, and in modernising the arrangements for industrial relations; and if the pay review body and modernised arrangements will extend to the same grades in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.[HL3730]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Agreement has been reached to set up a Pay Review Body to make independent recommendations to the Government on the pay of prison governors, prison officers and related grades for the Prison Service in England and Wales. This review body would operate on the lines of the five existing review bodies, which deal with 1.3 million public sector employees. Like the existing review bodies, it would have a secretariat from the independent Office of Manpower Economics.

This establishment of an independent pay determination mechanism would be under the provisions of Section 128 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 as part of a comprehensive

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programme of improvement in prison service management.

It is also my right honourable friend the Home Secretary's intention, when parliamentary time allows, to replace Section 127 with a reserve statutory power and a voluntary industrial relations agreement. Section 127, as it stands, makes it unlawful for officers of a prison to take industrial action. The voluntary agreement, which has been accepted by the Prison Governors' Association (PGA), the Prison Officers' Association (POA) and the National Executive Committee (NEC), will be put to a special POA delegates conference in August. This will mean that they have agreed not to induce, support or authorise industrial action. In recognition of this, we will provide them with a new disputes procedure which will include independent arbitration. The voluntary agreement, which will be legally binding, will give my right honourable friend the Home Secretary the power to seek injunctive relief.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary intends to use the provisions of the voluntary agreement instead of those in Section 127, while awaiting parliamentary time to effect the changes in legislation. However, it is clear on all sides that Section 127 would be used in the event of a breakdown of the agreement.

Together, we hope these measures will create a new climate for industrial relations in the Service. They clear the way for more constructive dialogue on a wide range of issues by modernising the way that this key group of public sector workers deal with their employer.

The remit of the Pay Review Body would also have the scope to make an independent determination in relation to the pay of prison governors, prison officers, night patrol officers and prison auxiliaries in the Northern Ireland Prison Service based on submissions made to it by that Service.

The implementaton of this agreement and the delivery of the intentions we have outlined above are dependent on our being satisfied that the state of industrial relations within prisons is such as to enable the effective and efficient management of the Service.

Such a state cannot be said to have been attained in the light of the current withdrawal of goodwill by the POA, but I will keep the situation under constant review.

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