HC Deb 27 June 1947 vol 439 cc874-9
Mr. Janner (Leicester, West)

I beg to move, in page 2, line 45, after "authorities," to insert: and to the recognised Association of Probation Officers. I hope my hon. Friend, having had his own way up to now, will find it consistent with his way to accept this Amendment which I suggest is reasonable for the purpose of protecting the National Association of Probation Officers, a body which has been so highly commended from time to time by his own Department. We heard, when the Second Reading Debate took place, that the services rendered by probation officers were of such a high standard and were so universally applauded that the service was one to which the commendation of every hon. Member of this House should be given, and I have no doubt that all of us regard it as a form of service which is appropriate to attract the very best people. The National Association of Probation Officers was founded in 1912, about five years after the probation system was introduced. This was done on the recommendation of the Departmental Committee set up on the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907, and I think it will be of interest to the Committee to know what, even by that time, that committee felt about the need of an association of probation officers. They said: The stimulus which is needed to maintain the efficiency of probation work and the initiative necessary to promote the adoption of whatever methods are found to be most effective, cannot be provided by a Government department alone. We are of opinion that nothing would be so likely to provide that stimulus and initiative as the function of a society comprising and managed by the probation officers themselves. It provides the means of disseminating information and a theatre for the discussion of questions of common interest. The official register of probation officers which we propose should be published would provide preliminary facts which would be a necessary preliminary to the establishment of such an organisation. The National Association of Probation Officers is the only association that deals solely with probation and the social work of the courts. When I say that, I am not casting any reflection on other associations that do other work as well. One of the objects of the association is to ensure collective action on matters affecting the probation service, to protect and promote the welfare of probation officers and to improve conditions of service. At the present time, 87 per cent. of the full-time officers in England and Wales are members of the association, and its membership is growing rapidly. In 1945, the Home Secretary of that time expressed his wish to be kept informed through the association of the views of probation officers on matters affecting the probation service. He stated that, in his view, the representatives of the association had a right and a duty, as spokesmen of the probation officers, to approach the Home Office whenever they thought it desirable in the interests of probation officers or their members so to do.

The Committee might be interested to know the full contents of a letter that was addressed at the time to the Association of Probation Officers, and I hope the Committee will forgive me if I take a little time reading this letter because, for the purpose of this proposal of mine, and also for the general purpose of the Committee having full knowledge of what the Home Office itself thinks of this Association, this letter may be of value. It is dated 10th July, 1945. The letter reads as follows: The Home Secretary welcomes the steps which the National Association of Probation Officers has taken to review its constitution and organisation, and the large measure of support which it has received from the probation officers of England and Wales. As the National Executive Committee is aware, the Association owed its origin in 1912 to a recommendation made in the report of a Departmental Committee appointed by the then Secretary of State. The valuable assistance which the Association can render in the development of the probation system was recognised in the Report of the Committee on Social Services in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction, and has frequently been emphasised by official speakers at conferences and in other ways. It is the wish of the Home Secretary to be kept informed through the Association of the views of the probation officers on matters affecting the probation service, and for this purpose it is desirable that consultations between the Association and the Home Office shall from time to time be initiated by the Association as well as by the Department. In the view of the Home Secretary, the representatives of the Association have a right and a duty, as spokesmen of the probation officers, to approach the Home Office whenever they think it desirable in the interests of the probation service or the interests of their members to do so, and access to the Department is open to them whenever they wish to make representations or inquiries, whether formally or informally, whether verbally or by correspondence. A resolution was submitted at that time by the association. With regard to that resolution the letter reads: As regards the terms of the Resolution adopted by the National Executive Committee, the Association will no doubt recognize"— and I suppose this is the point which will be made by my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State, if he is not prepared to concede my request— that it would not be consistent with the constitutional position of the Home Secretary, as a Minister of the Crown who is answerable to Parliament, to pledge himself never"— and I emphasise the word "never" because I ask him to say on this occasion that he should concede the point— to bring before Parliament the proposals affecting the work or conditions of service of probation officers, unless there has been prior consultation with the Association: but he fully recognises the standing of the Association as a body representing the probation officers, their interest in such matters and the advantages of such consultations, and it will be the normal practice of the Department to consider with the Association any administrative or legislative proposals affecting probation officers or their duties (as, for example, has been done recently in connection with the proposed revision of the superannuation provisions and the probation rules). The Secretary of State wishes me to add an expression of his appreciation of the public services which probation officers are rendering, and of the good work they have done in the war under adverse conditions which often entailed heavy strain and stress. With the passing of war conditions, it will be possible to strengthen and expand the service, and in connection with future development there will be increased opportunity and need for the help of the Association. Whilst acknowledging that as a very charming, appreciative, and appreciated letter, at the same time, I would like to ask my hon. Friend to supplement this by accepting my Amendment. There are substantial reasons why the Association of Probation Officers should be consulted.

1.45 p.m.

I would like to give one example of these for the consideration of the Committee. The present full-time officers are concerned as to how their superannuation position will be affected by the proposed transfer. Under the present probation officers superannuation fund, men officers receive a pension of £6a year for each year of contributory service, and women £4.They are anxious that they shall not suffer financially for past years of service by the terms of the transfer. Part-time officers, many of whom get very small salaries, are anxious to be provided for in some way, by gratuity or otherwise. At present, there is no superannuation provision for them.

When this Bill is brought into operation there will be a provision for consulting any association of local authorities whom it may affect. It is not a very stringent provision. The Home Secretary has certain powers which enable him, if I may say so without disrespect, to sidestep even that provision, by adopting a genial and persuasive attitude; nevertheless, there is some kind of an obligation placed upon him before an Order is placed on the Table, to consult the local authority association, whereas there is no obligation of any kind whatsoever, to consult the probation officers themselves or their organised body.

All that I am asking my right hon. Friend to do by this Amendment is to say that he will, at least, extend the courtesy' and consideration whenever any order is to be made, of requesting the view of the Association of Probation Officers of whom he has spoken so highly on previous occasions in regard to its terms. They are the people who will be most materially affected by the order. I ask my hon. Friend to accept my Amendment.

Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)

Could my hon. Friend tell me how the Association of Probation Officers compares with the Civil Service Association?

Mr. Janner

I do not know the membership of the Civil Service Association, but I do know the membership of the Association of Probation Officers. I think the membership consists of nearly all those permanent officers who are available—as I said, 87 per cent. of them.

Mr. Oliver

I am sure all hon. Members are familiar with the work of probation officers, and would wish to pay tribute to the work they do with such admirable efficiency, and, to a very great extent— and I can speak from my own personal knowledge—to the great capacity, charm and perseverance which they exhibit in the execution of their duties. If, of course, it was a question of just recognising the probation officers, then there would be no trouble at all. But this Amendment is misconceived. Clause 3, where it says, Before making the order the Secretary of State shall cause …", relates wholly to the question of finance, and not to questions on any other matter. The local authorities are the bodies who will have to provide the money, and it is, therefore, necessary to consult the local authorities before the scheme is drawn up. Obviously, the Association of Probation Officers would not be interested in that particular aspect of the matter.

I can assure my hon. Friend that so far as questions of superannuation are concerned, the officers are in constant touch with the Home Office; and I think the probation officers themselves would tell my hon. Friend that on these matters they are, and will continue to be, in touch with the Home Office, in dealing with any matter pertaining to their own interests. So far as the Home Department is concerned, whenever the interests of the probation officers are under discussion the probation officers will be taken into consultation. This Clause, however, relates to the financial arrangements between the Home Office and the local authorities, and for that reason I ask my hon. Friend to be good enough to withdraw his Amendment.

Mr. Janner

I hope there is no misunderstanding. My hon. Friend says it is a question of financial arrangements, but there are certainly financial matters involved in this Bill on which the probation officers are entitled to be called into consultation from time to time. On the assurance of my hon. Friend that no steps in which they are personally concerned will be taken without their being first informed, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 and 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.