HC Deb 05 June 1931 vol 253 cc569-78

The three Amendments to this Clause in the name of the right hon. Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) will be taken together.


I beg to move, page 3, line 17, to leave out the words "under the next succeeding Sub-section," and to insert instead thereof the words "and co-opted."

The three Amendments against which appear my name and the names of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Aberdeen (Sir F. Thomson), my Noble Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Duchess of Atholl) and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser), I think can be considered together. As far as my object is concerned in moving this Amendment, it is to elicit from the Government a statement as to their views in regard to whether the local authority, who are, after all, the responsible persons for the expenditure and to those from whom they get the contributions, are to be masters in their own house? It will be within the recollection of the House that when we were responsible for the reconstitution of local government, one of the most important steps which we took was to alter the old conditions under which you had one authority spending and demanding from another authority, without the providing au- thority having any control over that expenditure. Having abolished that, and put all the things under one local authority who have control of the spending, I am anxious that that principle shall not be departed from, or departed from lightly.

In this case it seems to me that, with the composition of these committees, to which it is suggested that certain people should be co-opted, and that women should be added, of which I heartily approve, as the Bill stands at present, unless the Amendments we suggest are given effect to, you may well have a body the majority of whom are not representative or answerable directly to the local authority. As everybody knows, those who are enthusiastic in carrying out a new service, and, quite legitimately, desire to see that service made as efficient as possible, may, with the best motives in the world, but without due consideration of the responsibility for finding the actual money, incur very considerable expenditure. As has been said already, this Bill is an experimental Measure. It is one in which Members on all sides of the House, and people outside the House, are interested, and are anxious to see work well, but I do ask that before we take any step which would remove the real and final control of finance from the local authority, we should be certain that we are doing a wise thing.


We appreciate that the purpose of these Amendments has been to draw attention to, and elicit a statement from the Government upon, the important matter of financial control of the expenditure of the probation committees. The effect of the main Amendment, if carried, would be to restrict the area of choice of the probation committees in the main to members of local authorities. No doubt there is power of co-option, but the purpose of the Amendment is to secure on each probation committee a majority of people who are members of the local authority, in order to secure proper control in the matter of finance. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, even if effect were given to his Amendment, the desired purpose would not be achieved. The probation committee, once it is constituted, is independent of the local authority; its functions are statutory, and its duties are defined by this Bill. It would not be a committee of the local authority; it would not, in fact, be subject to the control of the local authority in the matter of expenditure, and I think there is serious objection to making it the subject of what I might call indirect pressure in the matter of finance. If you are going to have control, have control, but this Amendment doles not do it because the probation committee, once it is set up, will be a thing entirely apart from the local authority.

1.0 p.m.

There is another answer to the point which the right hon. Gentleman has raised. If the right hon. Gentleman will look at the Bill, he will see that the provision for the control of finance is really adequate as it stands. Under Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, the probation committee is given power to pay salaries. Under the same Sub-section, it is given power to pay sums on account of expenses incurred by those officers"— that is probation officers— in the performance of their duties as…subject to the provisions of this Act.… may be agreed upon between the Committee and the local authority concerned, or, failing agreement, may be determined by the Secretary of State. Accordingly, the scheme of financial control is this. The probation committee pays salaries and expenses, subject to certain scales fixed in pursuance of the Act as may be agreed upon between the committee and the local authority, so that the local authority is not left in the dark in the matter of expenditure. It is taken into consultation, and in the event of disagreement, the matter goes to the Secretary of State. The purposes for which expenditure may be incurred are very limited; they are set out in Clause 6. They are really the expenses of salaries and other expenses of probation officers, and any other expenses of a probation committee which may be incurred in accordance with rules made by the Secretary of State. In order to strengthen the control over the matter of expenditure, the Government propose an Amendment to Clause 9 which will come on a little later. Under that Clause the Secretary of State is empowered to make rules for carrying the Act into effect, and in particular, under paragraph (b), to fix scales of salaries and remuneration to be paid in the case of salaried probation officers, and so on. We propose in Clause 9 (b) to delete the words after the word "regulating" and to insert the words "any other expenditure of probation committees." Accordingly, the right hon. Gentleman will see that the position is, first, that the purposes of the expenditure are very strictly defined by statute; second, that the expenditure can only be made after agreement with the local authorities, or, failing agreement, with the sanction of the Secretary of State; and, third, that the rules under which expenditure is made are to be framed by the Secretary of State, who, in conjunction with the Treasury, will be in a position to exercise very effective control. Therefore, although this Bill may contravene the very sound maxim that the spending authority should be the controlling authority, the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman does not give effect to that maxim, and I suggest that after the explanation I have given, he should not press this matter to a Division.

Duchess of ATHOLL

Members who have listened to the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be very puzzled at the form of body which it is proposed to set up. The Lord Advocate has outlined a body of a kind we have never seen before in Scottish administration. We know the ad hoc body set up with statutory powers for a definite purpose. We have seen that ad hoc body made dependent on another statutory authority for the funds with which to carry on its work. There was I think agreement that that was a bad system, and wide support was given for that part of the Local Government Act which laid down unified financial control. The Lord Advocate has admitted that unity of financial control is a sound principle. We also know the form of administrative body which is a statutory committee of a local authority. That is the position of the education committee in Scotland, and that is what my right hon. Friend has proposed to substitute in this Bill for the Government's proposal.


But it does not do it. I have pointed out that, if this Amendment were accepted, it would not make the probation committee a statutory committee of the local authority. Acordingly, it is not on all fours with the education committee.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I admit that it is not entirely on all fours, because the Bill outlines the duties of the probation committee in more detail than in the case of the education committee of the local authority. I agree that the position of the probation committee is more clearly defined in this Bill than is the position of the education committee, but the Lord Advocate tells us that the probation committee is different, and that there is something distinct in its powers; its powers are specified by the Bill, and its members are to be nominated by the local authority; yet it is not a separate local authority which is to be set up. It is a new form of statutory body that is to be dependent for its finances on the local authority, and it is to be nominated by that local authority in accordance with rules in Clause 3, Sub-section (2), which says that the members of the Committee are to be appointed by the local authority in accordance with rules made by the Secretary of State.

The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)

Nominated, not appointed.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I should be happy to hear a disquisition from the right hon. Gentleman on the distinction between nominated and appointed. I am prepared to make him a present of that. This is entirely a new form of body which is to have its special powers outlined by this Bill, powers which are distinct from the powers of the local authority, while it is still to be dependent upon the local authority for finance, and it comes into being as the nominee of the local authority. It is something quite anomalous; we have never seen it before, and it is neither fish, flesh, fowl, nor even good red herring. Surely, if the probation committee is to be dependent for its funds on the local authority, it is of the first importance that local authorities should be interested in the work which the committee is doing. So far there has been no reason why the local authorities should have any special interest in probation work. They have had no responsibility for it.

If probation work is to be very much extended, as I hope it will be, and if the expenses of probation committees are to be charged on the funds of the local authorities, it is extremely important that the authorities should be interested in the work of the probation committees, should feel a parental interest in what they are doing. Can we expect this, however, if they have to appoint committees whose functions are to be quite distinct, committees acting quite independently of the local authority and not necessarily having any members of the local authority upon them? The local authority need only be called in on the question of the expenses of this body, of whose work it may know nothing, because it operates under rules to be prescribed largely by the Secretary of State. Such procedure is calculated to make a local authority feel that it has no interest in the work of a probation committee, and even to cause friction. It is of the greatest importance that we should be assured that members of the local authority will have representation—I think it ought to be majority representation—on probation committees.


In reply to the Noble Lady I would point out that the powers given to the local authorities allow them, if they so desire, to appoint all the members of the probation committees from their own directly-elected representatives, apart from those who will be members ex officio; but I am sure no one would regret such a course of action more than the Noble Lady. No one knows better than she that while we have on local authorities men and women with a particular aptitude for the different phases of local administration, it would be true to say that they do not include a superabundance of those who take that keen interest in probation work which the noble Lady and we on this side of the House desire to see. She has as great a knowledge of local administration as I have, and she knows the types of person to be found on local authorities. The proposals we submit will, I feel sure, meet the objects which she has at heart. It would be a bad thing if, as is suggested in the Amendment, we were to tie down local authorities to appoint only their own members to these probation committees. We ought to give them a wider discre- tion. After all, so far as expenditure is concerned, that will be controlled in some measure by the Secretary of State.

In these circumstances, I think the Amendment ought to be withdrawn, because it would limit the power of local authorities to appoint to the probation committees individuals who are directly interested in probation work. That work, if it is to be successful, requires the human touch of those who are specially interested in it rather than of those who are more concerned with sewage schemes, housing schemes and the many other problems of local government. If it is the intention of the Amendment to create these probation committees as statutory committees of the local authority it does not achieve that particular purpose. It would still leave the committee as an ad hoc committee, in control of finance, with the limitations which are implied in the powers left with the Secretary of State. The noble Lady may feel assured that there is adequate provision for the supervision of expenditure on this new experiment. After all, the Local Government Act itself is a new experiment. I do not agree with the suggestion of the noble Lady that all committees which have spending powers but do not have to collect the money, as, for example, the old education authorities, do not do good work.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I hope the hon. Member does not hold me as having said the old ad hoc education authorities did not do good work. What I said was that there had been wide support for the view that there ought to he unity of financial control.


I agree, but I think the Noble Lady did suggest that there was a demand for complete control of finance. However, I do not want to pursue that particular point, because I know the Noble Lady does agree that although those bodies did not collect the money they expended it wisely and did good work. I hope these probation committees will also render good service. The control over expenditure which rests with my right hon. Friend will, I am sure, be wisely used by him, or by whoever may take his place in what I hope will be the far distant future. This is a new experiment, and I hope it will be success- ful in keeping as many of our young people out of gaol as possible and expenditure on that object will be wise expenditure.


After the explanation we have received I do not desire to press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 21, after the word "persons," to insert the words: (of whom at least one shall be a woman).

This Amendment is moved in fulfilment of an undertaking which was given in Committee to consider a point raised by the Noble Lady the Member for West Perthshire (Duchess of Atholl) regarding the representation of women.

Duchess of ATHOLL

I am glad to see the terms of the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment on the Paper, even though it has only come up at this eleventh hour. There was a serious disadvantage in the fact that under the Government's proposals a probation committee need not have included a woman. Difficult psychological questions arise in connection with this work, and it is absolutely essential that every probation committee should include a woman, just as women probation officers will be essential.

Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move, in page 3, line 39, at the end, to insert the words: (c) to arrange for the periodical inspection of homes and institutions where persons on probation are received. This new paragraph (c) is not intended to take the place of the present paragraph (c) in the Clause, but to be an additional paragraph. I am suggesting that this should be one of the duties of the probation committee in order that institutions which are deemed to be suitable for probationers shall be examined by the probation committee in order to make quite certain that the conditions are good enough and in keeping with what is considered to be desirable for probationers during their probationary period. I think I am right in supposing that if these institutions were carrying on this work for profit they would be subject to certain control as in the case of factories; but where the work is purely domestic, I do not think there is any protection for the probationer in regard to the conditions under which the probationer may be called upon to work.

I know at the present time of certain institutions which primâ facie might be considered to be institutions where the probationer would normally be sent. Those probationers are not sent there by the probation officers because of the fact that they are denied the opportunity of getting to know the conditions prevailing inside those homes and institutions. I hope that the idea which is put forward in my Amendment may be accepted in order that those places may be inspected and the conditions ascertained by the committee. I know it has been urged that a wide provision of this kind might more appropriately be dealt with in a Children Act, In that respect it seems to me that those who make such a claim overlook the fact that probation extends, not only to children, but to adults. I hope the considerations which I have urged in support of this Amendment will commend it to the House.


I beg to second the Amendment.

It is most important that the institutions to which the children are sent should maintain a high standard. It is extraordinary how small things influence children on probation. I will give one instance which I have come across in my experience. A boy was placed under a probation officer whom he refused to obey and treated with contempt. Trouble was taken to ascertain why the boy treated the officer with contempt, and it turned out that the officer was in the habit of putting his knife into his mouth, and for this reason the boy refused to pay any respect to the officer. That shows how very small things may influence these matters. I think all these institutions should be periodically inspected in order to ensure that the fullest value is being secured.


I am sorry that I cannot accept this Amendment. I do not think that the probation officer should be given the power of periodical inspection of a home which has been selected by a competent judge. I should deprecate giving the officer a power of that kind, and I hope the Amendment will not be pressed.

Amendment negatived.