HL Deb 13 December 1982 vol 437 cc444-68

8.33 p.m.

Lord Wells-Pestell rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what are the reasons and justification for the proposal to reduce from 1983 the rates of pay for probation officers in training. The noble Lord said: My Lords. I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. It was with some diffidence that I decided to bring this matter to your Lordships' House, but some months ago I had a discussion with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and that was followed by some rather lengthy correspondence on both sides, resulting in my not being able to make any progress at all. It is because I regard this matter as so important—and so do my friends who are supporting me in this Question—that I felt it ought to come to your Lordships' House, where it can be aired, and, I hope, aired in the newspapers and on the BBC. My friends and I fail to understand how a responsible department of Government could come to the conclusion which it has reached on this matter.

It is many a long year since we had an Unstarred Question in your Lordships' House, supported—if I may exclude myself—by a number of very-distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, including a number from the Bar. The Question relates to the Home Office's intention in 1983 to reduce the training allowance made to probation officers in training. Perhaps I ought to explain that the probation service recruits its trainees through two different channels. One is through the probation area committees, of which I acknowledge there are now only a very few, putting forward candidates for the probation service; the rest—and, I agree, a very substantial rest—coming through the Home Office.

At the present moment, a person accepted for training for the probation service through a local authority committee receives a bottom allowance of £4,677, against £4,551 when funded by the Home Office. It is this bottom point in the salary scale that I want to raise tonight, because the bottom point in the Home Office scale will fall next year from £4,551 to £3,588—a drop of £1,000. I fail to see how anyone in his right mind could justify an action of that kind.

When a trainee in the probation service, who can be as young as 22, but no younger, coming in at the bottom point next year will receive £3,588, I wonder how the Home Office justifies paying police constables who are under the age of 21 and who embark upon a two-year probation period, £6,267, with a rent allowance of between £1,000 and £2,271 a year; or, if they are 22 and over, as they are in the probation service, a starting salary of £7,356, with a rent allowance of between £1,000 and £2,000. It is always invidious to attempt to suggest the value of the contribution of one group in society compared with another, but I want to suggest to your Lordships that the contribution which the probation service is making today is of supreme importance to the problems which we are facing.

Under the new Home Office scale, there is to be no increment at all in the second year, which means that a trainee who is appointed at the new bottom rate will be something like 25 per cent. worse off in the second year. It means, also, that we shall have on the same courses trainees appointed by the probation committees, trainees appointed under the old Home Office scheme and trainees appointed under the new scheme which comes into force next year. We shall have three groups, all doing the same training and attending the same lectures, with three different incomes which may vary to the extent of something like £1,100. I cannot remember such a nonsensical system.

Many of the probation officers will already be graduates. I notice that in their correspondence the Home Office tends to talk about students. We are not talking about students in the sense that the ordinary man in the street understands the term. We are talking not about students but about trainees. Unlike students, trainee probation officers pay tax; unlike students, trainee probation officers pay superannuation; and, unlike students, trainee probation officers compulsorily pay national insurance contributions. It means that some of the new intake, starting at the bottom point, will be earning about £6 a day after all these deductions.

I have many friends in the probation service; 45 years ago I was a probation officer in London. For some years I was vice-president of the national association, so perhaps I ought to declare that I have a lifelong interest in this matter. I know probation officers who, by virtue of the nature of the work, occasionally do a 12-hour day—and very often a 10-hour day. And because trainees are assigned to a probation officer they will have to work similar hours. Therefore £6 a day means that they will receive the princely sum of 60p to 70p an hour. You could not get a home help for that. You could not get anything in the way of help for that. It is a shocking state of affairs. Naturally, I ask myself why the Home Office have done this. I have spoken to an enormous number of people who I thought might be in the know, but they cannot tell me.

I do not want to take up a great deal of your Lordships' time tonight. I just want to paint the picture as I see it and leave it to my noble friends to seize upon other matters in order to complete the picture. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, said in a letter to me that 10,000 people applied for the 300 places on training courses. He said that there was no difficulty about getting people. I ask the noble Lord to be frank and honest about it. Are the Home Office saying that because there are nearly 4 million unemployed they can get anybody for next to nothing? This is how it seems to a good many of us: depress the starting salary because we can always get more people than we need. But for £3,588 can you get the kind of young person you need?

The noble Lord will, I know, remind me that a large number of these people are mature students and that they will earn £4,116 or £4,746. The Home Office have to take into account age and experience, as do the local probation committees, but we need a large number of young people in the probation service. There are many young delinquents. Young people have a better rapport with young delinquents than older people, who have none at all, sometimes. It is of supreme importance that we should cater for the young delinquent by having young probation officers. I hate to think that this situation has been brought about simply because there is a very wide field of choice. The choice which really matters is whether people are suitable and, if they are suitable, whether they will accept £3,588 or turn away and look for something else. I ask the Home Office to think very carefully about this.

I wish to quote from a letter written by the noble Lord. He will not take this personally; he has to put up with all this because he happens to be the Minister concerned. He knows that there is no venom in it as far as he is concerned. On 27th October the noble Lord wrote to me and said: The Home Secretary has now agreed that the new scale should be brought into operation for students … starting in 1983".

Can the noble Lord say from his own personal knowledge that the Home Secretary knows about this? I am not prepared to accept a piece of paper which has been sent to him telling him, "Of course he does". I doubt very much whether the Home Secretary knows about it. I say this because I have some knowledge of the Home Secretary. When I was vice-president I took the chair for him at an annual meeting of the National Association of Probation Officers.

The Home Secretary is a man with vision. Many of us do not like his politics but we pay tribute to his vision and to the fact that he wants to keep as many young people out of prison as possible. The Home Secretary wants to extend the non-custodial way of dealing with offenders and he knows better than most people in your Lordships' House that there is only one group of people who can do that: the probation officers. Nobody is going to tell me, except the Home Secretary himself, that he knows this is being done. I shall believe it when the Home Secretary says, "Yes, I knew about this and I approved it". I really do not feel that he does.

I hope that the noble Lord will not turn this down out of hand. I hope his advisers will not send a note to him and say, "Under no circumstances can this be done". If the Home Office are so certain that they are right, the noble Lord should accept my suggestion that the Home Office ought to be generous enough to say, "Let us have another think about this. We may not change our mind but we should be prepared to meet a number of people who are very well informed on the practical, not the theoretical side"—as must so often be the case in a Government department. I ask the noble Lord to say, "If you want to meet me, I shall be pleased to do so and I shall be prepared to receive a small number of people to talk further about the matter".

8.48 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, my first task on behalf of the whole House is to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for raising this very important Question, and for doing it so forcefully and succinctly and in a manner which becomes the Member of either House of Parliament who knows more about the subject than any other.

It is quite unnecessary for me to discuss at any length the crucial role which probation officers play in our society. There are noble Lords who will want to comment upon one or two aspects. May I merely mention two which I personally have come across. The first relates to the courts, when sentence is about to be passed and a decision has to be made as to whether the convicted person is to be given a custodial sentence. At that stage the report of the probation officer is of vital importance. Secondly, although I have never served on the Parole Board I know many of its members, and I know well how much they are bound to rely upon the reports of a whole series of probation officers in coming to a decision which is absolutely crucial and which, if their decision is wrong, may have very serious consequences for society.

When I talk about the reports of probation officers, I do so because I know from personal experience that it is not simply the report which matters; it is the reliance that one places upon the individual who has prepared the report. It is one's belief that the probation officer is a person of real calibre who has practical experience of the world and upon whose judgment courts, parole boards and others can safely rely. It is for that reason that the present decision by the Home Office to deal with rates of pay in the way proposed is liable to lower the whole standard of recruitment into what I regard as a very important public service.

It is right, of course, that there should come into the probation service from universities a number of fresh-faced young people who have high ideals; if they are sometimes a little impractical, then one can understand that. But it is equally important that there should be persuaded to come into the probation service those who are a little older, a little more mature, and who may be married and have children—people who have some experience and knowledge of the world. Such people, if they are already in employment, will not be tempted into the vital job of probation officer if the Government's whole attitude is that which appears to be expressed by the new scales which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is querying this evening.

I accept that there is an argument these days for cost containment and that there is invariably talk about restraint on public expenditure. I fully recognise that anyone in your Lordships' House who talks on a particular subject always accepts that there is a need for such restraint in respect of even' topic other than the one which is being discussed that particular evening. However, I feel bound to say that if the Home Office feel compelled to work within a particular budget on this particular issue, I personally would sooner see a budget applied to the appointment of rather fewer probation officers of a really high calibre than an attempt, of the kind which is apparent at the moment, to retain the existing number, or increase it, at the risk of the calibre of the recruited persons being very much reduced as a result.

I can see nothing in the present proposals to encourage people of real calibre to enter the probation service. For that reason I agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that it is no answer to argue that on the present rates offered there are more than enough applicants for the job. There are more than enough applicants for any job in the present state of our society. When one is dealing with a role of this importance, the real problem is to secure applicants of a really high calibre.

For those reasons I look forward with the greatest of interest to hearing what the noble Lord the Minister has to say in answer to the points which have been raised already by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and others which will be raised in the course of this debate. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will forgive me, when I say that I will look forward to hearing his reasons, if I am in fact looking forward to reading them in Hansard. I express my deep apologies to your Lordships for not being able to stay to hear the whole of this debate. If I were to do so. I should splutter infectiously over even more of your Lordships than I have done already during the course of this afternoon.

8.54 p.m.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

My Lords, the probation service has a crucial and unique role to play in our society. In the 100 years or so that probation has existed in our statute law, there has never been a stage, in my judgment, at which it was so essential for the probation service to enjoy the highest morale and also to be assured of the understanding and support of Her Majesty's Government.

I doubt whether any Member of your Lordships' House, with the sole exception of the noble Lord the Minister—who has the unenviable task of replying to this debate—was not moved to dismay and incredulity, as both my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell and the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, have already said, on learning of the Home Office decision to impose the savage cuts they propose making in respect of training grants. I too join the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, in expressing the deep gratitude and indebtedness of this House to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, both for initiating this debate and for the vigorous and fair way in which he presented his case. It stemmed from my noble friend's deep understanding of the significance of the probation service and of the problems with which it has to grapple. My noble friend's words were words of statesmanship and wisdom, and I feel very privileged, on behalf of my noble friends, to give the fullest support to the case he has articulated so skilfully and fairly. Indeed, he has dealt so devastatingly with such a number of matters of detail that there is very little left that one can say so far as the main thrust of his arguments is concerned. His arguments were wholly irrefutable.

The Government's proposals are indefensible. They are wildly inconsistent with their general statements in this connection. They are flagrantly unjust to the trainees concerned and, so far as society as a whole is concerned, they are irresponsible and dangerous. First, they are indefensible in that the Government, it seems, seek to justify their actions according to the law of supply and demand. My noble friend has already alluded to the correspondence which has passed between him and the noble Lord the Minister. Indeed, my noble friend has been good enough to circulate copies of this correspondence, which was always intended to be a public document. I quote from one of the passages in the letter from the noble Lord the Minister, in which he states: Many of the universities and polytechnics have received more applications than they could handle. Such a buoyant recruitment situation needs no financial inducement. Perhaps I may make the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that, of course, one would expect there to be a far greater number of applicants than those who are individually chosen for the 350 to 400 placements which are available. There has to be a ratio of 5 to 1 or 10 to 1 of applicants to persons chosen if one is to maintain the very high standards that the service has enjoyed in previous years. The figures for applications which were given in another place on 22nd March were, for 1980, 1,926; for 1981, 1,992. I am sure that the House will wish to hear from the noble Lord the Minister, when he replies, how different are the figures for 1982. Was the number of applicants double, treble, or ten times what it was in 1981? Or was it a similar number? If indeed there was a massive increase over 1981, why on earth did the Home Office see fit to advertise in the press for applicants in September of this year?

We ask the noble Lord the Minister, what criterion did the Government have in mind when imposing the 23 per cent. cuts in the rates? Is this a general figure that is to apply to trainees generally? Is it to apply to the police? This point was made devastatingly by my noble friend. Is it to be of general application? If so, do the Government intend to make a comprehensive announcement in respect of such a figure? Or was the 23 per cent. just a figure that was plucked arbitrarily out of the air? What does the Minister mean by the words "such a buoyant recruitment situation needs no financial inducement"? Does he intend to reduce the grants still further? Does he intend to abolish them altogether? Is that what he is saying? I am sure the House will want the most specific assurance in respect of that aspect.

My Lords, we say that the conduct of the Government is utterly inconsistent. The Government have been regularly making encouraging noises over the three and a half years of their life in respect of strengthening the probation service. They have also made the proud boast that no cuts they make will affect the field of law and order. Why did the Government advertise in September of this year, if they intend to dissuade a number of otherwise willing applicants from coming forward? This is a very strange inconsistency in a Government that seem to make such a fetish of thrift.

The question of hardship has already been dealt with very fully by my noble friend. May I make this one point. Let this House not think that all the hardships are of a financial nature. A very high percentage of those who successfully complete their courses still find themselves unemployed at the end of them. Figures were given in another place to show that at the end of last year over half the 430 who completed their courses were still unemployed. The hardships in relation to unemployment are well understood. Fewer and fewer persons are leaving the service; there is a much slower turnaround altogether. What I am sure we would wish to know from the Minister is whether a number of those who were rejected in 1981 had the patience, indeed the fortitude, to hold out and make further application in 1982, and how many of them were successful.

Let me make one general point. The probation service is invaluable in relation to the supervision it gives to persons under probation orders, but that is only a fraction of the work that it does. I have the figures only for the year 1978; I think they amply illustrate the point. The number of probation orders in that year was 26,000. The number of juvenile supervision orders was 17,000, shared of course with other authorities; the number of community service orders was 11,000. But the other work was also enormous, supervising prison welfare, day centres and hostels, being involved with over 15,000 children who are the subject of investigations in relation to custody, wardship and guardianship; and also, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, over 200,000 social inquiry reports prepared for the courts, reports which are utterly invaluable if the court is to be in a position to pass a just and proper sentence.

My Lords, the community has placed upon the shoulders of that small, select, dedicated band of people who comprise the probation service, a massive burden. Over the years the service has responded loyally and effectively to such demands. Over the last three years it has shown an impressive rise in productivity. The expectations of society in relation to the probation service will continue to rise. Those expectations can only be fulfilled if, among other things, the service can be guaranteed a steady flow of applicants of the very highest calibre. The Government's proposals threaten the very seed corn of that system.

We are staggered by the irresponsible shortsightedness of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. I join with my noble friend in urging the noble Lord the Minister, who is a humane and fair-minded gentleman, to give this matter his most urgent reconsideration. What profit be it to Government to show a relatively minuscule saving in their books where the price to be paid means placing at grave risk the whole future of an invaluable service that is so central to the protection and support of society?

9.5 p.m.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for putting down this Unstarred Question. From a long association with the probation service over the past 25 years as chairman of the Parole Board, as president of the National Association of Probation Officers and since, I can confirm and endorse everything that has been said about the dedication of probation officers to their demanding work, and the skill with which they carry it out. They work long and unsocial hours. As the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, has said, they have to deal with a perplexing range of problems demanding a wide diversity of skills, talents and resources. They sometimes have to cope with disturbed, difficult and occasionally dangerous clients.

Quite recently I have spent a day with two probation services, the Merseyside Service and the Oxfordshire Service. As always on such visits, I was struck once again, meeting probation trainees in probation offices and doing other work, by their quality and enthusiasm. I join with others in saying that it is quite essential that the calibre of the men and women entering the service should continue to be of the same high standard as it is at present. Indeed, if it were possible the aim should be to raise that standard even higher still, in order to cope with the increasing and increasingly difficult and demanding jobs that will be laid upon the service in the future.

My Lords, I should like to stress the importance of maintaining the ratio, quite apart from the quality, of the mature student entrant. I used to visit the Home Office courses in the Cromwell Road in the old days, and when I was there I was tremendously impressed by the wide range of experience from various walks of life which those students represented. I believe this to be of enormous value to the service. The termination of those courses caused a great deal of concern at the time, with the pendulum swinging too far towards youthfulness—intelligent, enthusiastic young men and women but lacking a wider perspective of life in the world beyond the universities.

The importance of maintaining a balance between youth and experience is self-evident. I illustrate my point briefly with a few figures. In 1981 the numbers of mature students placed on entry at the top of the trainee four point salary scale was 37 per cent. of the total. In 1982 that percentage had slipped to 29 per cent., and this, surely, must be a matter of some concern. To reduce the top trainee salary, albeit by only a small percentage—0.44 per cent.—is not exactly calculated to encourage the numbers of older students, those men and women in their thirties, and attract, let alone increase their numbers, people of the very highest calibre.

The next rung on the ladder, point three, amounted to 20 per cent. of the total entry in 1981. In 1982 it was 22 per cent. It is proposed to reduce the salary by 8 per cent., which merely reinforces my point. So, simply on numbers for the higher and more mature entries, I think it can be said that there is a reasonable balance between maturity and youth because, put together, the entries on the two higher rungs of the salary scale amounted to 57 per cent. in 1981, but that level had slipped to 51 per cent. in 1982. It is of great importance, both quality- and quantity-wise, not to allow it to slip any further.

I make two quick points in this connection. First, it is understandable that confidence in the service tends to be influenced in court by the age and maturity of the probation officer involved in the case. This can have implications for the sentence. Secondly, the readiness of volunteer members of the public to work with the probation service is again bound to be influenced by the factor of the age and maturity of the officers with whom they are working. I am stressing the importance I attach to the older and more mature student entry.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and others, I also have concern for the trainees on the two lowest rungs of the trainee salary ladder—entries from the colleges and universities. In 1981 in aggregate those entering on these two lowest scales represented 43 per cent. of the total. In 1982 it was 49 per cent. The Home Office proposes to reduce the salaries by 23 per cent. at the lowest point of entry and 16 per cent. at the next entry point. Let us not forget that from these young entrants will come, for the large part, the senior probation managers of the future, the chief probation officers, deputy chiefs and the assistant chief probation officers. Therefore, quality at that level of entry is absolutely all-important.

I take the Home Office point about the need to reduce the present inequity in relation to other students following CQSW courses but without taking the probation option. However I think, as do others, that this is altogether too drastic a step. There are at present four points of entry on the salary scale for trainees and it has been suggested that the danger of discouraging entry of high calibre students from the colleges and universities at the lower end of the scale might be mitigated by reducing the number of entry points to three, eliminating the lowest rung on the ladder and making the lowest salary £4,116 instead of the proposed £3,588. This would still mean a reduction of about £450 from the present lowest student salary—that is, 10 per cent.—instead of the drastic reduction of 23 per cent. proposed by the Home Office. To do this would cost the Home Office a little more money but the all-important factor of the quality of the men and women in the probation service, to make it possible to shift the emphasis in future years to alternative treatment in the community, makes cheeseparing in this matter of the student entry salaries both shortsighted and inappropriate.

Finally, my questions to the Minister are these. Will he consider the suggestion of reducing the salary scale for a trainee probation officer from four to three points of entry, with the lowest salary on that presently applying to point three? Secondly, will he endorse the emphasis I have placed on maintaining the ratio and quality of more mature students, for the reasons I have given?

9.14 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, after four weeks' absence from your Lordships' House because I was careless enough to trap a nerve in my back, I am unhappy that I should feel it vital to come here tonight and, in the light of my experience in the last 25 years of dealing with the probation service, speak in support of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I do not like speaking against the Government, and I certainly do not like speaking against the Minister, but I feel so strongly about this particular matter that I had to come here tonight.

We are discussing the salaries of one of the most important associations of officers in our society today. I say that with confidence after 25 years of experience—25 years mostly as chairman of a magistrates' court followed by four years on the Parole Board. In the magistrates' court—the lowest level of the judiciary—we dealt with a great number of people and it was our privilege to realise that if we put someone on probation he would be dealt with and looked after by people of the highest quality and the highest calibre, known well by each of us—people who would be able to put the person who had strayed off the path of law back on to that path again. In every case—and I cannot think of one where the probation staff let me or any other member of my 84-member bench down—we were able to rely on the guidance, the wisdom and the help of the probation staff. Indeed, that was so not only as regards the adult courts, because over 60 per cent. of the orders made on young people between the ages of 14 and 17 years are still supervised by probation officers.

As regards the Parole Board, the after-care that is so vitally necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has said, and so important to ex-prisoners, and which is supervised by qualified probation officers, is something for which, as we know, the prisoners themselves are grateful, and for which their parents are grateful. We as members of the Parole Board rely on those people to take care of the prisoners that we allow to go back into society.

We have recently spent a great deal of time discussing a new Criminal Justice Bill. As a result, a great many more highly-qualified and trained probation officers will be needed to implement it when it becomes an Act. I should like to ask my noble friend how many more probation officers will be in training to help to implement the Criminal Justice Act. We are told that at present about 300 people are on the intake for the probation service. We are also told that there is no shortage of people wanting and willing to come forward to be probation officers. But we must pay the rate for the job if we want dedicated and skilled people—people who care deeply and whose lives, I may say from my own experience, are changed when they become probation officers because they are working at all times of the day and night. The fact that there are so many people who still want to be probation officers is a great credit to the probation officer service.

As has already been pointed out, there are many older people who come forward with perhaps more experience of life in general than the 22-year olds. Those people are coming forward and they wish to be probation officers. Although we want quantity, we must have quality. I do not say that money speaks, but one has to live. The older people in the probation service very often have to keep their families; and the younger people do not want to be tied down by a very meagre salary.

The dedication and the long hours have to be paid for; the responsibility that society and the courts put upon the men and women who form the probation staff of our courts must be recognised by the Home Office. They are to be encouraged by the people who are administering justice in our courts. As one of those who do the administering, I say we could not possibly work our courts without their help. We rely on them implicitly; but their responsibility must be paid for. I have come here tonight specifically to urge the Minister to look at this again, because I cannot understand why this particular, vital part of our society has been treated in this way.

9.20 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, the number of speakers in the debate this evening is, I think, some indication itself of the importance which your Lordships attach to the probation service. Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for raising this issue tonight. I think that most of the relevant points have already been covered, and very well covered, in the speeches which have been made, but I thought that one brief contribution from the Cross-Benches might be in point, in part perhaps to demonstrate that the issues here go well outside party lines, if that needs saying after the speech of the noble Baroness.

However, I have grounds for concern going rather deeper than that. I was fortunate enough to have some relevant responsibility at a time when the service was undergoing a major reorganisation, and I was much concerned with the setting up of the establishment in the Cromwell Road to which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt has referred, for which we had such high hopes. I also recall that I was a little involved when the possibility was canvassed of the service going down the Scottish road of complete integration with the social services, a fate which I trust the service will continue to avoid.

The probation service gets its fair share of criticism and rather ill-considered and sometimes rather sneering comments, but, as it has now become, it is I think plain that, with the police and the prison services, it is already playing an essential part in tackling the problem of delinquency and all the complications that that involves, including the overcrowding of the prisons. The new duties that it has taken on in recent years are a further vital contribution to establishing in this country a concerted and coherent approach to these problems. I have in mind in particular the service's responsibilities in relation to parole and community service, and also its welfare responsibilities in the prisons. I am a little disappointed to find that the service itself seems to have some doubts about that particular activity.

There is more to come under new legislation, but if the service is to discharge the hopes placed in it, as has been said more than once this evening, it must attract suitable people. Whatever the feeling of commitment one looks for, pay is unfortunately something which cannot be ignored. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will accept that there can obviously be no prospect of the probation service emulating the Olympian heights scaled by the police, who train their recruits after they have taken them on as police officers and who now pay them pretty handsomely. Nor, indeed, can the would-be probation officer hope during his long period of training to rival the remuneration of the prison officer during his much shorter period of training. All the same, the service must attract not only enough recruits but, as has been said before and will no doubt be said again, enough recruits of the right kind.

It is against that background that I should like to make three short points. The first is really to go along with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, emphasised, and that is the maintenance of the tradition that the service should be able to attract mature men and women with substantial experience in other walks of life—perhaps in industry; perhaps in voluntary social work; perhaps in the professions. The statistics which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, gave us I found rather comforting as I personally had been under the subjective impression that the proportion of mature entrants taken in recent years was rather less than it used to be in the days when I had a more direct concern.

Be that as it may, as I understand it, it is not intended so to alter the scales of pay as to affect the conditions under which the older recruit can be taken in. However, it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm this and put on the record, if he feels able to do so, that the Government continue to attach great importance to maintaining an adequate proportion of new recruits with proven experience in other fields. I feel bound to add the comment that, although, as I understand it, there is no proposal for a major change in the scales of pay here, a salary of £5,500, or rather less, is not excessively attractive for a man in his 30s with a wife and family and mortgage commitments.

My second point is that I am under the impression that the responsible employers, the probation and after-care committees, do not at present seem to have very much to say in how the great majority of the students are selected for training before they are appointed to the service. I wonder whether it might not be desirable to try to devise some method, perhaps under the aegis of the negotiating machinery for pay and conditions, which would mean that appointment would no longer be left quite as much as it is to the schools and colleges which provide the academic training.

My third point is that I have not personally seen the correspondence to which reference has been made but I am well aware that there has been an abundance of applicants. I am also very conscious of the need for economy, although I note that we have gone as far as this in the debate without actually finding out how great the sums are which would be saved by the measures now proposed. It seems to me that, whatever statistical basis there may be for the cuts now contemplated, as the speeches have already shown, there is a real risk of action on these lines being interpreted as showing what the Government's attitude of mind is towards the service.

The fact that this action could be regarded as a kind of touchstone, as it were, is the main reason why so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak this evening and why some of the points legitimately raised in discussion have gone a little wide of the specific point raised in the Unstarred Question. There is a real danger that what is now being talked about could spread alarm and despondency at the very time that the Government need the goodwill of the service in developing their criminal justice plans.

Cuts in pay in this country are still a quite unusual phenomenon, and to single out this service could be regarded as a move calculated to discourage, rather than encourage, a service which should be bursting with growth and vitality in discharging its obligations to the courts, the prisons and the community. I wait with great interest to learn if the Minister can persuade us that, with all its risks, it is really worth while. I suspect from what we have heard so far that he may find it rather hard going.

9.31 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell for raising this extremely important topic. When I looked at the list of speakers I realised that I should not be able to add anything to what would be said; I have no background in the probation service. Nevertheless, the very fact that I wanted to speak must prove that I, too, feel enormously seriously about this point. I also look forward greatly to hearing what the Minister has to say, though in view of the weight of opinion I am feeling rather sorry for him, fond though we are of him.

I wish to make three brief points. The first concerns what I consider to be an enormous inconsistency in the Government's attitude—and this was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Allen. Indeed, I can think of no greater inconsistency on the part of the Government than, on the one hand, appearing to propogate a system which lays greater stress on the important role of probation officers while, at the same time, actually reducing the reward for those on whom this greater burden or responsibility will descend. Previous speakers have made that clear and one cannot say it often enough, because it looks as if the Government are trying to have it both ways. They appear to be committing themselves to shifting some of the weight from those responsible for custodial sentences to those responsible for probation and community service orders. What could be more contradictory than to move in that way—towards what many of us, I am happy to say, would regard as a more humane criminal justice system—while making the conditions less attractive for enticing the very people on whom the revised system will depend?

My second point concerns the importance of the service attracting the right kind of trainee, and much has been said about that. I cannot add anything to what has been said, but I feel I must speak of the need to achieve a broad-based entry, essential for working in the multi-coloured community that we are. I understand that the most likely way of enrolling coloured workers is through the ancillary grades. There must be general agreement about the need for tainee officers coming from the ethnic minorities, where they will be doing a great deal of their work. Many of these workers are married; they are the older trainees, with children to support. What possible prospect will there be of encouraging such moves by these workers if it means they have to accept, say, a considerable drop in salary?

My third point concerns the actual duties of a probation officer. It is important to spell out in categorical terms what the full measure of his responsibilities are, and consequently how much the community at large depends on having people of very high calibre brought into the service. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, referred to the essential after-care of prisoners, and I wish to state the different categories for whom probation officers are responsible.

First, the probation officer, assisted of course by the trainees, is responsible for the supervision of prisoners who are released before the end of their sentences under a parole system. Secondly, he is responsible during the unexpired half of the sentence for extended sentence prisoners released under a parole scheme or some other scheme. He is responsible for young prisoners, aged under 21 at the time of sentence, serving 18 months or more, who are released under a parole system or another system.

The probation officer is responsible for all borstal trainees during the two years after the date of their release, and he is responsible for all detention centre trainees during the 12 months after their release. Finally, he is also responsible for prisoners of under 21 years of age for 12 months after they have served sentences of less than 18 months. He is responsible for the after-care of all those categories of prisoners, and I believe that the sheer weight of his work emerges from those facts. Surely people who are able to undertake such extensive work should be brought in to help the Government with this new preventive aspect of the criminal justice system, in which we all very greatly support them.

I happened to be talking to a friend about this debate, and he said that the other day a probation officer told him that it was only very recently that his career had become respectable. Is it not possible that if we lower the reward for this vital, essential work, while the profession may remain respectable, the morale of the people in it might be seriously affected?

9.37 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, I returned from dinner to take part in this debate not with any hope of adding arguments but with the intention of contributing a little abrasiveness, perhaps, to what I think has been an over-indulgent discussion of rather a monstrous, small, but very ugly event. Throughout the proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill we were assured—and we asked about it again and again—that the Government appreciated the importance of the probation service, that they recognised that the probation service was the only defence that they had against the explosive dangers in their appalling prison situation, and that they understood the difficulties of getting the best people into the service. So I was absolutely astonished to read of this small, but monstrous, change that is being proposed. I believe it to be a bureaucratic idiosyncrasy. I do not believe that the Home Secretary, nor the noble Lord, Lord Elton, had anything at all to do with it. I think the noble Lord is stuck with it, and I am sorry for him; but I am not going to try to help him out of it because I think he ought to stick in it.

Nobody can pretend that if we pay less for something we shall get something that is better. Monetarists are also "Cobdenist" and "Brightist" to some extent, and they surely believe that the quality of what one gets depends on the price. It is only in relation to young trainees that the position is serious, because despite what my noble friend Lord Hunt said, a percentage of 0.44 does not represent a very serious change, whereas percentages of 23 and 16 do represent very serious changes. To suggest that it is reasonable to lower the price and to accept the inevitable result, which is to get less good trainees, seems to me absolutely incredible and against everything that the Government have been telling us during all the proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill, and in fact over the last three or four years.

It is a very small item. We are told that we are taking in only 300 recruits a year in this way. I think that I should agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, who said that we ought to take in many more; but that is a separate point. Of those 300, how many will be on Grade 4, the lowest grade? Will it be 50, so that all this is about £50,000? Is that right? Can the noble Lord tell us what is the saving to the Treasury in this very disagreeable change? I should like to know the figure; but it seems to me that it is bound to be something under £100,000. Really, to treat the probation service in this way for a sum of that kind seems to be absolutely incredible.

I was very much disturbed by the reply—one which I did not see, but I gather that it was in a letter—that it was quite all right to do this because there was buoyant recruitment and no difficulty in getting applicants. This means that if you are an employer dealing with the unemployed, you should pay less than the unemployment pay, does it? What does it mean? It is a very odd and disagreeable statement and I do not think that we can pass it. I hope I am wrong in thinking that that is what the Government are saying. But, at second hand, that that is what it seems they said. I feel strongly that they should not have said that.

The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, raised an interesting point. Why do they advertise if they have so many people? How much does that cost? It is very expensive to advertise in newspapers. This is the way the Government throw away money with one hand, even if it is a small sum, and try to save it at the expense of these innocent and harmless trainees.

There was a small point that I did not understand in the remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. He spoke as if my noble friend Lord Hunt had suggested that the number of older, more mature, recruits was not decreasing. In fact, Lord Hunt's figures showed that they are decreasing. I may have misunderstood the noble Lord, but the figures show that they are decreasing as a proportion of the whole.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I said, or meant to say, that they were not decreasing as much as I had thought.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, I will not say any more. I am very sorry for the noble Lord who has to answer this. I think it is very difficult and really quite impossible to put a proper face on it. It is such a petty affair and so very offensive to a body which we all enormously admire—having said which, I shall support, in principle with my political weight (which lessens as my physical weight grows) the spirit behind the noble Lord's Unstarred Question.

9.44 p.m.

Lord Foot

My Lords, Oscar Wilde once said, as I recall, that a man would need to have a heart of stone to be able to read the story of the death of Little Nell without laughing. In much the same sense, I would say to the House that one would need to have a heart of stone not to sympathise with the noble Lord who is going to reply to this debate. Indeed, at this late hour I do not want to try to contribute to the argument but I think the Unstarred Question which the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has put raises another question; that is, whether what takes place in your Lordships' House and in the debates in this House really matter; because here tonight we have had a debate in which no single voice has been raised in support of the Govern- ment. Apart from the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, the Benches opposite are empty. I must apologise to the noble Lord who is also sitting there. With the noble Baroness, he is the only exception. Not one voice has been raised in support of the Government. On the other hand, we have heard in this House tonight speeches coming from people with almost unique authority in fields of this kind, led by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, himself probably the greatest authority upon the probation system in this country. He was followed by the noble Lords, Lord Wigoder and Lord Elystan-Morgan, both of them ornaments of the Bar, and with experience not only in the courts of this country but in the judicial function. Then we listened to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who must have an experience in penal matters second to none, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, who is virtually the Magistrates' Association in person. Then we heard the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, with his unique experience in Whitehall. Then the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said she was not an authority but went on to make a speech which shows that she is. Then we had the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, who again has a unique experience in matters of penal reform. So we come down to me, and I have no authority at all.

Is it possible to ask the Minister, even at this late hour, not to get up in a minute and make a bland defence of the Government's position, but that he should acknowledge the weight of the authority which has been brought to bear in this debate upon this matter and the universal opinion that the Government have this wrong? Is it possible that the noble Lord can put aside the notes that he has in preparation to answer this debate, and say to the House that in view of the power and the force of the opinion which has been expressed in this House, he will take this matter away and that the Government will reconsider it after all? Is that not a reasonable response to expect in view of the course that this debate has taken?

I do not intend at this late hour to try and pursue the arguments in the matter. It is not only that, apart from the Minister, everybody who has spoken in this debate has taken an adverse view, but it is the fact that this is a matter which is fundamentally important to the administration of justice in this country. It is only right and proper that the Government and the Minister should take account of the very inmportant opinions that have been expressed.

9.48 p.m.

Lord Kagan

My Lords, I should like to make one point: the probation service needs people of the very highest calibre because the result of their work depends on the respect that they command in the prison service. As was said before, on occasions in the prison service they are not quite sure whether the probation service is a necessary or unnecessary intrusion. Surely the question of pay should be looked at in a different way. If one had a smaller number of probation officers but of a much higher calibre, they would co-opt from society suitable people to help them, as is happening experimentally now at Maidstone Prison. These are people who would be chosen because of their background. I have in mind retired school teachers, retired bank managers and people from the Churches. Indeed, the best training for the probation service is for someone to have been a parent, because most of us have gone through that period. The fact is that these people would not add to the financial burden. As far as I understand it, all they receive are just expenses for going. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, said that the probation service has a responsibility. In my opinion, that responsibility should start not when a person leaves prison but when he enters it, and a relationship should be built up that is continuous; a link with society.

If one recruited from society people who help and if one person deals constantly with one prisoner from the day he goes to prison, who gets to know him and gains his confidence, perhaps helping him to get a job afterwards, that is a link which would be established (a) with society and (b) with his family; and it would cost the taxpayer very much less. In other words, I think that a very high calibre probation officer—perhaps fewer in number but people co-opted from society—should look after each prisoner on a continuous basis.

9.51 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, in rising, I should like first to acknowledge the lifelong interest of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in this subject. I would emphasise that I take everything he has said, and everything that others of your Lordships have said, very seriously and in good part.

The Question of the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, is addressed to a particular part of the probation service and to a particular policy aspect upon it. It is an important aspect, and his Question has given it a very proper prominence. He has also revealed, if I may say so, an obvious personal concern and insight which will be very welcome in the service itself. It is a good thing that work of such great social importance as that which is done by the probation service should be kept in view by your Lordships as a whole and not just by the Government. It does not get over-much publicity; it is not often praised; it is not even so widely understood as perhaps it deserves to be; and interest such as the noble Lord promotes must be beneficial to it.

That does not mean, of course, that I agree with everything he has said; and in some respects I think he is quite wrong. I shall now raise the solitary voice for which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, has been listening for so long, on behalf of the Government. At this point, I must say that we do share a basic premise, which is that the probation service makes an invaluable contribution to society by applying to the damaging influence of crime a constraining and compassionate authority which serves both to protect the innocent and on occasion to reform the criminal.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, has demonstrated to your Lordships the wide range of work done by the service, and the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, has explained their intimate importance to offenders. This is exceedingly important work. Many jobs can be done by the application only of particular skills. This job, by contrast, can be done only by the engagement of the whole personality. It is always exacting, often frustrating and never undemanding. It follows that the principal asset which anyone can bring to it is their whole personality. A suitable personality is the essential primary qualification. It can be rendered more effective by training, but training cannot supply it if it is wanting.

In all this, the probation service has much in common with my own old profession of teaching, and your Lordships will understand that I hold it, as do the Government, in very high regard. But that, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will say (and has said) is not borne out by the figures. Well, let us look at some of the figures. First, as to the overall size of the service, since we came into office in 1979 we have increased the number of probation officers by 429 to the present total of 5,600. That is an increase of 8 per cent. in probation officers; and at the same time there has been an increase of 30 per cent. in ancillary workers. These figures provide the context in which the matter to which the Question is addressed is set. That matter concerns potential recruits to the service and the way in which they are paid, not while they are in the service but while they are training.

The Home Office does not itself either recruit or employ probation officers. That is a function of probation committees. But the Home Office does pay a grant of 80 per cent. of the expenditure incurred by those committees. Moreover, to assist those committees, and as a measure of the importance of seeing that they have a sufficient number and range of trained applicants from which to select, the Home Office pays students intending to make the probation service their career. They do so while they are studying for the certificate of qualification in social work. This is made possible by the good offices of the Inner London Probation Committee, and I should like, in passing, to place on record our appreciation of their valuable help. These students are engaged on courses with a probation content validated by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.

The number of them whose training is sponsored by the Home Office is determined each year by the rate at which existing officers are leaving the service, and the extent of any planned growth. Prior to 1970, the wastage rate was almost twice that of today and the demand for recruits was not matched by the number or quality of applicants. Accordingly, in 1970 the Home Secretary of the day introduced the present system. Instead of students being supported by grant, they were paid salaries which would be increased annually, broadly in step with those of serving probation officers.

I would not claim that this scheme alone has overcome past deficiencies; but there can be no doubt that the balance has changed to one where interest in training for the probation service is extremely buoyant—an evocative word to the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, among others. Indeed, it exceeds present-day requirements by a very handsome margin. Although there has been continued growth in the total number of probation officers, the wastage rate of existing probation officers has fallen to barely 4 per cent. As a result, the number of probation students sponsored by the Home Office each year has fallen, also—to less than 300. Indeed, it has been a matter of concern to us that, even at the reduced rate, a number of students coming off courses have had to wait longer than we should have wished to obtain an appointment, though I am glad to say that a better balance is now being arrived at.

This reduction in the need to sponsor the training of students has meant, first, that the number of CQSW courses with a probation content validated by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work became out of proportion to our needs. This resulted in sponsorships being spread more thinly than was desirable. With only 300 places now needed or available, the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder—and I hope that he feels better tomorrow; it is normally a habit not to answer points raised by noble Lords who are not here at the end of the debate, but I feel that his excuse is so good and your Lordships' interest so keen that I should do so—of reducing entry further, in order to secure a higher standard, has implications for the viability of courses themselves.

Last year, after consultation with the probation service interests, the department joined the Central Council—if I may so call it, rather than going on with "for Education and Training in Social Work", because the acronym CCETSW is so inapposite—in a review of the distribution of its sponsorships. At that time, there were 74 courses at 57 institutions. As a result of this review, that was reduced to 41 courses at 31 institutions. This affords a modest degree of concentration, and that is to the general advantage of the students' training.

Secondly, the changed circumstances also caused us to question whether it was right to continue with the rather special salaried treatment of probation students. Home Office sponsored probation students in general were receiving their training in financial terms more favourable than those of other social work students who were grant-aided by the Department of Health and Social Security or by their local education authorities.

The question of supply and demand is relevant because the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Certainly there are differences in the way the Department of Health and Social Security treat different cases because they are need-related and up to the age of 25 are means-tested. But a respectable way of advertising a commodity is to provide a testimonial from the user. Therefore I should like to quote from a letter written in September of this year to the department from Somerset by an applicant for sponsorship, who said: I would much prefer Home Office sponsorship for two reasons". The first does not concern this discussion. The second is financial. The difference between the two grants is approximately £3,000 a year. It would seem more appropriate that a younger candidate whose career is to be in social work should have the local education authority grant and that I. as a mature student committed to work in the probation service, should have the Home Office sponsorship". I know that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, will sympathise with that sentiment. I know also that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, does not think that probation trainees should be regarded as students. I understand him, but I find it difficult to follow him. They study alongside other CQSW students, many of whom would be maintained by grant. Their periods of practical training, which in certain areas entitle them to an additional allowance, are not different in substance. Many other student groups—for example, medical students—are also required to participate in practical training.

Another consideration was the sheer weight of interest which these sponsorships aroused. There were a mere 300. As some of your Lordships have already mentioned, there were about 10,000 inquiries—roughly 33 inquiries for every available place. That may be regarded as a tenuous figure since it reflects only interest in a probation career and no more than that. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. said that what one wanted were the figures for commitment and that they ought to be at least five to one. Therefore I should add that the total number of firm applications for the 300 places was roughly 1,500, which is exactly five times the number of places available.

From the report of the central council clearing house on applications for CQSW courses in 1981, we also learn that probation was given as the choice of career in over 26 per cent. of all CQSW applications, although only 8 per cent. of the places received Home Office sponsorship. That is a measure, in three dimensions now, of the attractiveness of what was then being provided. In terms of supply and demand, therefore, it cannot be denied that things were heavily out of balance. Any special inducement to encourage students to embark on a career as a probation officer was no longer necessary. Moreover, the increasing cost of the service—your Lordships will remember that we had significantly increased its strength and therefore the cost of paying it—together with the absolute demands of our economic policy and the need to contain Government expenditure (from this Dispatch Box one has to do more than just nod to that, because it is of the stuff and reality of economic life) meant that we were looking in every field, not just in the field of the probation service, not just in the field of the Home Office but everywhere, for savings in unnecessary expenditure. Under those circumstances, the payment of a premium rate simply could not be justified.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords—

Lord Elton

The noble Lord has had his whack. I do not wish to be discourteous to him.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

If the noble Lord does not wish to give way, nobody can make him.

Lord Elton

The noble Lord has a very effective way of wringing my conscience. I shall give way.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

I am unable to follow the argument that because you have a lot of applications you are entitled to lower the price. If one advertises for the chairman of a national body, one quite often attracts thousands of applications; but one does not put down the price on that ground. I cannot follow the noble Lord's argument.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord cannot follow the argument, because it is a fairly elementary one. Perhaps the noble Lord thinks it is too simplistic. The fact is that in the teeth of the most formidable difficulties, the Government are containing public expenditure in every aspect. As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said earlier, in every debate people say that public expenditure should be contained, except in that area which is the subject of the debate. When one is running a department or bits of a department, every bit is put under the microscope for any suspicion of spending money that should not be spent. This was money that was more easily given up than money in other parts of the service, where there are people actually trained and serving.

We fully recognise the need to encourage applicants of acceptable quality to continue to come forward, and we know what importance the National Association of Probation Officers and other service organisations place on the present superannuation arrangements. We do not propose therefore to revert to the former system of student grants. We shall also continue to reimburse various travel and incidental expenses for the duration of the course; mostly two years. The present salary scale ranges from £4,551 to £5,529, with the starting point depending upon age and experience, the highest starting point being £5,283. Together with course fees, the cost to public funds for each student over the period of study is currently about £15,000.

The new salary scale for students starting in 1983 is £3,588, £4,116, £4,747 and £5,482, and the scale will be subject to review next year. There are four starting points, and to reduce them to three, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, would also reduce the emphasis on maturity and experience, as well as the savings, and I am not tremendously attracted to that idea. These figures, taking account of the abolition of increments during training, represent reductions over the two-year period of study ranging from 23 per cent. at the bottom point of the scale to less than 0.5 per cent. at the top. They do not, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, suggested—I expect in a slip of the tongue—amount to 23 per cent. overall; 23 per cent. is the very extreme reduction. At the bottom point of the scale proposed for 1983, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, who did some alarming arithmetic as to what the money was worth, that after all deductions the daily rate for a five-day week works out at £10.70 and not, as he suggested, £6.

If I may return to the overall picture, this gradation of reductions is important. It reflects the importance we attach—like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—to attracting into the service mature students with experience of real life. I can confirm this attitude to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. We also value what the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, called "fresh-faced young students," but the mature students are among our most valuable recruits. They are also the people for whom reversion to student status can represent an extremely tough financial decision. I consider it proper that the reduction should be minimal in their case. It amounts to half a penny in the pound.

A further change is to break the previous link with pay increases for the probation service. We are dealing with students, and in future the link will be with grant payable to DHSS students. At the time of revision of the salary scale for 1983 this was increased by 4 per cent. In order that the net salary receipts for probation students should reflect that level of increase fairly, each point of the salary scale was uprated by 5.5 per cent. Quite by coincidence, that was the rate of increase applying to the bulk of main grade probation officers.

I make no silly claim that the figures I have given your Lordships represent a princely sum. They do not. But neither do I think, under the circumstances, they are totally unreasonable. In particular, I think they mark a shift in emphasis to the mature entrant, who, in common with the National Association of Probation Officers and the other service organisations, we believe to be among our most valuable recruits. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, guessed that this meant a saving of under £100,000. In fact it is two and a half times as much, a quarter of a million pounds. I do not think that, as a result of this change, we shall see a decline in the quality of recruits. Indeed, my officials are at present having discussions with chief probation officers whose staff participate with the universities and polytechnics in the selection procedures which a would-be applicant has to go through before an application may be made to the Home Office for sponsorship.

Lord Wells-Pestell

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but this is a point of information. How can he possibly save £250,000 when the reduction is going to be £1,000. It indicates that there are going to be 250 people on the lowest point. The noble Lord knows as well as I do that there will not be 250 people on the lowest point. They would have to be very young. How can you save £250,000? It cannot be done.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I will try and come back to that, if I may, because I mistrust my arithmetic at all times, but particularly when I am on my feet and speaking about something else.

The discussions I was referring to with the people who do the selection will be of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, as was his suggestion interesting to me. I think that, particularly with the emphasis we wish to give to mature students, the question of selection becomes one of increasing interest. But I can give no commitment other than to look at this. These discussions are about stiffening selection standards. The acid test must be not merely whether the applicant appears suitable for the training course, but whether he or she may confidently be regarded as suitable, with training, for a successful career as a probation officer, and, of course, whether he or she has the personality, which, as I said before, is the sine qua non of a successful probation officer.

I do realise that these changes may result in a significant reduction in the numbers of applicants for CQSW courses with a probation content, but some reduction we can well afford. To say, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, does, that this places at grave risk the whole future of the service is really to exaggerate the case a little. In practical terms, I do not think it is a sound argument. In practical terms, I might say that if we were not to advertise the courses at all nobody would know that they existed and so there would not be any applications. The cost of advertising was halved this year, and the resultant recruits will enter the service in 1984–85.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

My Lords, may I ask—

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can answer the question, I think; it was £25,000.

Lord Elystan-Morgan

No, that was not the question, my Lords. I was merely going to ask the Minister for his comment on the fact that the number of applications in 1982 had fallen by 400 as compared with 1981 and 1980. So we are already on a downslide.

Lord Elton

My Lords, that may be. In fact I have undertaken to monitor the number of applicants and to keep the National Association of Probation Officers informed on what I find. I shall be quite happy to discuss with them what the findings are. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, will take that as an indication of my good intentions. I have other observations to make about the salary received. The department pays the employers' national insurance contributions and superannuation contributions of 12.2 per cent. and 11 per cent. respectively, and this adds to the savings achieved. I think I shall take those figures and work them out again, because I intend at the end of this debate to consider very carefully what has been said by your Lordships, and I will write to the noble Lord.

I have given close thought to the invitation which the noble Lord asked me to extend to him, if I may so put it, at the beginning of the debate. I am very chary of doing what he asked me to do because I think it would be to rouse false and illusory hopes in his bosom. On the other hand, the noble Lord will not mind my saying that he and I know each other very well, and I certainly often learn from my meetings with him. If I can avoid giving to your Lordships any idea that what I am holding out is a handful of pennies, or pounds, I am satisfied that the noble Lord and I do at least agree on what is being done and what are the consequences. If in that process he wishes to be supported by, let us say, two or three knowledgeable people, then, as somebody who knows him very well, I would not resist him coming to my door to tell me what he wants to tell me.

I hope I have put that in terms that will prevent your Lordships from rushing out with glad cries saying, "Government policy overturned", which your Lordships never expected to be in a position to do. What your Lordships can say is that this particular noble Lord is always willing to listen to wise heads when they wish to give him advice. He is not always in a position to take it.

I conclude by again thanking the noble Lord for precipitating what has been a most instructive evening—one which will do good to the probation service by making it realise that there are a lot of well-informed, experienced and senior people who are articulate, and with much experience of legislation, who regard their function, as I do, as one which is of crucial importance to what we are trying to do in our troubled society. They will be as grateful to him. as I am, for initiating this debate. I am going on, my Lords, because I know that the noble Lord wants to interrupt me and if I stop he will not be able to do so.

Lord Wells-Pestell

My Lords, I merely wanted to ask the noble Lord whether we can assume that either late tonight or first thing tomorrow morning the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr. Whitelaw, will be informed of what decision he has already made.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am told that that is quite superfluous since he already knows, and knew a long time ago. I did not want to bring him into this. If the noble Lord will accept that, I shall nonetheless be happy to see him with two, or possibly three of his friends to discuss this matter further on the basis that I am not actually offering a concession, but I do want to hear more of what he has to say.

House adjourned at eighteen minutes past ten o'clock.