Probation Service

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th March 1998.

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Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie Labour, Sheffield, Heeley 12:00 am, 30th March 1998

If he will make a statement on the role of his Department in respect of complaints against the probation service. [35159]

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

The responsibility for dealing with individual complaints rests with the probation committee for the area concerned. We have no evidence that any committee is failing to carry out those responsibilities properly, but if such evidence became available, we have power to make an order directing remedial action. In the longer term, the question of how complaints are dealt with will need to be considered further in the light of consultation on the future of the family court welfare service and the prisons and probation review.

Photo of Mr Bill Michie Mr Bill Michie Labour, Sheffield, Heeley

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It goes some way to resolving the problems that some people face when complaining about what happens in the probation service. As far as I understand it, the first complaint goes to the probation service. If it is not satisfactorily resolved, it goes to a probation committee and can go no further unless it is a complaint about maladministration. Neither the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration nor the local government ombudsman has a remit to interfere if there is a complaint. The Home Office will not interfere unless there is some other evidence. I hope that we can review and tighten up the regulations so that people who have a genuine complaint feel that they are treated satisfactorily.

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

It is important to state that there are very few complaints against the probation service. The majority of them tend to concern family court welfare issues, where perhaps, by the very nature of the issue, one party to the dispute feels aggrieved, particularly if it is denied custody of a child, for example. None the less, I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend's point. We shall certainly look at the complaints procedure, but we believe that probation committees represent interests apart from probation officers, such as magistrates and local authorities, and have a good record for taking an independent view.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Does the hon. Lady find it a little depressing that the only questions her hon. Friends ever ask her on the criminal justice system concern complaints about judges and police officers, and now probation officers? Does she agree that the role of probation officers is one of the most unsung parts of the criminal justice system? If there is to be any hope of an alternative to custodial and community sentences that will work, should not Labour Members herald the work done by probation officers in our constituencies instead of trying to undermine the probation service and other parts of the criminal justice system?

Photo of Ms Joyce Quin Ms Joyce Quin Minister of State, Home Office

I am surprised by the hon. Gentleman's questions. It is simply not true that my hon. Friends have made only complaints; they have made many complimentary comments about the probation service in their areas in Question Times since May. Indeed, it is quite obvious that they have made far more complimentary comments about the probation service than the previous Home Secretary.