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The Opposition amendments appear to aim to retain the name of probation and limit the Secretary of State's discretion in making payments for hostels. I am not clear whether that was the intention of the amendments, but plainly it would be their effect.
The use of the word "probation" as proposed in Amendment No. 50 would do nothing to clarify the purpose of the premises. We see no reason to fetter the power of the Secretary of State to spend money on approved hostels.
Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 do not have a useful effect. They leave open the judgment as to how much expenditure might be deemed "reasonable". There is no good reason why expenditure on approved hostels should be treated differently from other expenditure on the national probation service by making it subject to special approval by the House of Commons.
I cannot see that any useful purpose is served by the amendments. I understand that there is perhaps a desire to cling to historic names, but in this instance it does not help us in re-shaping and re-fashioning the service; nor do I think that the attempts to restrict expenditure in the way suggested in the amendments serves a useful purpose either. I therefore urge noble Lords to reject Amendments Nos. 51 and 52.
Baroness Blatch: I shall not argue with the points made by the noble Lord on my second two amendments. In regard to his response to my reference to the naming of the hostels, I am now totally confused--probably not because of the Minister but because of my own understanding of the Bill and of the amendments.
It was my understanding that bail hostels were to be renamed "rehabilitation hostels". Do I understand now that they are just to be "premises"? The noble Lord said that our suggestions would cause great confusion in the community as regards the understanding of the purpose of these hostels. If he went into a market square and asked people what they thought of probation hostels, I am sure that he would find that they have some understanding, some perception, of a probation hostel. However, those people would not understand that they are just premises which might be used for the purpose of supervision or for rehabilitation.
If we are to improve local understanding of the purpose of these premises, we must recognise that the location and the running of them are most sensitive issues in the community. The more we can do to improve understanding as to what they are about and what they are doing, the better. I wonder whether I have misinterpreted what the Minister said. Do these places now have no name other than "premises"?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I believe that the noble Baroness is creating more difficulty over this than is perhaps necessary. We are trying to achieve flexibility here in the use of the probation estate. Trying to pin down precisely what a particular premises may or may not be called will not help us a great deal. We are not saying that there should be a statutory name for each particular type of premises. I take note of the important point about the need to communicate more about what hostels do, or attempt to achieve, in the community. That is a valid point. However, I do not believe that that should necessarily have a bearing on the naming of those premises.
There will not be a statutory name for such premises. We are trying to ensure that we make good use of the hostels for the benefit of a range of people who fall within the criminal justice system, whether they be on bail, serving a community sentence or on licence. I am not sure that my response will help the noble Baroness in her confusion, but I have tried. If she
Baroness Blatch: I am having some fun in my mind about possible conversations that could take place in a high street. One lady meets another and asks her where she is going. She says, "I'm going to the board". "What board?" "Well, it's just the board. It used to be the probation board, but it is now called the board". This would, of course, be a local board. The next two ladies in a high street could be discussing a "premise". One says, "There is a planning application to build a premise or to use a premise". The other asks, "What do you mean by a premise?" "It is just a building". "What is the building?" "Well, it might have a variety of uses". I cannot believe that this situation will improve the understanding of the work of the service.
There is a common understanding out there about the Probation Service; there is also a common understanding about hostels and their uses--for example, bail hostels, rehabilitation centres, and so on. At least they have a name that conveys the activity that takes place in the hostel and what it is. I do not whether the Government are rather slyly--I was about to say "shyly", but I do not think that they are shy--hiding behind what such places might be called when it comes to location. In other words, until they are built and occupied, or taken over as a "premises" with other uses and occupied, no one will know what is going on. People will find out by stealth that it is, for example, a hostel for people on bail, for sex offenders or for rehabilitation purposes.
The Minister has dismissed these points, but they are important considerations when it comes to promoting an understanding and an awareness of the work of the service. I am only sorry that the noble Lord thinks that such confusion is acceptable and that my concerns are unnecessary: all we need to do is trust what he said. Everything will be all right and the public will fully understand. I do not believe that they will.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I believe that the noble Baroness invites me to respond. I shall try to offer further help. I do not think that there is any argument that the terminology is important. Descriptions can be confusing. I consider that the term "hostel" does not necessarily convey a great deal. It could be a hostel for homeless people or for those who suffer from alcohol abuse. The point we are trying to establish is that accommodation which forms part of the Probation Service estate should have a flexible use.
There will, of course, be the opportunity to name particular premises. The intended use of premises would have to be described if they were to be the subject of a planning application and that would have to be made plain to the public. The noble Baroness makes a good point; namely, that it is important to have a wide understanding of the use to which the accommodation we are discussing is to be put. At present most hostels contain more than one category of offender. Therefore to call a building a bail hostel,
Names will be given to the premises we are discussing and we shall endeavour to make them as descriptive as possible. However, to commit that to statute would not be helpful, as we might then be constrained as to the nature of description we might use. I hope that I have clarified matters and I hope that the noble Baroness feels a little happier with my response. If that is not the case, I shall try to keep her informed as we proceed through the Bill.
Baroness Blatch: I look forward to the applications being submitted. Even when that occurs, it will still not be possible to give a definitive name as the premises will still be used for a number of different purposes. The simplest possible solution is the term "probation hostel" as that covers community service, people on remand and people who are using the premises for purposes connected with the criminal justice system. However, I am not getting anywhere. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
These amendments seek to ensure that it should not be possible for the Secretary of State to institute a management order on a whim. A management order should be instituted as the result of a report that recommends such an order or suggests that a local board is failing. That restricts the right of the Secretary of State to intervene on a whim or at any time that he chooses. The Minister may say that certain situations may be so urgent that the Secretary of State needs to intervene quickly. However, I still believe that the inspectorate should be used as an arm of the Secretary of State to confirm that a situation is sufficiently serious to justify the Secretary of State issuing an order.
I seek not to labour the point. However, it is important that there is some order in the system and that the sometimes necessary intervention is undertaken on the basis of proper advice from the inspectorate. I beg to move.
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