Duties of Probation Officers

New Clause 4 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 1972.

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Before appointing a day for the coming into force of section 11, 14 or 19 of this Act, the Secretary of State shall consult with such bodies and organisations. including those representative of probation officers and of probation and after-care committees, as appear to him to be desirable, and shall certify that in his opinion the number and distribution of probation officers are adequate for the performance of their functions and of any additional functions which by virtue of the said sections they will be required to perform—[Mrs. Shirley Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hitchin

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

This matter was extensively discussed in Committee, and I shall not go over that ground again. We seek to delay the implementation of Clauses 11, 14 and 19 until it is clear to the Home Secretary and those whom he will consult, which will include the organisations representative of probation officers, that there are adequate staffing and adequate resources to carry out the relevant provisions of the Bill.

The Bill will put additional burdens on the probation service. The first such burden will be the supervision of persons on suspended sentence. There is no objection on either side, I think, to the principle of the supervised suspended sentence, but there is a doubt about whether it will be possible to do such supervision effectively.

In Committee the Minister of State gave about 5,000 a year as his best estimate of the number of suspended sentences given for cases involving sentences of at least six months for one offence, and he said that the supervising officer in the case of supervised suspended sentences would be a probation officer.

Thus, we start with a fairly heavy load, even if we do not make the assumption, which several hon. Members made in Committee, that the courts will find it attractive to have the supervised suspended sentence and there will be a corresponding increase over last year's figure for sentences suspended.

The second major new responsibility resting on the probation service will come from the community service order, albeit on a limited experimental basis. The probation officer will have to report on the offender's suitability for a community service order. He will have to make arrangements for that community service, and he will have to supervise the arrangements when they have been made.

In Committee the Minister of State said: The scheme will be the responsibility of the probation service, and the responsibility for organisation will rest with the probation service."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 8th February, 1972: c. 474.] It will be a considerable responsibility, because the success of the community service order concept will depend to a great extent on how effective the arrangements made for it are in the experimental areas. I am sure that we carry the Minister with us in saying that it will be crucial that those arrangements are sound if the experiment is to go beyond the five areas which he has selected.

Third, there is provision in the Bill for the establishment of day training centres. The instruction, other than educational, will be given by probation officers, who will be expected to devote the bulk of their time to day training centres. In Committee the Minister said: The idea is to provide a much more intensive degree of supervision under probation, whereby, as well as the ordinary requirements of probation, the person can be required to attend for up to 60 days at the day training centre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 10th February, 1972; c. 529.] It is interesting to note that both these latter two experiments, the community service order and the day training centre, are, among other areas, to be attempted in inner London. I will return to them in a moment because I believe the crisis in the probation service is undoubtedly at its most serious in inner London, for reasons which I shall adduce.

Before doing that I want to say more about the background of rising burdens on the probation service, even before we come to the implementation of the Criminal Justice Bill. The ideas in the Bill which I have outlined are welcome to this side of the House; our doubt is whether these experiments may founder because of the Government's inability to find adequate resources.

What are these existing rising burdens, the fruit of present legislation? The first is the rapidly increasing number of reports required from probation officers to the courts. They are already running at well over 200,000 a year and the Minister of State referred in Committee on several occasions to the automatic requirement for court reports over an increasing range of cases. Great reliance is placed upon these reports. The Committee referred again and again to their importance. But they take at present about one-sixth of the time of the service, and that share of its time is growing.

The Children and Young Persons Act, not yet fully operational after having been passed three years ago—despite the fact that it was passed by the Labour Party when in Government, again against a background of inadequate resources—has involved probation officers in switching a great deal of attention from the young first offender to more and more difficult cases. The existence of parole, of increasing numbers of older prisoners and recidivists on the parole workload means that they are facing some of the most difficult tasks that any person in our society can be asked to undertake. There are only just over 3,380 probation officers, and, although the number is increasing, it is increasing much too slowly to be able to carry out reforms in this Bill effectively.

I turn to the other side of the coin. I have outlined the existing burdens, flowing from present, new, legislation. The other side is the situation in which the service now finds itself. I will give a few instances which are fresh since the Committee ceased its work. I have recently been approached on behalf of the inner London probation service which explained to me that it regarded itself as being under the most immense pressure of work, that there was a rising incidence of breakdowns within the service, physical and mental, that because of the increase in the number of cases court reports had to be undertaken in less time than would be required to do a thorough report and in its view it was no longer able to do good quality work in certain areas.

It also said that probation officers are working for as long as from 9 o'clock in the morning until 9 o'clock at night in a desperate attempt to cope with high work loads for salaries which by any standards are far too low for the kind of responsible work they have to undertake. Perhaps most serious of all, some of the inner London probation officers—I hope the Minister of State will bear this particularly in mind—are actually considering whether they will have to ask their probationers to report only once every three months.

It makes no sense to talk of supervision when there is a report once every three months. It makes a mockery of the concept of probation. What is so serious is that very often a judge or magistrate will say to a probationer brought back for having broken the terms of the probation "You have had your chance; now I will have to sentence you to imprisonment." One cannot describe that level of supervision as giving the probationer a proper chance. In its evidence to the Butterworth Committee the London branch of the National Association of Probation Officers pointed to an 8 per cent. to 10 per cent. permanent shortage of staff, rising to as much as 25 per cent. in some units of the service. It has said that already, in existing circumstances, it cannot provide anything like a proper service to the London prisons in which there are 5,400 inmates, some in the most difficult prisons of all. Over two thirds of the main grade officers have less than five years' experience and the wastage rate is very disturbing indeed.

10.45 p.m.

When men who are highly qualified and trained are taking home £25 a week for 47 hours' service there is something seriously wrong with our priorities. I say this conscious of the fact that no Government have adequately served the probation service and that every Government lay on them more and more and increasing burdens.

Finally, there are examples of this in inner London and outside but I will just give instances from inner London of two men, both senior probation officers. One is working as an office cleaner to supplement his income. Although he is working a 50-hour week he is not earning enough to keep his family. Another is a security guard for the same purpose. The degree of dedication among probation officers is remarkable, but most people would not bear moonlighting to finance staying in a difficult professional job.

This afternoon in the House the Home Secretary gave a figure of £6,000 per place as the cost of new prison accommodation. We know also that the weekly cost of prison is £24. Against this, it costs less than £2 a week, with virtually no capital, to put a man on probation. Yet, the recidivism rates on probation are slightly better than those in prison.

I ask the Minister of State, who I know is sympathetic, "When are we going to get our priorities right and switch far more resources to the probation service?" I believe that we can not only finance them out of savings on prison but also save a great deal of recidivism and additional crime.

I ask the Minister of State to look again at this before asking this overburdened service to carry yet another excellent reforming Bill which may very well break its back, not least in inner London.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking "When are we going to get our priorities right and increase the resources of the probation service?" In reply to the more general part of her speech I suggest that there has been a substantial increase in the provision for the probation service over the last two years compared with that up to 1970.

Before I come to that I shall turn to the new Clause, which, as she said, is intended to inhibit the coming into force of the provision for suspended sentences supervision orders, of the provision for community service, or of the provision for probation day training centres until the Secretary of State has consulted outside bodies, including probation officers and the probation and after-care committees and has certified that he is satisfied that the number of probation officers is adequate to the performance of their functions.

Of course I assure her that I appreciate fully the need to make sure that before the various new provisions in the Bill—which, as she rightly says, are in principle accepted and welcomed by both sides—are put into effect, there are adequate facilities available to make them work in practice, before imposing additional burdens on what I readily concede is an over-burdened probation service.

I would suggest that the Clause proposed by her and her right hon. and learned Friend is unnecessary and would give no greater or more adequate safeguard to ensure that that does not occur than is already written into the Bill.

I repeat, the point I made several times in Committee that the Bill has been specifically drawn to enable the Home Secretary to make a power available to particular courts in particular areas in respect of community service orders and probation day training centre orders. That is done by Clause 14(2)(a) for community service orders and by Clause 19(2)(a) for day training centres. The purpose of drawing the Clauses so as to enable the Home Secretary to dictate the timing at which these provisions are introduced is to ensure that they are not brought in in parts of the country where the facilities are inadequate for the new powers to function properly.

That is, as the hon. Lady said, why we are starting first in various experimental areas. I assure her, and give her the assurance of the Home Secretary, that we do not propose to widen those areas, much as we want to do so as soon as possible, until we are satisfied that the resources are available and that there are sufficient people to carry out the work that will be involved in community service orders and day training centre orders.

On the major matters which the Home Secretary will take into account in deciding whether to make a notification under Clauses 14(2)(a) or 19(2)(a) will be the size of the existing probation service in the area——

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hitchin

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman leaves that point, may I ask him about inner London? I think I am right in saying that at the last conference of the National Association of Probation Officers the London Branch moved the non-activation of the Criminal Justice Bill. Admittedly that was not carried. It is in inner London that some of the most acute difficulties arise, yet it is inner London that has been chosen for these two experiments.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I will come to inner London in a moment. I accept that there are pressures in inner London, but to my knowledge it is with the enthusiastic support of the principal probation officer that both these schemes are to be tried out in parts of London.

As I understand, the probation officers in London gave a fairly frosty reception to the suspended sentence supervision order. But I think I am right in saying that the Association of Probation Officers as a whole has welcomed the community service order and the day training centre order. I know from my own knowledge that the experiments on both these schemes in London have been welcomed by the principal probation officer. One must be realistic. In attempting to make experiments based on four or five places in the country it would be somewhat unrealistic not to see how the experiment worked in inner London compared with the other areas.

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Will not the hon. and learned Gentleman even now accept what he was reluctant to accept in Committee, that the inner London probation service regards itself as being grossly undermanned, whatever enthusiasm it may have for experiments?

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

I will come to the difficulties in a moment. The Clause specifically asks us to consult probation committees, which of course we did. We consulted the principal probation officers of all the areas we considered to be possible experimental areas before announcing the experiments. The Inner London Probation and After-care Committee was consulted. All agreed that experiments both in community service and in day training centres should be carried out in London. Those consultations were made before we announced that London was to be an experimental area.

I repeat that it would be difficult to have a meaningful experiment to assess the effectiveness of community service in different areas of the country without having inner London as one of the experimental areas.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Rowley Regis and Tipton

The Minister of State reminded us that it was the supervision order which met with a frosty reception from the probation officers. But, on my reading, Clause 11 does not have the built-in safeguard to which he refers.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me, I was coming to that point, which is the third matter: namely, the suspended sentence supervision order.

The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) mentioned that in Committee the best estimate I could make of the number of suspended sentences given for six months or more was 5,000. With respect, the hon. Lady has not fully appreciated what I said in Committee or, indeed, the Amendments standing in my name on Report. The Opposition have an Amendment on the Order Paper the effect of which would be greatly to widen the number of cases in which suspended sentence supervision orders could be made. I know that the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) has an Amendment down to prevent such an order being made in any circumstances. The debate which took place in Committee——

Photo of Hon. Sam Silkin Hon. Sam Silkin , Camberwell Dulwich

Mr. S. C. Silkin rose——

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to continue. The discussion which took place in Committee turned mainly into a debate on the adequacy of the probation service to carry out the potential extra work created by the suspended sentence supervision order and how much that work might be.

As a result of that debate, the expressions of opinion from both sides of the Committee, and comments given to the Home Department by the National Association of Probation Officers, I agreed to reconsider the terms in which a suspended sentence supervision order was provided for in Clause 11.

There are further Government Amendments the purpose of which is to enable a suspended sentence supervision order to be made only where the sentence is over six months. In other words, that power will be effectively limited, in the first place, to the higher courts. However, if the House accepts an Amendment in my name, the Home Secretary will have power to lower it at a later stage. The decision whether to lower it will be based, first, on an assessment of the value of the suspended sentence supervision order—whatever may have been said by some hon. Members, both sides of the Committee basically welcomed that power—second, on an assessment of the amount it is used and the effect of the additional workload on the probation service, and, third, on an assessment of the availability of the probation service to meet that additional workload.

Therefore, the Clause as it stands is unnecessary, because its aim, which is to ensure that these additional services are not placed on the probation service without consideration of its resources being taken into account by the Home Department, are met by the Bill as drafted. In fact, the Home Secretary has in mind the importance of the size of the probation service and the additional workload which the provisions of the Bill would impose.

I now turn to the hon. Lady's overall comments about the size of the probation service. I must again challenge her, as I did at Question Time today, about the "crisis of confidence" which she claims exists in the probation service. I accept that there are particular difficulties in certain areas. However, I repeat that this comment about a "crisis of confidence" gives a wholly exaggerated picture. That is not the impression I gained from visits I have made to individual probation areas outside London. Morale was said to be higher in many ways now than it was a year or eighteen months ago.

11.0 p.m.

But I must challenge the hon. Lady when she doubts the Government's ability to provide adequate resources to meet the additional needs. With great respect to her, one of the first decisions that this Government took on coming to office—it was announced during 1970—was to expand the size of the probation service from 3,500 to 4,700 by 1975. Not only did we make that announcement but we matched it by providing additional training places to enable it to be achieved.

I point out to the hon. Lady, I hope in a spirit of friendliness to her, that I inquired about the figures of those qualified probation officers who had left training in recent years. I think I am right in saying that in the years from 1969 to 1970 she was responsible in the Home Office for the probation service. In 1969, 325 qualified probation officers left training; in 1970 the figure had dropped to 268; and in 1971, as a result of our announced expansion, it went to 350. This year the figure will be 450, and next year it will be between 530 and 550. So if there is a shortage of probation officers, if there is a substantial burden under which they are labouring, it is not because of the decisions of this Government. It is the fact that in 1970 the output of trained probation officers was substantially down proportionately to what it had been in 1969.

When the hon. Lady talks of the additional burden put on the probation service by the provisions of the Bill, I remind her that whereas we in the Home Office have been careful to ensure that the timing of the additional burden is kept in line with the additional resources as they become available, during the period of her Government no thought was apparently given to the effect on the workload that parole, the expansion of inquiries and reports, prison reports, and so on, had on the probation service at that time. So I do not accept the view that a crisis exists, or that we are showing an inability to provide adequate resources. We have made a major shift in emphasis, and we have announced a major expansion in the size of the probation service.

Finally, we were faced with the effects in 1970 of the implementation by her Government of the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee without consideration being given to the effect that that would have on the salary structure of the service. That was something that faced this Government in the summer of 1970. For that reason we have set up the Butterworth Committee to report on the correct rôle of the probation officer. from the pay point of view, in relation to the social worker.

I am therefore satisfied that we are doing what we can to expand as reasonably and as rapidly as we can the size of the probation service. I do not believe that morale is as low as the hon. Lady always implies, but I am well aware of the need not to impose further burdens on the service until resources are adeququate. It is for that reason that the Bill is drafted as it is.

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

Before the hon. and learned Gentleman sits down, I do not think that at this hour we want to engage in party politics in a discussion which has broadly taken lines across the Floor, but it would be interesting if the Minister were to tell the House why it was that as far as I know there were no indications of inner revolt in the probation service when the Government to which I belonged were in office and, as far as I know, no great burden of complaint.

May I also remind the Minister that, as far as I know, at all material times my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) was in a different Ministry——

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

Mr. Carlisle indicated dissent.

Photo of Sir Elwyn Jones Sir Elwyn Jones , West Ham South

I understand that at the material time my hon. Friend was in the Department for Education and Science. But if, in my effort to come to her aid—which was really quite unnecessary, I know—I have been inaccurate, I apologise to her, while venturing to reflect that even at this late hour a little galantry does not come amiss.

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that I said that I would make the comments in the nicest way that I could. I made them only because the hon. Lady repeated her comments about the "crisis of confidence" in the probation service, and the implication of that was that that crisis had arisen out of the inability to provide adequate resources.

My point was that the crisis which existed in 1970 was the result basically of the implementation of Seebohm within the social services without consideration being given to its effect on the probation service, followed by the fact that until the summer of 1970 no adequate provision appears to have been made for further expansion of the probation service in training or in announced numbers to meet the additional burdens being imposed upon it.

Photo of Mr Bob Mitchell Mr Bob Mitchell , Southampton, Itchen

I am sure that the Minister is right when he says that before introducing the various new provisions in the Bill he consulted the probation services in the areas in which he is to try these experiments. Probation officers are excellent social workers. They have a great social conscience. They approve of the various measures being introduced in the Bill.

If the Minister were to come to Southampton and ask my probation officers whether they would like their area to be one of those in which he is to try out these new things they would say "Yes". They would be proud of being selected, and I am sure that the same could be said of probation officers in London; but that does not necessarily mean that they would feel that they had enough staff to deal with the situation. Because of their social conscience they would say that they would have a go, but they would not feel confident that they could manage adequately to deal with the problems that would arise.

I do not think that it matters very much for the purpose of this discussion who is responsible for the lack of resources in the probation service. I accept that my Government must bear some of the responsibility for this. I believe that there is an inadequacy of resources in the probation service.

Many of my probation officer friends tell me that they are worried about the increase in their caseload. One told me that his caseload had increased by 50 per cent. during the last three years. Being a conscientious probation officer, his reaction is not that he is unwilling to do more work but that he is not able to fulfil many of his statutory duties properly because of this increase of work.

It may be that the output of probation officers will increase to 450 in 1972 and to between 530 and 550 in 1973, but I doubt whether even that will be enough to meet all the new duties that have been put on probation officers in the last few years and the further additional burdens that will be imposed by the Bill.

Despité the recent pay award, I still do not think that probation officers are paid enough compared with the earnings of social workers in other spheres. I know a number of people who thought of going into the probation service but decided that financially it would be better to go into some other form of local authority social work, and that is what they have done.

I hope that the Minister, despite what he said, will not be complacent about the present situation. I do not think that it matters very much who was responsible for creating it. What matters is that if we are to maintain a probation service and improve it over the next few years to continue to do the valuable work which it is doing now, and will have to do under this and other Measures, we must make an increasing amount of resources available to it.

Photo of Mr Edmund Dell Mr Edmund Dell , Birkenhead

The Minister of State has dragged me to my feet, despite my intense desire to spend the evening quietly. However, I promise to be brief because the Chair has been kind enough to select an Amendment standing in my name which will enable me to explain my view of the supervision order at a length and time of the day more convenient to hon. Members, and I am sure that the Government will allow sufficient time for that purpose.

The hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that I was being inconsistent in my attitude towards the supervision order. I remind him that in Committee I said: My own view is that in attempting to amend this Clause"— that was Clause 11 however successful that attempt, it will not remove its basic defects. Later I said: …I think this Clause, despite the authoritative support that it has, is thoroughly bad in principle".…[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G. 25th January, 1972; c. 382.] I make that point first to relieve the hon. and learned Gentleman of the need to repeat on the next occasion the debating point he tried to make tonight, and, second, because he referred to what he described as a "frosty reception" which the idea of the suspended sentence supervision order had received at a meeting which his glance at me indicated too, had attended. His word "frosty" was appropriate. As far as I could see, that very large meeting of probation officers was virtually unanimous, if not completely so, in being against the supervision order idea.

In other words, the House is being asked not just to add a burden to the shoulders of probation officers, who have shown themselves willing to accept many burdens which are helpful in their work and to society, but to add a burden which a large number of them are against in principle. Despite the views of the National Association of Probation Officers—I borrow a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams)—many probation officers regard the supervision order as making a mockery of probation.

Photo of Mr Peter Archer Mr Peter Archer , Rowley Regis and Tipton

I shall resist the temptation to add my comments to those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Dell) on the subject of the supervision order and, the House will be relieved to hear, on most of the other matters of principle raised by this issue.

There is no question but that, with the exception of a possible controversy about Clause 11, we want to see these proposals implemented as quickly as possible. We are only concerned that they shall be implemented properly. It is not in issue that we need to see a vast expansion in the probation service, and that can come about only if we make the terms of engagement to the service more attractive.

The Government are anxious, as we all are, to increase the establishment of the service from 3,500 to 4,700, but, remembering that it was in any event about 300 under establishment at the start, this is bound to be a considerable task. We cannot tell what will be the result of the Butterworth Committee, but we know that the Government will be bidding in a sellers' market.

It is also not in issue that even from the point of view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the Government will be making a good investment, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) pointed out, each person kept out of prison represents a saving to £24 a week.

11.15 p.m.

Two or three years ago the State of California introduced a scheme for keeping more people out of prison and implementing the principles of probation in more cases. This cost the equivalent of an additional £25 million a year on the probation service; but almost exactly three times that amount was saved on the prison service.

These matters are not in issue. I have risen only briefly to throw out a suggestion which at this stage is very much a suggestion. I am not even sure that I am sold on it. But when the Government are consulting probation officers they may care to seek their opinions about it. I have discussed it with one or two probation officers and have received a mixed response.

No highly trained professionals are happy to see part of their work being done by amateurs. But, until the service is up to full strength, I wonder whether part of the problem could be solved by assistant probation officers. Assistants are doing part of the work, of very selective type, in certain parts of the country now. Such matters as supervising the payment of fines by instalment are carried out by people such as ex-policemen. In many cases these schemes work very well. I wonder how far that kind of experiment might be extended.

In Colorado there is already an experiment of a probation service conducted very largely by volunteer counsellors who have had the benefit of a fairly short training course. They see the offenders fairly regularly and make monthly reports. By all accounts this is working rather well. We tried something similar in this country with prison visitors. The Prison Visitors Association did a very good job, not only in prison visiting but in many cases in after-care also.

Having thrown out the suggestion, I do not propose to develop it. Obviously one could say a great deal and give many examples. But it might be helpful if increased consultations about this kind of experiment were suggested to the probation service and if we discovered the reaction of the service.

Until the service is up to strength the problem will be insoluble. There can be no guarantee that enough fully trained social workers will be found to man it within the period of five years set by the Government. We cannot continue to push more statutory duties and more cases on to the existing probation service without increasing manpower and resources, and even the office accommodation in certain areas in which the service has to operate. To attempt to put this extra work on the service, sometimes without giving the impression that anyone cares very much about it, is unfair to the service, to the offenders who are trying to rehabilitate themselves and to the public.

Question put and negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Mr. Maudling.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered tomorrow.