HC Deb 01 August 1962 vol 664 cc752-62

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peel]

11.30 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I rise to raise a matter which is of extreme importance to the country and which requires a much longer time to be devoted to it than is possible tonight. The House will recollect that I was here until five o'clock the other morning, endeavouring to do something about this matter, until 8.30 a.m. on another occasion and now, by fortuitous chance and your kind intervention, if I may say so, Mr. Speaker, I am able to speak on it briefly for a few minutes tonight.

I just cannot for the life of me understand what is happening to us in this country. The whole outlook on the various social services seems to have gone awry. We spend thousands of pounds on assisting people, who call themselves Nazis, to inflict themselves on an unwilling public and to endeavour to upset, in places like Trafalgar Square and elsewhere, the mental balance of children and grown-ups who happen to be there. We spend this money for police officers to go to these places not to protect individuals from the abuse that is being poured out by those who adopt and advocate the fiendish policies of Hitler and his cohorts, but to protect those individuals and to enable them to attempt to debase the mentality and morality of some of those to whom they are talking.

When it comes to a service like the probation service, which for one hundred years has been proved to be of the highest value in counteracting vices, including these, and whom we may need very much more in consequence of the action of the Government in not adopting a policy of preventing Nazis from attacking the minds of their fellow men, the Government have shown themselves to be entirely unaware of the real position and have dealt almost death Mows to the service because of the parsimonious way in which they have dealt with Choir claims.

I can speak only telegraphically, as it were, tonight on a matter of the highest importance and I hope, therefore, that hon. Member will forgive me if I rush through the points I wish to make. I will begin by recapitulating the events which led to the present deadlock over probation officers' salaries. A Departmental Committee was appointed in 1959 after a number of difficult and unsatisfactory negotiations about salaries. The Home Secretary of the day announced his intention to appoint that Committee in February, 1959, and announced its actual appointment in the May of that year.

In 1960, it became obvious that the Committee would be a prolonged affair and negotiations were opened, and speedily completed, by which the probation service was given a 12½ per cent. increase in salaries from August, 1960, without prejudice to any ultimate findings of the Morison Committee. It is, therefore, two years since the last pay increase. The Morison Committee, which was set up by the Government, reported on 15th March, 1962, and recommended increases in the salaries of probation officers ranging from 20 per cent. at the minimum level to about 31 per cent. at the maximum of the basic grade, with still high increases for some of the higher ranks.

Before the probation service had had time to cheer, the Home Secretary referred these recommendations to the Joint Negotiating Committee asking for their recommendations on those made by the Morison Committee which they themselves had set up. The Joint Negotiating Committee in April was informed that the employers were not ready to make an offer, but on 7th May the Committee met again when the representatives of the Home Secretary stated that any salary increases must be Limited to the despicable amount of 2½ per cent. in accordance with the Government's incomes policy, but that consideration of the Morison Committee proposals might be given at the end of the year.

Despite this, the employing authorities felt that the sort of exception allowed by the "guiding light" should apply to the probation service where there was an urgent need for recruits and there had been no salary increases since August, 1960. Despite the Government's view, the employers, therefore, recommended a 10 per cent. increase in salaries, without prejudice to full consideration of the Departmental Committee recommendations. But on 17th May the Home Secretary announced his inability to accept this recommendation and his intention to make an award of 2½ per cent. This intention was repeated by the Undersecretary of State in the Adjournment debate on 16th July.

It seems to me most disturbing that no further thought appears to have been given to this by the Home Secretary, despite many statements indicating that the incomes policy was not inflexible and that exceptions must be recognised. On 23rd May this year the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking to the Women Conservatives in Central Hall, Westminster, said that the Government fully recognised that there were special cases in which pay of particular services needed reviewing, particularly where a long training is required and a special sense of calling, but that they must reserve special treatment for what were genuinely special cases.

The then Chancellor on 7th July, speaking at Cramer, said: A flat rate increase for everybody would certainly not conduce to growth. There are special cases of which you know. We all remember the speech of the Prime Minister at Luton Hoo, on 23rd June of this year, when, according to The Times, he said: Of course, we had to enforce the pause upon Government employees, conscious that it could not be altogether fair in doing so. He later said that new methods must be found to improve the mechanism of assessing salary claims, and he added: Any incomes policy must allow for special cases where what is demanded is not a normal increase but rather a reassessment or that the value of the services of a particular class may be better recognised. This is specially importance for those cases where the value of an occupation cannot be measured by productivity. This is true of many, if not most, of the professions where what is rendered is a service to the community without a direct product of manufacture.

Many Members, I am sure, must have hoped that in the Prime Minister's statement in reply to the Motion of censure on 26th June, he would have enlarged on this point. Instead, he offered us a proposal—the National Incomes Commission. But we should hope that in the light of the statements already made, no further assessment of the probation service salary needs to be made. This service has already had its inquiry lasting three years, which made its very firm recommendations, and we hope now that the Government in view of their admission that special cases need assessment, will be prepared to act on the assessment which has been completed with regard to the probation service.

It may be that full consideration of the Departmental Committee's Report is not possible, but the Home Secretary said in the House on 7th May, and Lord Dundee repeated in another place on 4th June, that it was agreed that substantial increases in the salaries of the probation service should be given at the appropriate time. Cannot the Home Secretary now promise that an immediate increase will be awarded? Cannot he tell us what will be considered the appropriate time for dealing with the urgent claim of the probation service, in view of the fact that probation officers have waited three years for the inquiry to be completed and two years since they received their last increase in pay? The 2½ per cent. now proposed does not show any deviation from the strictest interpretation of the incomes policy, very bad as it is, nor can it be considered to be substantial.

Officers of the Leicester probation service, a service which is very highly to be commended, as I know, having watched its work for years, write to me as follows: When we entered probation work, we had good grounds for believing that the worth-whileness of the service to the community was likely to be better recognised. In the event, many officers find themselves, despite university training undergone at considerable personal sacrifice, earning less than unskilled labourers under their supervision. Many officers' wives go out to work to supplement the family income. This raises various personal problems, of which we have evidence, and which are not easily overcome. An adequately staffed probation service would be a sound investment in every respect, providing a saving in money and manpower in other forms of treatment. Many offenders would never need institutional treatment if the probation service was well staffed so that each officer could give proper time and attention to his cases; but, as the Report amply reveals, officers in many areas are carrying case loads so heavy as to render supervision, let alone case work, quite out of the question. In some places, probation has become little more than a token gesture on the part of the courts making probation orders.

Fewer cases would allow the probation officer to spend time with individuals. If only two additional persons per year were prevented from relapse into crime and requiring institutional treatment, an officer would have covered his salary for the year in terms of the cost of institutional treatment. The real significance of this can be recognised by comparing the following figures. On 1st January, 1961, the probation service was responsible for the supervision of 83,600 people. On the same date, there were approximately 34,700 people in prisons, borstals, approved schools and detention centres, many of whom will ultimately come under the after-care supervision of probation officers.

Apart from the question of staff, there are other problems to which one could refer, but, unfortunately, time does not allow me to go into them. I do not want to draw invidious distinctions. I think that the professions, the police, the nurses, and so on, are greatly underpaid and we are losing considerably on that account. Moreover, as I have said, we are spending considerable sums in directions where we could easily save by preventing attacks by Nazis on our own people.

A police constable earns £910 per annum at 28 years of age. A probation officer earns £805. A police constable has a rent allowance of 42s. 6d., free uniform, 3s. boot allowance, and he is eligible for overtime payments which the probation officer is not allowed. The pay of the police constable is based on a 44-hour week. Most probation officers work flexible hours which are in excess of the average hours of a police constable.

The cost of keeping a person in bostal is about £13 a week, in a detention centre about £13 a week, in an approved school £9 14s. a week, in prison £8 10s. a week. It is estimated by the probation officers that the cost of a probationer is on average 10s. a week, which includes all administrative overheads and salaries. An adult offender on probation and in employment, unlike his counterpart in a penal institution, is not only able to make a contribution to the economy of the community but is able to maintain his dependants and himself by his own efforts.

On 1st January, 1961, the probation service had under its supervision more than double the number of prisoners in institutions. The total prison, borstal, approved school and detention centre population was 34,700. The total number under the supervision of probation officers was 83,600, which included 63,624 on probation, 10,890 under aftercare supervision, and 9,086 subject to supervision orders and money payment orders.

The Streatfeild Report recommends a substantial increase in the number of social inquiry reports in higher courts. It establishes the probation service as an important link in the sentending procedures of a court, and places a very high responsibility on the skill, judgment, and integrity of probation officers. The Criminal Justice Act, 1961, makes provision for an extension of compulsory after-care to different categories of discharged prisoners. A considerable demand is made on the skill and time of probation officers by the present categories of discharged prisoners under their compulsory supervision, and the new Act will lead to a considerable increase in the pressures under which they work.

It is ludicrous to have to point out that a television actor portraying a probation officer was at one time getting £450 per appearance. In two appearances he could earn more than the average probation officer earns in a year. The basic wage of the probation officer is £3 a week less than that of a teacher at has maximum. The teacher is also extremely unpaid, but the disparity must be clear to the Minister.

Is it sound economic policy to train probation officers at the country's ex- pense and then fail to pay them a salary which is sufficiently high to get them to remain in the service? It costs more than £1,000 to produce a fully trained probation officer.

There are many other points that I should like to make, but if I made them there would be no time for the Minister to reply. I want the Minister to say tonight that he will not wait any longer, but will see to it now that this very important service for which he set up a special commission—and this is the tragedy of the situation and the ridiculous part of it—for the purpose of going into these matters will be paid in accordance with the recommendation of that commission. This would be in the interests not only of the probation officers, but also of the nation as a whole. The rates of pay are in a very unsatisfactory position, and I hope that the Minister will assure us that he will deal with the problem very speedily.

11.48 p.m.

Colonel Sir Harwood Harrison (Eye)

Everyone knows the sincerity of the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner). I am surprised that he is not being supported by other Members of his party, who made such a fuss over this subject. Some of their fuss must have been synthetic. Nor do I see any hon. Members of the Liberal Party.

I have had rather close contact with the probation service in my county, and I am sure that nobody was more disappointed than my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary of State that the Committee's Report came at a time when there was an overriding Government policy for wages and salaries.

Has my hon. and learned Friend really considered the point that this service was under-recruited whilst this inquiry was on? According to my information, many who are now in it may leave before plans for higher wages and salaries are announced. If this comes about, what will happen in those cases where the magistrates are rather reluctant to commit the delinquents to prison and normally place them on probation? If probation officers are overworked, they will have to be committed to prison.

In addition, there are some rather weak-willed people whom probation officers look after and keep out of crime. Are there the facilities in prisons to take over these extra cases? I stress what the hon. Gentleman said. It is considerably more expensive to keep a person in prison than to place him on probation. It may be that for a short time the Government have to adopt a policy of penny wise, pound foolish. I only hope that this will not go on for too long.

I end with those few comments, hoping that my hon. and learned Friend will reply to the points raised in connection with this very difficult problem, which is a family and personal problem to those engaged in this important service.

11.50 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir Barnett Janner) and I have at last got to grips on this matter, after some vicissitudes which, I think are not the fault of either of us.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) raised this subect in an Adjournment debate on 16th July, and in the few minutes left to me I do not want to weary the House by repeating what I then said. Of course, the Government accept the immense importance of this service. In reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eye (Sir H. Harrison), I can say that although we are fearful that there may be a diminution in the number of officers at our disposal, at present there is no serious evidence of that taking place, although we are watching the position very carefully.

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West has pressed us to give quicker consideration to this matter. Of course, the position is unfair; both the Home Secretaries that I have served under have said that it is. Everbody recognises that it is unfair. But the Morison Report came at a time when it was vital for the country's economy to have a wage pause—and in the event it was successful for our economy. It has paid off.

It has certainly meant that devoted public servants, such as probation officers, have paid a heavy price. That is recognised. But it was essential that this should be done, and although it may sound like sermonising to them to tell them so—no doubt unwillingly— they have played a very important part in the salvation of our economy by the fact that they were in the front line of this battle for the preservation of our currency and our economy.

The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West asked whether quicker progress could be made, and that I promised on 16th July. He will recollect that I then said that we could not open formal negotiations until the New Year, but that the preliminary negotiations between the employing side—which is not, technically speaking, the Government—and the probation officers would, we hoped, be joined in the autumn. We stick to that. The Government's position has not changed since I made my statement two weeks ago. We must limit the immediate increase to 2½ per cent., but we have repeatedly acknowledged that the case for a substantial increase has been made out, and we will be ready to examine this formally early next year.

As for what the increase is likely to be, I can only say that my right hon. Friend will consider any recommendation the Joint Negotiating Committee may make to him about the formal implementation of the Morison figures which were very substantial. But he cannot, at this stage, go beyond the undertaking he has given. There is a great deal of procedure to be gone through for the benefit of the probation officers themselves, because until it is gone through they cannot, if they are so minded, go to arbitration. As the hon. Member knows, the Government have pledged themselves in these matters to accept the awards of the arbitration tribunals, in so far as they date back no earlier than 1st April of this year.

The hon. Member asked whether a decision was liable to be deferred by reference to the new National Incomes Commission. This is a very important point, and it is the only new point which I can give to the hon. Gentleman. He will remember that I said some time ago that I hoped that he would defer raising this subject, in his own interests as well as the interests of the probation officers, until the Prime Minister had made the speech which be made last Thursday. That was the cause of all the friction which we have had. The hon. Gentleman has raised the matter now, and I am able to tell him a little more than I should have been able to tell him had he raised it before the speech of the Prime Minister.

The ordinary major revaluation such as is being considered for the probation officers is exactly the sort of matter which is envisaged for the National Incomes Commission. But—and this is the important thing—since the Commission is not yet in being, and in view of the fact that the current revaluation of the probation service has, in a sense, been performed by the Morison Committee, and because of the stage which the matter has now reached, the Government would not regard this as a matter which must necessarily be brought before the new Commission. Unless the probation officers want it, they are not obliged to go through this additional hoop, which is something that many other people in the Government service will have to do.

In other words, the Morison Report stands as an authoritative survey of the need to revalue this vitally important service, which we all recognise plays such an important part not only in the saving of crime by the prevention of recidivism and in the salvation particularly of young people, but also in saving the Exchequer a lot of money in the manner mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, by keeping people out of custodial treatment. That is important, merely from the point of view of pounds, shillings and pence, apart from the human problem which is involved.

I can tell the hon. Member, it is the only new thing that I can tell him, and the only advance that I can make on what I said to the hon. Member for Pontypool on 16tlh July, that the Government does not regard it as essential that the probation officers should go through the machinery of the National Incomes Commission in order to get the revaluation which it is recognised that they must have.

Of course, there is a lot of negotiating machinery which they must go through. It is not enough to say that they should have a 10 per cent., a 20 per cent. or a 30 per cent. rise or whatever it may be. Within the probation service there are "many mansions". There are many grades, and, as in all these things, there are quite a lot of disputes as to what the differentials between the grades should be, and what increases or decreases there should be in the various differentials. They must go through the machinery for that purpose and also because, unless this happens the probation service as a whole is not enabled to go to arbitration.

This is a very important right. It is particularly important since the Government have accepted the view that in this phase of the pay pause they will honour any arbitration awards in so far as they do not date back earlier than 1st April of this year. Therefore, it would be quite wrong for us not to go through the normal negotiating machinery, because that would deprive the probation service of a very valuable right.

I am glad that the hon. Member has managed to get this topic again on its feet, because it is one which I was anxious should be ventilated so that I could tell the probation service, through the hon. Member and through the House, that its members will not have to go through the machinery of the new National Incomes Commission. I think that after last Thursday they feared that there would be this additional hoop placed in their path. That is not the case.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Twelve o'clock.