Clause 3

Offender Management Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am ar 16 Ionawr 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Power to make arrangements for the provision of probation services

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 11, in clause 3, page 3, line 11, leave out ‘The Secretary of State’ and insert

‘Probation Boards and Probation Trusts.’.—[James Brokenshire.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Ceidwadwyr, Hexham

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following amendments: No. 12,in clause 3, page 3, line 25, at end insert—

‘( ) Arrangements under subsection (2) shall not apply in respect of functions specified in section 1(1)(a), 1(2)(a) and 1(2)(c).’.

No. 25, in clause 3, page 3, line 35, at end add—

‘(6) In carrying out their functions under this Part, and in particular in providing any assistance to courts and to the Parole Board, providers of probation services and their officers shall ensure that such assistance does not give rise to any conflict of interest between their obligation to give such advice impartially and the financial interest of the provider.’.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Thankyou, Mr. Atkinson. I welcome you to the Chair this afternoon.

I was midway through my comments on the arrangements for the individualisation of service and the need for services to be maintained. The Minister has said that there will be flexibility for probation officers not necessarily to follow a particular framework for an offender all the way through and that other parties could be involved. I hope that he is not rowing back from the Home Secretary’s commitment to a

“seamless and individual package of supervision and support from the start of their sentence to the end, overseen by a single offender manager”.

We have significant concerns on the structure of the clause, and I therefore wish to test the Committee’s view.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Rhif adran 2 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 3

Ie: 5 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I beg to move amendmentNo. 18, in clause 3, page 3, line 25, at end insert—

‘(d) to adhere to the race equality duty under section 71(1) of the Race Relations Act 1976 (c. 47).’.

We move on to a more narrow and technical amendment relating to the Race Relations Act 1976. Amendment No. 18 seeks to insert an additional provision into clause 3(3) whereby there would be the ability to require persons carrying out probation services to adhere to the race equality duty under section 71(1) of the 1976 Act, which states:

“Every body or other person specified in Schedule 1A or of a description falling within that Schedule shall, in carrying out its functions, have due regard to the eliminate unlawful racial discrimination; promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups.”

That issue and some concerns were raised by the Commission for Racial Equality, which stated in its briefing note on the Bill:

NOMS, as part of the Home Office, is subject to the race equality duty. The race equality duty encompasses the General Statutory promote race equality under section 71(1) of the Race Relations Act as amended...and accompanying specific duty to publish a Race Equality Scheme.”

The commission also said:

“Despite repeated letters from the CRE and meetings with NOMS and the Home Office over the last three years, there is no evidence that race equality criteria have been built into procurement policies and guidance for contractors or that the performance of contractors on race equality is being actively monitored. It therefore raises questions about the extent to which NOMS, through the Home Office, is meeting its statutory responsibilities under the Race Relations Act.”

I have tabled a probing amendment to highlight those concerns. Given the comments made by the CRE, I consider the issue important. I want to elicit a response from the Minister as to whether race equality responsibilities are being properly adhered to and, moving forward, what will happen on general compliance with that particular statute and duty.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As this is the first time that I have had the opportunity to address the Committee, I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Atkinson, and look forward to your chairmanship. I shall also take the opportunity to ask you to pass on to your  fellow Chairman, Mr. Bayley, my best wishes for the Committee. I also welcome all members of the Committee to our deliberations. I am pleased to be here to support my fellow Minister, who will be dealing with most of the proceedings, but I will be makingthe odd—not literally—contribution, as and when appropriate.

I say to the hon. Member for Hornchurch that the Home Office and the National Offender Management Service take very seriously all their responsibilities under the law and seek to comply fully with all aspects of legislation. I am glad to have the opportunity provided by the amendment to discuss the crucial issue of diversity in both the employment of probation staff and the delivery of probation services. Although there is always room for improvement, the probation service has a good employment record. A report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation in 2004 found that 16 per cent. of members of probation boards came from minority ethnic backgrounds. At the end of December 2005, 12.1 per cent. of probation staff were from minority ethnic backgrounds, compared with10.1 per cent. in the previous year and 9.8 per cent. in 2000. We want to build on that foundation.

The issue is also crucial in respect of service delivery. Members of the Committee do not need me to tell them that black and minority ethnic groups are disproportionately represented among those supervised by the probation service. Ensuring that the right services are available to meet the needs of all offenders is part of how we will reduce reoffending and better protect the public.

The benefits of commissioning include a clearer focus on the offending-related needs of the offender and innovative tailored service provision and delivery that is more relevant than simply equal services to offenders irrespective of their race, gender or other characteristics. That should help to achieve greater parity of outcomes.

Commissioners will set out diversity expectations and service delivery and say how they will be monitored. The commissioning framework to which regional commissioners and providers will be working as they negotiate service-level agreements for 2007-08 sets four priority areas, of which diversity is one. The aim is to deliver greater equality of access to services provided for offenders in prisons or supervised in the community, irrespective of their race, gender or other characteristics; to achieve greater parity of outcomes where that is not the case; and to promote greater confidence in the criminal justice system among those groups where such equality of access is lacking or weak.

I can tell the hon. Member for Hornchurch that there is no dispute about the need to act on diversity—the question is whether we need explicit provision in the Bill. I think that that is not necessary, as providers are already covered by the 1976 Act and, indeed, by the full range of other anti-discrimination legislation that is not mentioned in the amendment. However, I accept that a consequential amendment is necessary to section 71(1) of the 1976 Act, which lists local probation boards as one of the bodies to which the race equality duty applies. It does not need to be set out in the Bill in the way proposed, but in due course we will table a consequential amendment to ensure that  the relevant duties continue to apply when probation boards cease to exist. In view of that clarification and assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I thank the Minister for his response. This is my first opportunity to welcome him formally to the Committee, and I look forward to future debates as we proceed through the Bill.

I listened carefully to the Minister and was reassured by much of what he said. I hope that his message about the importance of some aspects of the proposal will be heard clearly in this Room and outside it. I agree with him that there are two ways of dealing with the issue: by amendment to the Bill now or by a further amendment on Report to amend the 1976 Act.

In the light of the Minister’s comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman, being of the opinion that the principle of the clause and any matters arising thereon had been adequately discussed in the course of debate on the amendments proposed thereto, forthwith put the Question, pursuant to Standing Orders Nos. 68 and 89, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 10, Noes 4.

Rhif adran 3 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 3

Ie: 10 MPs

Na: 4 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.