HL Deb 04 June 1962 vol 241 cc394-406

2.55 p.m.

LORD STONHAM rose to call attention to the Report of the Departmental Commiittee on the Probation Service (Cmnd. 1650); and to move to resolve that this House urges Her Majesty's Government to implement its conclusions and recommendations. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Resolution which stands in my name on the Order Paper. The Departmental Committee which was directed to inquire into all aspects of the Probation Service was appointed three years ago almost to the day. Its Report, long and impatiently awaited, has been well worth waiting for. It is seldom our good fortune to receive a long Report so concise and readable, so factually comprehensive and so convincing in its conclusions. We are indeed indebted to the members of this distinguished Committee and to the officials who assisted them. Their observations should be closely studied, and I hope that they will be taken to heart—especially the chapter on "The value of probation", which is the keynote of the whole Report—by everyone who in any capacity is concerned with the administration of justice.

May I quote just two brief extracts; the first is: Society must protect itself against the wrongdoer. It must show its disapproval of crime. But we take it as axiomatic that a society whose morality acknowledges the worth and dignity of each of its members must seek, in fulfilling these objects, the minimum interference with life and liberty that is consistent with them. The second extract is this: The value of probation is not, however, to be judged only … by the rights that it seeks to preserve to the offender. Custodial treatment removes the offender from his family … and suspends his social and economic obligations to them. He becomes, indeed, a burden upon society. Probation exacts from the offender a contribution … to the wellbeing of others. … In so doing, it minimises the economic and social disruption caused by the probationer's offence, preserves him from the penal or reformative institution, … and seeks to avoid the harm to others that follows … the imprisonment of a breadwinner. The Report proves beyond peradventure what some of us have long believed: that the Probation Service is the greatest single agency for rescuing people from a life of crime. It confers benefits on society which are in the economic sense very large and in the moral sense incalculable. Another outstanding feature of the Report is the manner in which it emphasises the weight and the scope of the work done by probation officers as social workers of the courts. I should like briefly to summarise this work, but to save time I will not quote the relevant paragraphs; although your Lordships will appreciate, I am sure, that if I do say anything of value it will have been lifted from the Report.

In every major field of probation work the latest available figures, those for 1960, were the highest ever recorded, and my information is that they are still increasing rapidly. There is no suggestion that the range of functions should be narrowed. On the contrary, there will be heavy additional burdens. In 1960, m England and Wales alone nearly 42,000 persons were put on probation, most of them for periods of two to three years. Consequently, the number actually under supervision at the end of 1960 was 63,624; so that at any given moment the Probation Service is keeping out of prison more than twice the number of offenders who are in prison. That: proves that our 1,750 probation officers are preventing a complete breakdown of the prison service, because, out of that 63,000, 3 out of every 4 adults and 2 out of every 3 juveniles will complete their period of probation satisfactorily and will not get into trouble again.

That means that the average case load of each officer is 61. But, because of unequal distribution, 200 officers have more than 80 cases and some have more than 100 cases to supervise. They are expected to act in the knowledge that every single case is a unique individual whose difficulties are the product of complex and interacting factors. They must display rare sensitivity and sympathetic interest in developing a personal relationship with the probationer, and in planning his future with him rather than for him. They must keep in close touch, meet him frequently, visit him in his home from time to time, and require him to report to them at stated intervals. And, of course, they must keep the reports in the proper form, up-to-date and duly and intelligently written up—all this, with each and every one of their 60 to 100 scared, or mixed-up, or angry, and certainly difficult, individuals.

This is only part of the job. The case load is only a guide to the type of volume of an officer's work. For example, they conduct tens of thousands of social inquiries; and, as social workers in the service of the courts, probation officers have a duty to inquire, at the direction of the court, into the circumstances or home surroundings of any person with a view to assisting the court in determining the best way to deal with the case. They have to provide a mine of information. In 1960—again the last year for which I have figures—probation officers had to provide more than 116,000 of these comprehensive social biographies, an average of 66 apiece. Of course, this work will greatly increase when the Streatfeild Committee's recommendations begin to operate.

Again, this is only the beginning. The courts also require officers to administer supervision orders under the Children and Young Persons Act; to collect instalments of fines made under money payment supervision orders, and to undertake the duty of watching over children whose custody has been settled by the court after a matrimonial case. They are also responsible for the after-care of no fewer than 11,000 boys and girls and men and women, on release from approved schools, borstals and prisons. The Criminal Justice Act, 1961, is expected to add 12,000 more of such cases every year. Each of these cases calls for intensive effort immediately the prisoner is released, and in the view of the Committee it would be immensely difficult, if not impossible, to replace probation officers as after-care agents.

There are many other inquiries that they must make for the courts—for example, in adoption and divorce case inquiries to assist in respect to the guardianship and custody of children; in summary domestic proceedings such inquiries as means inquiries, or inquiries concerning the guardianship of infants, affiliation orders, and even applications for consent to marry, when often they attempt a reconciliation between parents and child. There is also the great work of matrimonial conciliation, which in many areas is so well known to the people that the majority of them go straight to the probation officer without bothering the court. In 1960 they handled 43,000 of these time-consuming cases, work which usually involves seeing both parties to the dispute. The Committee emphasise the valuable preventive function of this work, which helps to preserve the family unit and reduces the risk of delinquency and maladjustment. They scout the suggestion that overworked officers should be relieved of it, and roundly declare that the efficient performance of their duties must be secured not by reducing their functions but by equipping them, both in numbers and training, to fulfil the demands made upon them.

In addition to these statutory functions, probation officers spend endless valuable hours coping with the widest possible variety of non-statutory duties. Anyone who has been a regular viewer of the television programme "Probation Officer", will not be in ignorance of the kind of such duties that they have to perform: for example, help to unmarried mothers, helping parents to deal with difficult children, settling neighbour's quarrels and dispensing charitable help for offenders in need. In 1960 there were more than 70,000 cases in these fields, most necessary but which one might call strictly outside the line of duty. I find that in that one year, in addition to probationers under supervision and probation inquiries for the courts, probation officers dealt with 156,565 other oases of various kinds, an average of nearly 90 per officer. So that straight probation work represents less than half of their enormous, but supremely important, task.

How do we reward these skilled, dedicated men and women, 70 per cent. of whom are university graduates or people who have undergone a Home Office training course? We pay them a basic salary of £12 a week which, after 13 years, rises to just under £20 a week. Students in training get board and lodging and 30s. a week pocket money. The astonishing, and perhaps heartening, thing is that there are still men and women who apply for training, and even stay in this exacting job when they are trained. It is a sobering reflection, however, for me at least, that, compared with the probation officer's £12 to £20 a week, carpenters in my own employ have this year earned an average of £21 a week. It is true that the officers have a sense of vocation. But you cannot live on that; still less, expect the sacrifice of the well-being of your wife and children. One officer in the North-Eastern area is at this moment supervising two dock labourers who were put on probation. Both are mentally subnormal, but both are earning 50 per cent. more than the officer who is supervising them.

The Committee, in their Report, are adamant that this conscienceless exploitation must cease. They insist that in order to reduce the work load on individual officers and to meet ever-increasing responsibilities, the number of officers in England and Wales must be increased to 2,000 in the near future and to 2,750 within the next few years; and that to achieve this objective the organisation, recruitment, training and pay of the service must reflect the professional demand of social casework as it is developed. But, unfortunately, the postwar story of the treatment meted out to these officers over salaries is a sorry, even a shameful one.

Under the Labour Government from 1946 to 1950 no increases were made. The Home Secretary insisted that negotiating machinery must first be set up. But when the Joint Negotiating Committee was eventually formed, with local authority and Home Office representatives on the employers' side, no allowance was made for that four years' standstill in salaries at a time of rapidly rising prices. And probation pay has never recovered from that depression. Indeed it has, been made constantly worse, relatively, by the arbitrary actions of the present Government. In 1957, for example, Mr. Butler rejected his own negotiating committee's recommendations and substituted smaller increases for those which had been recommended. In 1958 the employers' side of the Committee actually asked the Government how far they could go before entering into negotiations. So, again, the increases were derisory.

Naturally, the Government came under pressure from all sides, even from the employers, so they adopted the usual defensive device of setting up a Committee. The Committee have done their work supremely well, but it has taken three years, during Which the Government have had another excuse for doing nothing. Not surprisingly, the Committee recommend substantial increases. Indeed, the scope of the recommended increases is an index of the extent to which probation officers' pay has been depressed. They recommend an increase from £625 to £750 a year for the basic salary, or a 20 per cent. increase; a rise from £1,025 to £1,350 in the maximum, an increase of nearly 32 per cent.; and, of course, similar increases for the senior and principal officers. One would have expected that the right honourable gentleman the Home Secretary, having waited three years for the advice he had sought, would have implemented the recommendations, just as he did in the comparable case of the police. But, instead of this, he sent them to the Joint Negotiating Committee, to start negotiations all over again—a Committee which could not possibly have known as much about the situation as did the Morison Committee which had been looking into it for three years in a strictly impartial and objective manner. Neither the employers nor the Government were ready to discuss these recommendations. All that the probation officers had was a promise to talk about them at the end of the year—that would be a four years wait—and that, in 1963, if the next phase in the wages policy allowed, they would be at the head of the queue.

Eventually, the employers side offered, and the probation officers accepted, a 10 per cent. increase now, provided that it was not allowed to prejudice eventual consideration of the Departmental Committee's recommendations. The Home Secretary declined to honour even this modest proposed increase, but offered instead a contemptuous 2½ per cent.—6s. a week. My Lords, this was after three years' wait. It is an insult to the Service and to the distinguished people who served for three years on the Committee, a Committee which quite clearly stated that substantial increases were necessary if the Probation Service is to carry on. How do the Government expect to continue to get distinguished people to give up their time over a number of years in order to sit on Committees voluntarily if at the end of their arduous labours their recommendations are flouted, virtually disregarded or ignored? One of the members of this Committee was Miss Younghusband, who was chairman of a Committee whose Report bears her name.

This second example of this kind of treatment, in my view, exposes to the full the situation in which we find ourselves. What a commentary on the thinking of the moguls of the Treasury! They cheerfully supply millions and millions of pounds for a vast building programme of prisons, borstals and detention centres, to say nothing of the £8 a week which it costs to maintain each of the inmates, but refuse a few hundred thousand pounds for the recruitment, training and pay of, say 500 more probation officers, who would obviate much of the need for more prisons and borstals. Forty institutions have been taken over by the Prison Commissioners since the war; 30 more are being built or are planned to be built. When will the authorities begin to show more sense?

I submit to your Lordships that probation officers' salaries cannot be judged by the direct productivity test, but they can be judged by the output of the many thousands of men and women whom they keep out of prison and in production. Nor, I would submit, can the so-called Civil Service wage-freeze apply to their case. Everyone knew that increases should have been granted three years ago, and everyone, including Mr. Butler, knew or believed that the Committee's recommendations would be honoured. The probation officers have had their wage pause—in fact, several wage pauses. Surely they must get justice now. Yet, on May 23, at the great gathering at the Albert Hall, when the Prime Minister attacked some employers who gave in too easily to wage demands, and "some unions arrogant with organised power who try to grab too large a slice of the cake, he suggested that it was against those people, not the Government, that" the wrath of those who suffer a sense of injustice should be turned". "The nurses, the probation officers", said Mr. Macmillan, "might well cry out to them, 'Think of us and leave us our fair share'."

My Lords, that is political dishonesty on the grand scale. He first tells these patient, underpaid, overworked and invaluable men and women to take their begging bowl to the docks, and then he reminds them—and here I quote—that "extra incomes which do not come from the creation of extra wealth" were really "forging a cheque for the future." The truth is that the Government have dishonoured a cheque on the past because they have refused to sign one which was really drawn three years ago. In fact, when you think about it, the lesson which the Government are teaching all classes of workers is that if you are strong and create enough disturbance you will get what you want. In fact, 77 industries have done so since the wage pause began. If you are devoted and patient, you will get nothing. If you are weak and create a disturbance you will be put on probation, and thus make more work for these overworked and underpaid officers.

It seems to me that this creates a vicious circle in which the Home Office is expected to provide probation services without paying for them. Then, when the crime wave is not kept in check, as we would wish, the only demand is "sterner measures". That means more prisons, far greater cost and many more broken lives. In such circumstances, indeed, my Lords, one feels in tune with the lines from King Lear: The weight of this sad time we must obey Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say". I feel that this is not Mr. Butler's action. It has been forced on him, and it has dishonoured him. I feel that a Government which abandons its obligations and responsibilities in this way has ceased to govern.

My Lords, I do not suppose that the noble Earl who is to reply will be able to give us very much immediate positive comfort, but I hope that he will be able to say positively if, and when, justice will be done to the probation officers. I hope that he will be able to pledge the Government to the full implementation of the recommended salary scales as soon as this Report has been considered. I would remind the noble Earl that as recently as May 7 the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said this: This is the age of the qualified man and woman and the Conservative Party is, and must continue to make itself, the Party of the qualified, the self-sacrificing and the public-spirited. My Lords, there is no body of qualified men and women more public-spirited and self-sacrificing than probation officers, and we are entitled to know when they will get what is due to them. I should also like to know whether the Home Secretary accepts the Committee's strong recommendation that he should relinquish his right to prescribe their salaries, and, in particular, whether he will accept and implement the recommendation to form a London Probation Committee, independent of Home Office control and financed jointly by the London County Council and the Exchequer. I hope that the reply will not be made that this must await the coming into operation of a new form of government for London, because there is no real reason in equity why the London County Council should not act now as it wishes to, and its responsibilities could then be taken over by other authorities afterwards if the Act should come into operation.

Finally, my Lords, I would remind the noble Earl of what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said in June last year—and I am very sorry that it was not possible for him to be here to-day—in reply to my pressing representations about these same probation officers. He said then [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 232, col. 157]: Those of us who are concerned with"— government— are always liable to two criticisms. If we do not ask advice, … we are said to be bureaucrats … On the other hand, if we have an Advisory Committee … who give us the advantage of their wide experience of the world, … we are accused of dodging decisions and fobbing them off". How very true! What insight, what prophecy! My Lords, these people have been "fobbed off" with a vengeance! The Government have received the advice they asked for, from the people with wide experience of the world; and I hope that your Lordships will join with me, in persuading them to-night to take action on that advice and not to dodge decisions or fob us off.

In paragraph 356 of their Report, the Committee sums up the situation in these words: Our conclusions are … that the service has a part of great social value to play in the penal system and in other services that it gives to the community; that current salaries have not enabled the service to be maintained in size or quality at the level of efficiency that is necessary; and that, consequently, substantial salary increases must be made. … We are clear that if our recommendations are not accepted the service cannot adequately discharge the rôle that the community designs for it; the choice is for the community to make. My Lords, I pray you speak to-day for the community. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House urges Her Majesty's Government to implement the conclusions and recommendations of the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Probation Service (Cmnd. 1650).

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I do not claim to have any very deep or specialised knowledge of the Probation Service, but, like many of your Lordships, I have some contacts with it, more second-hand than first-hand, but some of each. In rising to support this Resolution on behalf of my noble friends on these Benches and myself, I consider it an honour to speak on the subject of the Probation Service, which I believe was the brain child of the Home Secretary who initiated it and who is still regarded with admiration and affection by your Lordships—I mean my noble friend Lord Samuel.

I do not think any of us can regard the Probation Service without very great admiration and the knowledge that it is an overworked and underpaid service. It is rather the fashion nowadays to denigrate what are called "do-gooders"; those who have rather woolly aspirations to mollify their own guilty pangs of conscience about their own sloth or selfishness, by spasmodic altruism without either specialised training or very prolonged application. I confess that I sometimes find myself in that rather unworthy category, and I have no doubt some of your Lordships do also. But there are those whose full-time vocation and livelihood, taken together, work specifically for improvement in human conditions and in human happiness as a primary object, and the Probation Service ranks very high in this field.

Nobody with knowledge of the Probation Service would accuse it of woolliness or sloppy sentimentality. It does not exist to undermine the just sentences of the law by partisan sympathy or by bolstering up the rather natural resentment or bitterness which those who have suffered the law must sometimes feel. The service is rather, I suggest, a, crisp and effectual adjunct of the British penal system, which for all its antiquities is, I believe, very highly regarded throughout the world. We still continually have delegations of people from every continent to inspect our penal system and to copy many good things from it, as probably the most successful penal system in existence.

Of course, in that particular work, the work of the penal system, the particular function of the Probation Service is to co-operate in keeping out of prison, and in leading away from temptation, those weaker vessels who are on the borderline of such personal disaster; and in this aspect there are, of course, two distinct and very different objects. The first is the humanitarian one, about which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has just spoken with both compassion and sincerity; but the second, on which he also touched, is the more material but very necessary one, of reducing and keeping reduced the population of our prisons, whose scandalously overcrowded state to-day is really a matter of general concern. We in this Chamber have heard that unfortunate state referred to on many occasions, particularly by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who I hope will be here to take part in the debate. But I think it is to a very large extent due to the effective work of the Probation Service that this dreadful state of affairs in our prisons is not even worse than it is.

Incidentally, although it is not strictly part of this Motion, I would refer to one contributory factor which I believe to be adding to the overcrowding of our prisons; that is what seems to me to be the present tendency to impose considerably longer prison sentences than was the case only a few years ago. A crime which not so long ago would have attracted a sentence of, say, eighteen months' imprisonment may to-day, if one looks at the comparative sentences, involve a sentence of perhaps five years, and a more serious crime which in former times would perhaps have attracted a sentence of five or seven years, may to-day earn even a life sentence. I am not minimising in any way the necessity for adequate punishment, but I confess that at times I find it difficult to understand why, for instance, a robbery of £50,000 earns a heavier sentence than a robbery of £5,000, when the ethics and the immorality surrounding each case are virtually identical. To consider the monetary value involved does not seem to me a very good method of deciding the length or severity of the sentence.

I could wish that machinery existed for reviewing and curtailing long sentences in appropriate cases. There must surely be many instances where intolerable circumstances which originally tempted a man to commit a crime have resolved themselves before the end of his term of imprisonment: the money, if money is involved, may have been repaid; the wife may have returned to mend the broken home which caused the trouble; or the wrongdoer himself may have expiated his crime in true repentence and in the intention and ability to be a good citizen. In such cases, are we not unnecessarily unimaginative in keeping our prisons overcrowded with men and women whose final stretch of a prison sentence is both unnecessary and cruel?

I suggest that the earlier release or shorter sentencing of wrongdoers would ease the congested prison situation; and, of course, our excellent Probation Service, which in any case ought to be expanded, is there ready to take over exactly the sort of responsibility which would fall to it and, indeed, for which it exists. I sometimes wonder (perhaps not very seriously, but I do wonder) whether it would not be desirable that a week, in gaol should be experienced by every judge and magistrate—and I speak as a magistrate—before he is allowed to pass any sentence of imprisonment; for which of us can truly appreciate the difference at the receiving end between a month's sentence and a three months' sentence, between a four-year sentence and a five-year sentence?

The necessity to expand the Probation Service, to put these matters on a proper basis, is surely very obvious; and the work which we have all seen them do is quite beyond praise. But there are not enough people to do it, as this Report very clearly points out. The standards of training and of service are both, very properly, high ones. This, of course, is no opening for the casual "do-gooder", because this service is a vocation which calls for real dedication. The fact that only about 10 per cent. of the applicants every year are accepted to this service shows, I think, the difficulty of getting personnel of a high enough calibre. To reduce that standard of acceptance, I think, would be tragic; yet we cannot countenance the exploitation of dedicated people, which is the position now, as the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has pointed out. Therefore, we are left with only one solution to the problem of increasing and improving this most admirable service: that is, to look again at its terms of service, and particularly to look at its remuneration and its facilities for negotiation; and therefore, my Lords, to implement with the least possible delay the Report of the Departmental Committee.