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39Clause 18, page 8, line 28, leave out ("(other than a chief probation officer)")
The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--
39ABecause the Commons believe that the changes proposed to be made in connection with a chief officer of a local probation board are not appropriate.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: : My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 39, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 39A.

In moving this amendment, it may be helpful to the House if I begin with a brief word about the procedure to be followed. Grouped with this amendment is the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, which

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asks the House to reject the Commons reason and to insist on the original amendment which was carried on Report in this House.

When I have finished speaking, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will speak to his amendment. The debate will then take place on that amendment and, at the end of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will decide whether or not to press his amendment. I hope that, by then, I will have convinced him to withdraw it and that the Commons reason will be accepted. However, I should make clear what will happen if the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, decides to press his amendment.

If the noble Lord's amendment is carried, the Commons reason will fall and the House will have decided to insist on the original Amendment No. 39 made on Report. If, on the other hand, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is defeated, the implication is that the House will then agree to the Commons reason. Thus, I expect there to be only one Division; and on that vote, in simple terms, a vote for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, is a vote for insistence; and a vote against his amendment is a vote for the Commons reasons for non-insistence. I hope that explanation has been helpful to your Lordships' House.

This group of amendments deals with the appointment of chief officers. At Report stage, your Lordships changed the arrangements so as to make chief officers appointable by local boards with the approval of the Secretary of State rather than by the Secretary of State. The other place restored the original provisions of the Bill, subject to amendments to tidy up the drafting and to reflect the change of description from "local board" to "local probation board", which was made by your Lordships and accepted by the other place. The government amendments invite your Lordships now to agree with the Commons, subject to the significant protection of local interests inserted by government Amendment No. 121B, which I shall describe in detail in a few moments. Amendment No. 121C, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, would maintain the disagreement.

At earlier stages of the Bill, your Lordships clearly made your views known on the appointment of chief officers. You invited the other place to reconsider the matter. They have done so and have returned the measures for further consideration by your Lordships. While your Lordships may not be persuaded by all the arguments from the other place, I urge you to bear in mind that the measure was re-inserted in the Bill by a substantial majority. I hope that that, together with the additional safeguard provided by Amendment No. 121B, will enable me to convince your Lordships that you should not stand in the way of this important Bill.

These amendments are fundamental to the Bill. Lengthy discussions took place during the passage of the Bill, both here and in another place, on the position

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of chief officers. The Government have listened carefully to the arguments and--

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We do not have Amendment No. 121B in our papers. I have now been handed the amendment on a separate piece of paper.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that. I had a feeling of dread and horror as she said that. I shall continue with the thread of my argument. The Government have listened very carefully to the arguments and have concluded that our original proposal, that chief officers should be statutory office holders appointed by the Secretary of State, remains the best option. The proposal that chief officers should be employees of boards and appointed by them, despite being members of those same boards, all of whose other members have been appointed by the Secretary of State, would in our view seriously undermine the establishment of a national service and confuse national accountability. We wish to see chief officers fulfilling the role of effective chief executives of local services, directly accountable to the Secretary of State through the national director.

I shall attempt to summarise the arguments against appointment by the Secretary of State and in favour of the amendments agreed by your Lordships on Report. They fall into two categories. The first contends that local is best and that it is an essential function of local probation boards to appoint their own chief officers, albeit subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. I understand that argument. However, I believe that it is misguided. Crime does not recognise local authority or national boundaries. If we are to receive an effective response, we need to take a wider view of these matters, in a national context and not in terms of traditional, local boxes.

This Bill seeks to create a national probation service, organised into 42 local areas, to match those of the other criminal justice agencies. A national service would offer several advantages: greater consistency in dealing with offenders, so providing more effective and rigorous enforcement of community sentences; centrally-led offending behaviour programmes, based on real evidence that they work, and implemented in accordance with carefully designed procedures; a national risk management strategy, under which all services operate in accordance with the same procedures and use the same commonly understood terminology. But, of course, national services have always to be delivered locally. Therefore, it is inevitable that there should be both a national and a local focus for the service. Achieving a balance between the two is a matter of judgment. In our view, the principal focus must be national, in order to achieve the ambitious but realistic national targets for reducing re-offending that the Government have set for the service, and to give the service the best chance of protecting the public.

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The existing system, under which individual areas appoint their own chief officers, has failed. While there are many excellent chief probation officers, there are also some who are far from effective. One needs only to consider the variation in performance and the excessive variation in standards. For example, only 8 per cent of offenders who should have been breached were returned to court in one area, against 89 per cent in another. We need greater consistency. One way of achieving that is through the close control of the appointment of senior managers. The Government believe that the key executive in each area--the chief probation officer--should be appointed centrally. Consistency on appointments will lead to greater consistency in management, which will in turn lead to greater consistency in standards of performance.

However, we agree that it is important that the local probation board should be involved in the selection of its chief officer. For that reason, during the current round of recruitment we have included the chairman designate, or other appropriate representatives from the local probation board, on the selection panel for every chief officer post to be filled. In that way, we can ensure a powerful local input to the process. That is the principle enshrined in our new Amendment No. 121B, which inserts a new sub-paragraph into paragraph 2 of Schedule 1. It requires that there should be a proper selection panel for all the Home Secretary's appointments occurring after the national probation service comes into being. It further requires that, in the case of chief officers, the local probation board should be represented on the panel. We believe that that is an important safeguard for local interests. I hope that the whole House will welcome it.

The second category of arguments against the Government's position is what I shall refer to as the managerial argument. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and others have argued that the Government's proposals would create confused accountability. We do not agree. In our view, the lines are clear. The chief officer will be a member of the board and will be expected to assist in creating and implementing the board's policy. His executive membership of the board makes him clearly responsible for the deployment of the board's staff. But his own line management accountability will be to the National Director of the Probation Service and, ultimately, to the Secretary of State. Any conflict between the Board and the Secretary of State will be resolved by means of a direction to the board from the Secretary of State, under the terms of paragraph 12 of Schedule 1.

The amendments carried in this House on Report would create more confusion. They would provide for the boards to appoint one of their own number. That would result in a very peculiar relationship. I am disappointed that the arguments in favour of the status quo have been sustained as long as they have, with little evidence to support them.

It has been pointed out, unfavourably, that there is no direct precedent for the appointment procedure favoured by the Government. That is true. However, there is no other structure quite like this one. It is a specific solution designed for a specific service. It

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combines the consistency of a national service with the local responsiveness of area organisation. An essential part of that system is that chief officers should be appointed by the Secretary of State. To achieve that effect, I urge your Lordships to accept the amendments made in the other place, along with the new government Amendment No. 121B.

Of this group, Amendments Nos. 39A, 45A, 46A, 48A, 49A, 121A, 122A, 123A and 124A, taken together, would restore the Bill to its original position on this subject before the amendments were carried on Report. Without the amendments, it will not be possible to establish a national probation service from next April. Much needed reforms will be delayed and the establishment of CAFCASS will be at risk. The proposed fundamental change to the new structure could not be achieved in the time available, and transitional arrangements would be required until boards could appoint chief officers. It seems inevitable that committees would need to remain in place for some time. In our view, that would hamper the transfer of staff and other assets involved in family court welfare to CAFCASS. From a practical point of view, the amendments simply do not work.

Amendments Nos. 44A, 50A and 50D are technical, tidy up the drafting and ensure consistency of phraseology throughout the Bill. Amendments Nos. 44B, 50B, 50C, 50E and 130A make changes to ensure that, wherever the words "local board" appear in the Bill they are changed to "local probation board". This reflects further amendments passed by your Lordships which the Government have accepted.

I commend all these amendments to the House and hope that your Lordships will now agree to the text determined in another place subject only to the Government's new amendments. There is no doubt that the arrangements for the national probation service have been enhanced by the debates in your Lordships' House but in our view the time has come when we must draw a line. We have made changes to try to meet the understandable concerns of noble Lords. While some will no doubt see that as the Government's hand being forced, I should prefer to take the line advanced earlier in our proceedings by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that this is an example of the revising Chamber doing its work well. But there is only so much revision that can be done without seriously undermining the new national structure we wish to see established and I believe that we have reached that point.

The appointment of chief officers is a fundamental issue and the Government cannot move beyond the very real changes that we have accepted to the Bill and now propose through Amendment No. 121B. I commend to the House this and all the other government amendments. I hope that he noble Lord, Lord Dholakia will not press his amendment but, as I have already mentioned, if there is a Division and his amendment is carried, the Government's amendments will fall and the House will have decided to insist on its original amendments.

I urge your Lordships to accept the Government's amendment in lieu and let the Bill pass.

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Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 39 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 39A.--(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

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