HL Deb 01 July 1931 vol 81 cc543-52

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

had any hope that the Government would at any time have considered safeguarding measures or measures to promote economic unity of the kind that I put forward. I would only reply to that in the same terms as Lord Peel. Right through the country we have seen an enormous change of opinion. Trade unionists, professors, every class of people who have got open minds are turning towards the very solution that I have ventured very feebly to put forward to-day. I do not think it was at all unreasonable, in fact, I think it was rather a flattering suggestion on my part, to hope that the Government would at least have a sufficiently open mind to be swayed by the great movements of popular opinion which are going on all round the country, and which a Socialist Party should be as prone to listen to as others. In view of what I feel is a very unsatisfactory answer by the Government, I would like to ask your Lordships to go to a Division.

On Question, Whether the Motion shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 42; Not-Contents, 14.

Airlie, E. Bridgeman, V. Hunsdon of Hunsdon, L.
Harrowby, E. Churchill, V. Jessel, L.
Howe, E. Elibank, V. Lawrence, L.
Lauderdale, E. Hailsham, V. Lloyd, L.
Lucan, E. Hereford, V. Melchett, L. [Teller.]
Malmesbury, E. Monck, L. (F. Monck.)
Midleton, E. Banbury of Southam, L. Polwarth, L.
Peel, E. Bayford, L. Queenborough, L.
Plymouth, E. Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.) Roundway, L.
Powis, E. Danesfort, L. Sinclair, L.
Radnor, E. Daryngton, L. Somerleyton, L.
Stanhope, E. Dawnay, L. (F. Downe.) Teynham, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Dynevor, L. Wharton, L.
Gage, L. (F. Gage.) Wraxall, L.
Bertie of Thame, V. [Teller.] Hastings, L.
Sankey, L. (L. Chancellor.) Mersey, V. Passfield, L.
Parmoor, L. (L. President.) Amulree, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dickinson, L. Rathcreedan, L.
Reading, M. Kirkley, L. Snell, L.
Marley, L. [Teller.] Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
De La Warr, E.

My Lords, this Bill relates to Scotland. It is designed to amend the law relating to the placing on probation of young persons and first offenders appearing before the Criminal Courts. The present law on the subject is mainly contained in the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907. This Act empowered the Courts to provide for the supervision by probation officers of persons released on probation. The object of the Bill is to place at the disposal of the Scottish Courts a more effective system of probation than at present exists, and so facilitate a more extensive use of probation than at present obtains.

While probation is, of course, already used to a considerable extent by the Scottish Courts, it is less extensively used, in proportion to the number of persons prosecuted, than in England. The figures for 1928 show that, on the basis of the number of persons prosecuted and put on probation in the respective countries, probation was used in England to an extent some 40 per cent. in excess of its use in Scotland. The main reason for this difference probably lies in the fact that Part I of the Criminal Justice Act, 1925, required the appointment throughout England and Wales of paid probation officers, and provided for the payment by the Exchequer of a contribution in aid of expenditure incurred by local authorities in connection with probation work, including the salaries, expenses and superannuation of probation officers. The Bill now before your Lordships may, accordingly, be regarded as a measure to give to Scotland something which England has already enjoyed for nearly six years.

At present, under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1907, burgh magistrates and sheriffs in Scotland are empowered, but are not required, to appoint probation officers, and the whole cost of any appointments made falls upon local rates. In consequence, there are many areas where no probation officers have been appointed, and the use of probation in Scotland depends to a large extent upon the existence in particular areas of persons who are prepared to give their services as probation officers on a voluntary basis. These voluntary probation officers have rendered valuable assistance to the Courts in carrying out their duties. This Bill will improve the existing position by providing, as in England and Wales, for the appointment of salaried probation officers as the normal rule in Scottish probation areas and for an Exchequer grant in aid of the expenditure incurred by local authorities in this respect. It is estimated that the total expenditure falling upon local authorities should not exceed £18,000 a year, and it is contemplated that, as in England and Wales, the Exchequer grant will amount to 50 per cent. of the total costs. When I mention the figure of £18,000 it does not mean that there will be a totally fresh expenditure of that sum, because under the existing legislation probation officers have been appointed in certain areas who are already receiving salaries and expenses. These will be done away with and the total sum expended upon the service will be about £18,000.

There can be no doubt that fuller use ought to be made of probation. In present circumstances many young persons and first offenders are sent to prison who might have been dealt with better in some other way. It is common knowledge that short sentences of imprisonment for minor offences, especially in the case of young persons and first offenders, often have a definitely bad effect upon the offenders. While it must rest with Courts of Law to exercise their discretion in the circumstances of individual cases, it is most desirable that every possible alternative form of treatment should be considered before imprisonment is resorted to for minor offences, particularly where young offenders are involved. I know how careful one should always be about making any demand upon the public purse, but it seems to me that money spent in providing better facilities for the use of probation by Courts will be well spent, and should lead to substantial savings owing to persons being put upon probation instead of having to be maintained in prison.

In 1925 a Departmental Committee was appointed to enquire into the treatment of young offenders and other matters. It was presided over by Mr. George Morton, K.C., and one of the members of the Committee was the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth. The noble Lord's active interest in the problem of young offenders is well known, and the work he has done in the amelioration of their conditions has been constant and unremitting. The Committee reported in 1928, and strongly recommended the provision of a national probation service in Scotland on the general lines of the English service. The Committee also made other valuable re- commendations for amending the law relating to the probation of offenders in Scotland, and these are given effect to in the Bill. The first six clauses of the Bill deal with the new probation service and the expenditure in connection with that service. They make provision for the creation of probation areas, for the appointment of probation committees, and lay down the duties of the committees, including the appointment of probation officers, and also make certain stringent provisions with regard to expenditure. Finally, there is introduced a scheme for the superannuation of salaried probation officers.

These are all clearly set out in the Bill, and I need not take up the time of the House in going through them in detail. I should, however, call attention to Clauses 7 and 8 of the Bill which give effect to the recommendations which were made by the Morton Committee and give somewhat fuller powers. These powers are designed to give Courts a fuller measure of control over persons on probation and to make the probation system generally more effective. There is one further matter that I should mention, although it does not arise in the Bill. In connection with the administration of the Scottish probation service my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for Scotland contemplates the appointment of a small body to be known as the Scottish Central Probation Council to assist him with advice on probation matters. This is not provided for in the Bill, as it can be done administratively. Little expense, I am informed, will be entailed, as the staff of the existing Scottish Juvenile Welfare and Aftercare Office in Edinburgh will be available to the new Advisory Council for the purposes of its work. It will, of course, be the endeavour of the Secretary of State if and when the Council is appointed, to obtain the services of persons well qualified to assist him on probation questions. The Bill seeks to make the probation system effective. It is based largely upon the Report of the Morton Committee and on the results achieved from the operation of the English Act. The principle of the Bill was accepted by all Parties in another place, and I hope it will receive your Lordships' favourable consideration. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Amulree.)


My Lords, it requires some audacity to intervene in the debate at this hour, but, if I may say so, I have been waiting and hoping for this Bill not only through this evening but for more than twenty years, and, therefore, I can hardly refrain from making one or two remarks to express my satisfaction that the Bill has at last been introduced. It was in the year 1909, when I had been appointed to the position of Chairman of the Prison Commissioners for Scotland, that I paid a visit to America, to the International Prison Congress, and there studied the operation of probation in that country, where it had had its origin. As long ago as 1910, in our Report to the then Secretary of State for Scotland, the Prison Commissioners advocated a properly organised probation system under a central controlling body, as it would mean the diminution of imprisonment, and urged that there should be a State contribution in aid of it. That provision is now made in this Bill. As the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has said, in 1925 the Criminal Justice Act was passed for England, and we had hoped that we might get similar powers and provisions in Scotland. I do not blame the Secretary of State of the day for not introducing the Bill at that time, because he had appointed the Committee, to which reference has been made, and of which I had the honour to be a member, and he wafted, not unnaturally, until we were able to report in 1928. This Bill very largely gives effect to the recommendations of that Committee.

I am afraid I do not like the Bill quite as much in its present form as in the form in which it was originally introduced into another place. There are two points which I hope the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will take into consideration and see whether some change cannot be made when we come to deal with the Bill in Committee. The first point is the proviso which was added to Clause 1, which makes it no longer obligatory upon every probation area to have ft salaried probation officer: Provided that this subsection shall not apply in any probation area where it is shown to the satisfaction of the Secretary of State that no salaried probation officer is necessary. I regret that provision, because it seems to me to put a very difficult task upon whoever may happen to be Secretary of State at the time, and I feel it will lead to a great deal of lobbying and manipulation in order to try and evade the proper working of the Statute. I wish the provision had remained the same as it is in the English Act.

It is rather curious that the opposition to the original provision came from two sections. In the first place it came from those who think that a salaried probation officer is not necessary in rural areas. I have made inquiries as to the working of the Act in England, and I am informed by the Home Office that it is precisely in the rural areas that the great benefit of the Act has been obtained, and that there probation officers are working very successfully in many areas where before probation was very little used. I think I can prove that in Scotland it is precisely in those areas that it is needed. It has been argued that because very few people are put on probation in certain counties therefore there is no need for this provision. That, I venture to say, is a most fallacious argument. I contend that every Court should have at its disposal the means of putting a person upon probation with just as much facility as it can now send a person to prison or impose a fine. That is not the case at the present time. There are many counties where there are no probation officers and no machinery in existence whatever for putting the Act into operation. I find that in 1921 there were fifteen counties with 15,000 persons brought to trial and only six persons put on probation. The last figures are for 1929 and they show that in fifteen counties with 15,000 people proceeded against only seventeen were put on probation. It is impossible to argue that only one per 1,000 of the persons proceeded against was a suitable case for probation in those counties.

If I may, I will give a personal instance. Only yesterday morning, when I was attending at the office of the Scottish Juvenile Advisory Council, we had an inquiry from the clerk of the Court in a county some seventy miles from Edinburgh asking if we could tell him the name of a, suitable person to act as probation officer in the case of a girl who was to be brought up for trial. How absurd to think they should have to come to us to tell them of the people whom they ought to know of in their own county. They have no probation officer and this is a county which has not one person on probation and has not had for several years. Surely in such counties as that there is the need for a salaried and regular probation officer. The arguments in favour of a salaried officer as opposed to a purely voluntary one is that if the voluntary probation officer does not turn up at the Court nothing can be said. There should be an official at the absolute disposal of every Court to make inquiries and to proceed to take charge of a person if the Court so sees fit.

I will not weary your Lordships with figures but they abundantly show the need for probation officers. Perhaps these figures are of sufficient importance to be quoted. In the summary courts, 115,464 persons were proceeded against in 1929. For various reasons, 22,000 were not convicted, 17,000 were admonished, leaving about 80,000. Of those, only 2,200 were put on probation; 4,000 were sentenced to prison; and 8,579 went to prison because they could not pay their fines. I ask particular attention to that fact: 56,000 were fined. The noble Lord has referred to the number of young persons who go to prison, and why? Because they have not got the money to pay the fine. In many of these cases the imposition of a fine is a most unsatisfactory way of dealing with the case. Take the case of a man who fails to support his wife and children. What is the use of sending him to prison? If he is put on probation, the probation officer may possibly get him to set aside a proper proportion of his wages for the purpose; but if he is in prison, he is not earning anything.

I would also ask the noble Lord in charge of the Bill to consider the argument, that because in certain large towns voluntary probation officers have accomplished a great deal—though there are not nearly enough—in the supervision of young persons, no salaried officer is needed. The fact is that in these cases the system is organised by persons who are salaried, though not salaried as probation officers. They are salaried as secretaries of societies or clubs for boys or girls and have a certain amount of time to give to probation work.

The only other point to which I would ask the particular attention of the noble Lord opposite is the proviso introduced at a late stage in another place that It shall not be lawful to appoint as a salaried probation officer for any area or to nominate in a probation order as a voluntary probation officer a person who is or has at any time been a member of a police force. That is Clause 5 (3). I do not think that that proviso is intended to be a slur upon the police force but it has that appearance. I would like to bear my testimony, based on knowledge gleaned from many probation officers, that no men are more sympathetic or more kind or more ready to help in probation work than members of the police force. I have had an instance brought to my notice where the police took a great deal of trouble over those who needed help. I would point out that although in our Report we definitely stated that it was not desirable that the probation system should be worked in connection with the police force, that is quite a different thing from saying that no one who has ever been a policeman is fit to be a probation officer. I think that implies tarring with a black brush which is not deserved.

If, as was stated in another place, the term police officer is held to extend to those who have been special constables, that, I think, is utterly absurd. Some of us, myself included, acted as special constables during the War for the sole purpose of regulating the movement of the population in the unhappy event of invasion. It is absurd to say that that should disqualify a man from being a probation officer. I hope the noble Lord will consider some modification of that proviso, possibly by saying that no one who, in the three immediately preceding years, had been a member of the police force should be eligible. That would prevent a man resigning in order to take up at once the post of probation officer, but it would indicate that we are not casting a slur on the police force. In our Report, we stated that it was exceedingly important that there should be close co-operation between the police and probation officers and this new proviso is not likely to assist in such co-operation.

I have reason to know that it is quite possible for members of the police force, as such, to continue to act as probation officers. That is the system in Glasgow, where members of the police force are set aside to act as probation officers. In one town, we had evidence that the whole detective force of the police were probation officers. I do not think that is a good system, and our Committee condemned it, but, nevertheless, some of these police probation officers have, I know, done very good work. On the whole, however, I have reason to believe that that sort of probation is not real probation, with assistance and advice and help, but really amounts to nothing more than what is technically know as a suspended sentence. So long as the probationer behaves properly and is not convicted again or brought into Court, no action is taken, but that is not the sort of probation that we would like to see.

There is a great deal that one would like to say, but I am afraid time does not permit. I would like to have quoted the admirable words of Lord Hewart at the National Prison Conference in 1925, when he pointed out the danger of considering that probation was simply a means of letting off people. I have often said, and I maintain, that true probation is supervision outside the walls of an institution instead of inside. We must never get sentimental and think that it is simply a means of letting off people. I am very glad this Bill has been introduced and I very cordially support its Second Reading, because for many years this system has been more and more recognised as an alternative to imprisonment. It should be extended to the utmost extent and by every means possible as an alternative to imprisonment and a method of treating offenders. I strongly support the Second Reading of this Bill, which will give us in Scotland what we greatly need and will, I hope, be the foundation of a proper probation system in that country.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.