The House of Lords has put plans to open up the probation service to private and voluntary organisations on hold, and called on the government to carry out a more detailed impact assessment before pressing ahead.
An amendment to the Offender Rehabilitation Bill was introduced at the report stage of the bill earlier this week, by Lord Ramsbotham, and states 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.”
Ramsbotham, a crossbench peer who served as chief inspector of prisons between 1995 and 2001, said while he welcomed the bill’s aim, “many of us are deeply alarmed at the absence of detail about their cost and how and whether they can be implemented in the timeframe depicted” and urged the government to carry out more research before pushing forward with its reforms.
He called on the government to “admit that they have been trying to go too far too fast” and “withdraw the bill while they reassess what can realistically be achieved using available resources, which include the public, private and voluntary sectors as well as related programmes commissioned by other ministries”.
Lord McNally, the minister of state for the Ministry of Justice, introduced the Offender Rehabilitation Bill, which makes provision to open up probation services to the vountary and private sectors, in May.
During the debate McNally defended the bill: “We have already consulted extensively on the proposals in Transforming Rehabilitation: A revolution in the way we manage offenders.”
He added: “I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the government engage with peers and other Parliamentarians as we develop the detail of our reforms. However, I stress again that the significant benefits that these changes will deliver, including the extension of rehabilitation to short-sentence offenders and the creation of ‘through the prison gate’ resettlement services, are affordable only as part of a wider package of reforms.”
The third reading of the bill in the House of Lords, and the final opportunity for the Lords to make amendments, is scheduled for 9 July. It will then go the Commons to be debated by MPs, who can make further amendments, before being returned to the Lords who will then agree with any amendments or disagree and make alternative proposals.
The Ministry of Justice announced plans to move the probation service into the private and voluntary sector in January and published the Transforming Rehabilitation document detailing its vision for a payment-by-results structure. The commitment to new legislation was reaffirmed in the Queen’s Speech.
In May a consortium of northern charities was formed to bid for contracts.