I beg to move,
That this House takes note of the First Report from the Select Committee on Expenditure in Session 1971–72.
The subject of this report is of the greatest importance. We have a fine, devoted probation service which stands at the crossroads. I believe that this House should do everything possible to ensure its future.
This report is the first fruit of the work of the Expenditure Sub-Committee on Environmental and Home Affairs, of which I am privileged to be Chairman.
I do not know the traditions on an occasion such as this, but I think it would be right for me to pay tribute to those hon. Members who have served on the Committee. They have been assiduous in their attendance, searching in their inquiries and ready to accept any personal inconvenience, whether it was the incarceration for a short time in gaol or the rigours of journeying to foreign parts. I want, as Chairman, to put on record my own appreciation of the work of the Committee.
It is only fair, also, to thank all those who gave so much time and trouble to preparing the memoranda submitted to the Committee, and who travelled such long distances to give evidence to it. It may be that some of them wondered whether their journeys were necessary from time to time. But their evidence was of great value. I have been told that it is against tradition to refer on these occasions to the Committee Clerks. The House is indebted to the Clerks who service these Committees. We are very fortunate in our Clerks.
The scope and form of the inquiry is summarised in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the report. Perhaps I might quote from paragraph 1, because it gives the philosophy behind our investigation and the considerations that we have in mind. We say that our inquiry has been
… concerned not only with examining existing and projected future expenditure, but
with the wider question as to whether or not changes in the Service, even involving greater expenditure than now envisaged, might result both in economies in the total cost of administering the penal system and in social benefits through a reduction of recidivism.
This goes further than one would normally expect. We go on to point out that because of the changes that have taken place in Scotland since the passing of the Social Work (Scotland) Act, 1968, we limited our inquiry largely to England and Wales, although we took evidence from Scottish authorities and have taken note in the report of what was said to us.
Our investigation showed no evidence of waste of public funds. We set that out fully in paragraphs 3 and 55. In paragraph 3 we say:
… we believe that the Service suffers from the provision of too little rather than too much money.
It might put matters into proper perspective if hon. Members turned to paragraph 55, where we set out what the Clerk of the Lancashire County Council told us:
If you bear in mind that the probation service in the whole of England and Wales costs the equivalent of the social services' expenditure in my own county, it puts it in perspective.
Our main conclusions are summarised briefly in paragraph 58, where we say:
The probation and after-care service plays a vital rôle in the treatment of the offender. There is strong evidence that probation could produce in terms of rehabilitation at least as good results as imprisonment for many lesser offenders who are now sent to prison. An alteration of the emphasis of penal treatment in favour of probation could thus leave imprisonment mainly for those offenders from whom society needs to be protected.
An interesting table follows that paragraph. From it will be seen that in terms of prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants as at 1st January, 1971, the Netherlands comes at the top of the league table with 22·4, whereas England and Wales is second from the bottom with 72·4. Even making an adjustment for those awaiting trial—in other words, those on remand—and deducting them from the figure that I have, England and Wales still has 62 per 100,000 inhabitants. West Germany comes down to 65·4. Hon. Members can draw what conclusions they wish from the figures, but an inescapable conclusion is that we have far more prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants than most other
European countries. That is a matter which must give cause for concern.
If the House accepts the Committee's main conclusion, which is summarised in paragraph 58, it follows that the probation service must be strengthend. A recommendation of this sort may seem odd coming from an Expenditure Committee. It will mean more expenditure on the service. However, the Committee believes that additional expenditure on the service will yield greater social benefit at less overall cost.
The Committee has made 19 recommendations. We would have made more, but some were anticipated by the Criminal Justice Bill, otherwise we might have got up to two dozen, with any luck. The recommendations in the Criminal Justice Bill relating to non-custodial or semi-custodial penalties are a considerable step in the right direction. The Committee welcomes them and has taken them into consideration in making its own recommendations.
I do not intend to take the House through all the recommendations. I prefer to concentrate upon Nos. (xvi) to (xix). Dealing first with No. (xvi), which refers to the provision of after-care hostels, we recommend that the provision should be accelerated. If, as we believe, aftercare hostels play a valuable part in the rehabilitation of offenders, they should be provided in greater numbers. At present, after-care hostels are run by voluntary organisations with Home Office grants. There is no evidence at the moment of any intention appreciably to increase grants or the number of beds which would be necessary if we were to make the aftercare hostels play a proper part in dealing with offenders.
Recommendation (xvii) arises out of paragraphs 46 to 54 of the report and deals with alternatives to imprisonment. Clauses 14 to 19 of the Criminal Justice Bill are concerned with the same subject. If we are really to develop effective alternatives to prison sentences, again it is essential that the probation service is properly staffed. It is unlikely that the target that the Home Office has set for itself to have 4,700 officers by 1975 will do any more than relieve the pressure that the service is now suffering. If we want to give effect to the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill and, I hope, to the recommendations embodied in the Committee's report, it is vital that we increase the staff of the service. I should not wish to suggest any figure, but we ought to take into account all the additional burdens placed on the probation service which in themselves justify an increase, and to make certain that the increase is realistic.
In my view and the view of the Committee, this re-examination of manpower requirements, which is our recommendation, is urgent. The Economist, in commenting on the report said:
At present there are 3,600 probation officers and the Government hopes that by 1975 there will be 4,700. Few of them feel that this number will do more than keep up with existing requirements, and any high-minded talk of alternatives to imprisonment is worthless if there are not enough trained people to carry them out effectively.
I think the House will agree with that comment by the Economist.
Turning to recommendation xviii, which refers to the need for a publicity campaign, the probationary service has suffered for a long time by being the Cinderella of the penal services. We found in evidence that probation officers felt that they tended to he looked down on by the rest of society. Perhaps that is putting it too strongly, but they felt a sense of being regarded as not quite accepted in the usual social strata in which they mix and of there being something "not quite nice" about being a probation officer. This idea has to be removed.
If non-custodial treatment of offenders is to become extended, and if we are to get the public to co-operate—as we must—in the treatment which offenders have to receive, and if we are to get the public to understand what the probation service is doing and the service it is rendering to the community, the public must be told much more about the service. The public must be told how it works, the type of people who go into it and the sort of problems which they encounter, to make them realise that the service is a vital part of the penal services of the country and that it makes a vital contribution to the work to which the services are committed.
Recommendations (v) and (vi) refer to volunteers. At the moment we have about 2,100 volunteers who are almost exclusively engaged in after-care. If the publicity given to the service was of the right order and the image—to use a popular word—was right, that would do very much to encourage the development of a larger volunteer service. One appreciates that we have to be careful in the selection of volunteers. Many who wish to volunteer are not necessarily of the right type, and if they were used in the service they might do more harm than good. On the other hand, a large number of people know nothing about the service, have never thought that they could play a part in it, and what they have heard about it does not attract them very much, but among them there are a large number who would be willing to play a part in it if they knew what the service was about. Without publicity of the right kind I do not think we shall increase the service to the number which we need.
We live at a time when, most unfortunately, crime seems to be on the increase, at a time when the resources of our police, our prison service and all the ancillary organisations are not only stretched to the limit but in many cases are stretched almost beyond the limit. The reasons for this are many and complicated, and it is not my intention nor purpose to go into them this evening, but I am certain that we shall not control crime without public acceptance that on the whole the existing laws are fair and reasonable. That, after all, is the responsibility of this House. We must have a police force which can make true the saying, "Crime doesn't pay." Unfortunately that is no longer true; crime pays today because it so often is not found out. Without a penal system which helps to make and not to break a man, without public understanding of the proposals contained in the Criminal Justice Bill and our recommendations, without the co-operation of the public in upholding the law, we cannot improve this situation.
I do not think we shall ever stamp out crime without the whole-hearted cooperation of the public in maintaining the rule of law. To some extent law is enforced by a form of confidence trick. It can be enforced only if people are prepared to accept its enforcement. If a very large majority refused to accept the law, the largest police force in the world could not impose the law on them. We cannot have the rule of law without the co-operation of the public.
This report deals with only one part of the penal services—probation and aftercare. My Committee believes that this is a very important part, indeed a vital part, of the penal system. We believe that if our recommendations are implemented to the full the improvement in the probation service could reduce very considerably the existing pressure on prisons. We believe that it should make possible the effective operation of those parts of the Criminal Justice Bill which deal with the non-custodial penalties. Indeed, we are of the opinion that without an improvement in the prison service it will not be possible to implement the Bill. We also believe that this would reduce the total cost of the penal system. To take one figure which is quoted in the report, whereas it costs about £20 a week to keep a man in prison it costs about £2 to put him on probation. This was an attractive idea to us, but it was not the main reason for our recommendations.
A number of hon. Members on both sides wish to join in the debate. Therefore, I will leave out much of what I wished to say.
The Committee gave a lot of time and thought to producing a report which it hopes will be helpful. We believe that if the recommendations are accepted they will lead to improvements in the service, which can only be of value to society as a whole. I hope that the House will accept the report.
I shall speak briefly, because these occasions should not be hogged by those of us who had the privilege of serving on the Committee. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) for his chairmanship of the Sub-Committee. His hand was firm but always gentle and was much appreciated not only by me, but by other members of the Sub-Committee.
I look forward to the Minister's reply not just for what he will say, but because he has shown a willingness to introduce small changes in ways which assist the probation service, and the willingness to accept suggestions, especially from the other side of the House, is not so universal a habit among Ministers that it should be passed unnoticed. The probation service should take advantage of the hon. and learned Gentleman's period in the office which he now holds to try to push ahead the service.
I should like to mention one point about the choice of subjects by sub-committees. The Sub-Committees of the Expenditure Committee will achieve most if they choose subjects which can be treated in a non-partisan manner. This is the place for partisan debate. Committees of the House will get snarled up if they try to repeat in Committee the gladiatorial conflicts of the House. A lot of useful nonpartisan work can be done in Committees.
There has been some concern about the passage in the report in which we refer to the possible integration of the service into the social welfare departments of local authorities on the pattern that has already been adopted in Scotland. I can speak only for myself. I am quite clear that in the foreseeable future there will be no justification for making that move. Desirable changes in the intensity of probation coverage will make that change even less possible and right than it is now. The experience in Scotland is certainly far too short for one to be able to draw conclusions from it. But many experienced people in Scotland feel that the different experience required of the probation officer from that of other social workers is sufficient to justify the probation service continuing as a separate service under the Home Department.
In that connection, I suggest that the time has come to look at the financing of the service as between the national Exchequer and local authorities. At the moment the cost is borne roughly 50–50, but amongst the activities in which local authorities are to some extent engaged this is one where they have virtually no policy voice. Therefore, in logic it ought to be one where they do not have to find the money.
I can see no objection to switching the whole cost to the national Exchequer. Those who wade through all the evidence which we took will find that the only reasons adduced in favour of the present arrangement were that it was rather handy to be able to get a few desks and inkwells and that kind of thing out of the local authorities. That does not seem a sufficiently weighty consideration for putting a service which is principally under the control of the Home Secretary half into the purse of local authorities.
In the treatment of the offender, it is time that we paid more attention to watching over him for an indeterminate period after his offence, rather than incarcerating him for a finite period, determined at the time of his offence, which may later turn out to be too short or too long. It would be better for society to take the line that if a man who has proved himself a danger to society is found guilty, society's first job is to watch him, perhaps for a very long period. Watching him in the community may be far more important, and it may be possible in those circumstances to change his attitudes far more easily than in the atmosphere of prison.
At the moment we draw a very clear line between the period of incarceration and the period afterwards. I should like to see that line softened, so that the intensity of probation for most offenders immediately after incarceration, or conviction if they do not go to prison, is very intense supervision. The period that they spend in prison should be more flexible than is now possible under the parole system.
But if we are to do something like that we must have the capacity for a degree of intensity of supervision which does not now exist and is not yet being thought of. We mention in the report the experiments in more intensive supervision which are now being carried on, but these are not very intensive. I should like to hear the case stated or rebutted for even more intensive forms of supervision than are currently about to be experimented with in some parts of the country.
The probation service has a great "thing" about the concept of consent. The idea started with the necessity for the probationer to accept supervision. It is time to question that, and I personally think that it is time to give it up. Of course it is better if the man accepts the supervision but even if he does not it could be desirable in some cases not to imprison him but to impose supervision, with perhaps a semi-custodial sentence at weekends, and not to require of him the sort of declaration of faith in the doctrine of supervision which has always been an item of faith in the probation service.
We should also try to improve our methods of imposing punishment by fines. The pocket should be the principal way of getting at the offender who cannot be dealt with only by means of probation. The great difficulty is getting the money from the man. It is time to have another look at the possibility of getting the money by means of the Inland Revenue. I know that the Inland Revenue holds up its hands in horror and says that it does not want to become involved in this dirty business, but its reasons have not really stood up. There may be good reasons, but they need to be stated again and rigorously examined.
If we could find ways of ensuring that we could get the fines without a great expenditure of time and effort by the courts and without great cost, this would be a major new implement in our penal system. We need income fines, not capital fines. We should impose not a £50 fine once and for all but rather a £5-a-month fine. We must also find some way, of course, of deterring the offender from not paying the £5 every month.
In the tradition of the British way of doing things, once a service becomes a Cinderella, it goes on in that way for ever, and that has happened to the probation service. Our national or civil servants are paid adequately, if not more than adequately. Probation officers are also public servants, though they are proud of not being civil servants. Their work is at least as valuable as that done by the generality of civil servants and they should be paid at least as well.
One need only read some of the advertisements in New Society to get the picture. Untrained or little trained social workers are able to pick up salaries several hundreds of pounds in advance of the experienced probation officer. This cannot be right. It is no good trying to apply some sort of norm to the probation service and saying, "You have always had a raw deal. You will nevertheless get no more than 7 per cent." We must break out of this attitude towards the probation service and acknowledge that its needs in terms of pay rewards must be fulfilled.
Of necessity, it should continue to have a flat pyramid in its hierarchy, but as one cannot hope to promote the average probation officer at say, 40, one must find a way of giving him at that age a huge annual increment, giving him the equivalent of the sort of income he would have got had he gone in for another profession.
Reference has been made to the London allowance for probation officers. I hope that the Minister will comment on this and particularly on the anomalous situation which has been created in the Inner London area.
Because we are short of time for this debate and a number of hon. Members still wish to speak, I will add only that most of the probation officers I know want to remain in the service. They want to go on giving the community their much-needed expertise. However, some, and especially those with families, have been pushed out by the harsh demands of money. I hope that in the near future we shall remove that restraint on the probation service.
I welcome the opportunity which my membership of the Sub-Committee gave to get to know much more about the probation service and the opportunities my colleagues and I had of questioning some of the representatives who came to see us and the visits we made to see members of the service acting in their jobs.
This experience left me with a firm impression of the devotion that there is for what is a difficult and demanding job, not only in terms of one's social attitude but in terms of the strain under which probation officers often work.
I was particularly impressed by our visit to the Cromwell Road training centre for entrants into the probation service. There were mainly young people, aged between 23 and 25, undergoing training. Most of them had been in other jobs and had decided to enter the service. I was aware of their keenness, and their understanding of the social purpose of the work and of the obligations placed on those who take up a career in the probation service.
When one bears in mind the increased demands that will be made on the probation service by the Criminal Justice Bill—the community service orders, the proposals for day training centres, the whole question of more intensive supervision and hostel facilities—there is clearly a necessity for a substantial expansion of the service. It is to that that I address my contribution to the debate.
At paragraph 703 of the report, in answer to a question in which I was trying to assess the justification for additional resources for the probationary service, somewhat to my surprise I received the answer:
The criteria for deciding staff needs are recognised widely as highly unsatisfactory.
It seemed to me at that time that there should be a much more definitive method of the assessment of needs, first, and then ways and means of assessing work load in the probationary service and trying to distill, as it were, the essentials of the work involved. Later, the report states:
We do require to achieve some method of deciding what constitutes a reasonable work load to enable the probation officer to do his work properly and this is information which is simply not available at the moment.
I could not help but feel some measure of criticism in that answer. I should have thought that there should be some method of determining the requirements of the probationary service in a defined way.
Members of the Committee were told that a group of the Principal Probation Officers Conference, the south-east group, were engaged on a study to this end. But the evidence went on:
We would want to test them out further but we have in fact broken each operation down into a series of units which can be fitted into the working week of a probation officer.
So, clearly, the inquiry and method of assessment is under way. I hope that every encouragement will be given to making an assessment of what is involved in this work.
I am sure that I speak for all of those who served on the Sub-Committee in recognising the invaluable work of the probationary service and the essential contribution which those in the service have to make to community interests not only, as they say, in respect of their clients but for the community as a whole, and the guidance they offer to those placed in their care. It is very difficult to see the rehabilitation potential, but that is part of the skill which probation officers bring to their work.
Although my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) said that it was rather sordid to think in terms of pounds, shillings and pence, that is the duty of an Expenditure Committee. However, I look for the effective use of human and financial resources in this service, and my advocacy is that we should be able to present the facts on a basis and in ways in which they would clearly speak for themselves and thereby justify increased resources for this excellent and highly deserving service.
The right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. duCann) emphasised at the beginning of the debate the importance of the probation service, the only social service in the country under the control of the courts, dealing not only with the aftercare of offenders and the prevention of crime by those who have been before the courts but also with 30,000 matrimonial cases a year.
It is a pity that we have so little time to debate such an important subject. As many hon. Members on both sides wish to speak, I shall be very brief. I know that the hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of the interesting points he made.
The Expenditure Sub-Committee which examined the probation service has told the House that it could find no evidence of waste. The key paragraph in its report is paragraph 55, which recalls that the Clerk to the Lancashire County Council, my own county, pointed out that the entire expenditure for the country on the service is equivalent only to the expenditure of his county council on its social service programmes.
The paragraph continues:
The projections of expenditure to 1974–75 do not seem to allow for a massive injection of manpower, or an extensive capital programme.
That is a very significant thing for an Expenditure Committee to say. I hope we can hear from the Under-Secretary what the Government propose to do about the future capital expenditure of the service, which is already over-burdened and which will have far more duties put upon it by the Criminal Justice Act. The
proposals to keep more people out of prison will expand the probation service enormously.
We have about 3,300 probation officers. The House has been told that their status is not very high. I think it is extremely high among those who know them. The sneers and jibes come from people who do not understand the service, who think that probation is a soft option. They never look beyond their nose to see the difficulties the probation officer faces. Probation officers work extremely long, irregular hours, night and day, and at weekends. They have to deal with a section of the community with which most of us dislike dealing. They must have extreme patience, sometimes in the most outrageous conditions.
For that, we pay them a basic salary scale of £975 rising to £1,851. Even the top grade, the principal probation officer, reaches a maximum salary of only £4,200. When we see in the advertisements, not only in New Society but in every national newspaper, as local authorities expand their social services programme, the salaries being offered not to the heads of departments, not to the deputies but to people way down the list who have nothing like the responsibility of a principal probation officer, we can understand why there is some low morale in the service, referred to by one of the witnesses before the Committee.
We need a much greater expenditure on salary structure. We need to end the present system under which a probation officer is lucky if he has a room to himself where he can interview properly, on his own, one of the people whom it is his duty to help. So often the probation officer is reduced to using someone else's room, back cupboards and the ends of corridors to carry out his work. There needs to be much more capital expenditure on facilities.
The Committee's recommendation (iii) causes me some alarm. It proposes that the matrimonial duties of the probation service should go to another agency. What the Committee does not say is what that agency should be. I can well understand its reluctance to describe an agency, because there is none. There is no other effective agency for dealing with matrimonial problems and reconciliation at that level.
The probation service deals with about 30,000 matrimonial cases a year, and very often the marriages are saved. These are not just cases referred to the probation officers by the courts. Often the parties themselves go to the probation office before there are court proceedings. Any lawyer who deals with matrimonial cases knows that once a marriage gets into court and evidence is given the prospect of a reconciliation is very much more difficult than if the kindly advice of a probation officer to both sides is received before all the hurtful things are said and flung across the court in public. That is the service which the probation officers provide in matrimonial proceedings. I do not know any other service which could take it over.
It may well be that in future we shall have family courts, but at present the probation service does this valuable work and I should like to see the work retained under its care. If there is pressure on the probation service, I do not think that its matrimonial work should be thrown out, because many probation officers feel, rightly, that their duty should not consist solely of dealing with criminal offenders. They feel that they have a wider rôle in the community, and they should be given it.
When the Committee says that the matrimonial proceedings functions of probation officers should be limited to those cases where an offence has taken place, does that mean always a criminal offence? Very often in matrimonial cases the most grievous criminal offence has been committed by a man on his wife. The most severe brutality has been used; extensive injuries have been caused necessitating hospital treatment. Were it not his wife but some other member of the community, it is likely that such a man would be put on probation or suffer a severe fine or go to prison. But because it is his wife who is the injured party his action is not regarded or treated as a criminal offence because of the great difficulty which the prosecution always has in calling a man's wife to give evidence against him if she is reluctant to do so.
We must consider that often offences in a criminal sense are taking place in cases which a probation officer, by his advice and help, can assist in sorting out before the matter gets into court. We have the problem of the rising divorce rate, of large numbers of people having difficulties in their matrimonial relations. The probation service does a great deal to help, and I would like it to retain the service it is providing now.
I hope that the Under-Secretary of State will say something about the future organisation of the probation service, bearing in mind Clause 10 of the Local Government Bill, which we are considering seemingly interminably in Standing Committee. There is a great deal of doubt in the probation service, in the magistrates' courts and in the local authorities as to just what the Government intend to do with the magistrates' courts system itself—whether they intend to integrate it into a national courts structure, as the magistrates' clerks want, or whether, at least temporarily, they intend to reorganise it in the new local government structure. The probation service needs to know, and I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman will give guidance for the sake of its future.
I concluded by paying my tribute as a practising solicitor to the tremendous work that every probation officer does, not only for those whom it is his duty to treat but for those who need help at large.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to serve on this Committee and to thank the Clerk to the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Magistrates, on whose Bench I have served for many years. I have consequently had wide contact with the probation service. The Chief Constable of Northumberland also gave evidence to the Committee. We in the North of England sometimes feel that little attention is paid to our views and I am glad to have this opportunity of raising certain matters.
I hope the report will stimulate the Secretary of State to go forward, argue with the Treasury and ensure that the important recommendations within it are put into operation within a reasonable time. There has been a great extension of crime in Newcastle and we know the value of the probation service and of its advice to magistrates. The probation service has been referred to as the Cinderella service, and it was a little unfortunate that the Home Office had to wait for a committee to draw attention to the services which probation officers render.
I well remember that when it was decided to extend the social services and link them with local authority services, many of the best probation officers came forward, attracted by the higher salaries, and took up posts in the new service. Because of their training and reputation the local authority services were only too glad to take them. We wish them the best of luck, but I have to point out that that took away many valuable officers from the service. I trust the Minister realises how unfortunate it was for the service to be left like this for so long.
We recommend the payment of realistic salaries. It makes me sad when I consider the services which probation officers have rendered in looking after the community as a whole and realise that they have had to wait until local authorities established this new service before the Home Office was sufficiently interested to pay them proper salaries. I understand that they have had a recent increase but it has been difficult to find out whether that has been paid. I do not know whether the new salaries are in line with those in the social service set-up. There are so many dedicated men and women in the service that they think more about helping and advising people than they do about their own position. It is therefore up to this House to see that those who carry out such valuable and dedicated work are given realistic salaries. We should not have to wait for the creation of a new service to draw attention to the poor salaries paid to these people. If the evidence given by the Clerk to the Newcastle Magistrates is read it will be seen that he agreed with me that it was this movement in salaries in the social services which made the Home Office get its skates on. I hope that the probation service will not remain the Cinderella service. I like everybody to be realistically paid.
There are a great many other recommendations which have been made and which I think are of vast importance, and I hope, and I am sure our Committee hopes, that we shall be told that the very wide-ranging recommendations which we have made will be accepted with great speed and put into operation by the Home Office. One of the tragedies of modern life is that we need dedicated service from this group of people, and yet it is very difficult to get their position established in a Government Department. The people whom the Department ought to be looking after always seem to go to the bottom of the list. I very much resent this, and so I am looking forward to hearing tonight that our recommendations will be accepted and acted upon. Then those who have served their country, the probation service and the Home Office so well will feel that at least they have the support of the House of Commons and of the Home Office.
That is all I want to say. I am not commenting on any other of the recommendations, but we must put on record that we demand action, and I hope we shall hear that we shall get it. We hope that these recommendations will be put into operation straightaway and that our probation service will have the same status and the same consideration from the Home Office as other departments have been able to get for those equally serving it very well indeed.
I am glad to follow the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) because I have always hoped, as a lawyer that one day I should be able to appear before her in her magisterial capacity.
Those of us who know the work of the probation service know the solid achievement of the probation officers in the service which they give to the general community of this country every day of the year. The police court commissioners from whom the probation service sprang would be proud indeed today to see the good service which the probation officers provide. It is long ago since I was at a divorce case in which the parties were Godley v. Godley and the probation officer intervened, and for the loss of my costs the parties were reconciled. Ever since that day I have had a high regard for them, because the Almighty himself could separate the godly only from the ungodly but the probation officer brought together the Godley and the Godley.
I should like to pay tribute to the Sub-Committee's report. Its recommendations I substantially support, and the good work which has gone into it is apparent to everyone. There are two or three points on which I should like to comment.
First is the question of the probation officers collecting fines. This has been a practice I have never supported because always when a probation officer is asked to collect a fine it is because the court has come to the conclusion that it will be a bit difficult to get the money. That is the first point.
The next point is that it often happens that a defendant, after he has been fined, feels that he has been over-fined or even unjustly fined, and when the probation officer becomes the collecting officer, and talks about the payment of the money, then, in the eyes of that individual that probation officer has become part of the court machine. It is not the job of a probation officer to collect fines, and I hope that we shall find a way to avoid this.
It has been suggested that the matrimonial work done by probation officers should be withdrawn from them. The breadth of human experience and knowledge within the probation service is considerable and outstanding. For that knowledge to be lost by trying to create another matrimonial service would be wrong indeed. The work done by the probation service is so intermingled that it would be difficult to separate the matrimonial reconciliation work. There may be something to be said for differentiating between those who come to the probation matrimonial service as a result of criminal activities and those who do not. Some people are inclined to look upon the matrimonial service of the probation service as the poor person's marriage guidance council and think that a person who goes to the probation officer to be advised about marriage is not quite up to the grade. Experience shows that this is not so, and it would be wrong to move the marriage reconciliation service away from the probation service.
The report refers to a concerted national campaign to improve the image of the service. I hope that does not mean that a great deal of money will be spent upon advertising. To do that would not achieve very much. In Coventry within a stone's throw of where the probation officers practise there is a cathedral, a college of technology, an art gallery and museum and a block of council offices, all resplendently new. The probation service operates from two wartime wooden structures. The poorest building in the centre of Coventry is the building which houses the probation service. Instead of spending money on advertising in The Times and the glossy magazines the glories of the probation service, we should spend it on accommodation.
I conclude as I started with an expression of gratitude to the probation service. Those of us who are in the legal profession, whether on the judiciary bench or in the well of the court, know what good, solid work is done by probation officers. It is perhaps symptomatic that those who do the best work are the most poorly paid, and the probation service is a clear example of that.
It was a great privilege to serve on the Sub-Committee which examined the valuable and dedicated work on the probation service. What came out of our study was how underpaid the probation officer is when compared with the local authority social worker. It is a little difficult to compare the jobs, but in general the local authority social worker tends to have to refer to a higher officer for any decision, whereas the probation officer is out there on his own dealing with pretty tough customers and has to take his own decisions.
All four level of probation officer, from probation officer to senior probation officer, have to deal with heavy case loads on their own. There is not a bureaucratic chain of command, but as it were a flattened pyramid with little promotion available. Therefore, it is essential that the salary structure should taken account of this fact and that the probation officer should not be compared with a local authority social worker of the lowest grade. The salary should be substantially higher than that when one bears in mind the promotion prospects.
The probation officer faces ever-increasing duties, in particular the need to make more and more social inquiry reports to the court. These are of the greatest importance to the court. We discovered that it took about four hours to prepare such a report, and a document put in by the Hertfordshire authority put the preparation time at six hours. It is interesting that in Holland it takes an average of 20 hours to prepare a social inquiry report. These are tremendously important documents for the court.
There is undoubtedly a need for a lower case load. Surely probation officers should be dealing with probationers rather than undertaking all sorts of other duties. Hertfordshire estimates that some 1½ hours a month is spend by a probation officer with each probationer. This is much too short a period, particularly in difficult cases which need considerable attention.
It has been said that it costs £2 a week to keep a man on probation as against £23 a week to keep a man in prison. We in Hertfordshire would be very happy indeed to forgo a prison which the Home Office is attempting to wish on us. We feel that far better results could be achieved by spending much less money on intensive probation. There is certainly a need for intensive probation to be tried out. Why not try it out in Hertfordshire?
May I in a short contribution reinforce two arguments. The first is that we should press forward with the argument that the probation officer is one of the underpaid workers in social service. I say this in spite of the fact officers have received a recent award. We can see on page 75 of the Sub-Committee's report details of comparative salaries in the social services. A principal probation officer receives £2,829 per year, which is a much lower salary than is paid to several grades in social work departments. This figure was before the recent pay award, and I should like to know whether it is possible to say how much more a principal probation officer will receive. I am referring to paragraph 402, on page 75. I do not know whether it is possible to be told how much he gets under the new award but I suspect that even with the new award he will still be a very long way down, perhaps equivalent to fifth or sixth in the social services department.
Secondly, I am very glad to see a trend in some parts of the country for principal probation officers to apply for and to be appointed as directors of social services. I do not know in how many cases that has happened. I am glad to say that it has certainly happened in Southampton and more recently in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Islington. It is a very good thing that principal probation officers can under certain circumstances be considered for and be appointed as directors of social services. This seems to be a very good and progressive move.
I would emphasise that I still believe that those in the probation service are underpaid, despite the last pay award, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about that. I hope that from the review that is to take place we shall see something substantially better.
Speaking as a non-member of the Committee, I feel that this is an extremely valuable report and anything I say should be taken in the context of the dedication of those in the probation service to their job.
The feature which comes out in this report is how little we know about the effect of the probation service. We know what it costs and its strength, but we know all too little about its success. This seems to me to illustrate one of the wider points about the situation on crime in this country—that our approach to it is decidedly amateurish when we decide which methods we are to use to tackle the problem. We blunder round seeking solutions, and yet even if we found solutions it is doubtful whether we would recognise them.
We deplore the great increase in crime, and it is right that we should do so, because it has been extremely serious. But in deciding which measures we are to use to tackle that increase, our approach is extremely amateurish and is not in any sense businesslike. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) almost apologised for introducing business techniques into this subject, but crime is an area in which such techniques could most usefully be introduced; for if we spend £10 million on prisons, the police or the probation service, we do not know what effect that will have. It is not a matter of stick- ing in a pin, although I suspect that in this field we stick in quite a number of pins. We simply respond to whatever the situation may be.
The probation service and the increase in its strength is a prime example. That increase has come because there has been an astronomical increase in the prison population. It has gone up to 40,000–14,000 of them living two or three to a cell. We recognise that we cannot build enough prisons for them all and we accept, therefore, that we can deal with the situation only by dealing with more people outside prison. That is not the same as saying that we believe that probation or non-custodial sentences are the most effective way of dealing with offenders. That is an area of research in which we have done too little work and to which the Government could very well turn their mind.
At the moment what we say about a new scheme—and my hon. Friend may confirm this—is that when it is introduced it would do no more harm than the scheme that it is replacing or outdating. There is the example of Holland, to which my hon. Friend referred, which has a low proportion of people in prison. But there again the Dutch are only working on a guess. They say, "As long as prison terms do not seem to have great effect, let us try shorter ones". This is the kind of amateur approach which the whole of Europe is taking to this problem. The Government have a great opportunity to lay the foundation for transforming this picture. Basically, we want more information on which to judge our policy decisions. We want to know the effect that more resources will have.
At present, we spend enormous sums on the detection and prevention of crime, and proportionately very little on the treatment of offenders. We want to know whether the proportions are right and what effect any change in them will have. Basically, we want a more professional approach than we have seen in the past half-century.
This has been a very good debate, though a rather short one, from which has emerged a strong consensus on both sides of the House about the future and the strengthening of the probation service. I compliment the chairman of the Sub-Committee and those hon. Members who served on it on what is an excellent report, which indicates clearly the importance of the service, the need for an expansion in its activities and, not least, the need for better conditions and improved salaries if we are to get that expansion.
The report comes at a time when we must admit that there is a considerable crisis of confidence in the probation service. It is not a crisis of confidence that I attribute to any Government. It has grown up in the last two years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) said, anyone who knows the work of the probation service admires and respects probation officers. It is by definition a serious business when probation officers are not sure how much they respect themselves.
The crisis of confidence has flown essentially from three factors. The first was the passing of the Local Authority Social Services Act at a time when my right hon. and hon. Friends were in office, and the fact that the future of the probation service was no longer certain. To this day, the service does not know for sure whether it will remain under the Home Office or whether at some time, like the probation service in Scotland, it will come under the aegis of the social service departments.
As Mr. Hugh Klare are put it in his evidence to the Committee, the probation service is a social service for the courts. In a sense, it is a very different service from the others. I shall say later why I believe, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. George Cunningham), that the future of the service is best within the scope of the Home Office.
The second reason for this crisis of confidence was the very long-drawn-out salary negotiations last year. It must be said about probation officers that always they seem to have the extremely bad luck of coinciding with some sort of incomes policy, whether manifest or not, and normally come relatively badly out of their negotiations. That has been true, alas, under both Governments.
It is ludicrous that men and women undertaking work of this importance, which I am glad that the Committee recognised so strongly, should be paid on the sort of scales on which they are paid. The top scale for the basic grade officer, who does the crucial daily work with the offender, is what would be recognised in comparative professions involving comparative responsibilities as not being worthwhile. Yet, we expect these people to go on out of dedication when it is surely for the community to recognise their true worth.
The third reason for the crisis of confidence is the comparative salaries now paid in the directly competitive sections of the social service departments. As several hon. Members have pointed out, the comparison is so unfavourable to the probation service, some of it applying to people not as highly qualified, that it is surely past time that we made the situations of the two professions at least parallel.
The second part of what I want to say—and in deference to the House I will keep my remarks short—is that this situation of a crisis of confidence has grown up side by side with a growing burden of responsibilities placed on the probation service. One of the facts which the Committee brought out has been the astounding multiplication in demands for court reports, inquiries into family circumstances and the like. I thought one of the most arresting statistics in the Committee's report, and one which was pointed to by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason), was that nearly a quarter of a million reports are provided each year for the courts and are undertaken in an astonishingly conscientious way. There will, of course, be more demands for more reports as magistrates recognise their importance in sentencing policy and in deciding the correct punishment for an offender.
Side by side with this we have the growth of the parole system, which I think all hon. Members would like to see further expanded, and moving on to more difficult cases where there will be greater need for careful consideration, as the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) knows, because he has knowledge of these matters. This is one of the most successful ways of dealing with recidivism. It is too early to judge, but so far the failure rate of about 5 per cent. is very encouraging when compared with the failure rate of other forms of dealing with the offender.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West pointed out, the growing burden of after-care placed on probation officers the need to extend this further. Then we have the Criminal Justice Bill which is passing through the House. Proposals in that Bill, such as a suspended sentence with supervision, community service orders and proposals for intensive supervision made by this Committee, a proposal for more hospital orders and the possibility of deferred sentence with a supervision order will all lay very heavy additional burdens on the overworked probation service. We know that the crisis which faces the prison service is now so serious that we can no longer neglect it. Although I hope it will not happen, I think the Minister recognises that we have reached a situation in respect of overcrowding which cannot be sustained for more than a few months without having serious effects on the rehabilitation side of the service. So it is essential to get alternatives to imprisonment. Yet we know of no way of doing this except by increasing the load on the probation service.
In an interesting report made for a Council of Europe Committee on crime problems, Mr. Sparks said:
Institutional treatment is not more effective (in terms of preventing recidivism) than treatment in the community".
But of course what this means in the light of case loads, which again the Committee had in mind, would be totally impracticable. I believe that we have reached a stage at which the 4,700 target by 1975, as the Chairman of the Committee pointed out, may be inadequate for expansion. I do not want to risk suggesting a figure, any more than did the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), but I should think that about 6,000 or 7,000 by 1975 would be more in line with the burdens which Parliament will be putting on the service.
The case load on probation officers is exaggerated in the case of prison welfare officers. The case load there is so great that it is literally impossible in some cases for a prison welfare officer to make even one visit to a man about to be released from prison. Yet the prison welfare officer can probably do as much as any- one to avoid that man's reconviction within a short period if he finds it difficult to readjust to the outside world. I therefore associate this plea for expansion with one for expansion of a linked prison welfare service.
Finally I turn to the future of the service and I strongly support what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Mr. William Wilson) about lightening the load on the probation service notably by lifting the responsibility for collecting fines in certain cases. As my right hon. Friend rightly said, this can destroy the relationship between the officer and his client and the usefulness of the work of the probation officer in his attempt to assist the offender.
The Minister will recognise that the Central Council for Training has suggested that a two-year course should be the minimum. Clearly this is an excellent long-term aim. But if the expansion is as important as I believe it to be and as the Committee has indicated it is, we must give some thought to the point at which we abandon the one-year emergency course, which has in many ways proved very successful as a form of training. I should think the general criterion should be: better a man or woman trained for one year than a man or woman not trained at all.
Turning to the future, I note that the National Association of Probation Officers, in its evidence to the Committee, said:
Official thinking is not yet on a bold enough scale.
I think that is a fair criticism of the Home Office under both Administrations.
It seems clear that the probation service needs to be greatly expanded. If it is expanded sufficiently to give a proper scale of promotion and to link with the prison welfare service—and with other services as well—it seems that it should remain with the Home Office, for reasons which have been adduced in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West suggested that the whole cost might be borne by the national Exchequer. I do not disagree with that suggestion. But it is crucial that close links should be kept with local authorities. One way in which this might be done, which I commend to the Minister, is the suggestion that a probation officer representative might sit as an observer on the social service committee so that this crucial link is kept in the same way as, for example, teacher representatives sit on education committees.
I hope that the career structure, because the size of the service operates against promotion possibilities, will be such that senior hostel staff, with whom one hopes there will be more transfer in future, and the prison welfare officer can both be brought within its scope and that there will be movement among the sectors so that probation officers have institutional and outside experience.
I support the views of the Committee in suggesting that there should be a review of the grant for hostels, both aftercare and, for that matter, prison hostels under an order. The payment of £150 for a place and £250 in special cases is totally inadequate. Just as the Committee has indicated an advantage in extending probation against the cost of prison, it is also fair to point out that the cost of a hostel place is still considerably below that of the prison service.
I should like to emphasise—I need not labour the point, because it has been made by many hon. Members—the crucial need for better salaries and the recognition, above all, that the basic grade officer should be treated as the career grade. It would be a tragedy for the probation service if the only way in which a man could get a good salary was by changing to desk work. This is often destructive of the man who is doing the basic, crucial job with the offender. I hope that the Government, at the next review of salaries, in the light of the Butterworth Report, will consider the position particularly of the basic grade officer.
I hope that it will be possible to make the boundaries of local government and those of probation areas coterminous. My hon. Friend the Member for Widnes pointed out the problems which will arise from the reorganisation of magistrates' courts. It is clearly better if these two administrative areas can be kept closely in line.
I fully share all the views of the Committee about putting a new weight on alternatives to prison as a way of dealing with offenders. What seems to become clear time and again is that the way we treat offenders—I think that the hon. Member for Nottingham, South was rather hinting at this—appears to make remarkably little difference to the rate of recidivism. If so, if we can avoid the dangers of institutionalisation that follow so often from putting the inadequates, the minor offenders, the alcoholics, the drug addicts in prison, I think that we shall be praised by the prison service and may in time come a little closer to discovering a way to deal with crime.
Like the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams), I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), as Chairman of the Expenditure Committee, and particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), as Chairman of the Sub-Committee, as well as those hon. Members who served on the Sub-Committee and have produced what I honestly believe to be a most useful and helpful report on the probation service. I also echo what the hon. Lady said about the tone of the speeches today. I only regret, as she did, that we have not been able to have more time for this important debate.
It was appropriate that the Committee should have a searching inquiry into the probation service at a time when the service is at a new phrase of its development. It was important that the basic structure of the service and its general state of health should be assessed at this moment.
Although I accept that there are matters of concern with the probation service—no one in my position could be unaware of the problems which concern the service: its pay and manpower structure and its general future—it is putting it somewhat high to describe it as a crisis of confidence. Having talked to a fair number of probation officers in different parts of the country over recent months, and accepting that there are areas of concern, I yet believe that the morale of the service on the whole is happily high and that it welcomes the various new challenges which it is likely to face over the coming years in regard to alternatives to imprisonment.
Almost every hon. Member has mentioned pay. I do not want to minimise the views of the probation service, but the last award gave a senior man in the basic grade an increase of 16 per cent. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary not only agreed the award but also agreed to set up the Committee of Inquiry which is now taking place under Professor Butterworth, the whole purpose of which is to evaluate the correct relationship between the pay of probation officers and that of other social workers. One of the matters which has concerned the service is the effect of the setting up of the local authority social service departments on their pay structure as an independent service.
This report was published as recently as the middle of last December, so hon. Members will understand that my right hon. Friend is not yet ready to make the written reply which it is customary for the Minister concerned to furnish. Therefore, even in the time available I obviously cannot give detailed replies to all the specific recommendations or all the points made in this debate. But what has been said tonight I have heard with interest and I can assure the House that it will be taken into account in the drafting of the reply which will be sent to my right lion. Friend, which is in process of preparation now.
One can draw certain general deductions from the report. The first is the feeling that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the basic structure or format of the service. The Home Office would like to see the probation service continue as an independent service. Obviously, we cannot make any definite statement until the future organisation of the magistrates' courts is decided. This is a matter which must be decided in relation to the Local Government Bill. But we have made it clear, from the Answers given at Question Time, that the Home Office wants to see an independent future for the probation service.
Clearly coming out of this whole report is the fact that the existence of a strong probation service is central to any attempt to provide further non-custodial methods of penalty and that an expansion of the service from its present size is essential if those ends are to be achieved. This is clearly borne out in paragraph 3, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe referred, which speaks of the money that is required to improve and expand the service in a way which it is thought will yield a greater social benefit at a lower overall national cost.
In recent years the concept of the future of the probation service has changed a good deal. It is looked upon today by everyone much more as a developing service which will be responsible in future for the provision of a wide variety of treatments of delinquents in the community. This was started by the Labour Government, with the concept of parole, which has been a success, and since then we have seen the emphasis by criminal law reformers of all political shades on the greater use of non-custodial penalties.
As my hon. Fri end the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Fowler) said, all concerned have been faced with a real problem in terms of prison overcrowding, and we have had the report of the advisory committee recommending alternatives to imprisonment.
It is against this background that the Government have had to act. The philosophy which has guided our decisions in the last 18 months has been the need to tackle prison overcrowding in two ways; first, by building new prisons—I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) that I am not pre-empting the question of Bovington in connection with new prisons—and second, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe pointed out, by appreciating the need to divide the prison population so that prison is there for the violent and vicious for whom public opinion demands strong punishment, but recognising that within the prison population is a substantial number of people who are often petty inadequate offenders for whom it is proper for us to see if we have more constructive ways—more constructive than imprisonment—of dealing with them.
With that approach in mind, I will explain briefly—briefly because time is not available in this debate for a full explanation—some of the actions which the Government have taken. We have taken a series of initiatives under two broad headings. The first is the setting up of new facilities for non-custodial forms of treatment on an experimental basis. The second is the expansion of the resources of the probation service to enable it to meet the new demands that are being put on it.
As for the new alternative forms of punishment or penalty, I stress their experimental nature. Many of them are new. We are bringing them in on an experimental basis for two reasons. The first is to make sure that they are justified, and so we are trying them out on a limited scale. The second is to ensure that they do not overwhelm the probation service manpower resources by bringing in new tasks for the service before it is able to meet them.
Within the terms of the Criminal Justice Bill, which is now in Committee upstairs, we have introduced legislation for a combination of supervision with a suspended sentence. We have brought in a scheme for community service, and I was able to announce in Committee yesterday five probation areas in this scheme for community service by offenders. It is in these five areas that we hope, as soon as the Bill becomes law, to set up this experimental service.
The Criminal Justice Bill provides power for an offender to be required, as a condition of a probation order, to attend for a period a day training centre. and I am hoping to announce next week in Committee on the Criminal Justice Bill four areas in which we are hoping to set up day training probation centres.
Next, we have launched a programme of new probation hostels for adult offenders. This programme is aimed to provide 1,650 additional places in hostels for adults by 1976. This programme will not be easy to achieve and the rate at which it can be implemented is likely to be governed more by difficulties of finding suitable sites and obtaining the necessary clearances than by financial considerations.
We are also taking power to enable probation committees in future, as well as voluntary bodies, to provide aftercare hostels, and the Government are reviewing the question of the weekly grant for places at those hostels.
Finally, we have not overlooked the fact that it is in many ways in the traditional probation order that we still may have our greatest hope of seeing a greater number of people being dealt with in the community. We are considering schemes of different degrees of supervision in different areas of the country and monitoring their effectiveness as a means of probation.
I turn to what I said was the other aspect of this matter and the other approach which the Government have taken; that is, of expanding the resources of the service to meet these new tasks. Very shortly after coming into office we announced an increase in the target figure of the probation service from 3,500 to 4,700 by the end of 1975. I take full note of what is said in the Committee's report and what has been said in the House today on questioning whether that is an adequate target. We made it clear that it is a target for a rolling forward programme and it is reviewable annually, for a target for 1976 and then annually for another target.
We shall take into account what has been said during the debate. One of the serious problems is finding the training places to make sure that we do not expand the service at such a speed that it suffers a reduction in the standard of trained officers. During the last year we have opened an additional 100 training places, so that this year 450 trained officers will be coming into the service, as against 350 last year and under 300 the year before. We are planning for greater expansion, towards 550, we hope—although whether we can reach that figure I cannot say at present—coming into the service next year, from those who will be starting 12 months' training this year.
It is important that we expand the service as fast as possible commensurate with maintaining the standards necessary and providing adequate training places. We have attempted to do that. In the figure of 4,700 we allowed for an additional number of probation officers on the basis that more people would be dealt with in non-custodial ways.
Whereas the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) says that the figure ought to be, perhaps, 6,000 or 7,000, the great difficulty is finding the training places to provide that figure at this stage. We must make sure that our expansion plans are realistic.
The present situation is that the number of officers rose by 256 last year. It now stands at 3,608. I am absolutely confident, as is my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, that we are determined to recognise the need for a strong and expanding probation service as being central to what we are trying to do in our penal philosophy and approach to crime in this country.
It is an important service. I agree with the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) that those who know probation officers recognise their worth and have great respect for them. I hope that as a result of this report what my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said about recognition of the place and the importance of the probation service will be widely appreciated and understood throughout the country. Certainly the Government have no doubt as to the need for an expanding service. I welcome the report. I shall do my best to make sure that there are written individual answers to the various individual recommendations.