Lords block government's probation service plans

Amendment by Lord Ramsbotham to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill reflects concern that ministers are going too fast

House of Lords
House of Lords

Government plans to open up the rehabilitation of offenders to management by the voluntary and private sector were blocked by the House of Lords yesterday.

The Offender Rehabilitation Bill would remove 35 probation trusts and replace them with 21 networks of prime and subcontractors from outside the public sector.

The scheme has received a cautious welcome from many charities because it allows them to have a bigger role in the system, but has been criticised by others because of the uncertainty it would create for smaller organisations.

An amendment to the bill was successfully tabled yesterday by Lord Ramsbotham, a crossbench peer and former chief inspector of prisons, requiring that "no alteration or reform may be made to the structure of the probation service unless the proposals have been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament".

Lord Ramsbotham said he was concerned at the speed with which the reforms were being implemented and the lack of any proper impact assessment.

"I am not alone in doubting whether the Ministry of Justice has the capacity to deliver such a complex public protection programme within the aggressive timetable imposed by its tough secretary of state," he said. "I believe the most responsible thing that the government can now do is to admit that they have been trying to go too far too fast."

He said he was concerned the programme could "fall flat on its face" because "understandable concerns about the viability of untried theories" had been "ridden over roughshod in the desire to satisfy a party politically directed timetable that pays no attention to practical reality".

Several members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering, meeting yesterday directly after the amendment had been passed, expressed concern about the effect of the bill on small charities.

"The pace and scale of change in the probation service is causing alarm among many small voluntary sector organisations," said Paul Goggins, Labour MP for Wythenshawe & Sale East.

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