HL Deb 24 January 2000 vol 608 cc1323-5

2.53 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations they have received about their proposal to change the name of the Probation Service to the "Community Punishment and Rehabilitation Service".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, to date a total of 60 written representations have been received from Members of Parliament, the National Association of Probation Officers, Probation Service staff, probation committee chairs and members of the public. In addition, representatives of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation and the Central Probation Council have raised the issue in discussions with Home Office Ministers.

Lord Hurd of Westwell

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, although it did not tell us what those representations said. However, I can guess. This Government have acquired quite a reputation as a name changer, but does the Minister agree that not much good is done in the real world by altering the labels on people's official notepaper and on their office doors? There is a good deal of resentment, even ridicule, about this particular proposal. If the Government are determined for reasons of show to alter the respected, and I believe accepted, name of the Probation Service, could they not happen on something a little crisper and less clumsy than what is now proposed?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I respect the noble Lord's great knowledge in this area but we take a different view. As a member of the previous government, the noble Lord will be well aware that they were happy to see the Probation Service as simply assisting and befriending offenders. We take a rather different view. We believe that the service should be there to protect the public, enforce community punishments and reduce re-offending. That is why we have come forward with this particular name-change proposal.

Lord Janner of Braunstone

My Lords, although it is a very good idea to change the name to something more specific, does not my noble friend agree that it is wrong to change a name to something which is unwieldy, ugly and unusable? A probation officer will become a community punishment and rehabilitation officer and that is only one better than being a community rehabilitation and punishment officer, which would produce a very unpleasant acronym.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am not a great friend of unwieldy and unfriendly acronyms. I am sure that only a mischievous mind could misconstrue this particular set of initials in that form.

Lord Windlesham

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the proposed title, which I believe was personally selected by the Home Secretary from a list of alternatives, has indeed been greeted with ridicule throughout the criminal justice system? As the Home Secretary changed his mind and was converted on the policy of restricting the availability of jury trial after our debate last week, can the noble Lord say whether he will change his mind again?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, your Lordships will have the opportunity to debate this particular name change when the Crime and Public Protection Bill comes before this House. Noble Lords will then be able to debate the ideas behind the legislation, so there is still some opportunity for further consideration of the matter.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, on the question of representations, will the Minister be good enough to tell the House who has made representations in favour of this name change?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that no representations have been made in favour of the name change. However, given that there are about 17,000 members of staff in the Probation Service, the fact that we have received only 60 representations illustrates that, although the name change may not yet have gained great popularity within the service, there is no significant opposition to it.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how much this extraordinary and stupid name change will cost?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am not aware of the additional cost—if any—that this name change will involve.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the new title is cumbersome and easily forgettable, especially among those people to whom it is likely to apply in a rather more personal and direct way? Further, will the noble Lord give consideration to a simpler title like, "Community Justice Service", which I believe many staff in the Probation Service actually favour?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his helpful suggestion in this regard. However, we believe that the proposed name change reflects the kind of change that we are trying to make within the service. That is very important: it is a change in the nature and the culture of the Probation Service to one that will be involved in punishment and rehabilitation, thereby focusing people on challenging their own offending behaviour.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, is the Minister aware that he gave a ridiculous description of the previous government's policy with regard to the Probation Service? Has he considered the effect on morale of a change of name of this character, especially the depressing effect on long-serving members of a service who may feel that the change of name means that their previous service has not been respected? Is there not a read-across here to the RUC and, for that matter, to New Labour?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I cannot possibly agree with those sentiments. I believe that the term "assist and befriend" is taken from the Probation Service Act 1993, so it is actually on the statute book. As for the noble Lord's other comments, I can only say that we have confidence in what we are trying to achieve. We believe it to be right for the service. We also believe that we should re-focus the way that the service works. I cannot agree with the noble Lord's comment about the RUC.

Baroness Hogg

My Lords, what will someone who previously called himself or herself a probation officer now call themselves?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, a community punishment and rehabilitation officer.

Lord Puttnam

My Lords, I am sure that there is a good reason, but why was it felt necessary to include the word "punishment" in the new title?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it was felt necessary because we believe that the service should focus on the effects of community sentencing, which is a form of punishment. It is not a soft option. Those matters need to be focused on. That is what the general orientation of the new service is to be.