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Baroness Blatch: All I have to go on are the words in the Bill. "Supervision" is not mentioned: I want to put the word in. The Minister used it all the way through when speaking to the amendment--but it is not in the Bill. Under this, it is possible to provide accommodation--no supervision, come and go as you please--to anyone in the land who at any time has been charged and/or has a conviction.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: That is a patently absurd observation. It will never be the case that one-third of all males between the ages of 20 and 35 will be lining up and placed in accommodation. It goes without argument that supervision is important--it is a part of the Probation Service's activity and an accepted role and responsibility--but, in our view, it is not necessary to place that into the legislation. That is why it is drafted as it is.
Baroness Blatch: That muddies the water even more. It states here that to be given accommodation a person has only to have had a conviction and/or to have been charged with a crime somewhere in their past. So if someone who was convicted of a driving offence many years ago voluntarily comes along to the bail hostel for accommodation--no supervision, no referral from the court, no referral from any other source--that person could be given accommodation under the Bill. The Minister has not referred to the question of who pays.
It seems to me that all the additional sentences--for example, even for people who are on curfew orders, for those who have extended parole or for those who under the new arrangements will be supervised in the community--are court-based. Most of the referrals are court-based, as is the case for those on remand. It seems to me essential that a person referred to one of the bail hostels (for that is what they are) in order to support the criminal justice system should not be someone who is merely homeless. If that is what the Home Office means, it is important for it to provide the Probation Service with a proper definition. If it does mean simply taking someone off the street to give them a bed for a week, a fortnight, a month or a year, then the Minister must include in the Bill the words that he used in speaking to the amendment; namely, that people who are in approved accommodation, are
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think the noble Baroness is reading something into the clause which is not there. She is trying to impute something that is not a fact. The clause needs to be read with Clause 9, where the matter is clear. The term "approved premises" is defined in Clause 24 as,
It is not our intention that the hostels are there simply so that people who may have committed an offence can seek to locate themselves there and may walk in off the street. They are there for a specific purpose. There is no intention to accommodate those who do not need supervision. I hope that that provides the noble Baroness with the clarification that she finds necessary. If there are still outstanding points and questions, we shall endeavour to provide extra clarification outside this Chamber.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I believe that I have clarified the matter. I am sorry if the noble Baroness does not accept the point. I shall study her remarks carefully. No doubt we could provide extra clarification if required. We should then look closely at the noble Baroness's amendment to see whether the linkage was necessary in the manner suggested. I hope that the noble Baroness will see fit to withdraw the amendment. I am grateful to her for drawing attention to what she clearly believes to be an important issue; namely, a definition that is absent from the Bill. I do not think that it is. However, if it is and the provision is deficient, we shall return to it.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful for that response and I shall withdraw the amendment. The chief probation officers are also very concerned about the matter. They have had discussions with the Home Office and, to date, they have not received a satisfactory answer. It is a matter that must be reflected upon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: This amendment seeks slightly to restrict the Secretary of State's powers. I am concerned about the amount of power that is acquired through the Bill, as was mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. In Clause 5(8),
Lord Bassam of Brighton: This amendment falls into the unfortunate bracket, "unnecessary". The inspectorates exist in an advisory capacity. We do not think it appropriate for them to have a statutory role in making decisions as to whether the boards have made proper provision to carry out their functions--which is what the amendment would amount to.
The Secretary of State will be accountable for the operation of the national probation service for England and Wales as a whole, so it should be his decision, and his alone, as to whether any local board is doing what it should be doing by way of fulfilling its functions.
However, the important qualification is that the Secretary of State can, on those occasions where it is right, appropriate and sensible, call on the advice of the chief inspector at any time if he needs the chief inspector's support or information in informing his decisions. I can understand where the noble Baroness is coming from. I do not believe that her amendment is necessary. I am sure that the Secretary of State will wisely call upon the chief inspector to advise and inform a decision about the way in which a board is carrying out its functions. On those grounds, the amendment is unnecessary.
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