HC Deb 25 March 1971 vol 814 cc941-62

6.41 p.m.

Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)

It is fortunate that we have the opportunity to debate the probation and after-care service because of the inclusion in the Supplementary Estimates of certain sums of money for the Home Office in respect of the probation service.

As the House is probably aware—I know that the Under-Secretary is aware—negotiations are currently taking place with the Probation Officers' Association, and it is interesting to note that the representations from probation officers in respect of pay have the support of the employers in this particular section. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell the House that the clammy hand of the Treasury will not interfere with what appears to be an agreement between the two sides on this matter.

It would be wrong for us to go into great detail in this matter. I do not intend to press it other than to join with the Under-Secretary in wishing well to the negotiations and hoping that something will come out of them to the satisfaction of those who man this service.

In respect of the Estimates now before us, is the amount in these Estimates sufficient for the pay increase to be of such a nature that it is comparable with local authority social workers? One of the difficulties now facing the probation service is that, because of the implementation of the Seebohm proposals by local authorities and the setting up of directors of social services, social workers in local authorities are now receiving substantial salaries under that type of negotiating machinery. There is a draw for probation officers to leave the probation service and take higher remuneration in the local authority social services.

A recent survey in one probation area has indicated that of the people who have left the probation service in that area, 45 per cent. did so because the remuneration in social service work for local authorities gave them a very substantial increase. It is wrong for us to expect social workers, whether they be probation officers or others, to exist on below-normal levels of salaries and to be motivated and sustained in their work purely because they believe it is a vocation rather than a job. They must be paid some comparable salary. It is essential, if not in the current negotiations certainly within the foreseeable future, that there should be parity of remuneration between social workers who are employed by probation and after-care committees and those employed by local authorities.

It is interesting to note that there has been some pressure in the House with respect to the probation service over recent months, no doubt in preparation for this debate on the Supplementary Estimates. On 18th February, my hon. Friends the Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) and the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) asked about the numbers employed in the probation service and any increases anticipated. The answer was that at the moment in the probation service there are some 3,426 officers, and the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that he hoped by 1975 to see that figure increased to 4,400.

We have a fear that because of the competitive situation that exists, the right hon. Gentleman will not achieve that desirable aim, and that we shall find that people who would be suitable for probation work will be drawn off into other fields. If he wants to achieve that increase, which we consider essential, he must do something about the general state of morale and remuneration in the probation service.

We have heard a lot during the last two years about law and order and that we must have a stronger system of policing because it is essential to meet the challenge being presented by the increasing crime rate. There is no difference between the parties in the House about the fact that it is necessary to meet this challenge to decent civilised society by those citizens who are greedy. feckless, inadequate, destructive or immoral. It is no good saying that although we are about to increase the police force and stiffen the law, we are not going to be able to deal with this situation in any other way than by committing people to prison. It has been the tendency of Parliament to provide for non-custodial penalties in recent legislation, and we must place the greatest hope on that in dealing with this type of antisocial and criminal section of our community in the future.

Once a person gets on the downward slope, it is all very well to have sufficient police to grab a man by the collar and stop his downward slide. But it is to fixing up the foothold and giving support so that that person can climb back up the slippery slope and gain a position in decent society that we must attach importance. That is the work of the probation service, not only for those who are placed in its care by an order of a court, but also the after-care work that it does for released boys from borstal and people on parole from prison. We want to encourage all these things, not only from a humanitarian point of view, though that is a sufficiently strong reason to justify it, but perhaps, for those who take a harder view on penal reform, on the question of cost.

The hon. Gentleman, replying to a Question on 1st March this year, disclosed most illustrating figures. He was asked how much it cost to keep a person in prison per week. He gave the Answer that £23 was the average cost. That does not include the supporting cost of supplementary benefit, and so on, for the man's family while he is unable to support them.

If we have a decent probation service and if the courts are able, because of its strength, to use non-custodial penalties more and more frequently, that cost can be dramatically reduced. Although I have been able to acquire no reliable figures as to the cost of probation per person per week, it is estimated that it could not be more than £2 to £3, disregarding any supplementary benefits which the family may be drawing.

There is a strong case for the probation service to receive, not only the extra amount in these Estimates, but also whatever sums may be required from public funds in future to ensure a fair deal at work for these devoted men and women who do so much to rehabilitate those who have fallen by the wayside and who can do so much to contribute to the national economy by enabling people to be placed on probation instead of being sent to prison. Parliament should not hesitate to give the Minister the support he needs in this matter.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Cox (Wandsworth, Central)

I echo the comments my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) has made. I take part in the debate because the Government's decision on this issue could well affect many of my constituents. In my Division is one of our major prisons. I know from my contact with prison officers that they are very much in favour of any measures which will lessen the problems they have in Wandsworth Prison and, indeed, within the prison service generally, namely, overcrowding and conditions of work. Prison officers know that if the probation and after-care service can be strengthened this will help the prison service.

As I said to the Under-Secretary in a question last week, I accept that he genuinely wishes to see improvements in the prison service. I am equally convinced that at times he must be under a great deal of pressure from his colleagues in regard to the amount of financial help he would like to give to the prison service. We know that there is only so much money available and that there is much competition among Ministers for what they rightly regard as their priorities.

Many problems facing the prison and probation services receive scant regard. My hon. Friend referred to the salary structure. I have taken details of some of the salaries offered in advertisements in one of the London evening papers. There is an advertisement for a lady clerk at a salary of £1,000 plus, another for a male bookkeeper with some professional experience at a salary of £1,300 plus, another for a male credit control clerk at £1,600 plus. I am sure that with those salaries go many additional incentives.

Those in the probation service are not paid a salary commensurate with the educational standards they have acquired from many years of study to do their job. I understand that it costs about £1,800 to train a probation officer. There has, unfortunately, been a great deal of wastage. I believe that 734 have left the service as against 1,800 entrants. This is most unfortunate because, although these people must have been aware that the salary structure was not overgenerous, they were sufficiently keen to enter the profession. We should be concerned to ask ourselves why people keen enough to join the profession and be trained leave after a short time.

My contacts with probation officers leave me with the impression that these people left with much reluctance but left basically because the basic salary structure would not enable them to live adequately and rear a family. My hon. Friend did not refer to the problem which exists in the Greater London area where probation officers who are married and wish to start a family must often pay very high rents. Their salaries do not enable them to seek mortgages from building societies or local authorities. This is another reason why probation officers leave the service.

There are many people in prison who should not be there. I must make it clear that I am not against prisons. I accept that there will always be a section of the community who will have to be locked up for society's good and also for their own good. About 13,000 male prisoners, however, are serving sentences of less than three months and, in addition, about 7,000 are serving sentences of up to six months.

A problem which has faced successive governments is the gross overcrowding in prisons, yet these figures show that 50 per cent. of the present prison population is serving sentences of less than six months. Many of these 20,000 male prisoners are not criminally minded but, unfortunately, many are socially inadequate. When I was in local government I was chairman of the Stamford House Boys Remand Home and came into contact with many youngsters who were sent there. I formed the impression that many people who are socially inadequate need an anchor to which they can turn to seek stability and to enable them to build up lives for themselves. The best person to do this is often the probation officer, which is another reason why we should support the Minister in his efforts to bring about improvements in the salary structure.

The Minister may well say that he is sympathetic but that there are limits to the amount of money available. I do not make my next point as a party point, because I accept that the Department inherited this from the previous Government. We are now considering the amount of money available to improve the probation and after-care service, yet we are embarking upon a programme of redeveloping Holloway Prison at a cost of about £6 million. Over 1,000 of the present female prison population of 1,500 are serving sentences of less than six months which shows that there is a small percentage of women who could be termed hard core criminals.

It would be of greater benefit to society if it was decided that there are parts of Holloway Prison which need to be redeveloped for the close supervision of certain women prisoners but that the vast majority do not need close supervision; what they need is after-care hostel services and a development of the probation service; therefore, the majority of the money should have been spent on that. I do not know whether there has been time for the Department to reconsider the decision to go ahead with these proposals, but I should have thought that there would have been time to reconsider this proposal.

I therefore hope that the Under-Secretary will inform hon. Members on both sides who genuinely concern themselves with these problems and wish to help his Department to overcome them, and will also provide an incentive to those already in the probation service to remain in it and to others to enter it. The more recruits we can get the more will the relative overall expense be reduced, and that will benefit not only the Department but the country.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I, too, have a prison in very close proximity to my constituency. Leicester prison boasts the highest walls of any prison in the country, and its population includes some of the most difficult and, in some instances, most dangerous of prisoners. The prison officers there, particularly in the special security wing, have a very nerve-racking time.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox), my concern is to keep down the number of those who have to go to prison and those who return to it after release, but I differ from him in one respect. He talked quite correctly of the need for an increase in the number of probation officers. I understand that the Government have already indicated that the number is to be increased from 3,400 at the end of 1970 to 3,900 by the end of 1972, and to 4,400, possibly 4,700, by the end of 1975. Perhaps the Minister will confirm those figures.

What worries me, however, is not just the number of recruits but their quality. These people have one of the most difficult jobs in our society. I have had the privilege of going out with them and seeing them at work, and I wonder at their patience and calm and care. They run considerable dangers, and they, too, have a fairly nerve-racking time. Their case load is far too high. They are, in the main, magnificent people.

I have received a petition signed by 24 probation officers in Leicester. They have not only put their names to it but have given me permission to let the Minister have this document in due course. I hope he will read it with care, and give it sympathetic consideration. What worries these good people is not just that the number of cases they have to deal with has increased but that they are competing with council social welfare departments, whose officers, though incredibly underpaid, still get more than probation officers.

It is all very well to say that a man must have a vocation to do the job, but that is no excuse for his wife and children not being financially looked after. That a man is good enough to be willing to work day and night is no reason for not paying him overtime for the longer hours he works. If hon. Members choose to sit through the night, that is our misfortune—we even rush to get elected to this place—but we cannot compare our situation with that of the unfortunate probation officer.

I wonder at the large number of people who are prepared to work in this excellent service, and I only hope that the Minister will give them more chance of catching up in the race for money in which all Government Departments are engaged. It always seems to me to be unfair that people in departments where there are strong unions and strikes can occur can get the money, whereas such people as probation officers, who would never withdraw their labour, are left behind. They, with the old people and the chronically sick, are at the back of the queue for better pay.

I hope that the Government, which proclaim themselves—I believe, sincerely—as wishing to combat crime, and which have increased police officers' pay very considerably, will regard the probation officers as having very high status in the battle against crime. The dangers to our society represented by the increase in crime are desperate.

I hope that the Minister will enable us to take good tidings to those of our constituents who are probation officers and trying to prevent people from going to prison; and even to people who are in prison, because even the ladies of Holloway are entitled to much better treatment than they get.

7.5 p.m.

Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)

My purpose is not to say that a political issue is involved but to support my hon. Friends. The whole House will accept their basic hypothesis that a service which gives such a distinguished and valuable contribution to the life of the United Kingdom is one of the worst paid of all services. The plea that should go from this House should not be for topping up present salaries but for reappraising the situation so drastically and radically as for the first time to bring the probation officers' salaries within the ambit of those in comparable service.

It is nothing short of scandalous that people from whom we expect such skills, such qualities and such dedication should be within a salary range of about £970 to about £2,000. Such pay will make it extremely difficult for the Home Office to reach its target of 4,700 probation officers by the end of 1975 and, additionally, it will have to take into account the additional and more substantial tasks which the service may well have to bear in the near future.

Each year we come nearer to the necessity of applying our minds to the question of non-custodial penalties. The whole idea of imprisonment is, in a sense, extremely ironic: the more anti-social the behaviour of the offender, the more necessary it is for him to be withdrawn from society—placed outside its walls, as it were—in order that he may be rehabilitated as a complete and full member of that society, and brought back into it. That is an irony which no civilised community has succeeded in eliminating. We are not concerned at present with the philosophical problem, but I apprehend that in the very near future we shall have to face its essentials because of the physical pressures which will make reappraisal necessary.

On 4th March last the Under-Secretary of State replied to two Parliamentary Questions I put down relating to the prison population. The replies reveal a very grave and desperate situation. They show that by the end of 1974 the estimated prison population will be no fewer than 50,000, and that by that time it is expected that no fewer than 17,500 prisoners will be sleeping two or more to a cell.

It means that all the progress, the effort and dedication that has been going on to bring about a liberalising régime over the last few years will come to nought. About seven years ago the number of persons sleeping two or more to a cell was about 5,500. There is ground for fearing that two years from now the estimates will be considerably higher than 50,000 because these estimates have to be revised upwards with alarming rapidity. Very shortly we shall be driven by the logic of necessity to a situation in which we shall have to consider the imminence of substantial developments in non-custodial sentences.

Whatever development is envisaged, it is almost inevitable that it will be built around the work of the probation service. Therefore, I would ask the Under-Secretary to say whether that calculation of the figure of 4,700 has taken into account the necessity of this reappraisal which I maintain is almost inevitable. Even putting that consideration aside, there are other reasons, more immediate than that, for saying that there must be a rapid and substantial growth in the probation service.

The Wootton Committee which reported in June, 1970, on non-custodial and semi-custodial penalties made an excel- lent recommendation in paragraph 187 in relation to the combination of a suspended sentence with probation. The House knows that under Section 3(1) of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, it is impossible to combine probation with a sentence in respect of the same offence. Section 39(2) of the Criminal Justice Act, 1967, specifically prohibits the making of a probation order in respect of a different offence when a suspended sentence is passed. I quote from the Wootton Committee, which says: This provision reflects the view that to combine probation with a suspended sentence would be inconsistent with the principle of probation and that if offenders were given a suspended sentence in addition to probation they would be more likely to end up in prison if probation failed. We appreciate that the introduction into probation of the deterrent threat of a suspended sentence would not be wholly in accord with the British concept of probation as an alternative to rather than a suspension of punishment and that the offenders' consent to supervision could no longer be required if a suspended sentence were opposed. Nevertheless, it seems desirable to ensure that offenders subjected to a suspended sentence should not be deprived of any guidance or help of which they stand in need. This view was shared by officials from the probation service from whom we took oral evidence. I shall be glad to have the views of the Under-Secretary on that.

As the Children and Young Persons' Act, 1969, comes into full operation it is inevitable that in the first stages, for some years at any rate, there will be more and more work for the probation service. Eventually, when the supervisory officers under the supervision provisions of the Act take over in respect of child offences some of this burden will be lifted from the shoulders of probation officers. I would not expect the net benefit of such provisions in relation to probation officers to take place for some two or three years.

There is another development to which we should apply our minds and it is one which has met considerable success in the United States. It is the appointment of street officers who assist young persons in some of the larger cities. From their day-to-day contact and making of associations with youngsters who would normally get into trouble with very little encouragement at all they gradually build up a bond of trust with these young people.

They are far removed from officers whom those youngsters would regard as being in any way associated with the Establishment but from time to time they manage to de-fuse a situation. It is not to be hoped that these people are themselves able to lead these youngsters into more refined ways but they are there at the immediate point of trouble. The results shown are in the main extremely encouraging.

Finally it is obvious that there should be, and there is likely to be, a substantial increase and development of the hostel scheme and in after-care. It is monstrously ironic that after-care, which is the weakest point in a prisoner's rehabilitation, is in many cases a voluntary matter for the prisoner. The weakest link in the whole chain is made up of those days and weeks immediately following the man's discharge from prison. Anyone who has any contact with the courts knows how high a percentage of the offenders who are recidivists find themselves committing a second or subsequent offence within a matter of a month of their being discharged from prison. Surely the time has now come when we must consider making an after-care order compulsory so that such persons receive supervision from a probation order?

I am sorry to have delayed the House but I am sure that it is necessary that we should have this reappraisal of the whole system of salaries in the probation service. We should do it first because it is right, and also because it is necessary, and not least because in the very near future the service will prove to be of even greater and more vital consequence than it is at present.

7.16 p.m.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Wellbeloved) for giving the House this opportunity of discussing the question of the probation service and probation officers' pay. I am particularly grateful to him, and congratulate him, on getting first place in the ballot so that we can discuss at this hour rather than much later had he had the misfortune to come out No. 8 in the ballot. I appreciated very much the speech made by the hon. Member and by his hon. Friends the Member for Wandsworth, Central (Mr. Thomas Cox), Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) and Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan). I am grateful for their approach to this subject.

It will certainly not surprise the hn. Member for Cardigan nor, I suppose, any other hon. Member if I say that I find myself largely in agreement with practically everything that has been said. The debate gives me the opportunity to pay my respects to the probation service and to say something about its work and the future which it may face in view of the alternatives to imprisonment which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central. I wish to say something, too, about the effect on the present manpower position and the future expansion of the service.

I shall say something about pay, but the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I can say very little a bout the current negotiations, not only because they are current, but because if I were to pursue that subject I should probably be out of order, as I understand that this Supplementary Estimate relates to the increased cost to the Home Office of the pay settlement implemented in April last year.

I agree that it is depressing to look at the projection of the possible prison population. The figures given are the best estimates which we in the Home Office can make of the likely numbers in the coming years, faced with the overall increase in the size of the population as a whole, with the increasing trend of criminality and with the increasing success of the police in managing to bring to justice a higher proportion of offenders. In view of the figures which I was able to give, we regretfully estimate that by 1974 the figure of 14,000 prisoners living two or three in a cell will increase to 17,500. For that reason, we are embarked on the biggest prison building programme ever, because we recognise the need to produce humane conditions in prison.

We are considering anxiously with a certain degree of success the question of finding camps and places of that nature which can more readily be turned into prisons. As the hon. Member for Cardigan will know from his experience at the Home Office, the trouble with building prisons is that, even if we started today and found several ideal sites, by the time that we had succeeded in getting planning permission and all the necessary clearances and built them they could have no effect on the situation as it is likely to be in 1974 or 1975. We are doing our utmost to speed up the building of prisons in the process of being built to try to meet the problem.

Mr. Elysian Morgan

Does the hon. Gentleman's estimate of a prison population of 50,000 by the end of 1974 take into account the 20 schemes for building prisons and extending existing prisons which he announced on 18th March? Even if half a dozen new prison schemes were commenced, it would not be possible, within six to seven years, for those new building projects to alleviate the pressures.

Mr. Carlisle

I should not like to commit myself entirely because this matter is slightly outside the scope of the debate. I agree that if we brought new premises into the programme at this stage they would not alleviate the situation in the period mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. The estimate takes account of all the projects which I mentioned in my Answer last week, except that we have managed to bring in certain camps which will be able to relieve the situation earlier. If our search for further camps or places which can easily be converted is successful, it may have an effect on the figures, as may some of the things which I said in answer to the hon. Gentleman's other question about alternatives to imprisonment.

The probation service is small—the number of established officers is 3,381—but I believe that it will be accepted by everyone that it occupies a key position in the administration of justice. I am sure that I speak for everyone who has been involved with the administration of the courts when I say that it is in the unique position of being held in the highest regard by the judiciary of all ranks—whether it be the permanent judiciary or the lay magistrates. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the amount of work done by extremely dedicated bands of people who have succeeded in providing a service which has attained a very high standard of performance and it is my wish—and I say this in answer to the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West who talked about quality as well as quantity—to ensure that those high standards are preserved and can be applied to any task which may be put on the probation service.

The work load of the probation service has increased enormously in recent years. There are about 80,000 people on probation. Last year about 50,000 new probation orders were made. There have been tremendous increases in the amount of work involved with the presentation of social inquiry reports to the courts. But in addition to the growth of what one might call the traditional tasks such as the supervision of offenders placed on probation, the service has in recent years assumed extended responsibility in the field of after-care—and I agree with what the hon. Member for Cardigan said about the importance of that—and new responsibilities as regards the parole scheme. I wonder whether the extent of the involvement of the probation service with the parole scheme is fully realised. I have always thought that the parole scheme has been proved to be one of the successes of the last Criminal Justice Act, introduced by the Labour Government.

As a result of that scheme, there are about 1,300 people on parole who would otherwise be in prison. During the last year the parole board released, I think, 2,200 prisoners. The point has been made about the saving in cost to the country as a result of those people not being kept in prison at the cost of £22 a week, probably with their families on social security, but instead partaking as members of the community.

However, we must accept that the implementation of the parole system has put considerable additional burdens on the probation service. The service has become responsible for filling welfare officer and social worker posts in prison department establishments. These posts are staffed by seconded members of the probation and after-care service. Our expectation is that the work of the probation service under all these various heads will, with one exception, continue to expand. The exception is in the supervision of the younger age groups of people up to the age of 14. The hon. Gentleman knows the Children and Young Persons Act far better than I or any other hon. Member, but I think I am correct in saying that under the proposals of the Government to implement the Act, which was passed by the Labour Government the probation for those who are under 14 will eventually pass from the hands of the probation service to those of the child care officers on the staffs of local authorities.

I turn now to the additional burdens which will be placed upon the probation service by possible alternatives to imprisonment. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford pointed out that it was both humane and economically sound to keep people out of prison when one is able to do so. I do not think I am breaking any rule of order, Mr. Speaker, if I tell him that the Question which he has put down will receive an answer today, tomorrow or in the early part of next week.

The estimated cost of keeping a person on probation is £1 a week, against £22 estimated for keeping a person in prison. Therefore, the economy of keeping a person on probation rather than in prison is obviously of importance. It is not only an economic matter. I emphasise that probation is a humane form of relatively inexpensive treatment which is certainly not ineffective.

We are all concerned, as the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central is concerned, about the present state of overcrowding in our prisons. Imprisonment, as he realises and as the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford said, must always remain a penalty. Much criticism has been levelled at me from the benches opposite in the last week or two about the proposals of the Labour Government to rebuild Holloway Prison.

Mr. Greville Janner

Quite right.

Mr. Carlisle

Does the hon. Gentleman mean that the proposals are quite right?

Mr. Janner


Mr. Carlisle

Whatever one may feel about the imprisonment of women, there will always be a proportion of the women offending population who will have to be sent to prison. Holloway is very old and needs to be rebuilt. I do not criticise the decision taken by the Labour Government that the rebuilding of Holloway is necessary, nor the intention to make it more hospital-orientated. The problem of imprisonment has to be tackled in two ways, first by providing more up-to-date prisons, and, secondly, by finding ways to keep out of prison those who can be dealt with without being sent to prison at all. There may be among those detained in custody some who could instead be subject to another form of penalty. Although the decision in any individual case must rest with the court, it must fall to the Government of the day to provide to the courts possible alternative forms of penalty which make that end achievable.

One matter we are looking at is more variety in the type and frequency of probation, as has occurred in California. Secondly, we are looking at the provision of more hostels. It may be that additional measures should be taken to provide accommodation within the community for offenders who are subject to court order or who are under licence from custody. Lastly, there is the possibility of new forms of non-custodial penalty, involving inevitably the probation and after-care service. I have particularly in mind the report of the Wootton sub-committee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System on alternatives to imprisonment. I was asked specifically what was the Government's attitude towards that report, which makes a great many recommendations. We have made it clear that we are looking at all the recommendations, although we find some more attractive for practical reasons than others.

I hope that we shall shortly see back the deferred sentence as a power available to the courts. On the questions of probation hostels, more intensive probation and the main recommendation of community service, there are three working groups, including representatives of the probation and after-care service, looking into the practical problems involved in the possible implementation of those recommendations.

The hon. Member for Cardigan asked specifically what was my view—and I assume he wanted my personal view—on the suspended sentence being combined with a probation order. This was a recommendation of the Wootton Committee, and we are therefore looking at it. I add the warning that there is always the danger that the effect of implementing that recommendation might be that on each occasion a suspended sentence was given a probation order was made as well. One has to decide whether that is the best use of the resources and manpower of the probation service. The working parties will be examining the practical issues raised by a scheme of community service by offenders, the better use of probation resources and the provision of accommodation within the community for offenders subject to court order or under licence from custody. They are now engaged in that work and will be reporting to the Home Secretary as soon as possible.

I turn, finally, to the effect this will have on the manpower position of the probation service. I mentioned the present figure of 3,381 established officers against an establishment figure of 3,500 by the end of 1970. The discrepancy is somewhat greater than the figures suggest, because the target of 3,500 was fixed at a time when the work load was not as heavy as it is now. The most recent estimate suggests that 3,900 whole-time officers will be needed by the end of 1972 and that, after allowing for expansion in existing tasks and the hoped-for increase in the number of offenders treated in the community, 4,700 whole-time officers may be needed by the end of 1975.

The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford, and other hon. Members, were good enough to mention that I had announced those figures on an earlier occasion both inside the House and in speeches outside. The Government accept those target figures, and the 4,700 includes provision for the hoped-for wider use of probation as an alternative to imprisonment. To carry out the existing tasks would require 4,400 probation officers, but we specifically allowed for the wider use of probation as an alternative to imprisonment.

To reach this target a big increase in the annual output of trained officers will be necessary. The expected output from training in 1971 will be 350, and the Government are planning to raise the annual training output to 550 as soon as possible. As the hon. Gentleman may know, we have already announced that 100 additional training places will become available in September this year in the polytechnics of Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As these will be one-year training courses, another 100 trained officers will be ready to enter the service during 1972. As soon as possible we shall plan another 100 training places to bring the total annual output up to 550.

I was asked by the hon. Member for Wandsworth, Central a question of fact about the numbers in the probation service and wastage. The overall increase in the probation service from the end of 1965 to the end of 1970 was 1,000. The current rate of wastage is, I think, 7.5 per cent., of which in the last year 46 per cent. went to take up jobs in other forms of social services.

As I said earlier, the pay of the probation and aftercare service is a matter on which I cannot say very much at the moment, although it is prescribed under the Criminal Justice Act by the Home Secretary. My right hon. Friend is guided in this matter by the recommendations made by the Joint Negotiating Committee for the Probation Service on which are represented the staff side, the local authority associations—the A.M.C. and the County Councils Association—the Central Council of Probation and After-Care Committees and the Home Office.

Probation pay was last revised with effect from 1st April, 1970, when the pay of the main grade officer was increased to a scale running from £975 to £1,851. Increases were also then granted to senior probation officers and officers of principal grade, so that the highest salary in the service became £4,200, or £4,950 for the Principal Probation Officer for the Inner London Area.

That was a 21-months agreement dating from April, 1970, until the end of 1971. But, as I am sure the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford knows, from his interest in the subject, it contained what might be called a break clause which provided for an interim review by the Joint Negotiating Committee, to commence in January, 1971, which could, if circumstances so warranted, lead to a revision of that settlement and salary scale at a date effective from 1st April this year. I think that it had specifically to have regard to any changes which had occurred since the beginning of 1970 which directly affected the salary structure of the probation service.

I feel that it would be quite wrong to go further than to say, in answer to the points raised by the hon. Members for Erith and Crayford, for Wandsworth, Central and, indeed, for Leicester, North-West, who has just left, that the Home Office is aware of the argument advanced by the probation service relating to comparability with social service workers in other spheres. Clearly that is a matter which the Joint Negotiating Committee may feel entitled to take into account when considering whether such changes have occurred since the beginning of 1970 to justify any revision of the agreement which otherwise runs until the end of the year.

A sub-committee was set up by the Joint Negotiating Committee on 15th January to undertake this detailed review. That sub-committee met on 12th February and again on 15th March. Agreement has not yet been reached. I must emphasise that the review continues, and I must also make it quite clear that there is no question, as has been suggested in some quarters—not in the House today—of a breakdown in negotiations, although I cannot forecast what the outcome will be.

I have attempted to answer all the points which have been raised. I have dealt with the point about comparability and the need to deal with people by non-custodial methods. In the hope that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West may read this, I should say about the petition which he has received that I shall look at it with interest if he will let me have it at the earliest possible moment because, of course, negotiations are taking place.

I end as I started. I thank the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford for the fair way in which he introduced the debate. I know that I speak on behalf of the whole House in again expressing the belief that the probation service is a valuable service which has a major part to play in the penal policy of this country.

7.46 p.m.

Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)

I am glad to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I hope that the House will not take too grave an exception to the fact that other duties prevented my being here as soon as I should have wished. I am glad that the business was prolonged so that I was able to come in, even at this stage.

I hope, too, that it will not be taken amiss to say that it would be a pity if no voice from this side of the House was raised on this matter. I cannot assure the House that anything which I say will be quite as representative of the general policy of this side as my hon. Friend's speech, although it happens to be a matter which has closely concerned me for a long time.

I should like to see a complete change of emphasis and a total revision of concepts in the treatment of convicted persons and crime. This would involve a revolutionising of the financing of the penal system, and the probation service would be the prime beneficiary of everything that I would do. But my hon. Friend need not be unduly alarmed. I am sure that he will play some part in seeing that there is no danger of my having any finger in this pie, and the House can rest quietly in considering what I want to say.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend admit, and I was sorry about it, that the probation service is a small service. It seemed a little inconsistent to regret how small it is and at the same time accept that it has a key position in the penal system. I should say that it was the second most important element in the penal system.

The element of prison is entirely negative, entirely sterile, and of value in only two respects: first, in keeping dangerous men out of circulation—I would keep them out of circulation much longer than they are at the moment—and, secondly, in the treatment of inadequates, which admittedly is a substantial, if not by far the largest, proportion of the criminal population. But in the treatment of inadequates after-care is more important than anything which can be done by way of treatment in confinement. After-care is properly part of the service which should be carried out by the probation service, or whatever we like to call it, because it involves human contact with the offender in his whole social context.

The great merit of the probation service is based on the proposition, which is fundamental in any realistic assessment of the penal system, that the purpose of that system is to protect society, and that the protection of society is best achieved by coming to terms with the fact that any offender, unless he is a major danger to society, is bound to spend more time out of than in prison. The best way to protect society is to make sure that while the offender is out of prison, when he can harm society, he is kept most closely in touch with the values and behaviour of society.

I say that the probation service is the second most important element in the matter of delinquency and alienation. But the first most important element starts rather earlier. A valuable precept is that fences at the top of the cliff are more valuable than ambulances at the bottom. With all respect to it, the probation service is only part of the ambulance service element of the penal system, and the fences at the top of the cliff have to be erected much earlier.

There are some important parts which the schools can play, but the only really effective prevention of crime comes in considering the fundamental proposition that there is no such thing as a happy criminal. Therefore, of course, the first line of defence in crime prevention lies in mothers and fathers and the relationship between them and their children in the very early years of life. I merely say this because I said that the probation service was the second most important element and I should say what is the first.

So far as we have to accept that a large and increasing proportion of the population is at odds with society and with its values, then of course we will have an increasing problem which has to be coped with by the penal system through one method or another. I would have a complete change of emphasis and a total revision of concept.

If one looks at it morally from the most mundane point of view, of what it actually costs the community, as my hon. Friend said, the figures which he gave show that the probation service is not only, in my opinion, the most cheap but the most expensive way of coping with people in this kind of difficulty. I quickly jotted down what my hon. Friend said, and, if my arithmetic is not wildly wrong, one could double the service and double its pay at half the cost of what one would save by the prison places which would not be taken up.

That is an interesting matter for argument, but my way of working it out is roughly this. Since an effective probation service has as its prime need an increase of actual numbers, one could work it out that one could get one probation officer per every four prisoners in prison and pay him £2,000 a year, and still save money. One could have one per 40 prisoners at one-tenth of the expense of keeping them in prison. One could have one per 20 prisoners and pay a probation officer £4,000 a year. We should think in these terms, because the kind of service which a probation officer can do is much more intensive and cheap than the comparatively perfunctory service which probation officers can perform with the kind of case load which they have to carry at present.

I was glad to note that my hon. Friend has such a sympathetic and warm attitude to the probation service. I am sure that it is the key to such reforms as he can make within the narrow and unsatisfactory confines of the penal system as it is. I know that we cannot say anything about their present pay claim, but I think that the present case load could be reduced in the proportion of one to 20, they could be paid £4,000 a year, and we would have a good bargain. However, we have four or five years of this Parliament, and another 15 or so of the next four or five Parliaments, so I hope that we shall move around to that.