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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness has referred to the heart of the matter. These posts are important so I would like to reflect on the matter. I have been reminded that the smallest area would be Gwent. I believe that the noble Baroness makes an important point, so I invite her to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with that generous offer I shall withdraw the amendment. However, if Gwent is an example of a small authority, the noble Lord does not have a leg to stand on in relation to this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Renton: My Lords, I too feel strongly about this amendment. The Secretary of State should not simply assert his subjective opinion. There should be an objective test, as proposed in the amendment. If the Secretary of State fails in his duty, the matter can be taken before the courts and put right. In these circumstances it is not enough to leave the matter to the opinion of the Secretary of State.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Amendment No. 8 would replace the provision for the Secretary of State to make to local boards such payments as he considers appropriate with one requiring him to pay such amounts as,
Another problem with the amendment is that it would place the Government in the position where their discretion to decide upon the appropriate amounts of expenditure would be reduced. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, may want to reflect on the point that this could open up the possibility of a legal challenge to probation budgets and whether that would be a healthy development.
The Government's position is simple. We believe strongly in the work that the Probation Service undertakes with offenders, as we always have. That is why we argued against the cuts inflicted upon the service when we were in opposition and that is why in government we reversed those cuts imposed by the government of the noble Baroness. They cut training and finance and we reversed that situation. This Government did exactly that. We provided an extra £127 million over the three years covered by the current Comprehensive Spending Review, so we have lived up to our promises on this issue and we shall invest in the order of a further £400 million through the SR2000 process.
We oppose this amendment. We believe that it should be for the government of the day to bring forward expenditure estimates to Parliament for discussion and approval. This amendment would tie the hands of the Government and would require them to provide such sums as may be "necessary", but who would define what is "necessary"? How objective a test would it be?
In those circumstances, it would be open to local boards or individuals who felt that the Probation Service had been provided with insufficient funds to challenge the Government's spending commitment in the courts. Is that a course upon which noble Lords opposite, particularly those as experienced in court matters as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, wish us to embark? That cannot be satisfactory.
In our view, the amendment risks undermining the authority of Parliament and is therefore misconceived. For those reasons I ask Members of your Lordships' House, particularly those on the Benches opposite, to think carefully before pressing this amendment, and in any event I ask the House to reject it.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can I ask how this amendment flies in the face of Parliament--I cannot recall his phrase exactly--when all it seeks to do is ensure that the duties placed on local probation boards by this Bill can be discharged by their having the necessary wherewithal? How can that in any way conflict with normal parliamentary convention?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it would undermine the authority of Parliament--as expressed in the operation of the service being through the Secretary of State, that being the line of accountability--to make a judgment as to what is or is not right in terms of adequately providing for the service. In doing that, it undermines the way the service operates nationally; and I cannot see, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, attempted to argue, that there can be some sort of objective test.
The priorities for spending must be taken as a whole. That is what the spending review 2000 process went through, and the one before that. It measured the demands of each service and tried to apportion funds in accordance with a system of prioritisation. The amendment would undermine that system because it says, "You must deliver X amount to the service over a given period of time", before a judgment can be made as to where the service sits in relation to all other services.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is much more experienced than I am at arguing around the meaning of words in court scenarios. But how would he define "necessary" in a legal context? How would the noble Lord make that word stand up in terms of the argument about resources? How would he measure
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, as the Minister invited me to respond, I shall. The courts frequently have to interpret language of this nature. I seem to recollect that the word "necessary" is a term found in the regulation of investigatory powers legislation--a government measure. The court will look at it in relation to the duty imposed by Parliament and come to an objective view on whether or not, in this instance, the wherewithal for the necessary implementation of the duties has been provided by government. It is as simple or as complicated as that.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am baffled. I cannot understand how this amendment would undermine the power of Parliament, the influence of Parliament or how we carry out our work. My noble friend Lord Renton, who made a very wise intervention, was arguing for objectivity rather than subjectivity. Paragraph 11(1) of Schedule 1 to the Bill as drafted states:
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, in responding to a previous amendment, said that he would like to reflect on the matter. This has been a short but important debate. Is the noble Lord prepared to reflect also on this matter and find a better form of words than,
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am always happy to reflect on matters, as the noble Baroness will appreciate and understand. I am happy to take away this wording and see whether it can be improved, or whether we can improve on the wording in the Bill as drafted. I cannot make a commitment to come back with anything. However, I shall reflect on the debate and on the form of words offered in the amendment and compare them again with the words in the Bill before us.
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