Probation bill passes Commons after amendments

The government survived a Labour rebellion to get its bill to increase competition for probation services through the House of Commons yesterday.

The Offender Management Bill passed its third reading by 293 to 268, cutting Labour’s 62-vote Commons majority to 25, and will now pass to the House of Lords.

Peers are expected to propose amendments on the bill’s main sticking points: the transfer of commissioning responsibility from probation boards to the home secretary and regional offender managers, and increased competition for services between public, private and voluntary sectors.

The government made concessions on both issues, after being faced by possible defeat on the bill, which is heavily opposed by probation union Napo and has faced criticism from the Local Government Association.

Ministers amended the bill to ensure that public sector probation trusts, which are to replace probation boards, will keep control of court-related tasks, including pre-sentence reports, advice on bail and remand, writing, for three years.

The government also said opening these particular services up to competition would require a vote in Parliament, though opponents said this was an inadequate safeguard.

On local accountability, the government also amended the bill to enable councillors to serve on probation trust boards, which would also face a duty to co-operate with local authorities.

The government said it would also look at requiring the home secretary to consult with probation trusts about commissioning plans, and examine involving regional offender managers in local partnership arrangements.

The bill also includes controversial provisions to enable young offenders to be placed in open children’s homes and to be transferred to adult prisons when they reach 18.

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