HC Deb 16 July 1962 vol 663 cc190-200

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

11.25 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Of all the engineers in the Kingdom who may claim that they are making a major contribution to the nation's productivity, none, in my view, could claim to excel the contribution of the social engineers, of whom probation officers form perhaps the most important group. Their preventive work, at a cost of some £16 a case, has saved thousands who would otherwise be confined in prisons at a cost to the taxpayer of about £435 per prisoner each year.

There is no doubt that the probation officer assists large numbers of people from being absurdly under-employed at almost useless work in a closed prison. If the criteria for the assessment of anyone's wages were to rest solely upon his productivity, in a fair assessment who could doubt that the probation officer would have nothing at all to fear? In fact, however, as we all know, the probation officer does work which cannot be measured in grossly material terms. Who could assess the value of the happiness brought about because of their success as marriage menders? Who, indeed, could assess in non-material terms the contribution which they make by giving to the community a healthy-minded child instead of an incorrigible delinquent?

Nor when we speak of probation officers are we speaking of work amongst a small marginal fringe. How extraordinarily involved the probation officer has become in the life of the community is dramatically revealed in my own County of Monmouthshire, which has no more and no less of the world's troubles than any other county, where one person in every 120 for some reason ox another sought a probation officer's aid last year. In the County of Monmouthshire their help was sought in the case of 500 marriages. Most of that help was sought directly without the intervention or the prompting of any court. Of those 500 marriages where the parties substantially overcame their disharmony, in 300 the probation officers had a rôle that was all-important

All this is known of the distinguished work which this service is giving. The Morison Report has acknowledged the rôle of the probation officer. The late Home Secretary, whose pusillanimity in failing to fight for the probation officers in the Cabinet and who will rightly not be easily forgiven, and undoubtedly the present Home Secretary, will give praise to the probation officer.

The probation officers however are not concerned with praise. They are today primarily concerned with pay. They do not seek a princely salary, but there is no doubt that their devotion and their dedication at this moment is being pitilessly exploited. They have seen the substantial increase which was recommended by the Morison Report completely ignored. They have seen that amount whittled down to the 10 per cent. increase recommended by the Joint Negotiating Committee. They have had offered this insulting 2½ per cent. and an equivocal statement that substantial increases will be made "at the appropriate time."

The probation service, if it is to do its exhausting and harrowing work with any élan, which it must possess to be successful, has to have an answer to some important questions if it is to be saved from near demoralisation. I would put three of these questions tonight.

Firstly, since it is said by the Government that there is no rigidity in the incomes policy and exceptions must be recognised, does the hon. and learned Gentleman unequivocally and unambiguously accept that the probation service is such an exception? The service is entitled to know now. By any yardstick, by the contribution they make productively or by their acceptance of the White Paper criteria of more exacting work or more onerous conditions, this service, in my view, qualifies.

But the Government have not said that they regard it as an exception. By preferring 2½ per cent. they have implied otherwise. If the Government will not say so and do not believe that the service is an exception, the men in the service have a right to know this and judge their future. They have a right to know where they stand with a Government who up to the present have been so badly equivocating.

Secondly, the Government have said that there will be a substantial increase at the appropriate time. What is that substantial increase? If it is not to be given now, as I think it should be, those in the service are entitled to know at this time how much it is. Quite clearly, the Government could not talk of a substantial increase unless they had directed their mind to the nature and quality of that increase. Why, therefore, should there be this procrastination? Why should not the probation service be told now what is in the Government's mind? It is certainly necessary if the service is to be kept together.

Thirdly, if the Government speak of giving them a substantial increase at the appropriate time, they are entitled to ask what is the appropriate time. Are the Government so lacking in plans and direction that they are unable or unwilling to give a definite date? I have no doubt that that date should be now, but if this cannot be or is not intended, let us know when it is to be, otherwise the demoralisation of the service will continue and will increase with what can only be lamentable results.

How urgent these answers are and how important it is that there should be an end to the parsimony is revealed in the present state of the service. In the Principality of Wales, for example, it has led to large areas being without any full-time or Home Office trained probation officers. In Carmarthenshire, Breconshire, Cardigan, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire there is not one full-time probation officer, never mind one who has had Home Office training. I believe that the same situation applies to Merionethshire. There is only a well-intentioned but professionally untrained part-time service. The case loads which are being borne both by the amateur probation officers who are unfairly called upon to do such delicate work without training and by those who are Home Office trained is scandalous. I know of one officer in Monmouthshire who at this moment has a case load of 242, or five times more than the figure recommended by the Home Offices.

So primitive and parsimonious is the training system conducted by the Home Office that in Wales it is the officers who are carrying case loads of this order who are expected to train those officers—and they constitute the majority in an area like Wales—who come into the service without any training at all.

I believe that there are serious results as a consequence of the service being under-trained and over-burdened. Who can doubt that when the number of cases rise there must be a decline in the percentage of cases which expire satisfactorily? I have examined the position in South Wales and Monmouthshire. The statistics show that whereas 75.8 per cent. of cases expired satisfactorily in 1950, the percentage was 70.88 by 1956 and it had fallen to 60.66 by 1960. It is statistically inescapable that failure to pay and train probation officers satisfactorily has contributed directly to the growth in the incidence of crime.

I sincerely hope that, for the sake of the community, the probation service this evening will not be given a dusty answer. I hope that on this occasion at last before the Recess they can hear something definite and categorical, and I believe that unless this is done we are in serious danger of a large number of good, dedicated men drifting away from this very fine service.

11.35 p.m.

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

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) has very rightly stressed the cardinal importance of the probation system as a means of preventing and treating crime. Nobody who has had the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend who was until very recently the Home Secretary could be insensitive, faced as we are with a continually rising rate of crime, to the needs of the probation service. I am sure that both sides of the House will understand the very real regret with Which my right hon. Friend found it necessary to disappoint the probation officers over their salary increase. It was indeed a painful and difficult decision.

The facts and history axe pretty well known by now, I think. The Morison Committee was appointed in May, 1959, and the Government's appointment of this Committee was a recognition that the time had come to reassess the place of the probation officer and the probation service in the community, to consider whether the service needed improvement, and, if it did, to see how improvement could be effected.

I should remind the House that in August, 1960, while the Committee was sitting, the probation officers received a negotiated salary increase of about 12½ per cent., but this was designed to enable the probation service to keep up with the general movement of incomes and it is not part of the Government's case that it at all anticipated the revaluation which the Morison Committee was later to make. The Morison Committee recommended very substantial salary increases indeed—for the basic grade, something of the order of 20 per cent. at the minimum, and 31 per cent. at the maximum, and for the higher grades greatly improved differentials involving increases for some officers of more than 40 per cent. It also made a number of recommendations about the salary structure.

My right hon. Friend's immediate step on receiving the Report was to refer the proposals to the Joint Negotiating Committee for the Probation Service. He was criticised for taking this course when he knew that the Government's policy ruled out any immediate increase of more than 2½ per cent., but there are factors which this criticism ignores. Not only did the Morison Committee itself say that certain details of the pay scales would have to be left for negotiation, and, indeed, in paragraph 353 of its Report, deliberately left them for negotiation, but it was in the probation officers' interest that the matter should be brought within the ambit of the Joint Negotiating Committee so that they could if they wished take advantage of the right which the negotiating machinery gives them to seeking arbitration on their claim that the proposals should be met in full. If they had not been sent to the negotiating machinery they could not have claimed arbitration if they so wished.

The Government did, however, make it clear to the Negotiating Committee from the outset that in the present phase of their incomes policy a recommended increase of more than 2½ per cent. was unlikely to be implemented by my right hon. Friend. The Joint Negotiating Committee in full knowledge of the Government's attitude nevertheless recommended that there should be a 10 per cent. increase from 1st April last. The Government carefully considered the arguments which the Joint Negotiating Committee adduced, but could regretfully find no ground for departing from their previous view on the 2½ per cent., and my right hon. Friend so informed the Committee that he would not implement fully the 10 per cent. increase but would make rules giving an increase from last 1st April of 2½ per cent. and that he was ready to examine the wider claims of the service at the beginning of 1963.

The Government have made it very clear but I want again to emphasise that the increase of 2½ per cent. in no way represents their view of the just salary level for probation officers. It is the probation officers' misfortune that the revaluation of their service should have become an issue at this difficult and critical stage in the development of an incomes policy.

For the future, it must be possible to revalue one occupation relatively to others and the Government fully accept this need. The limitation of the probation officers to a 2½ per cent. increase has been imposed solely while the working out of an incomes policy is in the critical and intermediate phase to which I have referred. The need for a substantial increase in probation service salaries is accepted and the Government are prepared to consider the claims of the service at the beginning of 1963. I will not continue to repeat the natural disappointment which, I know, the probation service feels and which it has expressed.

For the future, I can say this. The Government have certainly contemplated that the employers' side would proceed before the end of this year with their detailed consideration of the Morison recommendations, so that negotiations with the staff side could be resumed very early in 1963. This is in answer to one of the hon. Member's questions about dates. I assure the House that the Government would not wish to retard the progress of discussions one moment longer than the development of an incomes policy makes necessary.

I come now to the immediate position before that date. As I said earlier, my right hon. Friend informed the Joint Negotiating Committee that he proposed to make rules awarding a 2½ per cent. increase. The National Association of Probation Officers, at its annual conference on 18th May, passed a resolution in which it said that it rejected this proposal. My right hon. Friend thought it right to take no further action until the Joint Negotiating Committee had had the opportunity of considering the position. The Committee met on 5th July and I understand that the staff side made it clear that it was now interested in nothing short of the full implementation of the Morison Committee's recommendations as soon as possible and that the committee stands adjourned until a future date. My right hon. Friend will, of course, consider any recommendation that the Committee may make to him as to the eventual implementation of the Morison figures. I must, however, repeat that he cannot, at this time, go beyond his undertaking to examine the wider claims of the service at the beginning of next year.

Meanwhile, however, my right hon. Friend has decided that he should no longer delay the implementation to the extent that is consistent with Government policy of the salaries increase that the Joint Negotiating Committee has recommended to him. He is, therefore, making rules which will increase the salaries of probation officers by approximately 2½ per cent. with effect, retrospectively, from 1st April last.

The hon. Member for Pontypool echoed the anxiety expressed by the Morison Committee about the great influx into the service in recent years of persons who were not trained on appointment. As was stated in reply to a Question in May, nearly 45 per cent. of those entering the service in the last three years were in this category. My right hon. Friend wishes to create conditions as soon as possible in which only trained men and women can be appointed.

It is, however, important to understand the circumstances in which this influx of direct entrants, as they are known, has taken place. Hon. Members will see from paragraph 265 of the Morison Report that the strength of the probation service in England and Wales at the end of 1954 was 1,200. At the end of 1958, it had risen to 1,391, an increase of about 16 per cent. in four years. At the end of June this year, the strength was 1,838, an increase of nearly one-third in three and a half years.

Over the whole short period of seven and a half years, the increase has been over 50 per cent. These figures indicate the enormously increased demands that have been made upon the probation service. No one could have foreseen the extent and persistence of that increase and it is accordingly an over-simplification to suppose that the intake of direct entrants could have been avoided if salaries had been higher. The reason for that is that the pre-entry training takes from one to three years and however many students had been attracted to the training by the thought of relatively higher salaries later, it would have been extremely difficult without resorting to direct appointments for an expansion of the necessary rate to have been accomplished in any case.

Faced with this situation, my right hon. Friend's policy has been to provide the best possible training for the direct entrants while they are in posts, and this training takes usually one of three forms. These are described in the Morison Report, and I do not think the House would want me to repeat them now. They are geared to the needs of the situation, and have been most valuable, but, of course, they are only temporary and are not what we want to see as permanent arrangements because, exactly as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we want to see the end, when we can, of the direct entrant and that of those who come along before going in for the relatively long period of training.

This brings me to reminding the House that my right hon. Friend is reconstituting his Probation Officer and Training Board in September and that the new Committee will have an independent chairman, Mr. T. A. F. Noble, Vice-Chancellor-designate of Leicester University, as the Committee recommended. My right hon. Friend looks forward to the help of the Board in considering the valuable suggestions about recruitment and training that the Morison Committee has made.

Since I know that the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) wishes to say a few words, and since this is a subject on which we very much value advice from all quarters of the House, I shall sit down. I should like to end by saying that it is, of course, not possible for me to answer the first two questions of the hon. Member tonight. He will understand that I have no cats to let out of the bag, or even kittens, but I can assure him that it is quite wrong to think that it would have been possible consistent with Government policy to have gone any further so far than we have gone in this very painful question of the probation officer's pay, but that the process of revaluation and the implementation of the spirit behind the Morison Committee Report has a very high priority in any relaxation of the incomes policy or any development of it which may take place in the near future.

11.47 p.m.

Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member on being in a position to stand at the Dispatch Box tonight to reply to the debate. I cannot congratulate him, though, on what he has said. We understood that because of events which have happened in the last few days we should probably see new policies with regard to increases in pay and perhaps see an end to the pay pause. But what we have heard from him takes us little further forward from where we were a few weeks ago.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has gone over the history of the salary position with regard to probation officers. I stress what my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said, that it is very shortsighted to keep probation officers with very low salary. Looking at it from a strictly financial point of view, it would surely be very much better to spend money in giving them better salaries so that we might save money on keeping people in detention centres, borstals, prisons and so on.

The right hon. Gentleman who is now the First Secretary of State said on 10th May that he had sent this decision to the Negotiating Committee and it had come forward with a suggestion for a 10 per cent. increase. After that there was a debate in another place when the Government accepted a Motion moved by a noble Friend of mine saying that there should be a substantial increase in salary for probation officers. The hon. and learned Gentleman has tonight repeated that. He said that the need for a substantial increase is accepted. What the probation officers want to know is when they are going to get that substantial increase.

I am not sure whether I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman correctly. He made one announcement and has taken the position one stage further. If I understood aright, some time ago the probation officers rejected a 2½ per cent. increase in their salaries which they regarded as an insult. Now I understand from what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said that they are to be compelled to accept the offer which they have rejected.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Orders will be made and quite a considerable backlog of increased salaries will be paid consequently. If the probation officers reject the increase, that is something which the Chancellor of the Exchequer will like. The intention of the Home Secretary is to make the Orders and increased salaries will become legally payable. But what the recipients do with the money is their affair.

Mr. Abse

The Government now intend to ram the insult down their throats.

Miss Bacon

The hon. and learned Gentleman has put in more legal language what I was trying to say in the language of a layman. In other words, they are to be compelled to accept a 2½ per cent. increase. We have had a disappointing reply from the Government. Far from being satisfied, the probation officers will regard this as an added insult. We thought that as a result of the events of the last few days we should see an end of the 2½ per cent. figure, particularly in respect of people like probation officers and nurses who are doing valuable work for the country. Now we learn from the hon. and learned Gentleman that although the shop window had been dressed, the goods axe still the same as ever. We still have the pay pause and the 2½ per cent. As my hon. Friend has said, these people are to have the insult rammed down their throats.

Mr. Abse

Is it not an extraordinary position, and quite unheard of, that a pay claim should be imposed on workers in this way, unilaterally? It is an extraordinary thing that, despite what they said to the Joint Negotiating Committee, the Government should attempt in this way to deal by compulsion with a body of this kind. It is an undoubtedly serious psychological error to do this—one of the many blunders on which the Government have insisted against sections of employees who axe motivated not by grab but by dedication. The statement which has been made will be received not only with disappointment but, in view of this singular method of imposition of a payment, with considerable resentment.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned at six minutes to Twelve o'clock.