HC Deb 18 January 1996 vol 269 cc867-8
3. Mr. Alan W. Williams

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the future of probation training. [7848]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Tom Sackville)

Probation officers are no longer required to hold a social work qualification. We are now working with the probation service to put in place new arrangements for their training, which my right hon. and learned Friend announced on 2 October.

Mr. Williams

What is the Government's reaction to the debate in the other place of 5 December, in which the Government were defeated and in which 14 successive participants spoke strongly of the continuing need for a higher education professional qualification for probation officers?

Mr. Sackville

I might well ask the hon. Gentleman what is his reaction to the debate in Committee on the same subject, which the Government won overwhelmingly and in which I made it very clear that we intended to put in place a broad-based programme of education instead of a social work degree. We believe that having only a social work qualification is a disincentive and that it does not give the probation service the broad-based education that it needs.

Sir Michael Spicer

Does my hon. Friend agree that, by changing the entry terms, we will be able to attract more mature people into the service? Most particularly, I would instance high-calibre ex-service men and women.

Mr. Sackville

If I may, I shall agree with my hon. Friend by illustration: if someone comes along who has been in some voluntary organisation that deals with young people, or, indeed, has been in the armed services, and the probation service says, "Yes, you look very suitable, but you now have to do a two-year social work degree," I would regard that as a waste of many talented applicants.

Mr. Michael

Should not Conservative Members, who are among the group that might be without jobs and take advantage of this change, be declaring an interest today? Is the Home Secretary aware that probation officers deal with ever more damaged and dangerous individuals and that inadequate training will put probation officers and the public at risk? As the Home Secretary knows that Labour will support positive, constructive change in probation training, why is he afraid to put his proposals for change before the House in a statutory instrument?

Mr. Sackville

If the hon. Gentleman wants to do something constructive and serious about this matter, he might note that, next week, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, representatives of the profession and my right hon. Friend Lady Blatch will meet to discuss it. It is certainly nothing to do with the Government that negotiations have not taken place before. I suggest that it has a great deal to do with the Opposition's attitude.