Duties of Probation Officers

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Mark Carlisle Mr Mark Carlisle , Runcorn 12:00 am, 25th May 1972

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.