HL Deb 18 May 1961 vol 231 cc796-804

6.45 p.m.

Committee stage resumed.

Second Schedule agreed to.

Third Schedule [Supervision of certain discharged prisoners]:

BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD moved, in paragraph 17, to leave out "any reference to a probation officer shall be omitted, and". The noble Baroness said: I rise to move this Amendment to Part II of the Second Schedule. I hope to appeal to the Scottish feelings of my noble friend the Lord Chancellor, because it is an Amendment which applies solely with reference to probation officers in Scotland. The matter in question is that in England, Wales and Northern Ireland probation officers may be selected to do after-care work; and that is part of the Bill. But in paragraph 17, line 36, there is a special reference that there shall be omitted from the Bill any reference to probation officers in Scotland.

The probation officers in Scotland feel that this is rather serious, because it may be thought that they cannot be responsible for doing the same type of work as probation officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that to some extent it reflects upon their skill. I know from experience (I am chairman of a probation committee for three counties in Scotland) that the probation officers—not always, but quite often—do aftercare work and they do it very successfully. In my county, the probation officer quite often does quite successful aftercare work. I know that the Advisory Council in Scotland is going into this question of after-care and that it is under discussion at the moment, in the same way as the Advisory Council in England is going into this question of after-care, as has been referred to in the debate.

My Amendment seeks simply to put the Scottish probation officers in exactly the same category as those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This matter was raised in another place by one of the Scottish Members, and the reply, which I have studied with some care, was that it might be possible to alter the wording when it came to your Lordships' House, and that it may be possible for the difference between the Scottish probation officers and those in other parts of the country to be eliminated. It is for that purpose that I am moving this Amendment. If it is passed, paragraph 17 will read: In relation to anything falling to be done in Scotland under Part I … references to an officer … shall be construed as including references to any other person authorised by the Society. That means that probation officers of Scotland will not be excluded. That could not pre-judge whatever may be decided by the Advisory Council in Scotland. They may decide, as indeed, the Advisory Council in England may decide, in favour of some other type of organisation for after-care. That we do not know, because the inquiry is still going on.

In the meantime, however, I think it is important that probation officers in Scotland should have the same powers, the same references made to them, and the same opportunities to carry out their duties, as these officers have in any other part of the United Kingdom. I therefore have pleasure in moving my Amendment, in order that the matter may appear in exactly the same light as it does in all the other references to probation officers in the Bill.

Amendment moved— Page 34, line 37, leave out ("any reference to a probation officer shall be omitted, and"). (Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)


May I support very warmly the proposal which has been moved by the noble Baroness? I have no Scottish claims, of course, except the possession of three Scottish grandchildren. But I hope I am allowed, on behalf of those on this side of the House, to support the noble Baroness.

6.50 p.m.


I want to assure the noble Baroness that the reason for moving this Amendment really results from a mistake that is being made with regard to the meaning of the term "any other person". I assure her that the words in line 39 of paragraph 17, "any other person authorised by the Society" can include a probation officer in Scotland. I think I must go into the matter at a little length, to explain why that is and to assure her that a mistake has occurred. I want to prove to her that no alteration of the wording of the Bill is necessary on behalf of the probation officers in Scotland, because they can be included in "any other person authorised by the Society". We must look at the general purpose of the Third Schedule in relation to arrangements for aftercare. The purpose is not to set up fresh arrangements, but, subject to any necessary modifications, to fit the new classes of prisoner into the existing arrangements in England and Wales, in Scotland or in Northern Ireland, wherever the prisoner to be supervised resides on release. My right honourable friend has referred to the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has referred to the corresponding Scottish body, the question of arrangements for carrying out after-care. It is considered that it would be wrong, therefore, that this measure should make any changes.

This being the case, we believe that the words which the Amendment proposes to omit should remain in the Bill, for the following reasons. In England and Wales, outside London, it is the normal policy of the Central After-Care Association—the Society, as it is called in the Bill—to use the services of probation officers for the supervision of persons under after-care. Therefore, Part I of the Third Schedule describes the supervising officer as "an officer of the Society or a probation officer". In Scotland it is the normal policy of the corresponding body, the After-Care Council, to use its own officers to carry out aftercare throughout Scotland. This has not always been possible in outlying areas, and I am sure the noble Lady can think of many such outlying areas in her beautiful country. Other people, including probation officers, have been invited and have agreed to help the Council by providing supervision. In recent years, because of the increased number of persons under supervision, the staff and organisation of the Council has been strengthened so that the use of persons other than officers of the Council is now negligible.

This difference between the practice in Scotland and that in England and Wales does not imply any difference in the quality or suitability of the probation officers in the two countries. It is only that the two bodies responsible for carrying out after-care in the two countries have developed their organisation along different lines. But, this being the case, and because there is no intention at the present time to alter the existing arrangements—and I want to emphasise that point to the noble Lady—the correct translation for Scotland of the words "an officer of the Society or a probation officer" used in Part I of the Schedule is an officer of the Society or any other person authored by the Society". This translation is that achieved by paragraph 17 of the Schedule, at line 39, to which I asked the noble Lady to refer at the beginning.

The paragraph does not exclude such use as is already made of probation officers as supervising officers in Scotland, or a more extended use if at some future date it should be decided as a matter of policy that they should form an integral part of the after-care organisation in Scotland. The words "any other person authorised by the Society" have been read—and this is where the mistake has occurred—as if they meant "any person, other than a probation officer, authorised by the Society". That would specifically debar probation officers from undertaking these supervisory duties. This is not the intention; I want to assure the noble Lady of that. We have been advised that it is not the effect of the paragraph. The meaning is simply "any person other than an officer of the Society".

Under the English arrangements in Part I, when a prisoner is due for release the Prison Commissioners will seek information from the Society as to which officers of the Society or probation officer will act as supervising officer and name that person in the notice of supervision. Similarly, when the Commissioners are releasing a prisoner to supervision in Scotland, if a probation officer is to conduct the supervision he can be named as "a person authorised by the Society". But on the question whether probation officers should in future form an integral part of the organisation in Scotland, as on other matters relating to the carrying out of after-care, the advice of the Scottish Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders must be awaited, and again that was the Council to which the noble Lady referred.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is aware that this paragraph has caused considerable concern to the probation service in Scotland. The moving of this Amendment has provided me with an opportunity to clear up those misgivings and to assure the service that the intention of this part of the Schedule is to provide for the amplification of the existing arrangements for after-care in Scotland to English prisoners, and to do so by a formula which will avoid in any way prejudicing any future changes in those arrangements. I hope that rather long explanation will bring satisfaction to the noble Lady, and I assure her that no change is needed in the wording of paragraph 17 as she would require by her Amendment.


I would thank the noble Earl very much for his reply, but I am bound to say that if ever there was a bit of complicated and obscure drafting I think this is high on the list. It contains the words "any reference to probation officer shall be omitted". We are now told by the noble Earl, and I am sure he is quite right, that that is not the case at all. In fact, if an officer of the Society wants after-care to be done by a probation officer, I take it that a probation officer will be so appointed. That is quite simple. But any ordinary human being reading this could not possibly guess that was what was meant, because the express words to omit any reference to probation officer are there. I quite see that it is not meant in any sense to cast any disparagement upon probation officers in Scotland, but I really think that the Government draftsman might look at it again. I know exactly what he means but he does not say what he means and anybody reading it would certainly misunderstand it.

I will not press the Amendment, but I hope that before the Report stage some clever draftsman in the Home Office will look at this and make it perfectly clear to the probation officers in Scotland that that are not being singled out for treatment which is not being given to those in Northern Ireland or England or Wales. If the noble Earl would look at page 25, paragraph 22, he will see a specific reference to probation officers in Northern Ireland. While I have no doubt it is the intention of the Government not to make any difference between the probation officers in Scotland and anywhere else, I do not think it is clear in the Bill. I would ask the noble Earl to discuss this with the draftsmen in the Scottish Office and the Home Office to see whether they cannot make it simpler.


I strongly support the noble Baroness in what she has said. I could not help thinking, while listening to the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, that the much more accurate and shorter explanation would have been that they like to do things differently in Scotland; and it is very difficult to shift them when that is the case. I think that is the whole answer. In many cases they do things much better in Scotland, but I do not think this is better. It appeared to me that in his explanation the noble Earl was explaining that the services of a probation officer are rarely used because the members of the Society mainly deal with cases. But in some of the beautiful outlying spots, where there are not many people about—and I suppose there are not members of the Society—they will have to use the services of a probation officer. That does not encourage me very much. Another point that I have to make is this. I make no reflection on the officers of the Society, but the comparative quality of the service offered may not be uniform, because probation officers are trained officers in after-care, and we have not heard whether the officers of the Society are, in fact, so trained.

My final point is this. When a Scottish prisoner is discharged from an English prison, he may be under supervision and be a temporary resident in England, and he will be under an English probation officer. Then he goes home to Scotland. Presumably he will come under a member of the Society and not under a probation officer. I think that is a weakness. I should have thought it would be better if he came under a probation officer in Scotland, on transfer from a probation officer in this country. Whether or not that would be better, I should like the noble Earl to tell us what kind of liaison there is when a Scottish prisoner is discharged in England and, after a month or two, goes to Scotland and comes under another officer, either a member of the Society or a probation officer. What kind of liaison is there from England to the Scottish office?


I think that all the noble Lord, Lord Stonham has been saying relates exactly to the sort of things that the Committee in Scotland are discussing. With regard to the noble Lady's request to me to look again at this particular wording, I shall certainly be most pleased to see what, if anything, can be done to make it a little clearer. Nevertheless, I assure the noble Lady— I think it will be pretty clear when she reads it in Hansard tomorrow—as to the intention of the words in the Bill.


When the noble Earl comes to deal with this matter at a later stage, could he try to get an answer to the questions that I have put to him? Apparently he has not the answer now. It is not really satisfactory just to say that these are precisely the things which are being submitted to the Advisory Council, because when we part with this Bill we have finished with it, and it is no good our knowing later what the Advisory Committee has done. We ought to have the answer before we finish with this particular point.


I will certainly look at what the noble Lord has said.


In view of what the noble Earl has said, I shall withdraw the Amendment. As to what has been said about the matter being clear from the Bill, I think I understand perfectly well what the noble Earl has said; and I shall do so when I read Hansard to-morrow. On the other hand, it does not read very well in the Bill, and what the probation officers want is something in the Bill. However, I will withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Third Schedule agreed to.

Fourth Schedule agreed to.

Fifth Schedule [Enactments repealed]:

7.5 p.m.


I am not going to move the last Amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Latham, but as it is the last matter before the Committee I should like to thank the Lord Chancellor, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, and the noble Earl, Lord Bathurst, very much for their patience and courtesy, and for all their helpfulness during this long and quite difficult Committee stage.


Perhaps the Lord Chairman would allow me the irregularity of saying a word, although there is no Motion before the Committee. I have found it a most interesting Committee stage and, apart from the more dramatic of the Amendments that came before the Committee, I found the discussion on all the points most interestingly initiated and developed. I should like to express real gratitude to noble Lords—and of course that includes noble Ladies—who have taken part.

Remaining Schedule agreed to.

House resumed.