Duties of Probation Officers

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

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Photo of Mr Bob Mitchell Mr Bob Mitchell , Southampton, Itchen 12:00 am, 25th May 1972

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.