HC Deb 14 July 1983 vol 45 cc1003-4
13. Sir David Price

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans he has for the future of the probation service.

Mr. Mellor

My right hon. and learned Friend intends to support and encourage the service in the effective performance of its important tasks.

Sir David Price

Does my hon. Friend agree that if serious overcrowding in our prisons is to be reduced there must be an increase in the number of convicted people going on probation and greater use of parole and attendance centres with, in consequence, a greater strain on the probation service? If these changes occur, and there is a general agreement that they should, must there not also be a general increase in the resources available to the probation service?

Mr. Mellor

I agree with my hon. Friend, and there is that increase in resources. I remind hint that in the past four years the number of probation officers has increased by 11 per cent., the number of clerical support staff by 10 per cent. and the number of ancillary workers who run the community service order scheme by 35 per cent. Before I hear too many jeers from the Opposition Benches, I point out that that is a far better record than any Labour Government achieved.

Mr. Haynes

When will the Minister recognise that our courts wish to refer more and more people to the probation service, but cannot do so, because the service does not have the manpower to do the job properly? When will the Home Office stop interfering and messing about with the salary levels for probation officers, so that we can encourage people to go into the service?

Mr. Mellor

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have listened to my previous answer. I wonder when last in a four-year period the number of people working in a service increased by so much. With great respect, the hon. Gentleman has got hold of the wrong end of the stick on the salary issue, which was concerned with a small number of Home Office-sponsored trainees. The probation service has amicably accepted the reasonable pay settlement offered to it for the coming year.

Mr. Lyell

Will my hon. Friend do his best to liaise with the DHSS and other agencies to get people out of ineffective residential homes, which cost about £10,000 a year per person, and spend the money more effectively on rigorous forms of intermediate treatment that have about twice as good an anti-recidivism rate?

Mr. Mellor

As ever, my hon. and learned Friend makes a valuable point. The amount of money being spent on intermediate treatment this year is double what it was last year. My hon. and learned Friend touches on another important aspect of this matter. It is not sufficient just to make further resources available—they must be used to the best advantage, and this is what we are Trying to achieve.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does the Minister accept that, although the number of probation officers has increased along the lines that he has suggested, there has been an even greater increase in their work load and responsibilities and in the number of serious cases that they are handling? Is it not a fact that in many areas non-custodial sentences cannot be implemented because of lack of probation officers to supervise? This particularly applies to the introduction of the new community service order for 16-year-olds. Will he assure us that no one will go to prison, or to a young persons' establishment — when they could be properly supervised in the community because of the lack of probation officers?

Mr. Mellor

We are always vulnerable to the charge —one always is—that we could do more. I recognise the hon. Gentleman's expertise and interest in these matters, but, to be fair, he should recognise what we are achieving in bringing about the introduction of community service orders for 16-year-olds. In 14 areas this is already available and will be in 10 more at the end of the summer. I have just attended the conference of the Association of Chief Officers of Probation, and it is not making the same points as the hon. Gentleman. It recognises that probation officers have an increased work load, but equally recognises that it has had a fair deal from the Government in coping with that problem.

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