HL Deb 07 April 1970 vol 309 cc114-40

7.45 p.m.

LORD WELLS-PESTELL rose to ask Her Majesty's Government: Whether they are satisfied with the prevailing state of the Probation and After-Care Service in England and Wales. The noble Lord said: My Lords I should like to preface my remarks by making a statement as to my position in this matter. I am sure your Lordships will recall that, in the years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House, I have spoken when-ever a matter has affected or concerned the Probation Service. With the consent of the noble Lords from Scotland I intervened in the Social Work (Scotland) Bill, as the Probation Service in Scotland was involved in that Bill. But in recent months a member of my family has entered the Probation Service and is, in fact, serving in the Inner London area. I have therefore resigned, with regret, from the Inner London Probation and After-Care Committee, but I hope your Lordships will feel that it is quite proper for me to continue to express in your Lordships' House my views on the Probation Service.

On February 24 last, in reply to a Question which I had asked on the appointments and resignations in the Probation Service in England and Wales, I was informed that in the immediate past five years from 1965 to 1969, inclusive, 1,812 men and women had been appointed to the Probation Service in England and Wales. In the same period, 734 had resigned and left the Service—and that does not take into account losses as a result of death and normal retirement. It may be argued that the figure is not high, that it is only between 4 and 5 per cent. of the Service; but I will come back to that later. Of the 1,812 recruited, 273 were posted to the Inner London Probation Service, but in the same period 103 probation officers left the Inner London Service. If I may now come back to the figure of 734 who left the Service in those five years, 1965 to 1969, 303 of them—over 40 per cent.—were either graduates or holders of university social work qualifications; and of the 103 who left the Inner London Probation Service about 50 per cent. were either graduates or holders of university social work qualifications.

I am not suggesting for one moment that these men and women who left the Probation Service were lost to the wider field of professional social work, but I am suggesting that there is something seriously wrong in the Probation Service when this kind of situation arises. Having regard to the nature of probation work, the Service cannot afford to lose each year so many probation officers, particularly so many who are so well qualified academically. Your Lordships will see from the figures I have given that the Inner London Probation Service has become a kind of transit camp where men and women arrive, stay for a while and then leave.

In the Inner London area there are 50 new entrants a year, in an establishment of just over 300 probation officers. At this moment there are about 50 probation officers in the Inner London area—more than 15 per cent. of the entire staff— whose appointments have yet to be con-firmed because confirmation (or ratification, as it is sometimes called) normally takes place within twelve months of appointment. The skill and competence required of probation officers, particularly in an area like Inner London, with its special problems of crime and after-care of delinquents, is such that, in my view, the Service cannot carry so high a percentage of newcomers each year; nor can it afford to lose so many experienced officers.

In Inner London, male probation officers are well below establishment, and this has been the position for several years: it is not something new. Women officers are well above establishment; and this means that many women officers, some completely new to the Probation Service, are supervising men immediately they are appointed. I think that in some cases and in some respects this is undesirable. I think it is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, not because I am opposed to women probation officers' supervising men, or men supervising women, but because this situation has been brought about as a result of necessity and not as a result of some investigation, some careful planning and some sort of psychological understanding of what is involved. If this were a care-fully prepared experiment, I should feel happier about it. The success of the probation system depends on having a well-trained body of men and women able to understand the problems of delinquents and capable of maintaining a relationship in some substance and in some depth with those they are trying to help.

On March 19 last, in reply to a Question I had put down for Written Answer, it was stated that the cost of training a man or a woman on the short Home Office course for entry into the Probation Service is about £1,800. My Lords, this does not take into account tutorial and administrative services provided by members of the staff at the Home Office, which (let me be frank) are very considerable. The training of those probation officer trainees who are university-trained at the expense of the Home Office, or of the taxpayer, if one can put it that way, cost, or can cost, as much as £1,650 each per year. How many of the 734 men and women who left the Probation Service in the last five years were trained at the public expense I do not know, but their departure and the loss of skills they took with them have, I believe, weakened the Probation Service and have been costly in terms of training. I do not think it is any answer to say, "Well, they are not lost to the wider field of social work; they take their skills with them". The Seebohm Report said, I think, that if their recommendations were to be put into operation we should need several thousand more trained social workers. This is perfectly true; but, with very great respect, I think the Government must do something about training these people and must not tolerate the situation where they are taken from one service at the expense of that service.

The present salary structure is quite inadequate when it comes to attracting the right people—or, for that matter, my Lords, to retaining the best of those who have entered the Service. I know that my noble friend the Minister who will be replying will tell your Lordships of a recent pay award to probation officers which took effect on the 1st of this month—only a week ago. In prices and incomes terms, the award may appear to be generous, although there have been many much higher awards. Basic grade officers get an increase of about 12 per cent., and senior probation officers get about 15 per cent. In terms of hours worked, of the nature of the job and of the skills required, the award and the new salary scale are absolutely unrealistic. I think I am right in saying that the previous increase was about two years ago. I do not know when the next one is going to be, but I think everyone must realise that the present award has hardly (if at all) kept pace, or is hardly keeping pace, with the rising cost of living.

The new salary scale—and I want to emphasise this—provides a salary on appointment of £975 per annum, rising to £1,851 after 13 years' service. I realise that comparisons are odious, but a police constable, on joining the Metropolitan Police Force at 19 years of age, gets £950; and by the time he is 25 he receives £1,390—the sum received by the average probation officer in his early or middle thirties. Furthermore, the probation officer does not get a rent allowance, which in the case of an ordinary police constable can be as much as £7 18s. per week—that is, about £400 a year. It can be as much as that, although obviously he does not get it if he does not pay that amount of rent. He pays tax on it, but he gets a refund of some of the tax that he pays on it; and this is over and above the salary he gets.

Let me make it clear, my Lords, that I am not objecting in any way to what the police are paid. Crime must be deterred. But the offender must be dealt with intelligently and must be rehabilitated, and it is in society's interest that he should be adquately and properly treated. This is a difficult task which, as I have already said, demands long hours of work and the possession of many skills. It is appalling that some probation officers, because of the still inadequate salary scale, find it necessary to have a part-time job. When the hours worked by some officers and the net amount they receive are taken into account, it will be found that in some instances the hourly rate of pay may be less than that received by some charwomen.

I hope the Minister will hold out some hope of an early revision of the salary scale and of the London weighting allowance. The Inner London weighting allowance of £90 per annum does very little, if anything, to meet the high cost of housing or the amount of rent that one has to pay if one is living in London. On his income, the younger basic-grade officer has no chance whatever of buying a house, or even of being able to afford the high rents demanded these days.

For some, the only alternative is to leave the Service and enter some other branch of social work where the pay is infinitely better. This is done at the expense of the effectiveness and efficiency of the Probation Service. It is of paramount importance that the Probation Service retains those who hold special qualifications and whose training has been geared to the understanding and treatment of delinquents. I would there-fore ask the Minister to say that consideration will be given to the making of a special annual allowance (as one finds in the teaching profession) to such probation officers.

Morale in the Probation Service is at a fairly low ebb at the present time. I do not know whether my noble friend saw the article in New Society on March 5 headed, "Probation: A Worried Service." The article opens with these words: The Probation Service is going through a period of profound professional depression. I shall not refer to this article any more, other than to say to my noble friend that if she has not already read it—she probably has—I hope she will do so. The unrest in the Probation Service; is not due solely to the inadequate salary scale but also to the uncertainty about the future of the Probation Service in England and Wales. I believe that it would help matters considerably if the Minister were to state the Government intentions in this matter. Is the Service to be integrated into local authority services, or will it be retained as an independent service, independent of both the local authority social work service, and the Prison Service? The overwhelming majority of probation officers want it to remain as it is, an independent service.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, who is President of the National Association of Probation Officers—and I am grateful to him for his being prepared to speak on this occasion —may have more to say about this matter; I do not know. But I repeat my hope that the Minister will be able to give me a frank and unequivocal answer. If the matters that I have raised could be dealt with in a realistic way I am sure that it would result in strengthening and stabilising a service which has not only proved itself but which I believe is of supreme importance to our vast and comprehensive network of social services. A lot of lip service is paid to the importance of the Probation Service and to the value of the work done by probation officers. In recent years more and more responsibility has been put on probation officers, particularly in the field of after-care and parole. They are praised, but they are penniless.

Some four and a half years ago my noble friend Lord Longford, then a Minister, said—and I hope I may be permitted to quote him— … it is intended to bring the service up to a strength of 3,500 by 1970."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14/7/65, col. 239.]

On November 16, 1965, my noble friend Lord Stonham, who has done much for the probation officer, said much the same thing [Col. 550]. I did not think that that was possible—and I believe I said so myself at the time—because of the wastage factor which had to be taken into account along with the growing discontent within the Service. In the past five years, for every five new entrants into the Probation Service two salaried and trained officers have left. The figures in the Report of the Probation and Aftercare Department show that there were 3,121 probation officers at June 30, 1969. But 110 of those were welfare officers and social workers who were taken over by the Probation Service and given the status of probation officer when the Probation Service was made responsible for various other duties; so the real figure at June 30, 1969, was 3,011. Even that figure includes between 200 and 300 Scottish probation officers who ceased to be probation officers when the Social Work (Scotland) Act came into force on November 17 last.

The point that I am trying to make is this. We are a long way from the target figure which was mentioned in 1965: 3,500 probation officers by 1970. In my submission it will be some years yet before that figure is reached unless the Service is made far more attractive than it is at the present moment. If we attach importance to the rehabilitation of the delinquent, we must recognise that the work is time-consuming and calls for special skills, skills which are possessed by the probation officer. Let us make a sincere effort to retain those skills and not force those who possess them to seek more lucrative work in some other field.

My Lords, in conclusion I should like to thank those noble Lords who have been good enough to put their names down to speak to-night. In view of the hour I feel that I ought to apologise to them for putting down this Unstarred Question for to-night. I wanted to make this a Motion, but when I tried to put it down for debate I was told that the earliest date that I could have was Wednesday, July 15. I wished to get the matter before your Lordships sooner. But I want to thank particularly the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who, so far as I know, is not participating in this debate, for his courtesy in being here this evening.

8.7 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think that any apology is due from the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for having initiated this debate. In fact, our thanks are due to him for having raised such an important matter. He began his remarks by telling us of his interest in and connections with the Service. I have a number as well, perhaps chief of which is that I am a member of the Home Secretary's Advisory Council on the Penal System. If I had not formed my own personal conclusions about the vital importance of the Probation Service the experience of the past few years would certainly have confirmed it for me. I believe that once the criminal detection rate has been raised by increasing the size and efficiency of the police force, the key to any further workable reform of the penal system certainly lies in strengthening and revitalising our Probation Service, for it is absolutely the key social work service.

Probation is not a substitute for prison; but I think it is well to remember—and I do not think the noble Lord reminded us of this—that while for many offenders probation is an apt and effective sentence, it has the great additional advantage to us as taxpayers that its cost is about one-thirtieth of that involved when putting a man into prison. A year's prison sentence will, I suppose, cost some £600— and apart from keeping dangerous criminals out of the way perhaps it does not achieve much. A year's probation costs something of the order of £50, or perhaps not quite so much; and in 75 per cent. of the cases, sometimes even more, it is successful in checking a career of crime once and for all.

My Lords, having made those few opening remarks I should like to take up the last point with which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, left us and to ask the Minister of State a few more specific questions. It was in 1965 that the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders recommended that the Probation Service should reach 3,500 by 1970. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, I have asked a number of questions on various occasions in the last few years and I have received the answer that this was indeed the target at which the Government were aiming. It was not so very long ago that we were led to expect that the target would not be achieved, but it might be achieved in 1971. I should like to ask now, in the context of this debate, where it had got to by the end of 1969 and when it will reach 3,500 at the present rate of net increase. I should like also to ask whether this target is not now outdated. What real reason has the Minister of State for assuming that such a figure is still the right figure? When was it last re-assessed, and with what result? That is all I wish to ask on the overall strength of the Service.

My Lords, I should like now to turn to the question of the output from train- ing. It was recommended by the Training Committee of the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders that this should reach the figure of 350; that was their recommendation in 1966. Is it not the case that in 1969 the figure was still 325? Is it not the case that the number expected to complete training in 1970 is under 300; namely, 282? Is it not the case that the number in the pipeline at the moment, due to complete training in 1971, is down to 183? If those figures are not right, I think it would be useful to have the correct figures. Just as an aside on that point, is it realistic to take mature people into training—which is what the Probation Service does rather more than some of the other social work services—and to offer only student level grants while mature students are under training? I may have missed some announcement that has corrected this position, but this was one of the anomalies acting to the disadvantage of the Probation Service at one time. If it has been corrected, I shall be glad to hear about it.

My Lords, to turn now to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, about wastage after training, the figures he gave were indeed disturbing. But I think there are even more disturbing figures if one looks at the table on page 20 of the last Report on the work of the Probation and Aftercare Department. The table does not have a number, but it appears on page 20 of the Report. Compare that with the figures given in the Answer to the noble Lord's Question which was printed in the OFFICIAL REPORT for February 24. Taking those two figures, it is possible to compare the intake into the Service between the years 1966 and 1968 and the wastage out of the Service. If you consider graduates and those with university qualifications, the unhappy state of affairs which is revealed (if I have done my arithmetic correctly) is that the intake into the Service over those three years includes 112 graduates—that follows from the process of addition from the table on page 20—and 107 other people with qualifications gained at university which were short of degrees. That adds up to 219.

In the same period—from the figures given to the noble Lord which appear in Hansard for February 24–171 people with degrees and qualifications gained at university have left the Service. That is 219 coming in—these are the most highly qualified people the Service recruited in that period—and 171 leaving, which is a bare net gain of just over 50 people. How long can the Service stand attrition of this order among its most highly paid officers?

Now, my Lords, I should like to turn to case loads. This strength (which we have not yet reached) combined with the sentences of the courts and the additional duties given to the Probation Service in the past few years has resulted in a case load of just over 50. That was the target set by the Morrison Committee in 1962 to replace the figure of 60 which then prevailed. Does this standard of supervision produce a success rate; that is to say, an absence of further convictions after probation, such as will satisfy us that case loads of 50 are about right?

I believe, though I regret that I have not the details before me, that other countries with different probation services work to case loads much lower than this and with better results, as one might expect. What I should like to ask the Minister of State is this. Have any experiments been undertaken; is any research in hand or in prospect; is any evidence available from elsewhere to show whether a higher proportion of more offenders can be successfully turned away from crime by giving each probation officer fewer to look after; that is to say by adopting a policy of more intensive care? Common sense would point that way. If the failure of a period of probation, because probation officers are asked to look after too many offenders, results in a prison sentence at 30 times the cost to us as taxpayers, I, as a tax-payer, would like to have more of my money put into the Probation Service.

I should like now to turn to the longer-term salary prospect. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, after taking into account recent pay awards, that the Probation Service compares all that unfavourably with other social work professions, either on entry or in terms of prospects of pro-motion to senior probation officer. But I should like to ask the noble Baroness what she has to say about the fact that the principal probation officer of the whole of Inner London—the most highly paid probation officer in the country, I believe—with a professional staff of something over 350, commands a salary of £3,800 or thereabouts when an advertisement appeared the other day (I think it was in New Society) for the post of Director of the Social Work Department of the single Borough of Islington at a salary of over £5,000? The staff at Islington might number somewhere between 100 and 200, but the Director is certainly not at the top of the national pyramid in the united social work professions. Is the sense of dedication to probation among the social workers in the Probation Service strong enough to resist the counter attraction of that sort of thing?

Finally, my Lords, I should like to turn to a broader question, the one with which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, left us. Perhaps it is more a question for the profession than for the noble Baroness, but I will put it to her because the whole debate is directed towards her. Is she satisfied that the Probation Service will be able to remain outside the main stream of British social work which is now flowing so strongly in one single unified channel in local government? Is she satisfied that it can do this and yet succeed in maintaining its character as a primary social work service? What is to be done to prevent it becoming the Cinderella ser-vice of which alas! we are not getting so many indications? What is to prevent it becoming a Cinderella service in the same way as perhaps the psychiatric social workers in the Hospital Service seemed to be tending to become until quite recently? I understand that the probation service in the United States has assumed, or is on the way to assuming, a correction rather than a social work role. Is this the way our Probation Service is now to go? My hope is that the Service will develop and grow as one of our key social work services. It will have to do so to match and cope with the very heavy responsibilities laid upon it by our steadily growing crime wave. My hope is that this short debate may make some contribution to that end, but I fear that, although we all want to see it, it is an end about which many, like the noble Lord, feel anxious and doubtful.

8.20 p.m.


My Lords, I feel at a disadvantage in speaking in this short debate because I cannot claim any of the qualifications which are obviously vested in the noble Lords, Lord Wells-Pestell and Lord Sandford, and in those noble Lords who are to follow me. My experience of the work of the Probation and After-Care Service is limited to that of a solicitor, who throughout most of his working life has been practising for the main part in the criminal and magistrates' courts. I cannot claim any intimate knowledge of the Service.

I suffer from a second disadvantage in that, possibly stupidly, I anticipated that the noble Lord might be raising this question in a wider way than he did, but he confined himself to the internal structure of the Service. So I have had to revise in my mind what I was going to say. Certainly it is time that this question was raised, because we are very much preoccupied at the present time with questions of the enforcement of law and order. It is proper and salutary that there should be so much public concern about the increase in crime, whether assessed by the continuing increase in the number of indictable offences or by the continuing increase in prison population.

There are, however, two dangers attendant upon this debate. One is that the questions of the containment of crime should become matters of Party political conflict. I do not want to say more about this, because I do not want to add any fuel, but I think it is deplorable that we should have had this exchange of charges and counter-charges between the two major Parties as to who has done best. I will say for the Government that they did not start it and only retorted to charges brought against them. The other danger is that it is all too easy to discuss these grave and sombre questions in over-simple terms and to regard it as a game, even if a grim one, of "cops and robbers". If we take that approach to the problem, we are liable to look at it as one of the prevention of crime, of bringing people to conviction and punishing them; to think that the contribution to be made by the courts is to be rough and tough with offenders and that, once they have been convicted, justice has been vindicated and that is the end of the matter; to think that when somebody is sentenced to a term of imprisonment and goes down from the dock into the cells below, the problem is solved—a crime has been cleared up, as the police say.

But, my Lords, at the very same moment that the problem is supposed to be resolved, another is created: the problem of what is to be done with the offender, and eventually still another problem, that of how he is going to be reabsorbed into society. At this stage the police and the courts disappear from the scene, and the Prison Service and the Probation and After-Care Service take over the new problem. I believe that the success we achieve in dealing with offenders after sentence makes just as big a contribution to the general question of the containment of crime as the process of detection and conviction. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is so right in saying that the maintaining of the standards and qualifications of the Probation Service is a vitally important matter in considering the general question of law and order.

That brings me to the second thing that I should like to say which is relevant to the noble Lord's Question. No one who has had any association with the Probation and After-Care Service can be in any doubt about the difficulties of the job, or about the wide range of capabilities and high level of expertise for which it calls. I am entirely with the noble Lord when he says that it is a matter for alarm if fully qualified people of this kind are disappearing from the Service at the rate he mentioned.

The difficulties of the probation officer are many, but I would direct attention to only one or two of them. The first is that the After-Care Service has to deal with very indifferent material. It is a great mistake to suppose that, in the main, indictable offences are committed by tough, formidable criminals. The great mass of crimes are committed by people who are weak, foolish and inadequate. These are the people who fall into the hands of the probation officer and with whom he has to cope. Probation officers are, as I say, working with indifferent material. As a probation officer said to me the other day, talking about the frustrations and disappointments of his work—although he is not discouraged by them: "We have to count our successes in very small currency". It is a very frustrating and difficult job.

The second thing about the after-care work of the probation officer, as it seems to me, is that he is in an ambiguous position towards his charge, because, unlike the lawyer and the priest, the probation officer is a public servant and his first duty is to society. On the other hand, it is absolutely fatal to his work if he appears to his charge to be a member and functionary of the Establishment. The confidence and confidentiality between the probation officer and the prisoner or the ex-prisoner is the very basis, and the sole basis, on which he can establish any useful relationship. That makes it an extraordinarily difficult task. The third difficulty facing the probation officer in his after-care work is that no two cases are the same. There is no formula of after-care which can be applied generally to the different individuals with whom he has to deal: each case is a specialty. As a result, the probation officer has to be a psychologist and a diagnostician. It is, as the noble Lord has said, a profession which calls for a remarkable range of quality and training.

I should like here to pay some small tribute to the achievement of the Probation Service. I have seen it only in one small sphere, in my home town of Ply-mouth, but I am perpetually astonished by, and marvel at, the high level of cap-ability with which -these officers, in the higher and the lower ranges, carry out their job. I believe that there is an improvement in the Probation and After-Care Service with the new and onerous duties which have been given to it, in three particular ways, in recent years. They have been given the general control and direction of the whole after-care and through-care service. This is a vast improvement on the tenuous assistance which the voluntary bodies were previously able to give to the discharged prisoner. The Service has had that task thrown upon it, and an important and valuable change I believe it to be.

Then we have had the introduction of the parole system, in which the Probation Service, of course, is intimately connected: in the interview, in the review committee and in the after-care of the prisoner while on licence. We have had also the encouragement given by the Government to the establishment of voluntary hostels for the reception of prisoners when they come out of prison. All these are big achievements. I had the pleasure the other day of listening to the noble and learned Lord on the Wool-sack talking about law reform. He did not of course have an opportunity of referring to these things that have been done, but the putting of the after-care service under the supervision of the probation officer, the introduction of the parole system, with all the matters thrown upon the Probation Service, and the encouragement of the hostel service are greatly to the credit of the Government. It may be that to identify and acknowledge these things that have been done in these last three or four years—big advances as I believe them to be, particularly the introduction of the parole system—may possibly come a little more gracefully from this side of the House than from behind where the noble Baroness sits. These are, as I say, big achievements.

In the realm of penology and criminology reform is always slow, and some-times painfully slow. But I feel that the Government are entitled to claim in this particular field of the treatment of the offender that they have made bigger advances than have been made perhaps in the last 20 or 30 years. I should like to acknowledge that as being the case. I conclude by saying this. It is no doubt right that in the field of combating crime and the containment of crime the police, and indeed perhaps the courts, may be regarded as the front-line troops in the operation. But unless they are backed up by a humane and intelligent treatment of the offender, after his conviction, the ground which may have been gained by the processes of detection and conviction will all be lost. It is the Probation Service, the Prison Service and the Social Services which can consolidate the ground that may be gained for us by those who may be regarded as the front-line troops.

8.36 p.m.


My Lords, I particularly want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foot, on his first point. This does not mean that I do not support my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell or the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, in their querying of conditions. I think that problem is vital, and we must have more attempts to bring people into the Probation Service. The point I am particularly interested in, however, is the duty that probation officers must undertake if we are to tackle the crime wave which is depressing everybody. One type of duty which has not been mentioned to-day does not exist at the moment: but my noble friend Lady Wootton of Abinger is sitting on a Committee which I understand will report in a few months on alternatives to prison. Nothing of the faintest value seems to happen in any local, overcrowded prison in this country, although that is not true of the regional and training prisons, where much good work is done. I think it is fair to say that no change worth having takes place in any man as a result of his being imprisoned for six months or less, or even for a year or less, in a local prison. People may have to defend that statement a little, but really nobody disputes it, and it is because there are 34,000 people in prisons which are meant to take, I should guess, 20,000.

If we accept those figures—they may be wrong—it means that with the help of my noble friend Lady Wootton we have to find alternative accommodation each year for something over 10,000 people. That is not very much in relation to a population of 55 million; but when one considers that the facilities which are suitable as alternatives to prison are exactly the same as the facilities which are suitable for after-prison, and that we have 110 hostels with 1,500 places to deal with the discharge of 50,000 a year, one sees that on those two heads alone there is an enormous way to go.

I am not getting at anybody about this. I think that the Government and the previous Government (it is fair to them that I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Foot, that they were the people who started the change of professional after-care) and previous Home Secretaries have done a great deal towards making a vast change. I think that we are just getting into gear. I hope that in a year or two the combination of a properly paid and increased Probation Service, with a vast investment of capital and with the involvement of the community these facilities, we shall have the kind of alter-native to prison and the kind of after-care duties that we require.

I speak of a vast sum of money. Of course, if we can take 10,000 people out of prison we can afford to spend £400 a year on them and still halve the cost. We always say this; we have been saying it for 25 years. Nobody has taken the slightest notice, but it is still true. The point is that it is rather difficult to find the right facilities. I think we are going to do this now. I want to impress upon your Lordships that there is only one way to deal with petty crime, and that is by dealing with petty criminals. The petty criminals have identified themselves very clearly by constantly getting them-selves caught and sent to prison Eighty-three per cent. of the prison population to-day has had three previous proved offences. It is not difficult to guess that if out of 34,000 you took the 25,000 who have had three previous proved offences, and for four years put them all at the bottom of the sea, you would make a very big hole in petty crime. We cannot do that, but we can make a very much bigger effort to do things which we know to some extent work in order to reduce this number and to change these self-identified people who are a captive audience and available to us.

We know from places like Grendon and Coldingley, and other progressive prisons that are not overcrowded, that men's habits can be changed. I do not say that it happens every time, but it can be done. We know that if you are not too ambitious and are prepared to change their habits, not into being virtuous, but into being socially acceptable, with a bit of help afterwards quite a lot of people can keep out of trouble as long as that help remains. Everybody is worried about crime. We have these things which we know help some people. I do not know what we are waiting for. We have to take this problem very seriously. In all this the key man is the probation officer. He is the prison welfare officer, he is the after-care officer and he is the probation officer.

I spoke to my noble friend Lord Hunt this afternoon and he said how sorry he was that he would not be able to attend your Lordships' House. He asked me to make a point about paroles with which I fully agree. He said that there are currently about 1,000 men in the community on parole; that the failure rate so far is 4 per cent., and that therefore we must expect this to be looked upon as a successful experiment and must expect an increase in the number of people in the community who are on parole. He said something else which I know to be true: that the supervision of the man actually under sentence in a community is a more difficult and time-taking affair than the supervision of a man who is accepting voluntary after-care. He also said that the probation officer has to make an interim and final report to the parole board on the "parolees" (if that is the right word); that the Probation Service is providing at least one member on every parole board in every prison in the country, and that the Service is used to make social and family inquiries about the people on whom the parole board are making decisions. You now have three enormous areas. You have a growing parole board with these three or four different needs; you have a growing after-care demand, which is just be-ginning, and you have a so far non-existent, but vitally important, alternative to prison. Do not let us talk about losing probation officers. We have to increase their number pretty quickly. I do not know how we can do this; I know only that demand creates supply, and without demand you cannot get supply. I would ask my noble friend to do the two or three things which we know will be helpful. The first is for her right honourable friend the Home Secretary to make an unequivocal statement that there is no intention at this stage, at the take-off point for enormous growth, of putting the Probation Service under any other body. Seebohm was not asked to inquire into it; the Seebohm Report did not suggest that the Probation Service should be put under the local authorities. Nobody has really specifically said that, but for some reason they are frightened about it. My right honour-able friend should make a statement as soon as possible.

Secondly, there is the point made by my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell and the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, of the higher salaries being paid by one social service than are paid for equivalent people in the Probation Service. This is an absurd situation which should be looked into. This is a difficult matter because it is inter-departmental. But Ministers should find a way of dealing with it. If we dealt with those problems and had a target which in five years would give a 10 per cent. handling of after-care, and a 10 per cent. handling of alternatives to prison, plus the present work, we should have gone a long way towards reassuring the Service.

8.46 p.m.


My Lords, I gather that the practice of thanking noble Lords for introducing topics for discussion in your Lordships' House is frowned upon nowadays, but I have no hesitation is doing so to-night. And in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for putting down this Question I would say that it is no empty formality for me to do so. The noble Lord has on many occasions given evidence in your Lordships' House of his concern for the Probation and After-Care Service. He has reminded us of one or two of them to-day. The Service, as well as your Lordships, has good occasion to be grateful to him.

I have little to add to what he and other noble Lords have already said. When the noble Baroness, Lady Serota, comes to reply she will refer to the recently agreed pay scale for basic grade and senior officers. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, was somewhat scathing about this; but I can say that this scale has been accepted at the official level of the National Association of Probation Officers as being as good as can be expected in the present circumstances, even against the background of the very remarkable increases being won by others. There has not yet been time to assess the reaction of the basic grade officers themselves, but I hope to be able to do so at the Association's annual conference in a few weeks' time. The new salaries for the principal officers have not yet been settled—I gather they are still under discussion. It may be that the noble Baroness will be able to point to that as an explanation of the strange discrepancy that has been brought to our notice. I hope that that may be so.

I think that the noble Baroness will also be able to point out that recruiting to the Service continues to be reasonably satisfactory, and that while wastage is a serious factor—especially that of highly qualified officers—it is at least no worse than that in other comparable services. But in spite of all this, the fact remains that there is anxiety in the Probation Service at the present time about its future and this anxiety is having a damaging effect on morale. I believe that this applies especially to the older and more senior officers who form the backbone of the Service.

A series of events has contributed to this anxiety, among them the loss of a role which was important to many officers through the introduction of the Children and Young Persons Act; the abolition of an independent Probation Service in Scotland; and the Seebohm Report, which seemed to imply that the same thing would be a good idea in England, too. It is true that the Local Authority Social Services Bill does not touch the Probation Service, but that is no more than a negative and temporary reassurance. I read with care the speeches of the Ministers who took part in the Second Reading debate in another place on that Bill. The only reference to the Probation Service I have been able to find is a rather cryptic remark by the Minister of State at the Home Office about the difficulty of deciding which services should be included in the new organisation and which should be left out, and a plea to be given time to see how it works, and then look at it again.

The Probation Service itself is in no doubt whatever on this point, as is shown by a memorandum on the future development of the Service which was recently produced by the National Association of Probation Officers. The memorandum is based on the results of an invitation to the members of the Association to give their views, and it says that there was a large response from branches, from ad hoc groups and from individuals— perhaps the largest in the Association's experience. I must say that I have always understood that there was quite a substantial body of opinion in the Service, albeit a minority, which accepted the proposition that probation and aftercare could with advantage be amalgamated with the rest of the social services to the community. I was therefore rather surprised to read in this paper—and I should like to quote a few words from it: We wish first to state that in our opinion it is vital that there should continue to be a separate probation and after-care service, independent of both the local authority social work service and the prison service. Of those who responded to our inquiry only a tiny minority was against the principle of an independent service, or uncertain about it, and the great majority feel very strongly indeed about the matter. This is not an occasion to go further into the Association's memorandum, but it is a most useful paper, and I commend it to anyone who is interested in this subject. I do not know whether the noble Baroness who is to reply has had an opportunity of seeing it. I know that copies were sent to the Home Office, and it is conceivable that one has reached her.

However, the point is that there is uncertainty among those in the Service about their future; and this uncertainty is damaging. I realise that everything is in such a state of flux at the moment that it is difficult for the Government to give a clear answer about practically any-thing. For example, there cam be no doubt that both Beeching and Maud will have their effects on the administration of the Service. But it seems to me that it should be possible, and most certainly it is highly desirable, for the Government to make a definite statement about whether or not it is the intention to maintain an independent Probation and After-Care Service for the foreseeable future. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to give such an assurance to-day; and it will be even more helpful if the Minister of State at the Home Office can also do so when she comes to speak to the annual conference of the National Association of Probation Officers on May 2.

8.53 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that all those who have taken part in this debate on the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, would wish me to thank him for the opportunity which he has given us to consider the Probation and After-Care Service in England and Wales. All those who have spoken, too, are agreed that this service has a vital part to play in the treatment of delinquency. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Foot, reminded the House of the great changes that have taken place in recent years as the Probation and After-Care Service has, in addition to its traditional functions of supervising offenders placed on probation by the courts in the community, added a new range of functions, notably in relation to after-care, to social work in prisons and now, most recently, this important Service for parole, covering, as the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, has just reminded us, some 1,000 parolees. Also, of course, the implementation of the recent Children and Young Persons Act, and the possible recommendations of Lady Wootton's Sub-Committee of the Advisory Council on the Penal System on non-custodial and semi-custodial penalties, may also affect its work.

I should very much like to follow some of the thinking of the noble Lord, Lord Foot, in what I found to be a most valuable and thoughtful contribution to our discussion. But in view of the very large number of detailed questions that have been asked, and in view of the late hour, I think I ought to confine myself to some of the practical questions that have been raised, and to indicate how the changing tasks which are now being undertaken by the Service, and the growth of its work, are seen by the Government in relation to subjects such as staffing, salaries and wastage, and those other points which have been raised by noble Lords.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, remind-ed us that in 1965 the Advisory Council for Probation and After-care estimated that there should be an increase in the number of probation officers from 2,200, at that time, to some 3,500 in 1970; and he reminded us of the statements made in this House by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and my noble friend Lord Stonham from this Front Bench. On present trends, we shall not in fact reach that figure of 3,500 until next year. But I should like to place on record at this moment what I regard as the most necessary, and indeed a very dramatic, increase in the size of the Service—a 50 per cent. increase in the last five years, which now brings it up to our present strength of 3,200 established officers. There are, in addition, some 70 temporary officers and nearly 80 part-time officers. There was in 1969 a record output of some 331 qualified persons from training, although unfortunately that total will be some 50 or 60 fewer this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, asked me about the relationship of this figure to current needs, and whether it had been recently reassessed in the light of the changing nature of the Service. I understand that the Advisory Council are shortly to reappraise this target, but I should like on this occasion to pay tribute to the work of that Council, particularly to their Training Committee, to the inspectorate of the Home Office Probation Department, and all those who have managed to achieve what I think is a remarkable increase of 50 per cent. in some five years.

The Government have of course had under consideration the general question of training in the social work services in the light of the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee. Noble Lords will have seen from the Bill which is now under consideration in another place that it has been agreed to unite the three present training councils—the Central Training Council in Child Care, the Council for Training in Social Work and the training side of the Advisory Council on Probation and After-care—into one new Training Council. We are at present consulting with the various interested bodies, including those representing the probation and after-care services, on these new training arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, asked me for details of output. From 1966 the figure has fluctuated, but at that year it was some 231 probation officers, rising to the peak that I have just mentioned, of 331 in 1969; and now, on the basis of our latest recruitment figures, we hope in 1971 to have an output of over 300 trained probation officers. In March of this year some 381 persons were undergoing probation training. The noble Lord also asked about caseloads of officers, and reminded us of the report of the Morrison Committee. The average caseload for probation officers has decreased from the figure of 60 at the time of the Morrison Committee to some 52.7 in December of 1968—the latest figures which we have available. All of us recognise that in calculating this kind of activity it is really workload, as opposed to caseload, which one ought to consider. No one who knows this Service, as all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate do, could deny that in fact the workload on the Probation Service has increased consider-ably in recent years, in the light of the developments which have already been placed on record in this debate.

Several noble Lords have touched on the very important question of wastage, which is always a matter for concern in any service. But again I should like to put the matter into some perspective. It can be said that during the last five years wastage other than from normal or medical retirement was 6.3 per cent. in 1965, 5 per cent. in 1966, 5.1 per cent. in 1967, 4.8 per cent. in 1968 and 5.6 per cent. in 1969. Clearly we all regret these losses from the Service, although we know that these trained officers move into other social work services. It is interesting to record, however, that despite these losses the number of whole-time established probation officers rose from 2,319 at the end of 1965 to 3,169 at the end of 1969—an increase of some 36.6 per cent. I was delighted to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, that the National Association of Probation Officers had accepted the salary settlement. It is equally true to say, as he reminded us, that negotiations in respect of principal probation officers are still in progress. Therefore—and he so rightly forecast this— the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, must await the outcome of those negotiations before making the kind of comparison that he sought to make earlier in our debate.

In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, I can tell the House that this agreement is not a two-year agreement, as he thought it might be. It is an agreement which will run for twenty-one months, expiring in December, 1971, but there is provision that during the month of January, 1971, the Joint Negotiating Committee, which is responsible for considering these matters, will, without commitment, review the agreement and determine whether any significant changes have occurred in relation to the Probation Service and its salary scale which will justify the reopening of the settlement. If it is agreed that such changes have occurred, the settlement could be revised and the consequential changes would have effect from April 1, 1971. I hope that statement puts the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, at rest.

The noble Lord also drew our attention to the special problems of London, which none of us who knows the Metropolis could possibly deny. It has a concentration of social problems throughout the range of its social services, and as to the treatment of offenders, the existence within this area of some five prisons and the movement back to the capital city of homeless offenders clearly increases the strain on the services operating in this particular part of the country. The calls on the Inner London Probation Service, which covers the twelve Inner London boroughs in relation to social work in prisons, after-care and parole, are clearly particularly demanding, and that is why the present aim of the Probation and After-Care Committee is that within the context of the total strength of some 3,500 officers there should be a service of some 400 established officers in the Inner London area.

My Lords, I have considerable details relating to wastage and recruitment in this area which I had intended to give to the House, but if the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will allow me, and in view of the lateness of the hour, I will, with his agreement, write to him and give him the information for which he has asked.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Baroness.


That being so, my Lords, I would conclude by dealing with this major question which almost every noble Lord has put to me, the future organisation of the Service. I think that all of us in this Chamber to-night, in one capacity or another, are conscious that the present organisational pattern of the Service takes a very un-usual form. It is administered by a range of probation and after-care committees composed mainly of magistrates throughout the separate parts of Eng-land and Wales, divided into probation and after-care areas, and the cost of the Service, now running at some £11 million a year, is borne half by central Government and half by local authorities. The unusual nature of this organisation has, I believe, made the Service conscious of its obligations both to the courts and to the local communities it serves, and has made the courts equally aware of the importance of probation and its value as a form of treatment for offenders. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, and others have pointed out to-night, the Report and recommendations of the Seebohm Committee on the Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services, and those of the Royal Commissions on Local Government in England and on Assizes and Quarter Sessions, although not directly concerned with the Probation and After-Care Service, have undoubtedly created uncertainty within the Service itself about its future organisation.

Furthermore (and these also are points that were raised by noble Lords in the debate), the increasing involvement of the Service in the treatment of adult offenders and the need to reduce our growing prison population are additional factors which could well affect its future administrative framework. The Government are conscious that this situation has led to considerable unease, and it is certainly the wish of the Government to reassure the Service. It is quite clear from all that has been said, in all parts of the House this evening, that the Probation and After-Care Service has an essential part to play in our system of the administration of justice and the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders, both in penal establishments and in the community, and that the performance of this role must rest, in the first place —and several noble Lords made this point in the debate—on the qualities, including the personal responsibility, of the probation officer in the field.

These qualities must of course be deployed in the most suitable pattern of organisation for the Service in the light of the changes which are taking place, or which may take place, in other ser-vices, and of the possible developments in the future tasks of the Probation and After-Care Service itself. It is not yet possible, however, to foresee what the most suitable form of organisation for the Service will be, and the Government —I say this on behalf of my right honourable friend—have no present intention of altering the arrangements for probation and after-care as a separate service, working in close collaboration with the proposed new local authorities' social services departments and the Prison Service.

Finally, my Lords, I would maintain that the overall picture of the service which emerges from this short debate is far from being an unfavourable one. For while with this Service, as indeed with all human agencies, there is undoubtedly scope for further improvement and development, none of us, I am sure, is complacent. Much progress, I believe, has been made in recent years, and I am sure that the Service is in a fit state, and indeed a confident state, to perform its important and, as noble Lords have re-minded us, very onerous duties. And in that it will certainly continue to receive the support and encouragement of Her Majesty's Government. I hope, in particular, that the assurance I have given this evening about the future of the Ser-vice will give it further confidence in the discharge of its most exacting duties, which form a vital part of our services for the treatment and rehabilitation of offenders.