HC Deb 22 April 1971 vol 815 cc1335-42
2. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what proposals he has for the recruitment and training of the additional probation officers announced recently.

11. Mr. Wilkinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will announce special measures to improve the recruitment and retention of personnel for the probation and after-care services.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

New one-year probation training courses for mature students at the polytechnics of Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne have been advertised to start this autumn. These courses, together with additional places on existing courses, should provide over half of the proposed 200 new training places. Plans will be made for further places to be available in 1972.

Mrs. Short

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am delighted to hear that there is to be an expansion of training facilities for probation officers, who are in very short supply. Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that to continue with a situation in which child care officers can get very much more—perhaps £300 or £400 a year—than probation officers is leading to a crisis in the probation service, and that many probation officers are leaving? Does not he think that he should look at this aspect urgently?

Mr. Carlisle

I assure the hon. Lady that I am fully aware of all the relevant considerations. There are several other Questions on the Order Paper, including one from her, relating specifically to this issue.

Mr. Wilkinson

Can my hon. and learned Friend assure us that the pay negotiations now in train will be expedited, since not only is the starting salary of fully qualified after-care and probation officers about £400 less than for their counterparts in the social security departments of local authorities, but also, fur- ther up the scale, there is every inducement for trained personnel to make a transfer?

Mr. Carlisle

As I said, there are Questions later about this. My right hon. Friend the Home Secreary is well aware of the urgency.

Mr. Chapman

Does my hon. and learned Friend—whom we all congratulate on his recent legal promotion—agree that, as well as being the lowest-paid people doing social work, they are also doing some of the most important and most diverse work, not only in the criminal courts but in the divorce and county courts? In view of this, and in view of the terrible shortage in the West Midlands about which I know from personal knowledge, it is a matter of urgency that they should be granted a pay scale beginning at £1,380 per annum.

Mr. Carlisle

I assure my hon. Friend that I am fully aware of the important part which probation officers play in the penal system, and it is being taken into account.

5. Mr. Peter Archer

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many recruits have joined the Probation Service in the last period of 12 months for which figures are available; and how many of them are graduates.

Mr. Carlisle

430 persons were appointed as established officers in 1970. 133 held a university qualification, which includes, as well as a degree, a certificate or diploma in social studies awarded by a university.

Mr. Archer

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman forgive me if I add a further voice to the lobby pressing him? Without in the least underating the contribution made by non-graduate probation officers, including those holding diplomas, would it not be a tragedy if graduates were attracted away from the probation service by better salary and career structures elsewhere?

Mr. Carlisle

I entirely agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that there is a need for professionally trained graduates to join the probation service, and they will always be welcome.

Mr. Fowler

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the point about this Question and Question No. 2 is that over a long period the probation service has not been given sufficient resources and that there is now substantial justification for treating it as a special case in view of the pressure on prison accommodation and the need to develop alternatives to prison sentences?

Mr. Carlisle

I take account of what my hon. Friend said. There are several more specific Questions on this subject later on the Order Paper.

19. Mr. David Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will ensure that, following the interim review of the pay of probation officers, salaries are offered that will attract suitable people to the Probation Service and offer an incentive to existing officers to remain in the service.

30. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what progress has been made in negotiations on the probation officers' pay claim.

Mr. Carlisle

The Joint Negotiating Committee for the Probation Service is at present awaiting an indication of the Government's attitude. My right hon. Friend fully recognises the importance of bringing these negotiations to an early and satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Stoddart

Will the Minister give that indication of his attitude as soon as possible? As has been shown by the many questions on the subject this afternoon, there is a great deal of concern about the loss of officers from the service because of low pay and the bad career structure.

Mr. Carlisle

I fully appreciate the expressions of concern from both sides of the House. All I can say is that the Home Secretary hopes to be in a position to give that indication in the near future.

Mrs. Renée Short

Was not the interim pay award promised by the Labour Government to be operative from last January?

Mr. Carlisle

indicated dissent.

Mrs. Short

I stand corrected. Does not the hon. and learned Gentleman think that take-home pay of £16 a week for a qualified young probation officer offers no incentive to him to stay in the service and no incentive for new officers to enter the service?

Mr. Carlisle

In regard to the factual situation, I would point out that the agreement was entered into in April, 1970. It was an agreement which was due to last for 21 months until December, 1971, but it contained a "break" clause which provided for negotiation from January, 1971, to consider whether there was a justification for an interim pay award to take effect from April this year. If any pay award is made as a result of these negotiations, the Home Secretary would have power to backdate it to 1st April. In regard to the second part of the hon. Lady's comments, I fully appreciate the great value of the part played by the probation service and the importance of having adequately trained members of the probation service.

Mr. Hiley

If the main problem is shortage of money, as I expect it is, would the Under-Secretary consider averaging the remuneration of probation officers with that of other local government officers because people in the probation service are better equipped to do the job than are those in other sections of local government service?

Mr. Carlisle

My hon. Friend's suggestion may be attractive but has its difficulties. Pay in the probation service is a matter for the Home Secretary, whereas the Government have no say about the pay in respect of other social workers who are paid by the local authorities.

Mr. Hooson

Since concern is felt on this matter in many sections of the community, does it matter whether the matter of pay is dealt with by the government or by the local authority? In view of the increased demands upon the probation service and the tremendous pressures to which it is subjected, it is surely unrealistic to expect a good probation service at the present level of remuneration.

Mr. Carlisle

As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we have already announced increased figures in respect of the probation service, but my point in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) was a valid one: it is difficult to merge two amounts of money when they come from two separate sources. The amounts paid by local authorities to the social services is one matter which is being presented to the Home Office in relation to the present negotiations.

Mr. Deedes

Would the Under-Secretary of State also consider, apart from the merits of the claim, the important considerations which bear upon this matter, not least the rival attraction of other social services and the increased load which we may wish to place on the probation service, not least in the realm of parole?

Mr. Carlisle

I can assure my right hon. Friend that through the representations which have been made and as a result of the meetings of the Home Secretary with the National Association of Probation Officers, the Home Secretary is fully aware of the strength of feeling on the first point and of the need for the second.

Mr. Elysian Morgan

Would not the Under-Secretary accept as a matter of principle that a pay range of between £970 and £2,000 per annum is wholly unrealistic for the tasks which are now to be carried out by the probation service, certainly bearing in mind the extended tasks in the realm of non-custodial sentences which may very soon be placed on that service?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman realises that it would be improper of me to make any comment about existing pay scales at a time when negotiations are proceeding, other than to remind the House that they were the scales which were negotiated in January, 1970, and at that time represented a 15.6 per cent. increase on the previous existing scale.

21. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will take steps to grant basic grade officers in the Probation Service comparability with local authority social service Departments.

4. Mr. Edward Lyons

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he is taking to halt the drain of personnel from the Probation Service to local social service departments.

Mr. Carlisle

The salaries of local authority social workers are a factor which is being borne in mind in the current review of probation pay.

Mr. Barnes

Would the Under-Secretary not agree that during the last six months competition from local authority social work departments and also a sharp increase in the cost of living, particularly in the London area, has brought about a situation in London in which the service, far from being able to extend its operations, cannot even fill existing vacancies? Does he not think that he should put the salary scales on a par with local authority social work departments so as to get the necessary recruits?

Mr. Carlisle

I am not sure that the question of the rise in the cost of living is directly relevant to this Question, but in regard to the hon. Member's other point I agree that it is within the last six months that this substantial alteration in differential between local authority social workers and probation officers has occurred. As I said in answer to an earlier Question, the Home Office is aware that 78 probation officers left to join local authority social services during 1970 and we are being continually pressed on this matter by the National Association of Probation Officers. However, I can go no further than to say that the Home Secretary is aware of these matters and is considering them.

22. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations on matters for which he is responsible he has received from the Middlesex Area Probation and After-Care Service; what reply he has sent; and whether he will make a statement about comparability of pay scales of probation officers with officers in local authority social work departments.

Mr. Carlisle

The Home Office has received a number of such representations about probation salaries. Replies have said that these will be noted. The salaries of local authority social workers are being borne in mind in the current review of probation pay.

Mr. Spearing

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that until the announcement of the pay award comes through, many probation officers in the meantime will be working under a great deal of personal sacrifice because they are waiting before applying for other work in social work departments? Since he said that last year there were 78 transfers, could he say how many transfers there have been this year?

Mr. Carlisle

Although I am aware of the whole position, I do not feel that anybody would wish to exaggerate it. I am afraid that I cannot without notice give the figures for this year, but I have reason to believe that they are running roughly at the same level as they were during 1970. However, I would have to check whether I am correct.

15. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation to transfer the Probation Service to the social services departments of local authorities.

Mr. Carlisle

No, Sir.

Mr. Marks

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the probation officers are becoming increasingly isolated from other social workers both in their professional organisation and in their pay and conditions? Will he have discussions about this with all concerned? The Seebohm Committee was precluded from reviewing the probation service. Will the Minister reconsider this question?

Mr. Carlisle

I am perfectly prepared at any stage to have discussions with anyone on this matter. The position of the probation service is somewhat different from that of other social services because of its close relationship with the courts and its link with the prison system. For that reason it has always remained a separate service and not a local authority service.

Mr. Adam Butler

Will my hon. and learned Friend take note that, whatever his intentions, if the present trend continues in the county of Leicestershire there will be a transfer? Is the Minister aware that in Leicester, in 1970, of the 17 field officers operating outside prisons four left the service, three of whom went to local authorities? Is this not a compelling argument for considering as generously as possible in the present economic circumstances the salaries and promotion prospects of these men?

Mr. Carlisle

I am fully aware and take note of everything my hon. Friend says. In 1970, in the country as a whole 78 probation officers left to enter local authority social service. As I said in reply to an earlier Question, this is obviously a matter of importance to the Home Office in the present negotiations.