HC Deb 15 March 1999 vol 327 cc693-4
4. Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

What assessment he has made of the progress made by probation services in implementing the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, with particular reference to the supervision of drug treatment and testing orders. [74580]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. George Howarth)

The three probation services involved—Liverpool, Gloucester and Croydon—in the drug treatment and testing order pilots have successfully set up schemes and, as of 5 March 1999, 28 orders have been made. It is too early to assess the effectiveness of those orders, but the early signs are encouraging.

Mr. McWalter

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, and I apologise for my lack of voice. I welcome his assurance that we are progressing slowly but surely on the issue, but is he confident that probation services and local authorities will have the resources necessary to deal with the issues when the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is fully operational?

Mr. Howarth

The Home Office has provided £1.7 million to run and evaluate the pilot schemes in the three areas that I have mentioned over their 18-month period. As we roll the scheme out, the necessary resources will be in place to ensure that that new and innovative approach to breaking the link between drugs and crime is advanced in the way that the legislation envisages.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Government have used the probation services' tremendous efficiency improvements of more than 20 per cent. since 1994 as an example for the police force. However, many chief officers of probation are already reporting difficulties in meeting both national standards and new commitments under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, particularly following a 10 per cent. fall in the work force between 1994 and the end of 1997. Is the Minister confident that probation services will be able to recruit new officers? Is he concerned that in January there were only 274 trainee probation officers? Does he have any plans to try to increase recruitment and training of officers?

Mr. Howarth

Staffing must be properly monitored. The comprehensive spending review settlement for the probation service over the next three years will provide £18 million, £24 million and £25 million respectively on top of the money already available. That should be enough to deal with the problems that are likely to arise. Training must, of course, be kept under review, and we shall keep a close eye on developments for both the service's work load and its available resources.