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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I refer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Warner. If the spin that is being put out to defend the Government's position this afternoon in the light of the defeats that have occurred, distorts my amendment in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, did, I believe that that is a regrettable action on someone's part.

Lord Warner: My Lords, I was not putting any spin on the matter; I recounted to the House the practical consequences of Amendment No. 14. I spoke of Robert Oliver. The Home Secretary would not be able to pay for Robert Oliver's accommodation under the terms of the noble Baroness's amendment which the House accepted.

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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 amend subsection (3)(b) of Clause 5 to read:


    "The provision that may be made in pursuance of such arrangements includes providing services to any person and, in particular--


    (a) giving assistance to persons remanded on bail or for whom officers of the board have responsibilities,


    (b) providing supervision in approved premises for persons who have been charged with or convicted of an offence".

There is nothing there that does not allow the Secretary of State to provide accommodation. As I say, if that is the spin that is being put on the effect of the amendment, that is regrettable.

The Association of Chief Officers of Probation would argue, and rightly so, that two-thirds of the work of the Probation Service does not overlap with that of prisons, and that almost all probation work is linked to the police and to the courts. Therefore, the logic of any merger is that the service has more in common with the police and the courts than with prisons. That is not to say--my noble friend Lord Windlesham made this point--that where there is overlap there should not be some coherence of inspecting services.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, reminded us that there has not officially been a suggestion that there is to be a merger of the two services. We must accept what the Minister has said, but I have to tell him that there is an extremely noisy rumour around Whitehall and throughout the service that the Government have it in mind to merge the two inspectorates. If that is not in the Government's mind, they need not fear the amendment of my noble friend Lord Windlesham.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said that no one has argued against joined-up services. I believe that everyone who has spoken in the debate--even the noble Lord, Lord Warner--would argue that the Probation Service cannot operate or do its job effectively in isolation. It has to work with the police, the courts and, indeed, with the Prison Service. The noble Lord also said that the joined-up services have a bearing on the issue. The purpose behind the consultation exercise is to ensure that we benefit from having a more joined-up system of inspectorates and to discover how best the inspectorates can work together. We do not seek--and the consultation exercise does not propose--to merge the two inspectorates. The amendment would put that beyond doubt and quieten the anxiety that exists throughout the service.

I return to the issue of the police. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said:


    "It is important to recognise that people go from prison into probation supervision, and into supervision in the community. There are similarities and areas of commonality. They are looking at the same client group".--[Official Report, 2/10/00; col. 1204.]

But they also pass through the hands of the police even before they are put on probation and following probation. The Probation Service works with local authorities, the voluntary sector and health authorities. Therefore, if one took the merger argument to its logical conclusion, one would have a

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common inspectorate for the police, the Probation Service and the Prison Service. I suggest that that would be a retrograde step. I do not believe that there is an argument for that. If the Government sincerely have no intention to merge the two services, the amendment would be helpful to them and would quiet a great deal of anxiety in the service.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, I speak to the amendment from a slightly different point of view from that of my noble friend. I support his amendment strongly. Its object is clearly to prevent the Government doing something that they appear likely to want to do. I certainly do not see this as a party political matter and I do not even see it as a ministerial matter. I see it essentially as a Home Office matter. I shall explain what I mean by that.

I have studied the Home Office and its workings for some 30 years, originally from inside Whitehall in the early 1970s. I remember how bitterly and successfully it used then to oppose any inquiry or review of how the prisons worked. It was not Home Office style to allow it. I spent some 16 years studying the Home Office as a political journalist and more recently nine years in your Lordships' House. I do not want to be offensive, but in my view the Home Office is the most constipated department in Whitehall. That does not mean that there are not some splendid people in it and always have been; but it is their departmental culture which I criticise. Those magic letters "NIH" might have been invented to describe the Home Office credo. Certainly they are inscribed on the banner under which the Home Office has campaigned--usually with success--to resist any modernisation or changes which have not emerged from its own bowels.

The methods that the Home Office use were the original inspiration for the brilliant "Yes Minister". The Home Office does not even subscribe to the late Lord Denning's famous dictum. It is perfectly willing to ignore and indeed frustrate a law made by Parliament, if it does not approve of it. Before I make a few remarks about the amendment itself I shall mention an example to justify what I have just said. Under the provisions of Section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, the Government were required to set up a national register of all holders of firearm licences. This obligation came into legal force on 1st October 1997. Three years later it is still not there. As the Home Office Select Committee stated in April this year:


    "We are appalled that the national data base is not yet in immediate prospect, over two years after the implementation of the Act".

I believe that that Select Committee received a rather revealing memorandum from a former police firearms expert explaining the lack of Home Office action. He suggested,


    "it may be significant that ... the proposal--

that is, the proposal for the register--


    "did not come from the Home Office ... but from Lord Marlesford who forced it to a division at the Report Stage in the House of Lords".

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That is perfectly true and my noble friend Lady Blatch kindly accepted it on behalf of the then government.

I believe that the case for not allowing the amalgamation of the inspectorate--it is absolutely right to perceive that as the threat--is a simple one. The position of the chief inspector is very much as much as anyone can take on effectively. The best way to reduce its effectiveness is to amalgamate the post with something else. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made that point clearly.

I give a simple analogy. Back in 1971 I realised that the Post Office telephones needed to be privatised if there was to be the opportunity for the technology revolution to be put into effect. Noble Lords will remember that at that time there was a 12-week waiting list for a telephone in London. I went to see Mr Chattaway, the then Minister of Posts. I suggested to him that the telephones and the mail services should as a first step be split from each other. He was surrounded by his officials who put up a barrage of reasons why such a split would be a national disaster. He accepted their advice. What happened later is history.

The pronouncements of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons have long been an embarrassment to the Home Office. The wide publication of his views, and the generally extensive and favourable media attention they have received, have been a constant irritation to Home Office officials, who feel that they should have a monopoly in such matters. The fact that Sir David Ramsbotham has been outstandingly successful and shown himself to have the quality and independence of mind which mark him out as a great public servant makes it all the worse. He has been Chief Inspector of Prisons since 1995. If I were the Home Secretary, I should want to persuade him to stay on as long as possible.

My noble friend Lord Hurd pointed out that the Home Office has its own methods of ridding itself of turbulent priests. But having got rid of an inconvenient individual, it does not want a successor. So it wants to remove the very position and its potential.

I should have hoped that the Minister would have welcomed the amendment enthusiastically. It is not a party political matter. But if he does not, I shall equally enthusiastically vote in favour of my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, one could not possibly say that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is constipated in any way. Having listened to the contributions from the serried ranks of former Home Office Ministers today, one could never accuse them of constipation. They have been most forthcoming and helpful in the debate. I have enjoyed greatly their helpful contributions.

I cannot agree to the amendment, as I have been invited to do. During the previous debate, I said that it was the wrong amendment in the wrong place at the wrong time. That remains the case. The amendment prejudges an important debate. We have had a consultation exercise which finishes today, interestingly, about the future of the inspectorates of

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the Probation Service and of the Prison Service. The amendment is defective because it assumes that the direction-making powers to which it refers relate exclusively to the functions of local area boards of probation, not the functions of the Prison Service. Nothing in the Bill affects the inspectorate of the Prison Service. The Bill and its clauses replicate what we currently have and put those provisions in place for the future.

We could not use the provisions in the Bill to which noble Lords refer in the way they suggest. The Home Secretary could use the powers to issue directions conferring further functions on the Chief Inspector of Probation set out in Clause 7(6) only in relation to the inspection of those matters described in subsection (1). Subsection (1) covers only the duties of area boards of probation. The Home Secretary could not therefore use these powers of direction in connection with the Prison Service or the inspection of prisons.

It is worth reminding your Lordships' House that we have not made up our minds on the appointment of a joint chief inspector. Let us make that absolutely clear. I assure noble Lords that we shall consider very carefully all the representations made to us as a result of our consultation exercise. No doubt we shall read carefully today's Hansard as part of that consultation exercise.

Any decision on the future of the service would have to be announced to Parliament as a matter of policy. We would, of course, want to hold a full parliamentary debate if there were sufficient interest in the matter. Today's debate and deliberations tell us clearly that there is.

I also reassure noble Lords that we have no intention of weakening the rigour and independence of the inspection process for either service. That would be in no one's interests. We have listened carefully to people's concerns on this point. Strong, authoritative inspectorates working with a clear set of standards help to drive up performance in our public services. That point has been made time and again in the debate. I believe that to be the case. The Government believe that to be the case. We believe and insist that the inspectorate should be independent and robust and offer awkward, sometimes unconventional and irritating views because that awkwardness and irritation help us to shape the service and to ensure that it performs better in the future for the benefit of the public service as a whole.

I do not see any reason why there should be a suspicion that we are somehow trying to use this consultation exercise to undermine the authority or the independence of the inspectorate. We want to ensure that the Prison Service and the Probation Service work together in a coherent way and that the inspection process supports that measure of coherence. I do not understand the argument which says that the Probation Service inspectorate and the Prison Service inspectorate should be in two completely separate boxes and compartments. They are all part of the criminal justice system; therefore, they need to work closely together. It is how one

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achieves that objective fairly that is important. I sense from the mood of the House that many of your Lordships view that as very important indeed.

One-third of those sentenced to custody will spend some part of their sentence under Probation Service supervision. That being the case, it makes perfect sense to have inspectorates which work closely together. The inspectorates understand the issues which arise in the prisons; they need to understand them in the wider community, and vice versa.

The sentencing review which we have already announced, and which is expected to report next April, is examining sentencing options which could significantly increase that joint sentence to which those who have been convicted will be subject. Important decisions about release, conditions of supervision and custody which directly affect public safety, depend on the two services working together to a clear standard of performance. We rely on inspectorates to ensure that they do.

We have programmes and resettlement policies backed with sound evidence that they can reduce reoffending. But research also shows that if they are delivered in an inconsistent way as offenders move from custody to supervision in the community, the benefits are largely lost; the chances of reoffending can even rise.

We recognise that the Prison Service and the Probation Service perform many functions separately from each other. But it is essential that the matters I have described are examined and reported on regularly and to a consistent set of standards as part of the inspection process. That is not happening at present. We need to establish that for the future. We need to look forward to the way in which the service is developed.

As I have explained, the provisions which noble Lords seek to amend apply only to the Probation Service. We could not use them to direct any matters relating to prisons or the inspection of prisons.

A number of noble Lords contributed to the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said that there should be a healthy tension between the two inspectorates. A healthy tension is fine but not a tension which undermines the coherence of which I spoke earlier. Clearly there is much learning to do between the two inspectorates. I think that the noble Lord would accept that point. I think that he would also accept the point that I have made on several occasions now: that some parts of a sentence may be undertaken in prison and some in the community. There needs to be a joint understanding between those parts of the inspectorate to which the sentences relate.

The noble Lord also referred to the importance of secondments. That is a significant concession on his part. He seems to accept the point I have made: that there needs to be a greater understanding and perhaps a cross-fertilisation between the two services. So perhaps we are moving closer together.

In his eloquent defence of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said that sometimes we have an attitude of forgetfulness

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towards prisons, the Prison Service and what goes on within them. He made important reference to the reports of the inspectorates. Sometimes it can be awkward for governments and the Home Office to listen to and take account of them. I believe that this Government have an enviable track record of having listened to the important comments--they are often pressing and critical--made by the Chief Inspector of Prisons. Those comments have been helpful to us in focusing on some of the major issues relating to our prisons.

The noble Lord suggested that this merger was about getting rid of an irritation. It is not about doing that. Why have we extended both inspectors' periods of office for a further year while we considered these matters? We could have taken the easier option of dealing with that issue earlier, but we did not because we have confidence in the way in which they conduct themselves.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, said that two-thirds of the work of the Probation Service had nothing much to do with the Prison Service. I suggest that one-third represents a significant part of its work. If it is one-third--I was told earlier that it was only 25 per cent or 20 per cent--of its activity, there is a significant cross-over between the work of the two services. I believe that that strengthens the argument for bringing them closer together in some shape or form.

The noble Baroness made much of links with local government and the health service, but that ignores the central issue that the Probation Service and the Prison Service are part of the criminal justice system, whereas health and local authorities have a much smaller part to play in that area.

The amendment is unnecessary. It addresses an issue that is not current in the Bill and would prejudge the outcome of an important consultation exercise. We should not legislate in that way. We have not had a fixed view on these issues. We have been open and listened extensively during debates on the future of the inspectorates. It must be right that governments think about and review the way in which inspectorates work. We must look to the future to see which direction they should go in. If the Government failed to do that, they would be failing in the exercise of their responsibilities.

The amendment is unnecessary and out of place and I urge the House to reject it.


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